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MoMA in Mexico

The C-MAP Latin America research group spent a week in Mexico City in August 2014, visiting the Distrito Federal’s major institutions, flourishing gallery scene, artists’ studios, and architectural sites. The group also celebrated the project Poema Colectivo 2014 and participated in a roundtable at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) with Mexico City–based curators. Throughout the twentieth century, Mexico City was an international cultural center, attracting at different times the likes of André Breton, counterculture hero David Zack, and Beat poets from the north. Today, the global art world is pronounced through the opening of new museums such as the Jumex Foundation’s landmark David Chipperfield building. Accompanying or providing a relief to these changes is the establishment of smaller, independent spaces such as the recently opened art book library Aeromoto and of artist collectives such as Cráter Invertido. The role of art and culture in Mexico is at a crucial turning point. As new art fairs and museums hail Mexico as an art market hot spot, artists from around the world are making Mexico City their home. Here is a report of some of the trip’s highlights, which indeed attest to Mexico’s cultural vitality and cultural effervescence.

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MoMA in Mexico MAP

MoMA in Mexico

The C-MAP Latin America research group spent a week in Mexico City in August 2014, visiting the Distrito Federal’s major institutions, flourishing gallery scene, artists’ studios, and architectural sites. The group also celebrated the project Poema Colectivo 2014 and participated in a roundtable at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) with Mexico City–based curators. Throughout the twentieth century, Mexico City was an international cultural center, attracting at different times the likes of André Breton, counterculture hero David Zack, and Beat poets from the north. Today, the global art world is pronounced through the opening of new museums such as the Jumex Foundation’s landmark David Chipperfield building. Accompanying or providing a relief to these changes is the establishment of smaller, independent spaces such as the recently opened art book library Aeromoto and of artist collectives such as Cráter Invertido. The role of art and culture in Mexico is at a crucial turning point. As new art fairs and museums hail Mexico as an art market hot spot, artists from...

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The C-MAP Latin America research group spent a week in Mexico City in August 2014, visiting the Distrito Federal’s major institutions, flourishing gallery scene, artists’ studios, and architectural sites. The group also celebrated the project Poema Colectivo 2014 and participated in a roundtable at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) with Mexico City–based curators. Throughout the twentieth century, Mexico City was an international cultural center, attracting at different times the likes of André Breton, counterculture hero David Zack, and Beat poets from the north. Today, the global art world is pronounced through the opening of new museums such as the Jumex Foundation’s landmark David Chipperfield building. Accompanying or providing a relief to these changes is the establishment of smaller, independent spaces such as the recently opened art book library Aeromoto and of artist collectives such as Cráter Invertido. The role of art and culture in Mexico is at a crucial turning point. As new art fairs and museums hail Mexico as an art market hot spot, artists from around the world are making Mexico City their home. Here is a report of some of the trip’s highlights, which indeed attest to Mexico’s cultural vitality and cultural effervescence.

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Architecture

Casa Cetto

One of the highlights of the trip for me was the visit to the Casa Cetto in El Pedregal. Until recently, this was the house of the family of the German émigré architect Max Cetto, a figure who has only recently been the subject of significant scholarship in Mexican architectural history. Cetto worked with Barragán on the earliest houses in El Pedregal, a novel high-end residential development built on the lava fields to the south of Mexico City and developed during the same years as the nearby University. Here Barragán sought to create a landscape that could in part preserve and in part create a dialogue with the lava remains, by crafting houses that were integrated with courtyards and gardens. While the houses had a fair amount of...

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Casa Cetto

One of the highlights of the trip for me was the visit to the Casa Cetto in El Pedregal. Until recently, this was the house of the family of the German émigré architect Max Cetto, a figure who has only recently been the subject of significant scholarship in Mexican architectural history. Cetto worked with Barragán on the earliest houses in El Pedregal, a novel high-end residential development built on the lava fields to the south of Mexico City and developed during the same years as the nearby University. Here Barragán sought to create a landscape that could in part preserve and in part create a dialogue with the lava remains, by crafting houses that were integrated with courtyards and gardens. While the houses had a fair amount of insularity from the beginning, built behind high walls (some of which have been raised further in recent years for security concerns), there were also public parks and plazas that were integral parts of this picturesque suburb, a distinctly Mexican addition to the genre pioneered in England and the United States in the 19th century. Cetto came from the garden reform movement in the German housing practices of the 1910s and 1920s, so his house is a particularly interesting fusion. Here the lava meets a lush, semi-tropical garden laid out by Cetto's wife, as his daughter Bettina explained to us. Her stories so charmed us as we lounged in oversized furniture in the architect's former home office that Bettina became a part of our group for the next two days. The house is now the office of the INBA, the stage agency for protecting cultural treasures. Not usually accessible to visitors, it opened to us an astounding window on a key moment of creativity in post-war Mexican residential design.

Biblioteca Vasconcelos

Following our visit to Galería Jumex, the group made a brief stop at the magnificent Biblioteca Vasconcelos, a massive public library which opened to wide architectural acclaim in 2006. Designed by the Mexican architect Alberto Kalach (b. 1960), the huge building is noted for its cantilevered book stacks that resemble a hanging garden of Babylon for books. It is also notable for its large sculpture by Gabriel Orozco, Ballena (Whale), which dominates the central portion of the building. Since its opening, the Vasconcelos Library has been a lively and vital destination for readers of all ages and benefits from its location next to a major transportation hub in the Buenavista neighborhood of Mexico City.

UNAM Campus

The trip to visit UNAM’s Central University Campus was most interesting because of the importance of the campus in the development of the urban plan of modern Mexico City and the goal of centralizing the public university in one campus in the south of the city. The campus was laid out following the model of the ancient Aztec city Teotihuacan, with a large central plaza around which other buildings were located, most iconically, the library, a modern block covered with ornate mosaics by Juan O’Gorman that articulate aspects of Mexican mythology and history. A three-dimensional mural by Siqueiros was under restoration, and the Olympic stadium featured reliefs by Diego Rivera. The project was a collaboration between Mexico’s top artists and...

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UNAM Campus

The trip to visit UNAM’s Central University Campus was most interesting because of the importance of the campus in the development of the urban plan of modern Mexico City and the goal of centralizing the public university in one campus in the south of the city. The campus was laid out following the model of the ancient Aztec city Teotihuacan, with a large central plaza around which other buildings were located, most iconically, the library, a modern block covered with ornate mosaics by Juan O’Gorman that articulate aspects of Mexican mythology and history. A three-dimensional mural by Siqueiros was under restoration, and the Olympic stadium featured reliefs by Diego Rivera. The project was a collaboration between Mexico’s top artists and architects of the time. Unfortunately, student housing was not included in the plan, so students must commute to the campus. According to our guide, the aim of centralizing the university’s activities has not been fully successful, since other campuses continue to exist in other locations in the city. We also saw and experienced the Sculpture Space, a collaborative installation by several artists and architects led by Mathias Goeritz. This site-specific installation is reached by a tiled walkway, with individual tile designs by each of the artists and architects whose work is incorporated in the campus. It leads to a large circular sculpture around volcanic terrain. According to our guide, the site was chosen by flying above the site to get a bird’s-eye view. The installation had a ritualistic quality, allowing people to pass along the inside of the circle alongside the large geometric stones that formed the circular shape, while leaving the volcanic terrain free and untamed in the center. Overall, I found the underlying idea of the campus as a collective work that brought together modern sensibility and clear references to ancient times to be an interesting urban experiment. While it has succeeded in some respects, it has failed to achieve its functional goals of centralization and easy access for students.

Palacio Iturbide: Architecture in Mexico, 1900–2010

By Patricio del Real

Thanks to the generosity of the curator of the exhibition, architectural historian Fernando Canales, the landmark exhibition Architecture in Mexico, 1900–2010 at the Fomento Cultural Banamex was extended an extra day for our group. Staged in Banamex's spectacular 18th-century Palacio Iturbide, one of the finest Mexican Baroque residential interiors surviving in the historic center of Mexico City, the exhibition brought together an exceptional trove of archival materials—drawings, models, and period photographs— representing the astounding diversity of buildings dating from the very end of the Porforio regime (1877–1880 and 1884–1911) to the tumultuous but highly experimental decade of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and on through...

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Palacio Iturbide: Architecture in Mexico, 1900–2010

By Patricio del Real

Thanks to the generosity of the curator of the exhibition, architectural historian Fernando Canales, the landmark exhibition Architecture in Mexico, 1900–2010 at the Fomento Cultural Banamex was extended an extra day for our group. Staged in Banamex's spectacular 18th-century Palacio Iturbide, one of the finest Mexican Baroque residential interiors surviving in the historic center of Mexico City, the exhibition brought together an exceptional trove of archival materials—drawings, models, and period photographs— representing the astounding diversity of buildings dating from the very end of the Porforio regime (1877¬–1880 and 1884¬–1911) to the tumultuous but highly experimental decade of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), and on through contemporary practice. Arranged on two floors in and around the great arcaded two-story courtyard, originally open to the sky but now under a glazed skylight (we were grateful for its protection against a typical mid-summer torrential downpour), the show was a veritable cornucopia of new discoveries even for me and Barry Bergdoll, who have been at work for several years preparing MoMA's forthcoming show Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980 (March 29–July 12, 2015). For the rest of the group it was both a crash course in Mexican modern architecture and a superb introduction to some of the key sites we were to visit in the coming days: the main campus of UNAM, the studios of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and the most recent projects of figures like Alberto Kalach, whose Vasconcelos library the group had already visited and which Kalach had spoken about so engagingly last spring at MoMA in a symposium on library design.

Our attention was divided between the profusion of material on display and Canales's engaging explanations of that material and of the months and months of sleuthing that yielded some of the documents chosen. Not the least of the show’s many accomplishments was the fact that it created a picture of Mexican architecture that took in the whole country, whereas so many publications to date have focused primarily on Mexico City. At the end of the exhibition we enjoyed refreshments and conversation with Candida Fernandez, director of the Banamex Foundation. She explained the functioning of the foundation and the astounding cultural program that they offer each year.

Hotel Camino Real

By Patricio del Real

The Camino Real is one of the world’s great luxury hotels, and the place really holds up after nearly 50 years of use. Architect Ricardo Legorreta designed this veritable prototype of the Mexican hotel poised between traditional imagery and modernist innovation so that nearly every element of the design and every moment of the astounding spatial sequence in the generously proportioned public spaces of the hotel can be seen as both traditionalist and modern. All categories are defied. Unlike so many grand hotels today, which do everything to set themselves apart from the city, the Camino Real is woven into its neighborhood a short walk from Chapultepec park. Indeed, we perhaps unwisely walked out of the Tamayo Museum, with its newly refurbished restaurant (next time!), to walk a few minutes to the buffet in the Camino Real. Everyone was stopped in their tracks by the astounding fountain in the driveway—no conventional jet of water erupting towards the sky (perhaps not good in a city with volcanoes in the background), but rather a pool of vigorous waves crashing against the sides of its huge circular pool, a seaside landscape that sets up the journey into the hotel, where color, radical changes of scale, and broad staircases create a kind of architectural landscape. The buffet lunch room is a real trip in time too. We could almost imagine that we were visitors in Mexico for the 1968 Olympics, when the hotel had just recently opened.

Cultural spaces

Alumnos 47

While the larger group was visiting a gallery, I went to Alumnos 47, a relatively new cultural space in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood. Alumnos 47 was established by a local Mexico City collector and activist named Moises Cosio, who has established a dynamic program of art instruction, lectures, and exhibitions promoting contemporary art. I was shown the facility by the director, Adriana Maurer, and curator Jessica Berlanga. I arrived in the middle of a lively, week-long day camp for children, who were engaged in a wide range of art-making activities. This program, a new one, reflects the energy that Alumnos 47 is projecting throughout Mexico City. One of its first programs was an art bookmobile stocked with art books that travels to Mexico City's underserved neighborhoods. Alumnos 47 has recently commissioned French architect Didier Faustino to design a new facility next door to their current building. The art community of Mexico City is eagerly awaiting the continued success of their programs in even more space.

Discussions

Roundtable at MUAC

A round table discussion with Cuauhtémoc Medina, Patricia Sloane, Sol Henaro, Magali Arriola, Guillermo Santamarina, Graciela de la Torre and others was very animated. Medina challenged MoMA staff to think not just of coming to Mexico to learn from them and to go back and create our own exhibitions, but to think about developing exhibitions together or to consider proposals from Mexican curators and institutions for shows that could be presented at MoMA.

Events and discussions

Poema Colectivo 2014 Reception

My last evening was rounded out with a reception for the artists who participated in Poema Colectivo 2014, a project for MoMA’s research platform post.at.moma.org. The original Poema Colectivo call from the 1980s was revived on post with invitations to a younger generation of Mexican artists to participate in a mail art call for responses to the theme of ‘revolution’, either digitally or by mail. It was tremendous to see how proud the 1980s artists, César Espinosa and Aracely Zuniga felt as they gave impassioned speeches after Pablo, Zanna and Mauricio Marcin thanked them. I was privileged to speak with Monica Mayer and to learn of her interest in art education. She recounted how important a touch tour at a museum had been for her.

Galleries

Leon Trotsky House Museum

After our tour of the monumental Defying Stability exhibition at the MUAC, my colleague Geannine and I broke away from the group to visit the Leon Trotsky Museum and the Frida Kahlo Museum (Casa Azul), two wonderfully preserved house-museums a short walk from each other in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Coyoacán. Both museums are cultural landmarks that neither one of us had seen before.

We visited the Trotsky Museum first. After perusing the dense and historically evocative display of books and documentary photographs in the modest galleries near the entrance, we arrived at an enclosed garden courtyard that led us to the core experience of the museum: a visit to the house where the Marxist revolutionary and his wife lived from...

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Leon Trotsky House Museum

After our tour of the monumental Defying Stability exhibition at the MUAC, my colleague Geannine and I broke away from the group to visit the Leon Trotsky Museum and the Frida Kahlo Museum (Casa Azul), two wonderfully preserved house-museums a short walk from each other in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Coyoacán. Both museums are cultural landmarks that neither one of us had seen before.

We visited the Trotsky Museum first. After perusing the dense and historically evocative display of books and documentary photographs in the modest galleries near the entrance, we arrived at an enclosed garden courtyard that led us to the core experience of the museum: a visit to the house where the Marxist revolutionary and his wife lived from 1939 to 1940, when he was murdered by a Stalinist assassin with an ice axe. The rooms are small and mostly arranged in railroad-style, with one leading to the next. Outside there is a large wall that conceals and protects the house and property from the street. Enclosed within this tranquil compound, there is the feeling of time warp. The rooms with their modest personal furnishings have not been changed or renovated, with Trotsky’s impressive library, the couple’s clothes in their closets, and even the toiletries in the bathroom apparently undisturbed since the time they were there. Despite the very humble and mundane character of the house and furnishings and the overall tranquility of the experience of walking through it, a sense of momentous history and life-and-death stakes is somehow still palpable there. Bullet holes from a first, failed attack on Trotsky’s life still line some of the walls inside the house.

The museum is fascinating for the political history that it embodies, but this history was also closely intertwined with Mexico’s cultural history. The Trotskys had close ties to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who helped Trotsky obtain asylum in Mexico. Trotsky and his wife stayed with Kahlo and Rivera at the Casa Azul after they first arrived in Mexico City in 1937, until they had a falling out in 1939 and moved to the Trotsky house. The visit to this house-museum underscored for me the deeply political and revolutionary nature of Mexican art during this tumultuous period in the 20th century.

Ministry of Public Education

Diego Rivera (1886–1957), a major figure of the Mexican Renaissance, left a lasting legacy in the history of modern art. In 1931, The Museum of Modern Art presented an exhibition of five portable murals that Rivera executed onsite at the Museum’s request, and between 1935 and 1941, the Museum acquired a series of works by Rivera, including May Day, Moscow (1928), Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita (1931), Agrarian Leader Zapata (1931), and Young Man in a Gray Sweater (Jacques Lipchitz) (1914), all through the generosity of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Most recently, in 2011, the MoMA organized Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art, a show curated by Leah Dickerman that featured and critically re-examined several of the...

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Ministry of Public Education

Diego Rivera (1886–1957), a major figure of the Mexican Renaissance, left a lasting legacy in the history of modern art. In 1931, The Museum of Modern Art presented an exhibition of five portable murals that Rivera executed onsite at the Museum’s request, and between 1935 and 1941, the Museum acquired a series of works by Rivera, including May Day, Moscow (1928), Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita (1931), Agrarian Leader Zapata (1931), and Young Man in a Gray Sweater (Jacques Lipchitz) (1914), all through the generosity of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Most recently, in 2011, the MoMA organized Diego Rivera: Murals for The Museum of Modern Art, a show curated by Leah Dickerman that featured and critically re-examined several of the portable murals from the 1931 exhibition.

For all of these reasons, visiting the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico City was a unique experience: seeing Rivera’s frescoes from this period provided an in-depth understanding of his artistic practice. Rivera’s interest in murals stemmed from his studies of Italian Renaissance frescoes during a trip to Italy in 1920. By 1923, Rivera had begun a series of 124 frescoes for the courtyard of the Ministry of Public Education, a project that took five years to complete. According to scholars, Rivera’s frescoes in the Ministry are grouped in two sections: one represents Labor and the other, Celebration. The frescoes related to Labor illustrate the industrial and agricultural work of the Mexican people as well as their arts, dance, music, and poetry; those related to Celebration depict popular ceremonies and festivals. This extensive mural project not only marked Rivera as a significant international artist, but it also established the revival of mural painting in Mexico.

Frida Kahlo Museum

Casa Azul Museo Frida Kahlo occupies the lifetime home of the artist Frida Kahlo (1907–1954), which was turned into a museum in 1958, in accord with the instructions of her late husband, the artist Diego Rivera. Despite its many visitors, the museum preserves a sense of intimacy. It showcases Kahlo’s studio, complete with palette, brushes, and paints, as well as her books, her wide assortment of collectibles, colorful dresses, flamboyant jewelry, and several of her paintings. The first in the museum’s series of temporary exhibitions related to Kahlo’s art or lifestyle, Las apariencias engañan: Los vestidos de Frida Kahlo (Appearances Lie: The Dresses of Frida Kalho, November 2012–September 2014), curated by Circe Henestrosa Conoan, was based on new critical research into Kahlo’s vestments made possible by the discovery, in 2004, of a trove of archival materials within the house itself. The exhibition highlighted one facet of the archive’s contents and has paved the way for many more scholarly interpretations of Kahlo’s oeuvre and persona in the years to come.

Museo Experimental El Eco

The special character of Museo Experimental El Eco is apparent even before you enter. Its sleek black façade is punctuated on one side by a jutting vertical panel of canary yellow, a wall that projects upward from behind a wall that conceals the museum’s interior patio. El Eco is an alluring and provocative presence on Sullivan Street, where it sits across from a leafy square just off the Paseo de la Reforma in the center of Mexico City. Curator Maurico Marcin gave us a tour of the small museum, which includes two galleries, a bar area, and the patio where young architects are often commissioned to design site-specific interventions. The spaces were empty while we were there—the museum was between shows—but in the bar area a...

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Museo Experimental El Eco

The special character of Museo Experimental El Eco is apparent even before you enter. Its sleek black façade is punctuated on one side by a jutting vertical panel of canary yellow, a wall that projects upward from behind a wall that conceals the museum’s interior patio. El Eco is an alluring and provocative presence on Sullivan Street, where it sits across from a leafy square just off the Paseo de la Reforma in the center of Mexico City. Curator Maurico Marcin gave us a tour of the small museum, which includes two galleries, a bar area, and the patio where young architects are often commissioned to design site-specific interventions. The spaces were empty while we were there—the museum was between shows—but in the bar area a performance troupe was conducting an informal rehearsal. Their string puppets and papier-mâché costumes, including a horse head worn by one of the members, lent a charmingly surreal aspect to our visit.

El Eco’s program revolves around contemporary art exhibitions and projects commissioned from Mexican and international artists. These projects and exhibitions emphasize experimentation and cross-disciplinary creativity. Dance, theater, music, and poetry are all part of the mix. The commissions are often related in some way to the work of the museum’s creator, Mathias Goeritz (1915–1990), a German-born Mexican painter and sculptor, who was inspired by the radically experimental and interdisciplinary work of the Dada artists in the early 20th century. Goeritz designed the distinctive 1950s-era building—a paradigmatic example of Mexican modernist architecture—almost like a geometric sculpture, with an interlocking arrangement of small galleries, walls, platforms, and corridors. Though inaugurated as an art space in 1953, the building was subsequently turned into a bar and nightclub until it finally returned to its original function in 2005.

While there, we visited with artists-in-residence Felipe Mujica and Johanna Unzueta in a small studio adjacent to the gallery building. Felipe and Johanna are Chilean artists who now live and work in New York. Felipe was preparing for a solo show at El Eco that opened August 14, a couple of weeks after the end of our trip. It was easy to imagine that his work, which often takes the form of the screenprinted geometric abstractions or installations of monochromatic fabric panels that alter the perception of a public space, would feel right at home within the geometric sculpture-building that is El Eco.

Galería Jumex Ecatepec

Jumex
Museo Jumex, exterior.

The original exhibition space for the Jumex Collection is located within the Jumex fruit juice plant on the outskirts of Mexico City. Admission to its handsome galleries and library—nestled within the bustling industrial compound—has been free to the public since the opening in 2013 of the David Chipperfield-designed Museo Jumex in the center of the city. We were fortunate to be guided through Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s exhibition, Dodo, by its curator Javier Rivero. (I was keen to see this, as Broomberg & Chanarin’s War Primer had been featured in New Photography 2013 at MoMA (http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2013/newphotography/) The exhibition opened with a suite of five large black-and-white framed photographs showing, against a seamless backdrop, various views of the last remaining dodo egg from the East London Museum in South Africa. Projected in a cavernous nearby gallery were outtakes from the filming of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 that had been retrieved from the vaults of Paramount Pictures. The only other object in the space was a giant B-25 propeller, slowly rotating, bearing witness to the film. The third space included hundreds of bits of detritus found in the Sonoran desert, where Catch-22 was filmed in 1969. Likening their search for the bomber plane abandoned on the set to the search for remains of the dodo, Broomberg and Chanarin found an apt title for their exhibition.

Jumex2
Museo Jumex, interior.

Centro de la Imagen

Centro de la imagen
Centro de la Imagen.

We had the opportunity to tour the unfinished Centro de la Imagen with its director, Itala Schmelz, whose vision for the institution is as expansive as the physical space it will fill. Since the early 1990s, the Centro de la Imagen has played a key role in collecting, exhibiting, and publishing photography in Mexico. While planning to continue these activities, Itala is committed to embracing a broader range of image-based works. To this end, Regina Tattersfield, whom we also had the pleasure of meeting, is heading up a research platform that will bring together new perspectives from visual theory, art history, archival research, and curatorial practice, examining the use of technology in art since the Cold War. And our lovely alfresco lunch with the core team from CI, with mezcal for all? Let’s just say it seems like a great place to work.

Galería OMR

Our visit to Galería OMR, which represents both Mexican and international artists, was interesting not only because of the thought-provoking work on view, but also because the owners were so generous in taking time to give a sense of the gallery’s history (it was established in the early 1980s), its architectural background, and its role, as they see it, in contributing to contemporary culture within the city. A powerful installation by David Moreno provided an interesting counterpoint to the sculptural work of British-Israeli artist Daniel Silver, who draws upon and remakes sculptural history in a wide range of traditional materials. I was particularly struck by a drawing by the Troika collective, which placed electrically charged water in contact with the paper support, creating finely patterned burns resembling rivulets. Mexican artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s work, a digital “1984” seeming clock, also stood out among many interesting works.

Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo

We visited the Arróniz gallery and met with the owners, who are mother and son. The idea of a family-run contemporary art gallery has a particular charm. Works that resonated with me were Ishmael Randall-Weeks’s piece Pillars, 2014, which spoke to the elemental social and material structures that define urban development in Peru in a very poetic way, through the marking of space with concrete pillars. Other highlights were Mauro Giaconi’s wall drawings from an earlier solo exhibition at Arróniz that the artist was able to uncover by removing the layers of paint that had been applied over them since his show in 2013. Marcela Armas’s Zenith, a piece that included transparent plastic catheter tubing laid out in the shape of a cityscape, changed during the course of our visit as a hydraulic pump pushed used motor oil through the tube, creating a dark line drawing. When the tube was completely filled, oil dripped onto the floor.

The work of Moris was at once engaging and disturbing. It documented violent struggles—cock fights, dog fights, and even social interactions at a party attended by gang members, whose movements were marked on a canvas on the floor, creating barriers that others, including the artist, could not cross.

Seeing with Other Eyes: Visit to Kurimanzutto Gallery

At Kurimanzutto gallery, we met with the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas and the curator Clara Kim, who organized a major exhibition of Cruzvillegas’s work at the Walker Arts Center in 2013. In addition to admiring the gallery’s architecture, a beautiful succession of interior and exterior spaces designed by Alberto Kalach, we saw the exhibition Vista de Ojos by the Berlin-based Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball.

For Deball’s show, the floor of the large gallery space was covered with wood panels laser-cut with inscriptions from a mid-16th-century painted map of Mexico City (then called Tenochtitlan), commonly known as the “Uppsala Map” owing to its present location in that Swedish city. It is thought that the map was made some thirty...

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Seeing with Other Eyes: Visit to Kurimanzutto Gallery

At Kurimanzutto gallery, we met with the artist Abraham Cruzvillegas and the curator Clara Kim, who organized a major exhibition of Cruzvillegas’s work at the Walker Arts Center in 2013. In addition to admiring the gallery’s architecture, a beautiful succession of interior and exterior spaces designed by Alberto Kalach, we saw the exhibition Vista de Ojos by the Berlin-based Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball.

For Deball’s show, the floor of the large gallery space was covered with wood panels laser-cut with inscriptions from a mid-16th-century painted map of Mexico City (then called Tenochtitlan), commonly known as the “Uppsala Map” owing to its present location in that Swedish city. It is thought that the map was made some thirty years after the conquest by Aztec cartographers trained in the European topographical tradition. The map shows the city threaded with canals and surrounded by water, and is annotated with the names of native plants and peoples. For Deball’s installation, the woodcuts served as the basis for a series of black-and-white prints that were compiled in a big, atlas-like tome, as well as for a framed selection of prints in a smaller gallery upstairs.

Also on view in the main gallery, in larger-than-life-size prints leaning against the wall, was a series of photographs of masks set within the abstracted space of colored backgrounds. This series, titled UMRISS (2014), was based on an international advertising campaign promoting the antipsychotic drug Stelazine during the 1980s. That campaign featured masks from a variety of indigenous peoples, set on similarly hued backdrops and accompanied by taglines such as “Stelazine. Remove the mask of schizophrenic symptoms.” In contrast to the Mexican iteration of the original ad campaign, which featured a variety of striking Mexican masks, Deball’s photographs capture instead only oblique angles of a mask housed in the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin.

I couldn’t help thinking about this show in relation to C-MAP, MoMA’s research initiative devoted to a global perspective on modern and contemporary art. The exhibition seemed to reflect on different kinds of intercultural vision and the potential pitfalls they present. In the first instance, the map drawn by native inhabitants for foreign viewers captures the aspiration to an omniscient perspective, an impossible feat for the eyes of a single person. In the second, the mask captured in the photographs, in a riff on the pharmaceutical advertisement, might be interpreted as a commentary on the failed assumption of being able to “to see through another’s eyes.” When approaching a different cultural context, the tendencies to create totalizing narratives (like the cartographer) or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, assuming the narcissistic ability to see with other eyes (donning an ethnographic mask, as it were), are temptations that must be acknowledged and avoided.

Museums

Arkheia, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo (MUAC)

As part of our day at UNAM, the group received an orientation to Arkheia, an innovative program at MUAC that fosters dialogue and engagement with documentary sources of modern and contemporary art, with an emphasis on Mexico. This program is of particular interest to MoMA and C-MAP, since we have seen an increase in the use of documentary materials in curatorial and art research practice.
Pilar García, the curator in charge of Arkheia, gave us a virtual tour through the collections, illustrating various methodologies that she and her small staff have used in promoting the collections not only to scholars but to the general public. Arkheia is known for its creative exhibition installations, designed to provide viewers with access to archival documents in non-traditional ways.
A particular highlight of Arkheia is its collection formed by the late art historian, critic, and curator Olivier Debroise (1952–2008), whose archive illustrates the goal of Arkheia to be a "laboratory for experimentation and a space for generating knowledge."

Studio Visits

Iñaki Bonillas

Bonillas studio visit
Members of the C-MAP Latin America research group, visiting Iñaki Bonillas' studio.

The group visited the artist Iñaki Bonillas (b. 1981) in his house/studio. Bonillas has devoted his oeuvre to answering the challenges of a “post-photographic” form of art. He was eloquent in his overall presentation, providing thorough descriptions of each work he’s made since at least 2003. Addressing the question of how to pursue photography without shooting pictures, Bonillas has mixed post-Conceptual strategies and appropriationist tactics to produce an impressive core of works based on the found-photography archive left by his grandfather, the late J. R. Plaza. A work on the very construction of memory and history (as micro-history), as well as a reflection on the nature of photographic images in a post-photographic age, the works based on the J. R. Plaza archive combine the decisive presence of an author (Bonillas) with that of a fictitious “creative” persona. This visit generated interest on the part of Sarah Meister in pursuing an acquisition for MoMA.

Fernando Ortega

The group visited artist Fernando Ortega (b. 1971) in his studio/house. Ortega is one of the most significant artists working in Mexico post–Gabriel Orozco and belongs to the same internationally recognized constellation of Mexican artists as Damián Ortega, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Mariana Castillo Deball, Gabriel Kuri, and Carlos Amorales. Ortega has devoted his investigation to chance-based situations, extending the fields of readymades and the poetics of minimal performance settings. The artist had set out on tables recent works in progress, including the “tracings” left by animals (such as a snail) that had “wandered” around his studio. In a different space, he presented early works, including photographic documentation of unexpected interventions that derail conventional settings (for instance, a laser light cast on a partition while an orchestra director conducts) as well as some recent sound works based on chance circumstances (for instance, a composition for his neighbor’s car alarm, which replaces the constant disturbance of the original sound). MoMA recently acquired a work by Ortega through the LACF, and this visit allowed us to get a deeper sense of the breadth, humor, and poetry of his oeuvre—an art of minimal action.

exhibitions

Technology at Art's Service: Visit to SAPS (Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros)

At SAPS, we were given a tour of the impressive exhibition Mechanization: Art and Technology in Siqueiros’s Production by Daniel Garza Usabiaga, the show’s curator. Focusing on the impact of technology on the important Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of the “big three” muralists along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco) to which this space is devoted, the exhibition was replete with fascinating documentation, all of it drawn from the museum’s archives, of the rigorous research that informed the artist’s work.

Taking as a point of departure a dialectic often invoked in relation to new technologies—their inherent capacity to become tools of instrumentalization and repression, but also their potential to serve the...

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Technology at Art's Service: Visit to SAPS (Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros)

At SAPS, we were given a tour of the impressive exhibition Mechanization: Art and Technology in Siqueiros’s Production by Daniel Garza Usabiaga, the show’s curator. Focusing on the impact of technology on the important Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of the “big three” muralists along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco) to which this space is devoted, the exhibition was replete with fascinating documentation, all of it drawn from the museum’s archives, of the rigorous research that informed the artist’s work.

Taking as a point of departure a dialectic often invoked in relation to new technologies—their inherent capacity to become tools of instrumentalization and repression, but also their potential to serve the project of human liberation—the exhibition argued that Siqueiros always insisted on the positive promise locked within new capitalist technologies.

Illustrating this point, the archives gave substance to the idea that Siqueiros was interested in techniques of consumer advertising, evidenced, for instance, in his photographs of contemporary billboards. (One of these shots shows a fabulous tobacco ad emitting real smoke rings.) This indication that the revolutionarily-inclined muralist was intrigued by the latest fashions in spectacular image production provided new insights into the history of Mexican muralism.

The idea of the modern, technologically-impacted spectator was given further dimension by a series of motion studies made for Siqueiros by the photomontagist José Renau, a Spaniard exiled in Mexico. Commissioned by Siqueiros during the preparation of his mural Portrait of the Bourgeoisie for the stairwell of the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas, the series of images begins with a photograph showing an architectural diagram of the staircase. Successive shots show people descending and ascending as well as their lines of sight as they move through the space. The final photographs in the sequence reveal how the mural’s composition were created in accord with the pseudo-scientific diagramming of eyes in motion.

Rounding out this impressive scholarly endeavor was a section devoted to the Polyforum (1971), Siqueiros’s panoramic pavilion financed by the asbestos magnate Manuel Suarez as part of an ambitious real estate project that included the Hotel de México. This section not only summarized the double-edged sword of technological innovation thematized by the exhibition, but also bracketed the contradictions of Siqueiros’s career, which was fueled by revolutionary fervor and, in the later years, supported by corporate commissions. The interior mural of the Polyforum, titled The March of Humanity, was accessorized with the latest technological innovations of the time (a rotating floor, a soundscape, and artificial illumination), while the building’s roof was designed to feature the asbestos company’s logo, “Eureka,” rendered so large that the people in planes passing above could see it.

Defying Stable Understandings: Visit MUAC (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo)

Mexican art of the 1950s is frequently ignored in the art historical record, since precedence is given to the nation’s famous muralist period before it and the subsequent, notorious events of 1968, most notably the student massacre and the politically fraught Summer Olympic Games, both in Mexico City. According to most stories, the Fifties were defined by a turn against muralism rather than by what would supplant it.

Arguing that in fact this period is of great interest, a team of Mexican curators led by the art historian Rita Eder (her collaborators were Angélica García, Pilar García, Cristóbal Andrés Jácome, Israel Rodríguez, and Álvaro Vázquez Mantecón) put together an impressive exhibition, Defying Stability, that covered the years...

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Defying Stable Understandings: Visit MUAC (Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo)

Mexican art of the 1950s is frequently ignored in the art historical record, since precedence is given to the nation’s famous muralist period before it and the subsequent, notorious events of 1968, most notably the student massacre and the politically fraught Summer Olympic Games, both in Mexico City. According to most stories, the Fifties were defined by a turn against muralism rather than by what would supplant it.

Arguing that in fact this period is of great interest, a team of Mexican curators led by the art historian Rita Eder (her collaborators were Angélica García, Pilar García, Cristóbal Andrés Jácome, Israel Rodríguez, and Álvaro Vázquez Mantecón) put together an impressive exhibition, Defying Stability, that covered the years 1952 to 1967. The starting date of the title coincides with the opening of the Ciudad Universitaria, the main campus of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where MUAC is located. According to the curators, the development of the university’s site was a central project within the country’s urban expansion boom, and the university provided a generative context for artistic production during the first 15 years of the exhibition’s scope.

The show beautifully captured a dynamic period of prolific artistic experimentation and collaboration that upended prior conceptions of the body, politics, and religion. Defying art historical conventions such as the celebration of individual artists and the treatment of each medium as separate and distinct, the exhibition focused on collaboration among artists’ groups and the cross-pollination of ideas across mediums. Painting, sculpture, film, books, design, and urban planning, etc., were assembled in thematic arrays that effectively brought out the tensions that existed in cultural production at the time: consumer conformity versus counter-cultural currents; modernization versus tradition; consumer optimism versus repressive or destructive impulses, etc. Although these themes all focused on the specific cultural, economic, and political context of Mexico, they might also very fruitfully be brought to bear on other geographical regions at mid-century, where it is often similarly assumed that all was peace and conformity before the upheavals of 1968.

Defying Stability visit

Curators in Mexico are starting to piece together contemporary histories of chapters in Mexican art that have long been neglected, including ephemeral and marginal conceptual practices that have never before been integrated into the “official” Mexican art historical narratives. The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico 1968–-1997, curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina and the late Olivier Debroise in 2007, and which traveled to São Paulo and Buenos Aires, provided the first major, in-depth examination of this critical, yet little examined period. Museums in Mexico are now acquiring archives of important artists, collectives, and galleries that are critical to the construction of those narratives. We were fortunate to be able to...

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Defying Stability visit

Curators in Mexico are starting to piece together contemporary histories of chapters in Mexican art that have long been neglected, including ephemeral and marginal conceptual practices that have never before been integrated into the “official” Mexican art historical narratives. The Age of Discrepancies: Art and Visual Culture in Mexico 1968–-1997, curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina and the late Olivier Debroise in 2007, and which traveled to São Paulo and Buenos Aires, provided the first major, in-depth examination of this critical, yet little examined period. Museums in Mexico are now acquiring archives of important artists, collectives, and galleries that are critical to the construction of those narratives. We were fortunate to be able to see an excellent exhibition at MUAC, Defying Stability: Artistic Processes in Mexico, 1952–1967, curated by Rita Eder (who gave us a tour), Cristobal Andrés Jácome, and Pilar Garcia. This period, which is often referred to as “the rupture,” marks a repositioning of the relationships between national identity and international influences with a generation of creators who emerged and revolutionized Mexican visual arts, film, theater, literature, and architecture in ways that blurred the boundaries between the media, often through collaboration. For example, the impact of revolutionary, daring approaches to theater indicated influence on other disciplines including public sculpture, film and architecture. The social commingling of the creative intelligentsia of Mexico City was documented in black-and-white films of social gatherings where important literary figures and artists from many other disciplines met. That aspect of creative exchange is not often included in survey exhibitions, and it added a distinctly human quality to the notion of the culture out of which these developments arose.

El Museo Expuesto Sala de Colecciones Universitarias, Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco

Our visit to the renovated Sala de Colecciones Universitarias was preceded by an early morning stroll through the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and its adjacent sites. Beyond the three moments in Mexican history for which the square is named —it connects the expansive archeological site of Tlatelolco, the 17th-century church Templo de Santiago, and the 1960s modernist apartment complex designed by Mario Pani— Plaza de las Tres Culturas was also the site where students were massacred by government security forces in 1968, an event memorialized at the Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco.

The Sala de Colecciones Universitarias reopened in 2013 as a curatorial laboratory with a two-year project titled “El Museo Expuesto” (The...

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El Museo Expuesto Sala de Colecciones Universitarias, Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco

Tlate4
Plaza de Tlatelolco.

Our visit to the renovated Sala de Colecciones Universitarias was preceded by an early morning stroll through the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and its adjacent sites. Beyond the three moments in Mexican history for which the square is named —it connects the expansive archeological site of Tlatelolco, the 17th-century church Templo de Santiago, and the 1960s modernist apartment complex designed by Mario Pani— Plaza de las Tres Culturas was also the site where students were massacred by government security forces in 1968, an event memorialized at the Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco.

The Sala de Colecciones Universitarias reopened in 2013 as a curatorial laboratory with a two-year project titled “El Museo Expuesto” (The Exposed Museum). We were greeted by James Oles, who directed the project with the assistance of Julio García Murillo, and were guided through by both of them. The project phased in with in-depth research into art dating from 1950 to 1990 in UNAM’s collection. Following this, seven exhibitions drawn from UNAM's holdings were organized by students in the university’s curatorial studies program. “El Museo Expuesto” cleverly takes the modus operandi of museums as its subject and structure, addressing behind-the-scenes processes and principal goals: exhibition, preservation, research and education. Stressing the exhibition’s educational scope, the introductory text defines the project as “a space to investigate museum culture, a laboratory in which to better understand the functions, strategies, codes and symbols of the art museum.” The exhibition highlights some of UNAM’s lesser-known holdings while skillfully exposing gaps in the collection—gaps filled by astutely selected loans.

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