Austin Bergstrom International Airport – July 1-October 30, 2020
Curated by Marco Bracamontes
Mexico’s extraordinary capital, Mexico City, has long been a destination for travelers from the United States. Whether by train, car, or plane, visitors have been drawn to the mountainous metropolis to see its magnificent colonial churches and palaces, its world-class museums, and the archeological remains of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Travelers have long appreciated the city’s dynamism, its cultural and culinary riches, and its distinctive mix of the old and new. Destination CDMX offers a glimpse into the history of tourism to this fascinating place.
Although Mexico City had beckoned 19th-century travelers, tourism expanded significantly in the 1920s, after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). In that decade the cultural efflorescence associated with Mexican muralism, modern architecture, and the rise of interest in folk art attracted ever more visitors. Travelers flocked to see frescoes by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. They came to buy colorful textiles and works of pottery from provincial regions sold in new shops in the capital. In the 1930s they marveled at modern buildings and the pace of change. Remarking on the new architecture in 1937, U.S. writer and photographer Esther Born said, “the quantity of it comes as a surprise. Such a quantity would be unexpected in any North American city; but to the Northerner, acquainted with Mexico only though literature and heresy, the energy displayed and the up-to-the-minute quality are doubling astonishing.” Born told readers, “Mexico City has been urban roughly twice as long as Boston or New York.”
By the middle of the twentieth century travelers could stay in comfortable hotels that lined the streets of the city’s elegant boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma. They could visit the Palace of Fine Arts to see paintings, murals, and dance and musical performances. They would stroll the tree-lined paths in Chapultepec Park and visit its famous castle. A day trip might take them to ruins of the ancient city of Teotihuacan, or for a ride on a flat-bottomed boat in the canals of Xochimilco. They marveled at the grandeur of the Zócalo, the city’s main plaza, framed by the giant Cathedral of Mexico, the National Palace, government buildings, and shops.
Throughout the twentieth century, Mexico City was marketed as a tourist destination by the Mexican government, which sought to capitalize on its cultural riches. In this effort it was helped by U.S. citizens who visited the city or lived there. Artists, writers, journalists, and travelers shared accounts of the capital (and the country) with their compatriots, who in turn booked their journeys to see it. Photographs, like those on view here, helped along this process of promoting Mexico and teaching foreigners about it. Whether in tourist brochures, magazines, guidebooks, on postcards, or as snapshots, photographs helped make Mexico City a destination. The images in this exhibition remind us why.