Mary K. Coffey

Academic Appointments

Professor of Art History
Affiliated Faculty, Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies Program

Mary Coffey specializes in the history of modern Mexican visual culture, with an emphasis on Mexican muralism and the politics of exhibition. She also publishes in the fields of American art, Latin American cultural studies, and museum studies. She has published essays on a broad range of visual culture, from Mexican folk art to motorcycles to eugenics exhibitions.

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Mary Coffey studied Art History and Cultural Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Before joining the faculty at Dartmouth she taught at Pomona College (1999-2001) and was a Faculty Fellow and Internship Coordinator at New York University's Graduate Program in Museum Studies (2001-2004).

Mary Coffey's first book How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State was published by Duke University Press in 2012. This book offers the first study of the reciprocal relationship between Mexican muralism and Mexican museum practice. Through case studies of the nation’s three most significant public museums, all of which include major works of mural art—the Palace of Fine Arts, the National History Museum, and the National Anthropology Museum—it traces the transformation of Mexican muralism from a public art with radical social intentions into a form of state propaganda. The book reveals that artists often willingly and at other times inadvertently participated in the official construction of national art, history, and ethnic origins proclaimed within these museums. Simultaneously, it shows how the museum brought mural art to the popular audiences its artists hoped to reach, albeit in ways they did not anticipate. How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture received the Charles Rufus Morey Prize from the College Art Association for a distinguished book published in Art History in 2012.

Her second book, Orozco's American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race (Duke, 2020), offers the first book-length analysis of Jose Clemente Orozco's 24 panel fresco, The Epic of American Civiliazation, painted at Dartmouth College between 1932-34. She situates the mural cycle as an artifact of Orozco's migration from Mexico to the United States, and argues that it represents a turning point in his career as the only fresco in which he explores both US-American and Mexican narratives of national history, progress, and identity. She argues that while its title invokes the heroic epic form, the mural indicts history as complicit in colonial violence. Likewise, she asserts, it questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project. Through these arguments, she places Orozco within the context of his peers, demontrating the Epic's power as a melancholic critique of racialized nationalism while also finding within it a call for justice that resonates with contemporary debates about race, immigration, borders, and national belonging.

She is currently at work on a project that explores the historical intersection between geology, archeology, and identity formation in Mexico through an analysis of the construction of the Pedregal region near Mexico City as a symbolic and natural resource and site of extraction in art and cultural production.

At Dartmouth Mary Coffey gives public lectures and tours of the José Clemente Orozco murals in Baker-Berry Library, as well as current exhibitions at the Hood Museum of Art.

Mary Coffey is an affiliated professor with the Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies Program. She has also taught specialized courses on public art, José Clemente Orozco, Fluxus, and museum practice, as well as the introductory surveys of Western Art History and contemporary art.

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208 Carpenter Hall
HB 6033
Art History
Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies
Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
B.A. Indiana University
M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ph.D. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Selected Publications

Orozco’s American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020)

How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State (Duke University Press, 2012). Winner of College Art Association’s Charles Rufus Morey Award for a Distinguished Book in Art History in 2012.

Modern Art in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernisms, ed. Elaine O'Brien, Everlyn Nicodemus, Melissa Chiu, Benjamin Genocchio, Mary K. Coffey, and Roberto Tejada (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

“José Clemente Orozco’s Dancing Indians: Performing Mexicanness for the Trans-

American Art Market,” Art Bulletin 102, no. 4 (2020): 90-120.

“Corporate Patronage at the Crossroads: Situating Diego Rivera’s ‘Rockefeller Mural’ Then and Now,” Corporate Patronage of Art and Architecture in the United States, Late 19th Century to the Present, eds. Melissa Renn and Monica Jovanovich-Kelley (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2019), 15-38.

“Myth, Melancholy, and History: Figural Dialectics and José Clemente Orozco’s Epic of American Civilization,”   What Was History Painting and What Is It Now?, eds. Mark Salber Phillips and Jordan Bear (Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019), 160-181.

"'All Mexico on a Wall': Diego Rivera's Murals at the Ministry of Public Education," in Mexican Muralism, A Critical History, ed. Alejandro Anreus, Leonard Folgarait, Robin Adele Greeley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

"An 'AMERICAN Idea': Myth, Indigeneity, and Violence in the Work of Orozco and Pollock," in Men of Fire: José Clemente Orozco and Jackson Pollock (Hanover, N.H.: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; Habover, NH: University Press of New England, 2012), 21-36.

"The 'Hovey Mural' and the 'Greening' of Orozco's Epic of American Civilization" in Walter Beach Humphrey's 'Hovey Mural' at Dartmouth College: A Cultural History, ed. Brian P. Kennedy and Katherine Hart (Hanover, N.H.: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2011),  79-106.

“’I’m Not the Fourth Great One’: Rufino Tamayo and Mexican Muralism,” in Tamayo: A Modern Icon Reinterpreted, D. du Pont (ed.), (2007) 247-267.

“Angels and Prostitutes: José Clemente Orozco's Catharsis and the Politics of Female Allegory in 1930s Mexico,” CR: The New Centennial Review 4, no. 2 (2004): 1-33.

“Gifting the Cultural-Capitalist State: Consuming Popular Art/ Performing Citizenship in Mexico’s Museums,” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, 35 (2017): 1-24.

Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art in Los Angeles: Transnational Exhibition, Diasporic Emplacement, and the Expedient Politics of Display,” Cultural Studies 32, no. 2 (2017): 194-222.

"Banking on Folk Art: Banamex-Citigroup and Transnational Cultural Citizenship," Bulletin of Latin American Research 29, no. 3 (July 2010): 296-312.

“The American Adonis: A Natural History of the Average American Man, 1921-1932,” in Popular Eugenics: American Mass Culture in the 1930s, ed. Sue Currell and Christina Cogdell (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006).

“Of Bodies and Embodiment: Fred Wilson’s So Much Trouble in the World, Believe it or Not!,” in So Much Trouble in the World-Believe it or Not!, B Thompson (ed.), (2006) 44-57.

Co-authored with Jeremy Packer, “Hogging the Road: Cultural Governance and the Citizen Cyclist,” Cultural Studies 18, no. 5 (July 2004): 641-674.

“Toward an Industrial Golden Age? Orozco’s The Epic of American Civilization,” in Orozco at Dartmouth: The Epic of American Civilization (2007), 12-15.

Podcast on the Orozco mural

Orozco Eye-Notes App: a phone-based Augmented Reality App that provides quick, brief, information on works of art. The App was designed by Mikhail Gronas.

"Coffey: Droning on About the Facts," The Dartmouth, Op-Ed, Thursday, October 3, 2013.

"A Mural Imperative," The Dartmouth, Op-Ed, Thursday, November 11, 2010.

“‘We Other Romantics’: Wenda Gu, Dartmouth, and the Investment in Art’s Transcendence,” Dartmouth Free Press, 8.4 (2007).

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Selected works and activities

Exhibition: Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950, Philadelphia Museum of Art,
October. 25, 2016 - January. 8, 2017.
Catalog:  Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950, ed. Matthew Affron, Mark A. Castro, Dafne Cruz Porchini, and Renato Gonzalez Mellos (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art/ Yale University Press, 2016). Professor Coffey's essay: “State Ritual, Mass Politics, or Mythopoesis?” 3-11.
Link to exhibition:

Exhibition: Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco, Pomona Museum of Art,
September 5 - December 16, 2017.
Catalog: Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco, ed. Rebecca McGrew and Terri Geis (Claremont: Pomona Art Museum, forthcoming 2017).
Professor Coffey's essay: “Putting Orozco’s Prometheus in Motion: Reframing Mural Art’s Meaning for Contemporary Art Practice.”
Link to exhibition: