The raucous opening of “Strange New World: Art and Design From Tijuana” at the Santa Monica Museum of Art seemed to perfectly encapsulate its subject matter. More than half of the attendees were chatting animatedly en Espanol. The place was extremely crowded, over-populated to the point of aural discomfort. Music was blasting out of a nearby building. Lines were long but cheerful at the one bar set up to serve everyone. The wait, coupled with record low temperatures, forced some well-dressed partiers to double-fist shots of tequila.
Not a bad way to enjoy the show, which, although colorful and spirited, seemed more like a loosely-associated collection of pieces that might or might not have much to do with border culture, or even Tijuana, for that matter. Besides some vernacular residences by architect Teddy Cruz, there seemed little in the way of design. The best pieces were explotations of found objects–like the painted mufflers above, or a huge relief map of the US layered with beans and reflector lights. A video installation about food vendors customizing their pushcarts was visually interesting.
At the end, though, we found ourselves staring longingly at a copy of Martin Parr‘s book Mexico in the gift shop, wishing for just a few vibrant shots like that to make us feel like we had truly left the country. We were happy to discover that the exhibition’s website does a great job with that. Maybe better than the show itself.