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date: 20 June 2021

Mexico in World Expositions and Fairslocked

Mexico in World Expositions and Fairslocked

  • Susan DouglasSusan DouglasSchool of Fine Art and Music, University of Guelph


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.

From 1867 to 1929, governments promoted nationalism and industrialization through World Fairs in Europe and International Expositions in America. Mexico, which had recently achieved independence from Spain, became involved in fairs to bolster its economy and image, competing with other nations to sell local goods and offer investment opportunities to foreigners. Since the 1950s, Mexicans have encouraged commerce and industry while enthusiastically marketing their country as a touristic “wonderland.” Accounts of Mexico’s participation in World Fairs draw attention to the imperialism embedded in such events suggesting that they were deeply problematic. Defined as cultural palaces and trade shows, World Fairs have chronicled changing ideas about nationalism, modernity, and, more recently, branding. In the wake of the Revolution, Mexicans have recognized their strategic importance although a persistent theme in the literature is that these are inherently tiresome and expensive undertakings and a significant drain on economic and political life.


  • History of Mexico

World’s Fairs as Trade Fairs and Cultural Palaces

Approaching international expositions as ideological events and multicultural arenas, this article provides a brief history of Mexico’s cultural representation at international fairs in the context of industrialization, hemispheric exchanges and global branding. Propelled by governments, expositions evolved through visual narratives. The cultural products exhibited reflected complex social relations and dominant ideologies for the benefit of the public.

The presence of world’s fairs is recognizable around a developmental model when mechanization transformed the modes of industrial production and new technologies were naturalized into a discourse of human evolution. This was a time of significant socioeconomic change, a time of capitalist enterprise and the internationalization of markets. In the context of the Industrial Revolution, world’s fairs championed modernity’s message of a harmonious future.

Early fairs functioned as trade shows promoting and publishing scientific discoveries. They drew impressive crowds eager to examine the latest scientific advances along with similar feats in modern engineering. These small, local fairs stimulated the flow of knowledge and sought to improve living standards through scientific research. Electric light, radioactivity, wireless communication—these and other innovations were all popularized in early industrial exhibits which also made the notion of economic interdependency appear inevitable and desirable. The 1851 Great Exhibition in London represents a milestone in the history of international expositions; it provided tangible evidence of the numerous improvements that had been brought about by the modern era (1750–1850), making a comprehensive catalogue of human intelligence, industry, and scientific enterprise instantly recognizable and attracting millions of visitors. International expositions shape to “a narrative that was at once univocal and universal” through “the rational language of capitalism.”1 Imperial history was represented at these events, which also displayed novelties such as the German coin-slot restaurant.2

It was the celebration of material progress in tandem with the sense of an affluent society in development that made early expositions distinctive as social and cultural phenomena. In the late 19th century, European and American international expositions, such as the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris, were widely known as the “world’s universities” because they managed to encompass a huge array of national treasures and artifacts as well as ordinary household objects that visitors could use to make sense of the world.3 Ordered on nationalist grounds to maintain hegemonic control, linking imperialist texts to the dogma of cultural colonization in a metropolitan formula, world’s fairs have been represented in many ways.

In the literature, several theories have been proposed to explain why nations eagerly participated in expositions and why they attracted so much popular attention. From a sociologist’s perspective, Tony Bennett argues in “The Exhibitionary Complex,” in reference to the Great Exhibition of 1851, that world’s fairs functioned as vehicles for “broadcasting messages of power . . . throughout society.”4 Other studies have proposed that fairs legitimized ideology and offered an escape from anxiety brought on by political and economic insecurity. In Mexico at the World’s Fairs, Tenorio-Trillo writes: “World exhibitions were conscious universal representations of what was thought to be progress and modernity, and they were thus both the métier and the ideal rendition of the modern city. Such exhibitions aimed to be object lessons about those beliefs, and often, indeed, their vestiges became the symbols of modern cities. But a late-nineteenth-century world’s fair was also invariably a magnificent show, an ‘oasis of fantasy and fable at a time of crisis and impending violence.’”5 Colonial nations used fairs to leverage their economies and to shape modernization through images of material and intellectual progress. As Burton Benedict notes: “Almost without exception the major international exhibitions were sponsored by nations with colonial dependencies. Each displayed its colonies, or its internally colonized peoples, to its home population, to its rivals and to the world at large.”6 This characterization draws attention to the symbolic power of representation, which many agree made it possible for cultural power to flow. Robert W. Rydell’s influential book All the World’s a Fair argues that, between 1876 and 1916, the fair was a calculated response on the part of America’s elite to restore confidence in the American system of government through visions of racial dominance and increased economic expansion. In this work and related texts, Rydell suggests that, “Far from simply reflecting American culture, the expositions were intended to shape that culture. They left an enduring vision of empire.”7 It has been proposed that world’s fairs were instrumental in defining peripheral modernity through references to the practices and folklore of cultures threatened with extinction. Rydell analyzes and compares various aspects of fairs, documenting how ethnological displays and midway attractions synthesized the works of leading evolutionary thinkers, such as Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Millions of fairgoers learned about scientific racial categories through hierarchical displays of “types” of humanity, Rydell writes, especially through important scientific institutions such as the Smithsonian.8 All this serves as an introduction to Mexico at world’s fairs. The main objective of this article is to provide a comprehensive account of the part Mexicans played in a range of exhibits and attractions in both an official capacity and informally. If we envision world’s fairs as socially produced narratives and, more importantly, through the discourses that recent historians, anthropologists, and cultural critics have developed (Parezco and Fowler, Bueno, Dussel, Rodríguez, and Castañeda), then it is possible to focus on world’s fairs and industrial expositions as very complex events that had tremendous political, ideological, and economic import for various countries.9 This formulation proves especially useful for Mexico, a nation with a long, continuous history of constructing, and occasionally deconstructing, norms and concepts formulated and imprinted through world expositions.

19th-Century Fairs and Mexico in Motion

The history of international, universal, and world expositions registers striking continuities, apparent since the 1850s when Mexico first took part in them.10 Expositions are dominated by images, appearances, marketing, and representation and have been significant to the modern history of the West.11 As public spectacles, these massive exhibitions celebrate an evolutionary model of human progress made accessible through education and entertainment. Fairs reflect society and are the products of their time. Innovation in science and technology features prominently and visitors are therefore encouraged to explore the various aspects of the exhibition comparatively. Fairs are a product of society. The main aim of participating countries continues to be to emblematize national differences, and this conceptual framework is maintained through representations of identity and images producing meaning. As it is known, national exhibits showcase live music and dance as signs of a representative cultural heritage. Furthermore, these transnational events displaying economic, scientific, and artistic resources symbolized capitalistic modernization. For the many nations that have participated, world’s fairs have constituted a problematic but necessary part of nation building associated with modernity.

It has been suggested that the participation of so-called peripheral nations such as Mexico in 19th- and early 20th-century fairs is an unavoidable narrative of what modernity represents for those at the margins of “Western civilization”: continual, tiresome, and expensive participation in the name of progress. Even so, they have also proved to be remarkably productive entities.

Expositions developed into cultural institutions and became spectacles driven by underlying conceptions of modernity. A note on representation is therefore warranted. Stuart Hall famously interpreted culture as a circuit through which meaning is produced and shared. This circuit has five critical elements: representation, identity, production, consumption, and regulation. He suggested that people acquire meaning through representation and that representation is arbitrary, often bearing little resemblance to the reality to which it refers. By and large, Mexico has been constructing a national image revealed though world fairs, and building exhibits allows Mexico to establish a pattern of cultural relations constructed over time. Participation in fairs is thus an offshoot of efforts undertaken to build a common identity for the Mexican people. Today, we read the discourse of nationalism as a construct, a fictional representation on many levels. As self-evident as this idea appears to be to modern readers, it was not always so.

Mexico engaged with world’s fairs for complex political, structural, economic, and social reasons. The first emphasis was trade, and expositions consolidated access to European and American markets. The early part of the 20th century saw Mexico successfully position itself around the world as a leader in agricultural technology, commerce, and industry. The Mexican contributions to the 1900 Paris Exposition—to cite one example—overflowed with commercial products, food, both fresh and preserved, home furnishings, chemicals and pharmaceutical products, and tequilas, all detailed in the Catalogue Officiel Special de la République des Etats-Unis du Mexique.12 The exhibits grouped together the authoritative scientific regimes of the day (anthropology, scientific history, ethnology, criminology, archaeology, economics, sociology, medicine, architecture, and engineering) and expressed public values with a desire to educate visitors.

It is relevant to note that fairs were industrial and informational; they were organized around technology and science and exhibits were arranged in patterns.13 By the mid-19th century, around 1867, the French had invented a taxonomic system that enabled fairgoers to compare representative objects systematically. Devised for the Paris Exposition, at its base was the idea that the world was an intelligible entity, knowable through scientific principles. The system consisted of identifying and arranging all the items that contributed to the show into fields that would be read either as representative of an invited nation or as contributing to exhibits in a given class. The overall structure symbolized an ideal order for the universe; it constructed a paradigm founded on the premise that knowledge is measurable and significant advances observable. Organizers claimed that the fair presented “a three-dimensional world encyclopedia” of human endeavor.14 By emphasizing a clear-cut worldview, expositions enabled visitors to appreciate and interpret an increasingly complex world.

Mexico defined its identity and sought to build a picturesque description of the country through participation at these mass public gatherings. Mexico was in the process of rebuilding its tarnished reputation with the international community through treaties of commerce and navigation that, by 1888, would be signed with countries as distant as Norway and Japan. Postal conventions with Great Britain and the United States would also prove instrumental in bringing capital into the country under the presidency of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911).15

A distinguishing feature of Mexican participation in Anglo-European fairs is that considerable space in national pavilions was devoted to products and resources connecting regional and national marketplaces to the world. Rigorously organized, but also aesthetically pleasing, these exhibits responded to the social and representational mores of the time. We might say that, as a former Spanish colony, Mexico sought to demonstrate its sovereignty through material culture since, evident through the mechanisms of display, the message was national pride. The plan, however, was to use expositions strategically; it was to “sell” Mexico. Mexico showcased its goods openly and implicitly as well, the power of the state. As part of his foreign policy, President Díaz argued for strengthening the economic ties between Mexico and America.16

There was a strong market for Mexican goods in the United States and contact between the two nation-states was slowly transforming the American vision of Mexico, built largely on stereotypes, along more progressive lines. Indeed, potential diplomatic, business, and tourist experiences were on the horizon as Mexico steadily transformed itself into an industrialized state aligned with the modern world. Hence the 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition featured heavy glass cases filled with an opulent display of mineral specimens and gemstones, including valued scientific minerals in a specially designed glass house. Such commercial exhibits appealed to the public and American exposition organizers as well as to delegations of statesmen, entrepreneurs, and scientists “sent by governments, industries and trade unions to study international fairs and to report their findings.”17

Mexican participation in fairs was by invitation: each nation was offered space to set up a stand or an exhibition building on an allocated section of the fairgrounds, but they would be distributed across the acres of land as the host nation saw fit. This gave exhibition organizers significant control and involved the visitors in the exhibit. It is obvious through their park landscape design and the placement of buildings that these exhibits were designed to encourage visitors to make connections and to further trade relationships with potential commercial partners.

American fairs influenced consumer and mass behavior, taste and fashion, commodity culture, and the idea of leisure. The strongest and most popular areas of American exhibits tended to be the main exhibition building, devoted to machinery, transportation, fine arts, and public health, and the “midway,” whose dominant focus was entertainment. Between these two points were numerous custom-built architectural structures from different parts of the world, together with separate buildings for private companies, since, unlike their European counterparts which were organized by national governments, American fairs were chartered as private corporations.18 The world was evident on a small scale in this designed universe. And the infrastructure that enabled American fair planners to emphasize human “progress”—as was the case of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, was that they were defined by hierarchical relationships. The emphasis on developmental displays encouraged national rivalry rationalized by an ideology in which advanced industrial societies declared domination over the rest of the world. As a consequence, Mexican exhibits adapted; however, while the features of individual pavilions changed in form in these early exhibitions, the display of Mexican products and resources remained constant.

A commemorative theme dominated American expositions and, with the support of corporate sponsors, fair promoters capitalized on memorializing historical events or celebrating milestones at these events but drew on the tradition and design of European fairs. Mexicans participated in expositions across the Americas, in Philadelphia (1876), New Orleans (1884), Chicago (1893), Atlanta (1895), Buffalo (1901), Saint Louis (1904), and San Francisco (1915). Mexico was also represented at the 1922 Centenary Exposition held in Rio de Janeiro.19

Like their American counterparts, European expositions in the 19th century featured national displays and exhibitions that were expected to “show and tell.” Cultural historians theorize that fairs had an important normalizing function: according to Bennett, it was to establish “very direct and specific connections between the exhibitionary rhetoric of progress and the claims to leadership of particular social and political forces.”20 Indeed, fairs evolved in the wider context of imperial power and colonial enterprise. Hence sponsoring nations (nearly all of them colonial powers) focused on presenting “their” overseas possessions and dependencies, putting themselves in the foreground; accordingly, visitors learned about foreign countries in areas of the exposition enclosure which radiated away from the main buildings. This organizational structure mirrored the existing social order. As in the United States, exposition designers sought to productively bring cultures together; they instructed national architects to be creative in their practices and required the presenting of a distinctive vernacular style.

Mexico’s participation in the 1867 Paris exposition had been unofficial as a consequence of the War of Reform. The French archaeologist and photographer Léon-Eugène Médéhin organized the Mexican section that focused around a sample of objects. A model of the temple of Xochicalco, built for French private interests, is one of the few remaining traces of Mexico’s presence at this world’s fair. While Mexico had no official presence in the 1878 Paris fair, some Mexican private exhibitors attended, and José María Velasco, the artist whose landscapes made Mexican geography emblematic of national identity, was presented in the Spanish section.21

In 1892 in Madrid, Mexico made the Aztec and Maya civilizations the focus of attention with a conspicuous display of antiquities (mostly fake) and codices (manuscript paintings) created by indigenous peoples during the colonial era. Many of the items on view were being shown for the first time, including the famous Lienzo de Tlaxcala, which has since vanished. Inside the pavilion, approximately 20,000 artifacts divided into five categories—Prehistoric America, Historic Period, Indian Industrial Arts, Cartography, and Fine Arts—articulated the presence of the republic of Mexico as an independent entity among the other postcolonial nations showcased. Renato Rosaldo, an anthropologist of Mexican descent, has declared the event a performance of “imperialist nostalgia.”22 Nevertheless, through official exhibition rhetoric, Mexico once again brought into sharp relief that it was prepared for business and no longer under a colonial administration.

The 1889 Mexican exhibit in Paris reveals the high standards Mexicans set for themselves in pursuit of national ideals. Representing not only industrial production, but also unity across the arts, this exhibit included different classes of products and manufactured goods as well as machinery, all organized along scientific principles. Agricultural goods and associated foodstuffs figured prominently. The scope of the collection was vast: raw and manufactured goods from many Mexican jurisdictions were included, such as cotton, silks, ceramics, glassware, tanned hides, leather saddles, hawksbill, and furniture, as well as an assortment of everyday objects, and traditional regional attire lavishly inset with lace and embroidery stimulated the exhibit’s audiences. The collections were all imaginatively presented, to high praise. One of the more popular displays of Mexican ingenuity and technical know-how incorporated models of machinery for agriculture and industry. Another popular exhibit was the “model of a ship railway” by which vessels would be carried from the Caribbean to the Pacific “across the isthmus [of Tehuantepec].”23 On the eve of the inauguration (July 17th), the Mexican media reported, as a consequence of the spectacle: “Rich minerals, the transparency of the onyx, the coloring of the brindled fabrics and the nuances of the precious woods [make this exhibition], one of the most beautiful and undoubtedly the most complete of all those that appear in the Champ de Mars.”24

Narrating Nationalism in Mexico and the Arts

Mexican exhibitions of the arts and crafts of the first half of the 20th century represent a highly selective and subjective curatorial choice to display specific fragments of artistic production, reflecting conservative values and references to place, history, and aesthetics. In recent years, a body of literature has developed, both geographically and chronologically, analyzing exhibitions as historical constructions; our understanding of these events must therefore be moderated by these interpretations. In addition, given the many debates around national identity, expos beg numerous questions. Of most concern here is whether the objects, history, ideas, and tradition they present within the parameters assigned function together to create a specific iconography that stands in for Mexican national culture.

Broadly speaking, national accomplishments in the arena of industry, science, and technology were the forces shaping the political and cultural landscape. In Mexico at the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, modernization, ideology, and community building were fundamental elements in generating an image of the nation. Nation building by means of public displays of mexicanidad was first industrial, then cultural. By 1900, Mexico had constructed an authoritative tale, integrating Mexico’s indigenous past and criollo or mestizo racial definition while pursuing a cosmopolitan culture. President Díaz at this time focused on developing a national image to popularize and legitimate his government, both at home and abroad. Termed the porfiriato (the dictatorship of Porfidio Díaz, from 1876 to 1911), it was represented in the arts. He invested heavily in propaganda, directing attention to Mexico’s post-revolutionary achievements to enhance a national consciousness. Critics suggested that, for Mexican authorities, the creation of a heroic indigenous identity from the past became a priority. Pre-Hispanic culture could be interpreted as “a glorious precursor, a harbinger, of ‘el culto nacional’.”25

The Aztec and Mayan civilizations gained attention as part of efforts to display Mexico to the public in 1876 Philadelphia, when the contemporary press seized on plaster casts of pre-Hispanic monuments as emblematic architecture from the period of Moctezuma’s rule.26 Mexicans must have found this notion puzzling, since for them the replicas expressed a scientific orientation. But the public also favored romantic references to native art and hence the modern trend became to insert large quantities of precolonial material, authentic or reproduced, into every fair. The 1889 Paris “Aztec Palace” that recognizably symbolized Mexican tradition through fantasies of Aztec imperial cities and pleasure gardens is universally read as Mexico’s signature exposition monument, an archetype linking national identity with the institutionalization of Mexican cultural heritage.

Mexican historians have examined the influence of José Vasconcelos in efforts “to reconcile and incorporate the successive stages of Mexican history within a common framework” at fairs. They point to a distinct historical narrative of progression in which the Mexican nation defines itself “as essentially mestizo, heirs to the glory of pre-Hispanic civilization and Spain.”27 As these studies suggest, the role of syncretism in developing the “Mexican-ness” of Mexico-the-nation is a self-critical attempt to regulate how Mexico is consumed. According to Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, “The development of a Mexican national image in modern times included a historical cornerstone (the Indian past and epic-mythical foundation structure), a racial definition (either criollo or mestizo), natural appropriation (the beauty of the land and its productivity), economic position (protection of a national bourgeoisie, search for foreign investment, immigration, and economic recognition), and the pursuit of cosmopolitan culture.”28 In the 20th century, a newly minted, authentically Mexican and “neo-pre-Hispanic” aesthetic would frame mexicanidad. Following the 1910 Revolution, the image of Mexico portrayed in world expositions would be prolonged through the use of Porfirian symbolic traditions, but the fairs were no longer the extravagant spectacles they were in the 19th century. Tenorio-Trillo suggests that, paradoxically, official Mexican narratives endured because they were not recognized by the Mexican population. All the same, the Mexican narrative at world’s fairs fed an impulse to “begin again the ‘keep-trying’ cycle—an imperative of modern national image.”29

Problems: Popular Images and Habitats

Two aspects that uniquely define Mexico’s participation in expos are architecture and ethnographic displays. Architecture offers a portal to the world from 1889 to 1938, as national pavilions visibly competed with one another to show their growing status through architecture designed around exhibits. Examining the architectural elements and design of Mexican pavilions discloses how profoundly participant nations were driven by a constant need for novelty and a physical expression of meaning. This desire was linked to political power and its interrelationship with the built environment. The competitive commissioning process and the employment of “modern” construction materials were additional contributing factors that combined and competed to represent mexicanidad.

The “Mexican Alhambra” included in the 1884 World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana was one of three representative buildings. Sited on the river side of the fair in an area defined by the Horticultural Hall and the Central American and Mexican Gardens, this Mexican Mining Pavilion openly presented the architectural features of the Palace of Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Designed by the architect Ramón Ibarrola, the central steel and glass “arabesque” structure functioned to display a rare collection of valued scientific minerals artistically constructed by native craftsmen. As a focal point at the Cotton, this structure symbolized Mexico’s ascendance onto the world stage.30 The following observations by Lafcadio Hearn, a visitor to the fair, provide us with a contemporary assessment of the pavilion. The Mexican exhibit made a deep impression on visitors. Hearn describes a “moresque [sic] octagonal building of light and fantastic style, decorated with much elegant tracery and with strong, bright coloring in the Arabesque manner . . . accompanied by an elegant hacienda, with a broad court beautified with Mexican flora and with fountains.”31 It is clear from this description that the construction in the Garden of Mexico of a wrought iron setting for geological specimens signified a timeline of developments for the Mexican commissioners who had selected it as a representative stand. The symbolic reference to a Moorish palace in Spain held the additional message that the Mexican nation-state had acquired its own sovereignty while retaining ties to Europe.

Figure 1. The Mexican Alhambra in 1884 New Orleans. By Herbert S. Fairall, via Wikimedia Commons.

Five years later, the 1889 Paris Exposition pavilion would produce quite a different set of associations and myths, reflecting the influential forces at that time. The “Aztec Palace” design recognizably symbolized Mexican tradition through fantasies of Aztec imperial cities and pleasure gardens and was universally read as Mexico’s signature public monument, an archetype linking national identity with the institutionalization of Mexican cultural heritage.

The process of designing the Mexican pavilion for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle began as a competition. The French called for iconic structures. Rival teams were instructed to render architectural plans: Luis Salazar, an engineer, teamed up with architects Vicente Reyes and José María Alva. Architect-engineer Antonio de Anza and historian Antonio Peñafiel joined forces on a second team.32 The winning design came from the Anza–Peñafiel team. This pavilion, which was filled with allegorical figures, symbols, and other adornments drawn from Mexican archeology, constituted a sum of national aspirations. For the public, it symbolized Aztec imperial cities and pleasure gardens. Measuring thirty meters wide and seventy meters long, it only reached a height of fourteen meters: a teocalli, or truncated pyramid, with a rectangular base and a central portico decorated with caryatids, friezes, cornices, and pilasters. The central façade featured six representations of Aztec heroes designed by Jesús Contreras: (from left to right) Cacama, Cuitlahuac, Cuauhtémoc, Totoquihuatzin, Nezahualcoyotl, and Itzcoatl. They were complemented by a second set on either side with Centeotl, Tlaloc, Chalchiutlicue, Xochiquetzal, Camaxtli, and Yacatecuhtli. According to Peñafiel, they signified the high degree of civilization and heroism of the Aztec world. He had determined that the Aztecs were superior to the Greeks in their art.

Figure 2. The Aztec Palace in 1889 Paris. By Aalto University Commons (Pavilion of Mexico. Paris World Exhibition 1889), via Wikimedia Commons.

This pavilion generated intense public interest. The organizers of the Expo lauded the emblematic pavilion as a genuine attempt to construct a national architecture.33 In spite of this, in terms of artistic discourse, intellectual circles questioned achieving originality for Mexico’s artistic forms relative to universal patterns of beauty.34 Thus, Mexico’s fin de siècle performance at the 1900 Paris fair signified a return to Hispanism, spiritualism, antipopulism, and strong anti-Americanism as a result of the 1898 Spanish-American War.

By 1900, world’s fairs were regarded in Europe as a financial burden for their hosts as well as participants, a phenomenon labeled “exhibition fatigue.” Simply stated, the purpose of participating in fairs had broadened and shifted from economic necessity to political expediency. To celebrate the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, Antonio de Anza designed a simple and elegant building in the neoclassical style. Mexico’s chief commissioner, Sebastián B. de Mier, believed, along with Anza and others, that the Mexican exhibit should communicate a simple message of civic responsibility and internationalism. The pavilion was thus conceived as an elegant and traditional envelope that transformed the idea of “Mexico” into something at once historical and dynamic. The form of the building denoted universal philosophical values associated with Europe and with classical antiquity and therefore, by association, the structure relayed information about Mexico. It implied that beliefs and values acceptable to Europeans were acceptable to Mexicans as well. The influence of European tradition upon pavilion design, however, did not last long. For the 1901 Buffalo exhibition, Mexico constructed a Spanish colonial-style pavilion. Mexicans would subsequently focus not so much on creating a new image of Mexico but on developing existing ideas by appropriating forms and symbols from previous fairs.

If, as suggested, Mexican architecture gave Mexico a voice by which to reach the largest audience and perhaps mold the cultural meaning and reception of Mexico both temporally and geographically, then the medium of the exhibition and the authoritative character of international exhibitions (which displayed, in addition to products of industry and artworks, peoples and artifacts from across the globe) prevailed as the principle mode of representation. This is evident in the idea of world’s fairs as “marketplaces” of identity. As Rydell argues in relation to the Buffalo fair, at these events, ethnological displays and midway attractions with ethnological attributes were the main draw and as such stimulated historical and utopian narratives calculated to reinforce nationalism and racism. In her work on the anthropology of fairs, Nancy Parezco argues that ethnographic displays were used to educate and entertain visitors, and government officials used them to advance their own agendas. They also influenced public opinion and popularized scientific racism through hierarchical displays of human types. The 1904 Saint Louis fair, one of the largest and most important American fairs, was envisioned a great anthropological laboratory. This exposition was specifically designed to support prevailing ideas and policies toward Indians, and it highlighted the “exotic” nature of native people. The problem for Latin American countries was how to use contemporary adults and children as foils to emphasize their new and progressive national histories or, alternatively, to celebrate their contribution to the national economy.

Troupes of male and female dancers and singers from all over the world, including Mexico, entertained audiences with national and popular songs, giving fairs energy. Thousands of Americans and Europeans paid to view the so-called anthropological of foreign people in model villages. It was the 1889 Paris Exposition that initially shaped the practice of human displays, presenting Mexicans as representatives of the “family of man.” The exhibition system legitimized the theatrical representation of the culture of different nationalities touted as “authentic people” carrying on their “normal” everyday activities. Among the many “attractions” of the 1901 Pan American exposition, as well as a petting zoo, was a transplanted Mexican village. It is referred to in Frederick Taylor’s “The Midway,” which he authored for the commemorative exhibition text. Taylor was director of concessions in Buffalo. “Street of Mexico” was transported to the midway complete with mariachis, bullfighters, artisans, and cooks.

Mexico’s history of participating in ethnological displays is obviously problematic for critics in consideration of current theories of ethnocentrism. To a certain extent, it is the product of a growing sense of nationhood in the early 20th century, a period when so-called peripheral cultures were in danger of losing their local traditions in the pursuit of material gain. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that while President Díaz worked to prevent “folkloric curiosities” from being displayed, diplomacy prevailed and Mexicans continued to entertain large audiences.

In 1922 Rio de Janeiro, the image being conveyed was of Mexico as part of the continental conception of the cosmic race, one that was emphatically Hispanic and anti-American, and that celebrated ethnic hybridity, highlighting the government’s theme of noteworthy transformation. The hybrid nature of old and new symbols and images of nationhood was projected via the mixed participation of the older world’s fair organizers and members of what historian Luis González called “the blue generation,” in discussing modernists from between the Porfiriato and the revolution. The 1930 Seville fair was used to give a romanticized international impression of the Mexican Revolution, debuting it as the official postrevolutionary idea of the Mexican modern nation. Mexico at Seville included selective anthropological, archaeological, and political indigenism; it consolidated a rewriting of the national history that resolved the problems of the country’s “golden age,” buttressed by ancient civilizations. Designed by Manuel Amábilis, the pavilion boasted Mayan architectural components and exhibited a strong tendency toward homogenizing and mythologizing revolutionary symbols.35

Modern Expos (1950–1982)

By the middle of the 20th century, fair organizers insisted that developing countries focus on culture rather than industry. International exhibitions held in Brussels, Belgium (1958) Seattle (1962), New York (1964–1965), and Montreal, Canada (1967) were conceived and designed as corporate showcases. Mexican participation in this period is influenced by a military and political alliance with the United States that began after World War II and extended into the Cold War period; a shift in Mexico’s economic development policy away from the distribution of wealth to free-market capitalism; and political stability associated with the rise of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The advent of mass communication in tandem with travel led to the phenomenon of global mass tourism. It comprised “a mutually reinforcing effort on the part of the Mexican and U.S. governments to forge cultural policies aimed at reframing popular perceptions of Mexican culture and of the country’s revolutionary process.”36

Between 1958 and 1967, Mexico took a new path, the logical extension of 19th-century cultural exchanges and diplomatic interactions, and established itself as the destination for holidaymakers.37 The illustrated booklet, Mexico, handed out to visitors at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, reproduces all the images that popularized Mexico in the American imagination. The visual symbols of Mexico included the Great Aztec Temple, the Pyramid of the Sun (Teotihuacan), the Olmec head, the Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl, the murals of Diego Rivera, the Azteca, and the Mexican climate. Mexicans invited visitors to take pleasure in discovering these attractions with the urgent requirement that they transport themselves in time and space. Through the language of advertising, Mexico directly and eloquently addressed visitors as consumers, inviting them to fantasize about “snow-capped peaks” and “tropical forests” in “a land of enchantment” populated by living descendants of the Maya, Olmeca, the Zapoteca, and the Azteca nations. Implausibly, it first appears, the point of entry for this narrative is a cosmonaut, a helmeted navigator visualized on the cover page pictured flying over modern Mexico, DC. “Before that trip to the moon . . . visit Mexico” the header reads. Taken together, the text and images describe a futuristic story. The choice of an astronaut is, of course, not accidental. America and the Soviet Union were engaged in a space race and travelling to Mexico by airplane was already a reality. Inside the pavilion, visitors could wander through halls that included leather goods, china pottery, clay, glassware, Indian blankets, and bright cloth.38

The race to space fundamentally changed the culture of international expositions. The 1958 World Fair at Brussels was noteworthy, for example, for the references to atomic symbols; the atomium was Expo 58’s main pavilion and icon, and it symbolized faith in progress and the democratic will to maintain peace among nations. In the Russian pavilion, the exhibits included the Sputnik, which had just completed its first orbit around the earth. Also present on the exposition site were visual references to fashionable architects such as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van de Rohe. The Mexican national exhibits were also housed in a building in the high modernist style. The international aesthetic of the 1950s was rational and functional, and this aesthetic contributed to the success of other artistic elements providing Mexicans with an identity. The architecture framed two contrasting representations of Mexico, tradition and modern side-by-side. By now these elements made Mexico identifiable abroad. Facing the main entrance to the expo was a modern construction, a mural by José Chávez Morado entitled: “Mexico A Modern Country of Ancient Culture.” It had been commissioned for Expo 58 and allegorized natural resource development. The other piece was a Mesoamerican sculpture, a Tula Atlante from the state of Hidalgo in Mexico. According to art historian Ana Garduño: “In this way, the Mexican pavilions elaborated ex-profeso to ‘expose’ to Mexico in the universal fairs of the mid-twentieth century operated as a true nationalist museum for export, although undoubtedly also projected considering domestic consumption, to strengthen stereotypes countries. In each of them, the same binary concept was reiterated to obsession, notwithstanding some variants: tradition-modernity, past-present.”39

By now mural art was the official national art form; following the Mexican Revolution, it had become a representative discourse. Mexico’s 1950 Venice Biennale exhibit promoted the national school of art and the “explicitly Mexican” style associated with Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco, and Tamayo in its official pavilion. Los tres grandes was a triumphant success and this boosted Mexican self-esteem.40 Luis Castañeda has examined how the 1958 Mexico pavilion, designed by Pedro Ramírez Vásquez and Rafael Mijares and curated by Fernando Gamboa, sought to entwine architecture with defining notions of a depoliticized “mestizo” race in a calculated attempt to brand Mexico.41 The “new” Mexico, enticing visitors with culturally distinctive emblems and spectacular images in the Mexican exhibit, paired elements of the old (and problematic) representation of pre-Columbian art with modernist exhibition design in a dynamic model constructed to transform the complexities of Mexican reality into a code. By 1958, there was a growing sense that tourists would in all probability infuse vast amounts of money into the Mexican economy. Nearly 10 million people attended Seattle ’62, known as Century 21: the exposition was a giant amusement park. Of immense proportions, an Olmec head that was transferred from Mexico especially for this expo excited the popular imagination and was later to circulate widely across the United States as a canonical Mexican work.42 In 1964, Mexico interpreted the central theme of the New York World’s Fair, “peace and understanding,” through an elegant minimalist structure designed with reflective surfaces and overlooking a massive Olmec head.

Figure 3. “Fernando Gamboa and Charles Poletti at the arrival of the Olmec head to the Mexican Pavilion in 1962.” Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

In the 1960s, American tourists took advantage of their improved postwar economic circumstances to visit Mexico and experience not just the landscape but also its “premodern” culture. The beginning of corporate culture at world fairs can also be traced to the rise of technology and mass communications, which became a central focus of exposition design during this period. When the New York World’s Fair was held in 1964, everyone seemed to accept that cultural tourism would once again be central and that fairs had become commercialized. Fair officials determined priorities and approaches and thus this fair was centered around organizer Robert Moses’s concern for the bottom line. This concern is documented in multiple communications between Moses and Charles Poletti, the vice president of International Affairs and Exhibits, in 1964. Fair participants, including Mexico, were ordered to promote cultural tourism in order to draw in millions. This dictum raised some concerns among New York’s cultural elites. An Art News editorial published in April 1964 condemned Moses as an “art slayer,” whose disregard for high culture created a fair where “the kittenish spirit of Walt Disney scampers like a glass fiber dinosaur across the flatlands.”43

Canada’s Expo 67 opened on April 27th of that year, inspired by the famous novella, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943). The principal theme was a “community of man” (which Canadian Marshall McLuhan developed as the “global village”) and the subthemes were Man and His Health; Man the Explorer; Man the Producer; Man the Creator; and Man the Provider. Located on the Île Sainte-Helene and Île Notre-Dame, exhibits such as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the United States and Moshe Safdie’s revolutionary Habitat caused Life magazine to declare Expo 67 “a stunning leap into tomorrow.” British Pathé, a leader in cinematic journalism and documentary film production in its heyday, enthusiastically described the spectacle as “a world of fun, fantasy and fact.”44

Nations, industries, and individual participants were invited to design their stands interpreting the central themes. Pavilion architect Rafael Ramirez González included a Mayan temple constructed out of stone. Popular with visitors, over twenty mariachis provided musical entertainment. Mexico’s pavilion on one side resembled an enormous seashell, suggesting the country’s coastline, and on the other, a barren hill, evoking the high rugged mountains of the Yucatan. Visitors must have been impressed by the statue of an Olmec prince greeting them into the world of the Toltecs and the Aztecs, along with memories of dead civilizations.

Beyond the temple, fairgoers entered the main exhibition hall along a walkway flanked by a series of sculptures representing traditional and modern Mexican art. Rufino Tamayo’s El mexicano y su mundo, painted for the Mexican pavilion of the World Expo and symbolizing the struggle of the Mexican people, filled the main exhibition hall.

Once inside the pavilion, pictures of farms, mines, and beaches depicted the resources of Mexico, rich in variety and comprehensive in number. An exhibition of horticultural products reminded the visitor that Mexico introduced corn, chocolate, tomatoes, and peppers to the world. The different sections of the exhibition also displayed Mexico’s cultural capital. In contrast to the foodstuffs stood a replica of a sacred cultural monument, the Pyramid of the Niches, located in the low mountains of Papantla, Veracruz state. It was surrounded by a display of pre-Columbian cultural antiquities in the form of statues representing the gods of AmerIndian mythology. Religious and secular artifacts, dating back to the 16th century and relating to the Catholic faith, further contributed to build the crowd’s sense of Mexican history. For example, an 18th-century baroque altar of gold leaf and silver had been brought in from Tepotztlan as well as monumental caryatids from the city of Tula. The exhibit included full-scale replicas of the three Bonampack chambers, first seen by non-Mayans in 1946, the most ancient frescos in the Americas. Intended to evoke the grandeur of the Mayan civilization, these paintings are noteworthy for portraying human sacrifice and war.45

A select committee, including Mexico’s Agustin Yañez, secretary of public education, was in charge of choosing works for the fine arts exhibition shown in Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts at Cité-du-Havre. Among the works featured was Adolescent Figure, in sandstone from the Huaxtec region of Mexico, and a colossal Male Head, representing “Man and the Infinite,” on loan from the Museo de Antropologia at the Universidad Veracruzana, Jalapa.46

From 1964 to 1967, the planning phase for HemisFair ‘68, José Gómez Sicre and Pan American Union (PAU) Director of Cultural Affairs Rafael Squirru acted as consultants, influencing the role and organization of visual arts within the fair. Squirru saw mestizaje in this context as the combination of Latin and American interests, a further extension of the cosmic race theories of Vasconcelos that also aligned with the “Confluence” theme of HemisFair. Mexico City opened a HemisFair branch office in 1965 and used the fair to encourage tourism to the 1968 Olympics.

Concha Romero James headed PAU and “panamericanized” policies during the Good Neighbor Policy era. Romero James incorporated visual art into PAU cultural programming. Claire Fox refers to her favoring feminism, mass education, and the Mexican school of art as “a source of inspiration for Gómez Sicre.” Following Romero James’s recruitment, Sicre and Rafael Squirru, as the next heads of the PAU, semiprivatized the group’s funding, partnering with big businesses such as oil companies. Gómez Sicre, a curator, consultant, art dealer, and tastemaker extraordinaire, conceived of the Western Hemisphere as an art circuit, setting up multinational networks to facilitate its functioning.47

Painter and muralist Juan O’Gorman, an architect and a close friend of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who designed the famous Casa Azul, was a professor at Yale University during the 1960s. He also lectured at the University of Texas in Austin where he was commissioned to create a commemorative mural for HemisFair ‘68. With support and funding from local philosopher Flora Cameron Crichton, O’Gorman built a five-ton mosaic measuring 2,600 square feet. It consisted of 540 numbered panels that were made in O’Gorman’s studio near Mexico City and transported to San Antonio for installation at the newly constructed convention center along San Antonio’s River Walk. HemisFair ’68: A Confluence of Civilizations of the Americas, billed as a celebration of hemispheric relations, took place in downtown San Antonio in a historic district. Twenty historic structures, out of 129 originally on the site, were preserved and restored and used for restaurants, fair offices, and boutiques for the duration of the fair, which drew attention to the city’s culture and promised economic revitalization. Corporate sponsorship ensured that participants from all over Central and South America could attend the fair, and many of them were facilitated access to state-of-the-art equipment and technology in the $13.5 million purpose-built convention space. Mexico was represented by the Ballet Folklórico de Mexico, and an exhibit of Hispanic fine art, a display of South American rural life, and ceremonial dancing by Indian tribes entertained the many visitors in attendance. O’Gorman’s striking mural carried the message of the confluence of peoples and cultures coexisting with the natural world. Still visible on the wall of the Lila Cockrell Theatre, it symbolizes the spirit of Latin America in the form of a plumed serpent, Quetzalcóatl, the ancient god of Mesoamerica.

Visitors identified the Mexican pavilion at the 1982 Knoxville International Energy Exposition (World’s Fair Knoxville, Tennessee), billed as “a dramatic international showcase of ideas, products and achievements,” by means of four representative Aztec symbols on the exterior of the building. The theme of this fair was “energy turns the world” and the pavilion offered an insight into the future with its iconic Aztec Sun Stone and an overhead projection of a satellite orbiting Earth. A large section of the space simulated an oil pool. The theme of the pavilion was “world energy plan,” and while tourists may have interpreted the Sun Stone as a calendar symbolically representing the past four suns, it may have been intended to show Mexico’s firm historical identity or even sovereign authority, an interpretation Townsend advanced in State and Cosmos in the Art of Tenochtitlan. In his theory, the central mask of the Sun Stone represented “both the sacred earth and the territory of the Mexican nation.”48

Discussion of the Literature

Over the past two decades, national, international, “universal,” or world exhibitions and the history of institutional networks (world fairs, biennials, salons, and prizes) have become subjects of intellectual as well as popular attention. Broader discussions have added to this analysis while vast amounts of theory on historical modernity, colonization, and indigenismo have achieved prominence in studies of Mexico’s contribution to these great events.

The public display of nations such as Mexico at popular expositions and similar events was comprehensive and involved planning, organizing, and staging of all of Mexico’s technical and artistic activities. The comprehensiveness of these international gatherings needs to be understood in the context of a struggle for legitimacy and in a local, national, and international context. The broader cultural discourse has invigorated Latin American area studies, generating an impressive body of both international and Mexican literature.

The early Mexican presence in the exhibitions of 1851 and 1885 has been discussed in colonial terms in connection with the French intervention in Mexico by Escandón (1856), a Mexican diplomat. Other contemporary observers have similar narratives describing the latter part of that century. Godoy’s publications from 1891 to 1928 and work on Mexican commissions influenced Mexico’s presence at various world’s fairs. Other writers, such as Median y Ormaechea and de Mier (1901), are of a similar vein. Scholars have drawn upon these early narratives to infer the underlying discontent in progress and modernity.

Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo argues that the purpose behind Mexican participation in world exhibitions was to symbolically and economically establish credibility as a so-called civilized nation. World’s fairs were used by imperial powers to establish their turf and as an ideological reflex for modernization. As a former Spanish colony, Mexico sought to compete with the industrial nations of Europe and America and used expositions strategically to demonstrate its sovereignty. Fairs also served to display national characteristics. Strategic participation in these events represented a symbolic challenge for Mexico, which to Europeans appeared to be a world apart. This issue was solved ideologically and symbolically by acknowledging Mexico’s deep roots in pre-Columbian civilization and by focusing on the modernist view of progressive social transformation as a point of reference. Linking the indigenous past to economic visions of future prosperity lent Mexican displays at world exhibitions an exotic note, fostering a national visual discourse that the model of 19th-century fairs sanctioned. Tenorio-Trillo’s studies of late 19th-century fairs focus on Mexico’s presence in the Paris Universal Exposition (1889), Rio de Janeiro (1922), and Seville (1929) as functioning to create archetypes of modern Mexico, proclaiming Mexico’s burgeoning vision of itself as a nation to the world and to its people.

Most studies highlight the optimism and contradictoriness that characterize 19th- and early 20th-century fairs. Science and technology, art and industry, didacticism and spectacle, sport and festivities: all describe what visitors were offered at world fairs and their common features. A body of scholarship connects and extends Tenorio-Trillo’s work into the fields of art, architecture, intellectual history, philosophy, political and social science, and, more recently, identity politics. Some studies look to the commercial and cultural factors connecting various Latin American exhibits at world’s fairs, while others look to the history of expositions from the standpoint of their participants. Many scholars, including Lisa Rubens and David Nye, have made reference to the “boosterism” associated with specific world fairs.

The end of the 1980s led to a focus on nationalism and identity and publications from a comparative historical and cultural perspective. Shortly after, other writers sought to expand on these notions by using aspects of exposition history to develop their arguments. Two of these more recent interpreters, Martinez Rodriguez and Bueno, agree that the visibility of Mexico at world’s fairs stimulated a national aesthetic representative of Porfidian cultural politics. Rodriguez suggests that official mexicanidad “employed the symbolic power of Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past through a discursive manipulation of history . . . reflected in important governmental commissions for monuments and architecture,” while Bueno, who analyzes Porfidian constructions of a unified modern Mexican nation by means of a representative cultural patrimony, emphasizes the importance of archaeology for national visual discourse.

To an extent, this literature is still based on a comparative methodology utilized in the art field by Bennett and by Hobsbawm. Bennett argued that public institutions exercise a lot of power over citizens and that society moved from private to public displays and spectacle with the intent of increasing government control of individuals and society. Hobsbawn proposed a theoretical model that suggested large events such as fairs generated a sense of cultural tradition via shared collective experience, which in turn solidified ideas of national identity. To move an analysis of Mexico at the world’s fairs substantially beyond this point requires the effective integration of aspects of these works and the relevant cultural theorists Greenhalgh (1988), Rydell (1984, 1993, 1994, 2006), Mattie (1998), Gold and Gold (2005), and Findling and Pelle (2008), among others.

The mid to late 1990s and early 2000s saw the deconstruction of traditional notions of geopolitical identity and a questioning of colonialism and ethnic stereotypes, the legacy of fairs. Coming out of Latin American Studies, art history, postcolonial theory, cultural, ethnic, and gender studies, among others, this research is ultimately responsible for the construction of the idea of Mexico at international exhibitions today. Scholarly literature on the transformation of world expositions into art biennials at the global level is also sparse, and even the origins of contemporary biennials is under dispute. We need a systematic study of the deeper cultural, philosophical, and historical issues that contextualize the development of Mexico’s 21st-century fairs as a counternarrative, one that explains their functioning and their impact in global terms, but it has yet to be published.

In short, the study of Mexico’s participation in world’s fairs and other international exhibitions is just getting started. There is a lack of primary documentation, very little reliable secondary literature, and even in this age of digital files, access remains a question. Yet there are considerable resources out there, although much of the historical archival material is in the Spanish language. Sadly, we lose the opportunity to tell the story of Mexico’s participation in world’s fairs when aspects of it must be composed largely from scattered fragments.

Primary Sources

The historical record of individual expositions in the form of operational records such as official correspondence from the hosts of international fairs to Mexican authorities, diplomatic notes, daily records, monthly departmental reports, final reports submitted by department heads at the close of each fair, and visitor’s comments is extremely incomplete. To perform further research scholars would need to seek out primary sources scattered in various national and international archives. The Archivo General de la Nación and the Archivo Porfirio Díaz, Universidad Iberoamericana are essential resources in Mexico. Perhaps the most important early sources of information are official guidebooks to individual fairs and visitor guides, some of which are held in digitized archival collections. As an example, the Digital Library of the University of Missouri includes select reference guides and other resources related to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in 1904. Similarly, the full catalogue of the 1901 PanAmerican Exposition is available through the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Contemporary newspaper reports may also be accessed online. A special note is necessary regarding the earliest books authored by Mexicans in relation to world fairs.

Pedro Escandón was the first to comment on the limited presence of private exhibitors at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London. Writing for the Mexican minister of public works, Escandón, a Mexican diplomat and president of the Mexican commission for the 1855 Universal Exposition of Products of Agriculture, Industry, and Fine Arts in Paris, was very explicit about the supremacy of French paintings over the Mexican contributions to the exposition. Other contemporary observers express similar sentiments; for examples, see José Francisco Godoy’s México en Paris and La ciudad de Chicago y la Exposición Universal de 1893.49 Godoy authored semiofficial material on Mexico for several universal expositions, participated in the expositions as part of Mexican commissions, and wrote a number of books for the Mexican government, including a biography of Porfirio Díaz. He also participated in the preparations for Mexico’s presence at the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo and published México en Paris, México en Sevilla (1928). His writings and input were therefore influential to Mexico’s presence at various world’s fairs. The 1901 volume by Antonio Median y Ormaechea and Sebastián B. de Mier’s, México en la Exposición Universal Internacional de Paris—1900, is in a similar vein. Pamphlets, for example, the 1894 pamphlet La Exposición Universal del Primer Centenario Mexicano, provide further interesting commentary. Scholars have drawn on these early and intimate narratives to infer the underlying discontent in progress and modernity.

Further Reading

  • Bennett, Tony. The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics. London: Routledge, 1995.
  • Blumberg, Arnold. “The Diplomacy of the Mexican Empire, 1863–1867.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.
  • Brading, David. “Patriotismo y nacionalismo en la historia de México.” AIH, Actas 12 (1995): 1–18.
  • Bueno, Christina. “Forjando Patrimonio: The Making of Archaeological Patrimony in Porfirian Mexico.” Hispanic American Historical Review 90, no. 2 (2009): 215–245.
  • Castañeda, Luis M. Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda, and the 1968 Olympics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
  • Findling, John E., and Kimberley D. Pelle. Encyclopedia of World’s Fairs and Expositions. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.
  • Fox, Claire F. Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • García Canclini, Nestor. “El patrimonio cultural de México y la construcción imaginaria de lo nacional.” In El patrimonio nacional de México. 2 vols. Edited by Enrique Florescano. Mexico, DF: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes/Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1997.
  • Garrigan, Shelley E. Collecting Mexico: Museums, Monuments, and the Creation of National Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • Gilbert, James. “World’s Fairs as Historical Events.” In Fair Representations: World’s Fairs and the Modern World. Edited by Robert Rydell and Nancy E. Gwynn. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1994.
  • González, Robert. “Beyond the Midway: Pan-American. Modernity in the 1930s.” In Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s. Edited by Robert W. Rydell and Laura Burd Schiavo. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.
  • González, Robert Alexander. Designing Pan-America, U.S. Architectural Visions for the Western Hemisphere. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.
  • Herrera Feria, María de Lourdes. “La puesta en escena de la modernidad y el progreso: la participación de México en las exposiciones universales de la segunda mitad del siglo XIX.” Historia e Historiografía, PhD diss., 25–33.
  • Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terrence Ranger. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Moss, Zahra M. “¡Viva Mexico! World’s Fair Exhibits and Souvenirs: The Shaping of Collective Consciousness.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 28 (2010): 64–79.
  • Munro, Lisa. “Investigating World’s Fairs: A Historiography.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 28 (2010): 80–94.
  • Ramírez, Fausto. “Vertientes nacionalistas en el modernismo.” In El nacionalismo en el arte mexicano (IX Coloquio de Historia del Arte). Mexico City, 1986.
  • Rydell, Robert. All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • Rydell, Robert. Books of the Fairs. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1990.
  • Rydell, Robert. World of Fairs: The Century of Progress Expositions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Rydell, Robert. “New Directions for Scholarship about World Expos.” “Seize the Day” symposium, Melbourne, Australia, October 2006.
  • Rydell, Robert W., and Nancy E. Gwinn, eds. Fair Representations: World’s Fairs and the Modern World. Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1994.
  • Smithsonian Institution Libraries. The Books of Fairs: Materials about World’s Fairs, 1834–1916. Introduction by Robert Rydell. Chicago: American Library Association, 1992.
  • Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio. Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Yeager, Gene. “Porfirian Commercial Propaganda: Mexico in the World Industrial Expositions.” The Americas 34 (1977): 230–243.


  • 1. Paul Young, Globalization and the Great Exhibition (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 44.

  • 2. Richard D. Mandell, Paris 1900: The Great World’s Fair (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967), 68.

  • 3. Robert Rydell, International Expositions in Historical Perspective in Books of the Fairs (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1990), 7.

  • 4. Tony Bennett, “The Exhibitionary Complex,” in Thinking about Exhibitions, ed. Reesa Greenberg, Sandy Nairne, and Bruce W. Ferguson (New York: Routledge, 1996), 82.

  • 5. Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs: Crafting a Modern Nation (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), 2.

  • 6. Burton Benedict, “International Exhibitions and National Identity,” Anthropology Today 6 (1991): 7–9.

  • 7. Robert Rydell, All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 237.

  • 8. Rydell, All the World's a Fair, 55.

  • 9. Nancy J. Parezo and Don D. Fowler, Anthropology Goes to the Fair: The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007); Christina Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio: The Making of Archaeological Patrimony in Porfirian Mexico,” Hispanic American Historical Review 90, no. 2 (2010): 216–245; Inés Dussel, “Between Exoticism and Universalism: Educational Sections in Latin American Participation at International Exhibitions, 1860–1900,” Paedagogica Historica 47, no. 5 (2011): 601–617; Shelley E. Garrigan, Collecting Mexico: Museums, Monuments, and the Creation of National Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Fabiola Martínez Rodrıíguez, “Representing the Nation: Art and Identity in Porfirian Mexico,” National Identities 15, no. 4 (2013): 333–355; and Luis M. Castañeda, Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda, and the 1968 Olympics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

  • 10. Pedro Escandón, “Escuela española,” in La industria y las bellas artes, en la Exposición Universal de 1855: memoria (Paris: Imprimerie centrale de Napo Chaix et Ce., 1856), 451–460.

  • 11. Guido Abbattista, “Concepts and Categories in the History of World Expositions: Introductory Remarks,” in Moving Bodies, Displaying Nations: National Cultures, Race and Gender in World Expositions Nineteeth to Twenty-first Century, ed. Guido Abbattista (Trieste, Italy: University of Trieste, 2012–2013), 9.

  • 12. Catalogue Officiel Special de la République des Etats-Unis du Mexique (Paris: Imprimeries Lemercier, 1900). A further account of this exposition appears in Mexico en la Exposición universal internacional de París—1900 (Paris: Imprimeries de J. Dumoulin, 1901).

  • 13. Social historians have investigated the pedagogical aspects of fairs, still another of their discursive representations. This history is examined in Robert A. Trennet’s “Selling Indian Education at World’s Fairs and Expositions, 1893–1904,” American Indian Quarterly 11, no. 3 (1987): 203–220; and in Inés Dussel, “Between Exoticism and Universalism: Educational Sections in Latin American Participation at International Exhibitions, 1860–1900,” Paedagogica Historica 47, no. 5 (2011): 601–617.

  • 14. John Findling and Kimberly D. Pelle, eds., Encyclopedia of World’s Fairs and Expositions (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 41.

  • 15. For more on this subject, see Wilfrid Hardy Callcott, Liberalism in Mexico, 1857–1929 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1965); and Nicholas Cheetham, A History of Mexico (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1970).

  • 16. For more, see Lopez Guzman and Janice Lee Javes, “Strangers to Each Other: The American Encounter with Mexico, 1877–1910” (PhD diss., American University, 1999).

  • 17. Robert Rydell, “International Expositions in Historical Perspective,” in Books of the Fairs (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1990), 7.

  • 18. Rydell, Books of the Fairs, 11.

  • 19. Findling and Pelle, Encyclopedia of World’s Fairs and Expositions, 200–219.

  • 20. Tony Bennett, The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics (London: Routledge, 1995), 102.

  • 21. G. Yeager, “Porfirian Commercial Propaganda: Mexico in the World Industrial Expositions,” The Americas 34 (1977): 230–243. For more on Velasco, see Fausto Ramírez, “Vertientes nacionalistas en el modernismo,” in El nacionalismo en el arte mexicano (IX Coloquio de Historia del Arte) (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1986), and by Fausto Ramírez, “Acotaciones iconográficas a la evolución de episodios y localidades en los paisajes de José María Velasco,” in José María Velasco: Homenaje, ed. Fausto Ramírez (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1989).

  • 22. Luis M. Castañeda, Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda, and the 1968 Olympics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 43.

  • 23. Rafael López Guzmán and Aurora Yaratzeth Avilés García, “Presencia Mexicana en las Exposiciones Internacionales. El Pabellón ‘Morisco’ de Nueva Orleans (1884),” AWRAQ 11 (2015): 59–84. The authors write that a map representing “all the territories and products, railways and telegraph lines” in the same section would have made the connection between private enterprise and business, natural resources, and ultramodern technologies quite apparent to visitors (62).

  • 24. Clementina Díaz y de Ovando, “México en la Exposición Universal de 1889,” Anales del Instituto de. Investigaciones Estéticas 61 (1990): 122.

  • 25. Barbara Mundy and Dana Leibsohn, “Of Copies, Casts, and Codices: Mexico on Display in 1892,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 29–30 (Spring–Autumn, 1996): 331.

  • 26. Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs, 38–39. Spanish edition: Artilugio de la nación moderna: México en las exposiciones universales, 1880–1930 (México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1998).

  • 27. David Brading, “Patriotismo y nacionalismo en la historia de México,” AIH, Actas 12 (1995). The miscegenation of Latino Native Americans and white Europeans is termed mestizaje.

  • 28. Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs, 241.

  • 29. Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs, 178.

  • 30. For a detailed analysis of this iconic pavilion, see López Guzmán and Yaratzeth Avilés García, “Presencia Mexicana,” esp. 68–69.

  • 31. Lafcadio Hearn, “Mexico at New Orleans,” Harper’s Weekly, A Journal of Civilization XXIX (March 14, 1885): 167.

  • 32. Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico at the World’s Fairs, 66.

  • 33. Alvaro Fernandez-Bravo, “Ambivalent Argentina: Nationalism, Exoticism, and Latin Americanism at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition,” Nepantla: Views from South 2, no. 1 (2001): 115–139.

  • 34. For example, the Academia de Letrás (established in the1830s), the Renacimiento group (established1860s), and la Libertad group (established in the1870s).

  • 35. Manuel Amábilis, “El pabellón de México en Sevilla (1930) ,” in La polémica del arte nacional en México, 1850–1910 (Mexico, DF: Fondo de Cultura económica, 1988), 317–332.

  • 36. Eric Zolov, “Discovering a Land ‘Mysterious and Obvious’: The Renarrativizing of Postrevolutionary Mexico,” in Fragments of a Golden Age: The Politics of Culture in Mexico Since 1940, eds. Gilbert M. Joseph, Anne Rubenstein, and Eric Zolov (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

  • 37. Lopez Guzman and Javes, “Strangers to Each Other.”

  • 38. This material is listed in the 1962 official press book titled, Seattle World’s Fair 1962 (Seattle, WA: Century 21 Exposition), 37.

  • 39. Ana Garduño, “Entre la modernidad y la tradición. Imágenes de un museo de arte mexicano para la exportación,” in Discurso Visual, revista electrónica del Cenidiap-INBA, núm. 6, primera época, enero-marzo de 2003.

  • 40. México triunfa en Venecia,” Tiempo: Semanario de la vida y la verdad (Mexico, DF) 17, no. 426 (June 1950): 24–27.

  • 41. Luis M. Castañeda, Spectacular Mexico.

  • 42. This is clearly expressed in Luis M. Castañeda, “Doubling Time,” Grey Room 51 (Spring 2013): 12–39.

  • 43. Julie Nicoletta, “Art Out of Place: International Art Exhibits at the New York World’s Fair of 1964–1965,” Journal of Social History 44, no. 2 (2010): 499–519. The quotation appears in footnote 79.

  • 44. “Expo ’67 (1967),” British Pathé Archive, issue date March 1967, media urn 4273, film id: 417.04.

  • 45. For more on this subject, see Luis Castañeda, “The Exhibitionist State: Image Economies of the Mexican ‘Miracle’,” in Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda, and the 1968 Olympics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

  • 46. National Gallery of Canada, Terre des hommes, exposition international des beaux-arts: Man and His World, International Fine Arts Exhibition, Expo 67, Montreal, Canada (Montreal: International Exhibitions Bureau, 1967).

  • 47. Claire F. Fox, Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). The quotation cited appears on p. 9. Some of the material in this book is discussed in “The PAU Visual Arts Section and the Hemispheric Circulation of Latin American Art during the Cold War,” Getty Research Journal 2 (2010): 83–106.

  • 48. Richard Fraser Townsend, State and Cosmos in the Art of Tenochtitlan (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1979), 69.

  • 49. José Francisco Godoy, México en París (Mexico City, 1891); José Francisco Godoy, México en París, México en Sevilla (Mexico City, 1928); and José Francisco Godoy, La ciudad de Chicago y la Exposición Universal de 1893 (Chicago, 1893).