Jesse Lerner’s project is a book-length study of contemporary visual artists based in Mexico whose works address the country’s current plague of violence. His analysis reads Mexico’s drug wars as a mirror image of its government’s program of neo-liberalism carried to its deadly extremes. Unlike other episodes of violence on a mass scale driven by religious dogma or the promise of radical social transformation, this current plague is not rooted in any ideological program other than the savagery of a free and illicit market run amok. Lerner asks: How might art not simply depict the terrible results of pervasive violence, but critically engage this complex social phenomenon and its roots? How can art help us visualize the omnipresent systemic violence underlying social and economic relations in the neo-liberal, post-NAFTA era—violence so pervasive that it has become the new norm? What are the ethical guidelines that frame this work? His analysis is neither a historical survey of the theme of violence and Mexican art nor an encyclopedic treatment of all the relevant contemporary artists; rather, it is a close engagement with selected works in diverse media—from staged photographs and videos to painting and installation.
Jesse Lerner is a writer, curator, professor, and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. His books include F Is for Phony: Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), The Shock of Modernity: Crime Photography in Mexico City (Turner/INHA, 2007), and the forthcoming The Maya of Modernism (University of New Mexico Press). His recent articles include the catalogue essays “Between Proletcult and Vanguardismo” for an Agustin Jimenez exhibit at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City and “The Paradoxes of Quirigua” for a Leandro Katz exhibit at the Centro Cultural España in Buenos Aires. He has curated photography, film, and video exhibitions for the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao and for the Robert Flaherty Seminar. He is currently co-curating a survey of a century of art and social confrontation in Latin America for Mexico’s Palace of Fine Arts. His experimental documentary films have been shown at New York’s MoMA and the Sydney Biennale. He teaches Media Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA.