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Perspectives In Circulation

Exploring Art and Libraries

Highlights from the ARLIS/NA Conference in Mexico City

September 20

bookshelf built into stairs

This year, the 51st annual Art Libraries of North America (ARLIS/NA) Conference was held in Mexico City, and several librarians from Watson had the privilege of attending. The conference was an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from around the world and learn about the fascinating projects and initiatives happening at art libraries across the continent. It was also an opportunity to explore Mexico City, a UNESCO world heritage city and the oldest capital in the Americas. While we can’t share pictures of all of the incredible places we visited, we’ll try to give you a sense of some of what we got to experience while in this great city. Each of us has chosen an image or two from the many photos we all took, accompanied by a short description of where they were taken.

Colorful table cloth covered in books for sale

Conference exhibit hall display of publications available through Howard Karno Books, Inc. Photo by Jared Ash

Jared Ash: A core component of all ARLIS conferences is the Exhibit Hall, which offers attendees an opportunity to discover new publishers, artists, booksellers, art-related electronic resources, and new and out-of-print books and journals. For Watson staff, it provides a welcome annual opportunity for us to connect “in real life” with our principal partners and suppliers from around the world, who play critical roles in enabling Watson to provide exceptional resources to our researchers.

vitrine display of books

Books by Margarita Nelken on display in the exhibition, Margarita Nelken y el Expresionismo Mexicano at El Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. Photo by Jared Ash

Jared Ash: Beyond the conference, I found books in abundance in Mexico City’s bookstores, museum shops, alternative art spaces, the personal libraries at the Biblioteca de México discussed below, and on display in major museum exhibitions. My phone came back filled with photos of books in vitrines and on bookshelves to compare to Watson’s holdings, which are helpful in developing greater awareness of significant works in Watson’s existing collections, and identifying titles not held to seek out for future acquisition.

Alejandro Cartagena  speaking in front of a colorful background

Photographer and self-publisher Alejandro Cartagena was the conference’s keynote speaker. Photo by Robyn Fleming

Robyn Fleming: The conference officially concluded with a convocation, awards ceremony, and reception, and this year’s keynote speaker was Mexican photographer and publisher/editor Alejandro Cartagena. Cartagena took us on a mesmerizing visual tour of his photobook series Carpoolers, which shows birds-eye views of day laborers commuting to and from work on the backs of pick-up trucks, in and around the city of Monterrey, Mexico.

Stacks of books and a bookshelf built into stairs

Left: The stacks in the Sala General, as seen through some of the many plants that decorate the room. Right: Bookshelves built into a staircase in the Biblioteca Carlos Monsiváis (you’ll notice the one with the orange spine – India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900 – is a 1985 Met exhibition catalog). Photos by William Blueher

William Blueher: During my visit to the Biblioteca de México, I spent some time exploring the personal library of Carlos Monsiváis Aceves, located just off the Patio de los Escritores (Writer’s Courtyard). Monsiváis Aceves’ library is estimated to have about 24,000 volumes of books and pamphlets, all of which were part of the personal collection of this renowned Mexican philosopher, writer, critic, political activist, and journalist. Not only was the collection captivating, but the space itself was worth exploring on its own. I was particularly drawn to the art publications that were housed on bookcases built into the stairs (see above). If you look closely enough, you’ll be able to spot an exhibition catalog from The Met.

Dulce Maria Luna's book

Artwork entitled “Inés” by artist Dulce Maria Luna, seen at la Biblioteca de México. Photo by Amy Hamilton

Amy Hamilton: La Biblioteca de México, housed in La Ciudadela (The Citadel), was founded in 1946 and has gone through several iterations since then. The history of the building itself is just as interesting—going back to the late eighteenth century, when it was originally built to house the Royal Cigar Factory of Mexico. Currently, it houses the personal libraries of five of Mexico’s greatest thinkers: José Luis Martínez, Antonio Castro Leal, Jaime García Terrés, Ali Chumacero, and Carlos Monsiváis.

Reading room interior

One of several reading rooms found in la Biblioteca de México. Photo by Amy Hamilton

Amy Hamilton: While Watson librarians were visiting la Biblioteca de México, we were lucky enough to see an exhibition by artist Dulce Maria Luna called “Travesía Poética: El arte de la encuadernación de Dulce Maria Luna. 50 años” or “Poetic Journey: The art of bookbinding by Dulce María Luna. 50 years.” We were so happy to spend an afternoon exploring this beautiful building and learning about an artist we weren’t familiar with.

Installation view that is a mix of darkness and neon color

An installation view of the exhibition, ‘Cartier Design: A Living Legacy’ at the Museo Jumex. Photo by Tina Lidogoster

Tina Lidogoster: During my visit to Museo Jumex, I was fortunate to catch the exhibition ‘Cartier Design: A Living Legacy,’ curated by Ana Elena Mallet. It is worth noting that the striking exhibition happened to be designed by renowned Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, who is also set to realize the renovation of The Met’s Modern and Contemporary galleries, the Oscar L. Tang and H.M. Agnes Hsu-Tang Wing. She will be the first woman to design a wing at The Met!

Two exterior shots and one interior

From left to right: Museo de Arte Moderno façade, library façade, and library entrance. Photos by Daisy Paul

Daisy Paul: My visit to Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM) was a highlight in a city that sets the bar high with incredible museums. The museum and library annex are surrounded by a shady sculpture garden, which is itself surrounded by one of the largest parks in Mexico City. Architects Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and Rafael Mijares Alcérreca designed the buildings with organic, curvilinear shapes that respond to the surrounding landscape. Each is topped with a fiberglass-reinforced polyester dome that invites a warm glow of natural light into a central hall.

Hallway and mural

The stunning gallery of stained-glass windows at Chapultepec Castle, depicting Greco-Roman goddesses Pomona, Flora, Hebe, Diana, and Ceres, was a highlight. Right: This mural by Eduardo Solares, which decorates the palace’s central stairwell, depicts the revolution against Porfirio Díaz. Photos by Scott Carlton

Scott Carlton: Chapultepec Castle sits elegantly atop a hill overlooking the surrounding Chapultepec Park.  Originally intended as a summer home for the Spanish viceroy in the eighteenth century, and subsequently used as an imperial residence for Emperor Maximilian I, a military academy and gunpowder warehouse, a presidential palace, and now a museum, the site is rich in history, architecture, and art.

Several librarians eating a meal together

A taco pitstop at Jamaica Market. Photo by Robyn Fleming

Robyn Fleming: Mexico City being the culinary capital that it is, there was no shortage of delicious meals and snacks to be had throughout the duration of the conference. Several of us even embarked on a five-hour guided food tour of the city the day before the conference started. The tour included stops at the renowned Merced and Jamaica markets (above we are enjoying tacos de chorizo verde at Jamaica Market), where we sampled everything from fire ants and crickets to pan dulce and exotic fruits.

One interior shot and one image of a sculpture

Left: The courtyard at the Museo de Arte Popular. Right: Tree of Life sculpture by Oscar Sotana. Photos by Melissa Raymond

Melissa Raymond: Located several blocks from the conference hotel is the Museo de Arte Popular. This museum opened in 2006 and highlights Mexican folk art and handcrafts. The space itself is stunning. Located in an old firehouse, upon entering the museum, you walk into a sunny courtyard filled with hanging sculptures and mobiles. A particularly captivating work was a 13-foot traditional Tree of Life sculpture by artist Oscar Sotana, located on the ground floor of the courtyard.

Interior shot of bookstore

The art book display at Librería Regia, one of the many open-air bookstores of Mexico City. Photo by Tina Lidogoster

Tina Lidogoster: It is easy to see why Mexico City provides the perfect backdrop for an art library conference. You can draw inspiration from its many beautiful libraries, but it's also important to highlight the many independent bookstores populating the city. This acquisitions librarian took note of every opportunity to source art-related books for Watson Library.

These are just some of the many places we were able to explore during our time in Mexico City. Next year many of us will be heading to Pittsburgh for the 52nd annual ARLIS/NA Conference, so we'll be sure to document our travels there in a future post.

About the contributors

Assistant Museum Librarian, Reader Services, Thomas J. Watson Library

Assistant Museum Librarian, Thomas J. Watson Library

Florence and Herbert Irving Librarian for Collections, Thomas J. Watson Library

Associate Museum Librarian, Cataloging and Metadata, Thomas J. Watson Library

Museum Librarian, Interlibrary Services and Digital Initiatives, Thomas J. Watson Library

Assistant Manager of E-Resources, Thomas J. Watson Library

Associate Museum Librarian, Thomas J. Watson Library

Manager of Cataloging, Thomas J. Watson Library