In 1956 the iconoclastic Mexican artist José Luis Cuevas published his article “La cortina de nopal” (“The Cactus Curtain”), famously satirizing all forms of postrevolutionary official dogmatism including social realist painting. Cuevas’s parable follows Juan, an artist curious about international art-world currents who buckles under art-world conformism to become an ardent purveyor of the clichés—thematic and stylistic—of Mexican-school painting. Through Juan, Cuevas renders explicit the links between postrevolutionary nationalism and politics. Crucially, he also thematizes the limits of official culture: he recounts that Juan’s working-class family had never even seen a mural and if they had they expressed “appreciation” by defacing Mexico’s hallowed painted walls. Yet according to Cuevas, Juan and his peers hypocritically embraced postrevolutionary culture, including “golden age” films but also crime tabloids, radio melodramas, boxing, and industrial consumer goods that flooded the Mexican market in the 1940s. Cuevas was...

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