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Art Review: “Creating Encuentros: Changarrito 2012-2024” at Mexic-Arte

New exhibit offers a comprehensive look at the Changarrito art residency program

Reviewed by Meher Qazilbash, May 3, 2024, Arts

Even if you haven’t been to Mexico, you’re probably still aware of changarritos. These vendor carts are pervasive in the streets and massively influential to Mexican culture. Mexic-Arte Museum’s current exhibit, “Creating Encuentros: Changarrito 2012-2024,” explores how these food carts have been repurposed by artists to share their work with the public.

Changarritos allow individuals to start a business with limited resources and without the interference of bureaucratic institutions. Artist Máximo González felt inspired by this method of setting up shop independently, informally, and in a manner that allowed for direct communication between the creator and the consumer. In defiance of the traditional art world, notoriously filled with glossy doors that open only for the elite and those whose work caters to the elite, González created the first Changarrito art cart in Mexico City in 2005. Since then his Changarrito program has traveled and flourished, giving artists everywhere the opportunity to independently display, sell, and discuss their work.

In 2012, the project was introduced to the Mexic-Arte Museum, leading to a changarrito outside the institution on Congress and Fifth where Austinites can engage with and buy art. “Creating Encuentros: Changarrito 2012-2024” displays a selection of pieces from over 100 artists, each acquired from different Changarrito residencies over the past 12 years.

The show’s components reflect the freeness intended for changarritos. The mediums and styles of each of the artists vary so wildly that it’s impossible to narrow the exhibit to one theme. Some examples: an audio snippet titled Sonidos de México by artist Lisa Saldivar that plays the vibrant noises of Mexican streets; a colorful portrait titled El Guitarrista depicting a man playing a guitar; and a sculpture titled Barbie Shiva Goddess by April Garcia that’s exactly what it sounds like. If there is one central intention of the show, it seems to be showcasing the vastness, complexity, and skill within the Latin American art community.

The exhibition is arranged in chronological order, separated by year, a curatorial choice that deepens the experience. The viewer is encouraged to note the distinct qualities of each year, as well as the growth of the Changarrito program itself. Over the years I noted that works seemed to become larger-scale, more colorful, and more ornate. One could read those changes as evocative of the time, or simply the result of a more ambitious approach to making use of one’s changarrito.

Perhaps alarm bells went off in your head at some point that a ticketed museum now holds what was intended to be a public art project. While this is true of the exhibit, the Changarrito program still maintains the integrity of the initial project. The residency at Mexic-Arte carries on the mission of highlighting Latin American artists, both at the museum’s prime location and on its website (during COVID, the project took on a digital dimension). In addition to increasing the artists’ visibility, artists receive 100% of the profit for the work they sell on their cart.

In “Creating Encuentros: Changarrito 2012-2024,” the project breaks significant barriers. Unintentionally, González’s program exceeded its initial purpose and managed to enter artists into the more exclusive institutions. The story of the Changarrito project is a hopeful one, showing that a DIY creative movement filled with weird art can get recognized by a major museum without getting its spirit killed. These days, in a continuously commercialized Austin, it’s nice to see such an optimistic outcome.

“Creating Encuentros: Changarrito 2012-2024”

Mexic-Arte Museum

Through August 25

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