This dissertation offers an account of the ways in which Mexico’s transition to formal electoral democracy and its implementation of market-oriented reforms transformed the country’s cultural policies and institutions, as well as the political content of its works of art. These changes, in turn, have profoundly shaped Mexico’s national narratives, forms of civic participation, and the nature of political critique. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research, archival research, and visual art analysis – including participant-observation in a wide range of cultural institutions and state offices and over a hundred in-depth interviews with members of the art world, policymakers, philanthropists, and bureaucrats – I demonstrate how the creative class negotiates a novel political environment marked by tensions between autocratic institutional legacies, emergent market logics, and a newly-liberalized public sphere. This work chronicles a shift from state-sponsored, overtly nationalist art to anti-statist, market-oriented art in the 2000s. I demonstrate how these changes have affected Mexican politics, ranging from how the state commemorates its history and organizes taxation, to how museums and monuments become sites for cultural resistance, through to how feminist activists contest gender-based violence. Art, I argue, is a privileged site from which to examine the consequences of political-economic liberalization, given that it evidences the tensions between political critique, freedom of expression, and collective action. This work makes three major theoretical contributions. First, it expands the scholarship on democratic transitions and economic liberalization by showing the reasons why and the mechanisms through which these processes shape national imaginaries, cultural policies, and civic participation. Second, building on the literature on political representation, I argue that, despite not being voted into power or participating in traditional political forums, artists and other members of the artistic field should be taken seriously as political representatives. It is through their work that discussions about pressing political matters occur, shaping collective memory and helping to structure people’s political allegiances and identities. This work can include making, displaying, and preserving art, as well as choosing what counts as art and whom it represents. Third, I make a methodological point by stressing the need to go beyond analyzing simply the content of art and other forms of political expression Instead, I demonstrate the need to examine art’s conditions of production, circulation, and reception in order to understand how its political messages achieve (or fail to achieve) political ends.



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