Founded by the late Peter Rodriguez, the Mexican Museum has been a part of San Francisco's cultural community since 1975. But as the museum has grown its collection into a body of Latino and Chicano art worthy of Smithsonian Institution affiliation, experts have taken a closer look at the museum's art and artifacts, and the findings are pretty shocking.
Mission Local reports that a June report written on a portion of the permanent collection for the museum by Dr. Eduardo Perez de Heredia Puente discovered that of the museum's almost 2,000 folk-art artifacts, only 85 pieces appear legit or significant in any way.*
This is one of several reports Puente will conduct on the museum's 16,000-piece permanent collection, but it does not bode well.
"I was shocked," said Chairman of the museum's Board Andrew Kluger. Says Mission Local, "The problems with the permanent collection do not end there. Kluger estimates that upcoming evaluations may conclude that as much as half of the museum's permanent collection may be less than 'museum quality.'"
According to Kluger, many items in the June report were part of a gift from Nelson Rockefeller, who simply wandered around Mexico and collected art he liked. The Mexican Museum's philosophy had been to accept as much art as possible and grow the collection, even Nelson Rockefeller's tchotchkes, and perhaps that wasn't the wisest choice given the costs associated with storage.
"Basically the museum was not functioning as an international museum. It was accepting everything," said Kluger to Mission Local.
Now that it's officially affiliated with the Smithsonian and planning a major move to 701 Mission Street in the Yerba Buena Arts District, the Mexican Museum needs to make sure that all of its art is on the up and up. And to do that means more investigation and reporting from Puente as well as offloading a lot of the less important pieces from the collection to smaller museums.
According to Sari Bermúdez, a former Minister of Culture for México and over-seer of the evaluation, the investigation must be done "if you have the Smithsonian designation and want to make it a destination museum and to borrow and lend with other museums like the national museums of Mexico."
It's not like the Mexican Museum is entirely full of fakes and 100-year-old tourist junk. Several recent donations, including an 800-piece gift from collectors from Andy and Trudy Goldberg, are definitely museum quality and of great value. It's now up to the museum to ferret out forgeries and unworthy artifacts.
*Update: A PR spokesperson for the museum, Victoria Sánchez De Alba, writes in to clarify that the words "fake" and "insignificant" were not used in the report on the artifacts, and that these words don't "characterize the story correct[ly] when in fact the museum is doing its due diligence on the inventory." The report only says of some of these object that their "authenticity cannot be confirmed."