SALT LAKE CITY -- Thousands of years of artistic expression are on display at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit "Las Artes de Mexico" explores more than 3,500 years of Mexican art and culture, from Mesoamerican artifacts to the paintings of 20th-century modernist masters.
Complementing the traveling exhibit is a collection of works by Utah native Pablo O'Higgins, art by contemporary Mexican artist Adriana Lara and a project by Utah students called "Community: Eat, Work, Play."
The exhibit runs until Sept. 26 at the UMFA at the University of Utah.
In conjunction with the exhibit, cultural anthropologist Marion Oettinger Jr. will give a free lecture today titled "Stalking the Folk Art of Latin America."
Oettinger, the director of San Antonio Museum of Art, will speak at 7 p.m. at UMFA's Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium.
On Thursday, poet Monica de la Torre will have a reading at 3:30 p.m.
The exhibits and the lectures help give Utah art-lovers a glimpse into the rich culture that has existed in Latin American for thousands of years.
UMFA Director Gretchen Dietrich said she does not remember the last time the museum had such a large Mexican and Latin American collection.
It also serves as an opportunity to introduce the museum to a new audience.
"We thought and hoped it would be especially interesting to the growing Hispanic community," Dietrich said. "We want to be a resource that is used by all of the people in our community."
The exhibit is especially important right now with the raging immigration debate, Oettinger said, because it provides Americans a window on Mexican people and the Mexican spirit and society; the two countries are joined at the hip.
"The more we know about our neighbors," Oettinger said, "the more we will be able to deal with these problems."
The exhibition's broad array of artifacts, such as woven fabrics, masks and religious objects from such ancient cultures as the Mayas and Aztecs, as well as paintings by modernist masters, including Rufino Tamayo, Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, fit a central purpose of the museum.
"It's all about opening the museum and making people feel welcome, and having people see new things and try on new ideas," Dietrich said.
Among the works are those by Utah native Pablo O'Higgins, or Paul Higgins, as he was known before he emigrated to Mexico. He started his career as a mural assistant to famed artist Diego Rivera.
O'Higgins went on to work with the Taller de Grafica Popular (People's Graphic Workshop) in 1937 with fellow artist and political activist Leopoldo Mendez.
Dietrich said the UMFA collected all of the O'Higgins work in a two-mile radius of the museum from friends and family of the artist, as well a woman working on his biography.
"What I love about it, it takes all that great stuff that happened in the 1950s and '60s in Mexico and brings it back to Utah in a really strange in bizarre way," Dietrich said. "It was a certain happy number of circumstances that allowed us to bring Mexican art to Utah."