Rockefeller's Mexican mania culminated in his organizing "20 Centuries of Mexican Art," which opened in New York at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940. The show included pre-Columbian art, colonial art and contemporary Mexican art, unified by a wide variety of folk art. "20 Centuries" was the last major Mexican art exhibition to be mounted in the United States until the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 1991 blockbuster, "Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries."

@body:In spite of its breadth and girth, or maybe because of it, "South of the Border" is a disappointing historical overview that does more to confound than elucidate the average viewer.

Not only does it slough over many areas it purports to cover, but also completely disregards areas most people could actually relate to in their everyday lives, like the Mexico-inspired Mayan Revival and Spanish-style architecture prevalent in the American Southwest during the 1920s and 1930s (Phoenix's Arizona Biltmore, built in 1929, is a great example of Mayan Revival style).

In fact, the most cogent part of the exhibition is "Al Aire Libre: The Open Air Painting Schools of Mexico," an ancillary exhibition that PAM's Clayton Kirking put together from the museum's own collection. The little show is accompanied by a well-written brochure that explains the history of these charming plein-air paintings by indigenous working-class students from the suburbs of Mexico City between 1920 and 1935.

All in all, "South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination" is like a giant bowl of gumbo, but without a trace of the spicy flavor you'd expect. @pq:American artists eradicated from their work any trace of the grim conditions under which their rural Mexican subjects lived.

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