12 October 2015




On the 4th floor of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in the Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume, the special textiles exhibition ¡Viva México! Clothing & Culture brings bright colours and rich fabrics to the usually muted, architecturally cavernous space. The exhibition opened May 9, 2015, just in time to help celebrate and commemorate The Pan American and Parapan American Games, which were held in Toronto this past summer from July 10 to 26 and Aug 7 to 15, respectively. It tells the story of Mexico’s history with approximately 150 pieces that span 3 centuries and are sourced from the ROM’s collection. To add to the excitement, this is the first time these pieces have been put on display.

In the style of a fashion “hits and misses” column - but much less mean-spirited! - as this is a textiles exhibition that consists largely of garments, I have decided to present photos of the “hits and misses” of ¡Viva México!, followed by photos illustrating aspects that are good but could use improvement. My favourite feature of the exhibition will round out the review, and each photo will be accompanied by a single sentence of commentary.

Let’s begin!


Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
The costumes chosen for the full mannequin displays are seriously stunning, eye-catching, and lavish – just check out this close-up of this outfit, which includes jewellery and a headpiece.

Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
A large variety of textiles are on display in the exhibition – I saw blouses, tunics, waist sashes, blankets, holsters / belts, blankets, bridles, a sampler, wallets, shawls, religious objects, a church vestment and more – which really spoke to the diversity of Mexican textiles.


Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
It was a missed opportunity for the exhibition designers to not explore the possibility of incorporating examples of pre-Spanish Conquest textiles in order to contrast the decorative practices in the region before and after the cultural exchange that occurred following the Conquest.

Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
I visited the exhibition twice at different times of the day and found that the highly educational video of processing and dying the wool used to weave some Mexican textiles was not playing all the time, so many visitors would have missed out on watching and learning from this otherwise excellent video.

Room for Improvement

Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
Incorporating this timeline throughout the exhibition more clearly could have helped those visitors who might have benefitted from a reminder of chronology, and including a discussion of the pre-Spanish Conquest history of Mexico would have been worthwhile as well.

Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
I love the drawers the ROM has in the textiles gallery, but for new visitors who may not know the museum as well as regulars like myself, they may not spot these drawers or pull them out to see the extra material inside unless they are more clearly and noticeably marked.

My Favourite Feature

The glass sticker is in turquoise blue (apologies for the lack of clarity). Photo Credit: Madeline Smolarz
The colourful glass stickers - or some other clever material? - that ROM staff pasted as backdrops onto a few of the large glass cases adds great visual interest, a splash of additional colour, and creates a backdrop while not obstructing a 360-degree-view of the pieces within the cases.

In Clothing... I mean, Closing...

(it was too hard to resist this pun)

¡Viva México! will run until May 23, 2016, so you have plenty of time to pay the exhibition a visit.

Let me know whether you agree or disagree with my hits, misses, and suggestions when you do. Would you have made some of the same choices the ROM staff did when they created this exhibition?  Even take a step into the reviewer’s mindset and share your own favourite feature of this unique exhibition.

Adiós and enjoy!

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