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Queens Chronicle

Revisiting World’s Fair through a Mexican lens

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Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2011 12:00 am

Visitors to the Queens Museum of Art have a chance to relive the famed 1939 World’s Fair through a new exhibition featuring the photography of Luis Marquez.

The fair, which gave the Queens Museum its building, was the second largest of its kind. People from all over the world flocked to Flushing Meadows Corona Park to view the technological advancements on display.

Marquez became an important figure in post-revolutionary Mexican art when he served as the official photographer and art advisor for the Mexican pavilion at the fair. The photographs featured at the Queens Museum were made from negatives of this work, recently rediscovered by curators Itala Schmelz and Ernesto Penaloza at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

The 1939 World’s Fair celebrated the constantly expanding boundaries of modernity, and each country’s pavilion was designed in homage to industry, technology and the future itself.

Marquez’s work features people in traditional Mexican folk dress posed against the backdrop of the pavilions. The photos implicate the past in a way that is almost ironic — as if Marquez is playing a prank — albeit a beautiful one — on the entire forward-looking endeavor.

A woman in elaborately embroidered garb, traditional jewelry and an adorned headdress sits atop a car labeled “American Express,” in pleasant conversation with a man in suit and tie. A man in sombrero, poncho and wooden sandals is perched pensively atop a submarine deck on display.

The exhibition features around 80 photographs, some of which were displayed in the Mexican Pavilion at the time of the fair.

One particularly striking image shows a woman in traditional Mexican dress with an elaborate headdress and flowing skirt, standing between two larger-than-life Assyrian monuments at the entrance to the British Pavilion.

In the photo, Marquez juxtaposes Britain’s brash display, perhaps representative of the nation’s cultural plunders, with the spirit of Mexican folklore still alive in the pavilion’s shadows.

The strength in posture shared by the woman and the statues — a pair of roaring lions — remind the viewer of the cultural depth of the world, not to be forgotten in the excitement for all things new and shiny. Whether it be 1939 or 2011, Marquez’s photos continue to hold meaning.

His additional work documents many of the statues, people and spectacle of the fair. Traditional Mexican outfits are also on display. In all their vivid color, they help enhance rooms full of black and white photos and allow visitors to better envision the scenes Marquez depicts.

‘Mexican Identity and the 1939-40 World’s Fair’

When: Through March 6, Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.

Where: Queens Museum of Art, New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park

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