Review of Chantal Peñalosa at Proyectos Monclova available May 2016 issue of Art Review
Dr. Lakra 'Untitled' (2014) and Gabriel Orozco 'Blind Signs' (2013) photo: Kim Córdova
Kurimanzutto is a pristine, vaulted gallery in the San Miguel de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City. As part of the recent exhibition XYLAÑYNU. Taller de los Viernes, cumbia music drifts over the guard onto the sidewalk, casting a nostalgic spell on the airy space.
The tropical rhythms flow from the radio of a parked car in the entranceway, its windows rolled down. The 2002 Skoda Octavia station wagon has been hand-painted Kelly green and bubble-gum pink and has chicken bones dangling from an extended front windshield wiper. A gnarled two-by-four is strapped to the roof of the car and a baby’s car seat is buckled into the back. The whole assemblage, titled Autoconfusión (2015), is a piece by Abraham Cruzvillegas. Just beyond, in the gallery’s vine-draped atrium, lounge four Gabriel Kuri sculptures from his series this, please (2010). The vaguely corporate-looking slouched circles are finished with stubbed-out cigarettes wedged into their perforations and creases.
The conceptual jumping-off point for the show is a revisiting of the eponymous gatherings (Taller de los Viernes translates to “Friday meetings”) that took place at the home of Gabriel Orozco from 1987 to 1992. Curated by Guillermo Santamarina, the exhibit presents recent works by five artists: Orozco, Damian Ortega, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Gabriel Kuri, and Dr. Lakra (also known as Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez). These artists met for five years in what has been described as “a playful space of collective work, exchange of information and ideas, experimentations and coexistence.”
Material Art Fair 2016
Expo Reforma, Mexico City
February 4-7, 2016
The art market in Mexico has long been a one-gun town on the art-fair front. That is, until three years ago when the Material Art Fair opened its doors and shook things up.
Each year since its inception, Material has seen pretty radical format and venue changes, but at their core they maintain a dedication to emerging practices with the ambition of attracting fresh new talent and vision to Mexico City. On that front, they are an undisputed success, attracting the young, fabulous, and broke, whose collective hustle builds a palpable and dynamic energy. Art Fag City even went so far as to call it the most important art event of the year for artists.
“For artists” is the key.
Material bills itself as having its thumb squarely on the youth pulse. From their online PR to the party scene, they cultivate a spirit of scrappy can-do-ism. This year the fair is on the sixth floor of Expo Reforma, a ‘60s building that seems caught between decay and half-hearted attempts at modernization in a somewhat overlooked corner of the city center. When, on the way up, the elevator doors spontaneously open onto an empty floor with views of the city’s skyline, there is a dystopian sense of a megopolis on the brink of chaotic collapse. That sense quickly proves to be prophetic.
Virginia Colwell: Our warmest and most affectionate greetings
Berlín 37, Col. Juárez 06600, México, DF.
It’s easy for us to forget in all our ever-present over-interconnectedness that even as recent as 10 years ago, much less 30 years ago, letters were the primary means of communication, especially between radical leftist movements. And that the life of those underground radicals was lonely and anxious and ambiguous, especially as they wrestled with what is a justified use of lethal or symbolic violence, and that the solidarity they sought in their struggle would only be available from other radical groups, perhaps continents away.
So, perhaps, it seems strange at first that a radical group that deployed over 125 bombs in the United States between 1974 and 1983, would always sign their correspondence with other liberation movements around the world, “…our warmest and most affectionate greetings.” This is just the first of the slippages that artist Virginia Colwell mines in her exhibition of the same name at Marso Galería in Mexico City.
Colwell’s practice is frequently inspired by an archive of documents her father, who served in the FBI, left when he passed away. Her resulting works operate like feed-back loops between the personal and political. The work presented in Our warmest and most affectionate greetings is no exception.
Gossip is undoubtedly universal but in Mexico gossip – chisme – seems to exert an influence that distinguishes it from other international art centers. Mexican artist Ulises Carrión has described it thus: “Gossip can be used as a scientific model for artificial chains of communication which will reveal something about the chain’s users and something about the chain itself.” If we consider the chain of gossip in Mexico’s artworld, what we find is that more than mere efficiency and proliferation, our informal networks of information provide the primary method of our criticism. I spoke with several leading artworld figures in Mexico on chisme‘s unique influence and effect.
Mexico City’s shallow bench of culturati seems to require that the dynamic be, according to an interview with Chris Sharp, curator and co-founder of the capital’s alternative exhibition space Lulu, “simultaneously polite and secretive; [we are] allergic to real confrontation.” Gossip moves differently in Mexico because in such a small and concentrated community no one feels they can afford to offend.
This past July a new online arts criticism project, Blog de Crítica, published an essay titled “El fantasma de la crítica en México” (“The Ghost of Critique in Mexico”). In the text Óscar Benassini interviews twelve Mexican artists, curators, and critics about the state of critical writing in Mexico. The general consensus is that the deficiency of Mexican art criticism stems from a chicken-or-egg dilemma: there’s very little critique in Mexico because there are few readers of art criticism, therefore few publications to sustain critical writing (much less the writers). The second and no ness important point they make is that there are very few critics of contemporary art who are only critics. Most critics are also curators, artists, or both, so that their writing is colored by the suspicion that someone is benefitting from their criticism, or that they’re holding their punches.
“Hablar de corrupcion es tocar a Mexico en el corazón,” my mentor said. “Be careful.”
Tocar. Transitive verb meaning: to touch, to feel, to play, to have to do something, to ring, to sound, to touch on, to strike, to be one’s turn, and in some sense it has no direct translation.
I recently began writing reviews of exhibitions in Mexico City for an English-speaking audience. Quickly I started feeling like a remedial parakeet raised on a 24-hour news cycle. Almost every article I write seems to invoke questions of corruption, impunity, violence, or insecurity. Whether talking about a performance artist visiting from Spain, an established Mexican video-art pioneer, emerging artists, or even Michelangelo and Da Vinci retrospectives, there always seems to be a salient reason to somewhere reference rampant political corruption as context.
Every week another story breaks: the President’s house, the Finance Minister’s house, the former Mayor of Mexico City’s house, a friend-of-a-friend disappeared, the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, more mass graves, the Tlatlaya massacre, Chapo’s escape, the Navarte murders, another friend-of-a-friend murdered, the guards with AK-47’s play-fighting with machetes next door – all this within the last year.
Fordlandia: Melanie Smith
August 8 – September 13, 2015
Bajio 231, Colonia Roma, Cuauhtemoc 06760 DF, Mexico
Descriptions of Fordlandia—Henry Ford’s ill-fated urban development and rubber plantation of the same name, built in 1928 in Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest—sound alternately surreal, hilarious, and completely miserable.
Willed into existence by sheer force of industrialist conviction, and funded by US greenbacks, Fordlandia was a disaster to the tune of $20 million dollars. This speculative venture was representative of a man obsessed with imposing his philosophies on his employees, even in their homes. Unsurprising for a man who employed a secret moral police to investigate his employees’ personal habits, he tried to control his Brazilian workforce by forbidding drink, tobacco, and women in Fordlandia. He made the Brazilian workers eat unfamiliar American foods, enforced an American 9-to-5 factory work schedule incompatible with a tropical climate, provided English romantic poetry readings, and built Midwestern-suburban style homes for the Amazonian workers. They even installed front lawns and a golf course in the Amazon!
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo
June 26- September 27, 2015 (Michelangelo)
June 26 – August 23, 2015 (da Vinci)
Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes
Av. Juárez, Centro Histórico, 06050 Ciudad de México, D.F., Mexico
It may sound like a dusty snooze through Intro to Art History for anyone living in London, New York, or Paris, but Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo have come to Mexico City, and it’s a very big deal.
The blockbuster conjoined-twin exhibitions have smashed museum attendance records in Mexico and the historical significance of bringing these two artists’ work to Latin America for the first time makes this a trophy event for Palacio de Bellas Artes, the nation’s most important cultural center.
These exhibits are a grand coup of international cultural diplomacy and logistics, supporting the claim that, at least for the arts, this is the “Mexican Moment”. Though the works on display are comparatively “travel-friendly” compared to Michelangelo’s David or da Vinci’s Last Supper, exhibitions of this scale represent no small feat of coordination. Imagine the insurance, and conservation alone for irreplaceable and spectacularly fragile 500-year-old works on paper. Not to mention the complexities of shipping the five-foot tall marble Cristo Portacroce… yet, as a researcher for the exhibition explained, it only took a year and a half to organize!
Fermín Jiménez Landa: El Nadador
May 2 – August 2, 2015
MAZ: El Museo de Arte Zapopan
20 de Noviembre, Zapopan, 45100 Zapopan, Jal., Mexico
The movie poster for the 1968 Burt Lancaster film The Swimmer features a portrait of the star’s face dissolving into a swimming pool wake, and asks in that Vaseline-around-the-edges-soft-focus-dated-movie-poster-way, “When you talk about ‘The Swimmer’ will you talk about yourself?”
Drawing inspiration from the film, artist Fermín Jiménez Landa’s exhibition at El Museo de Arte Zapopan (MAZ) of the same name, El Nadador—The Swimmer, appropriates the film’s use of swimming pools as social vignettes to explore themes of private space, vulnerability, and the value of “wasting time”. In the film, we discover that Ned Merrill, the title swimmer, has some kind of self-imposed-amnesia and is unable to recall the last two years of his life. Willfully clueless and naturally vapid, he has no voice of his own outside expressing his desire to swim (and drink) his way home, pool by pool, relying on the hospitality of friends. Like an affable mashup between Ryan Lochte and Patrick Bateman on Xanax, he crashes party after party—his anecdotal interactions revealing the social dynamics of the late 1960s upper-class as well as clues about his forgotten identity.
Ojo en rotación: Sarah Minter, imágenes en movimiento 1981-2015
March 14 – August 2, 2015
Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, DF
Spinning (2006) is a logical beginning for a survey exhibition of an artist whose practice was galvanized by the 1985 earthquake that devastated Mexico City. Leveling buildings and killing thousands, the quake forced citizens to hodge-podge makeshift systems for survival when the government failed to rescue the shaken metropolis. Spinning first takes stock of what still stands in the city’s view, and then whirls it into oblivion.
Exhibited in the hallway of the brutal-ish glass and concrete MUAC, Spinning is a series of seven screens displaying the shifting view of the urban sprawl of Mexico City from the world’s largest rotating restaurant set curiously askew atop the World Trade Center: an anachronistic symbol of folly in Mexico City’s checkered history of urban development. Moving across the screens, left to right, the speed of the rotation increases until the last screen is practically indecipherable, a blur of urban grey peppered with occasional visual thwaps of the restaurant’s support beams interjecting the view. Then the sliding glass doors yawn open and the viewer trips dizzily into what looks like some kind of vidéothèque cemetery, MUAC’s survey exhibition of the work of video art pioneer Sarah Minter.