The largest metropolitan area in the Western hemisphere, Mexico City, greatly reminded me of my dear city and home: Beirut.
Even though the two cities differ greatly and on several levels! Firstly in terms of size, language and population. Differences also occur in terms of each city’s respective food, architecture, culture & traditions… and even in terms of male to female ratio (we might need to work out a sort of exchange program!). Ah and most definitely due to the abundance of green and public spaces present in Mexico City (Those are practically lacking in Beirut).
Still, I was reminded of home during my first trip to Mexico City for different puzzling reasons. For instance, I was reminded of the chaos, the traffic, the corruption, and the contrast I grew up in. I was reminded of the bumpy roads, the craziness of drivers and the fearlessness of pedestrians when crossing a highway or street. I was above all reminded of the underlying and incomparable charm inherent to both cities. Of the positivity of their people, the tastefulness of their food, the warmth of their weather and the fact that people know how to enjoy life.
But I was mostly impressed during my short trip to Mexico City by the emerging and vibrant art scene. It truly is an eye-opening and inspiring city! A city that inspires me to promote the production and development of emerging art.
Moving on! I have compiled a list below highlighting all art-related venues I have been to during my short trip:
Day 1: Museo SoumayaThis is the private museum of the Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim (of Lebanese descent) that features the large collection of his eponymous foundation. Open 365 days a year and with free admission, the museum was built as a gift to the Mexican people with the goal of increasing their exposure to art history. In fact, contemporary art is almost non-existent! Instead, the museum acts as a survey of art history highlighting major European art movements and styles such as renaissance, baroque, classicism, impressionist art and so on.. The collection also includes an extensive selection of sculptures from major artists such as Rodin, Dali and Carpeaux.
The architecture of the museum is really breathtaking and for some reason reminds me of a beehive. It was built by Fernando Romero who also happens to be Carlos Slim’s son-in-law!
Day 2: Teotihuacan pyramids/ Casa Azul/ Pedro Reyes studio visitThe pyramids are just out of this world! About 45 min northeast of the capital, this destination is a must for anyone visiting Mexico City! Casa Azul is the famous house of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. She actually grew up in this house as a child and later moved back in with her artist husband Diego Rivera. Upon her death, the house and all of Frida’s belongings were donated with the intention of making them available to the public.
There’s something about this place that is really touching. I really felt connected to both artists.. and especially to Frida Kahlo.
As a person, Kahlo suffered a lot both physically and mentally: she was diagnosed with polio at a very early age and at the age of eighteen she was victim of a road accident that left her practically impaired for the rest of her life, and to her greatest sadness unable to have children.
I was familiar with Frida’s suffering, a topic that is reflected in almost all of her art. But being in her house, roaming the walls leading to her intimate spaces such as her bed, her office or her garden, really moved something in me.
This is Pedro Reyes, without a doubt one of the coolest and most interesting artists I have ever met. All of his projects are very ambitious and resonate a socio-political idea. I will dedicate a post to some of the works he has introduced to us soon. Stay tuned!
Day 3: Casa Maauad / Museo Jumex
Casa Maauad is probably one of the prettiest houses I have ever seen in my life! Founded by Anuar Maauad in 2010, the artist-run house invites artists and curators to join a residency program that lasts up to three months in Mexico City. All costs (except for the plane tickets) are covered by the non-profit; so basically the residents live in an extremely beautiful house, tastefully decorated, full of artwork and all they have to do is make art. At the end of the residency program, the artist has to donate one of his/her works to Casa Maauad as part of the agreement.
How do they manage to cover all their costs? Well, the foundation doesn’t really work on a grant basis. Anuar, an artist himself, actually covers most of the costs. With the exception of some sponsors… who usually send in-kind gifts (such as champagne!). Who said artists don’t get the royal treatment?We then headed to Museo Jumex. Or what I call the Dia Beacon of Mexico City. The newly opened museum is situated next to the Museo Soumaya. Apart from the fact that Museo Jumex also hosts the collection of another Mexican tycoon -that of Eugenio Lopez- the two collections differ tremendously! Museo Jumex is considered to be the largest museum of contemporary art in Latin America and the collection includes epic contemporary art pieces.
The Jumex Foundation appointed the British architect David Chipperfield to build the museum, which cost around 50 million dollars! Since the Lopez family’s fortune was built on a juice empire, the architect decided to choose a factory-like model for the design of the museum as can be seen in the picture above.
Day 4: Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli/ OMR Gallery/ Kurimanzutto
Situated south of Mexico City, the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli comprises the massive collection of pre-Hispanic art collected by the artist himself. Following the tradition of old pyramids, the museum is shaped like one and is made out of black volcanic stones. There’s a great view of Mexico City on the rooftop of the museum!
OMR gallery is one of the most established galleries in Mexico City and is situated in the up-and-coming art district Roma. There were three exhibitions when we visited the gallery: Jose Davila State of Rest which consists of heavy marble structures suspended and tilted in the gallery space thanks to a roping mechanism constructed by the artist, two James Turrell light-based room installations, and the work of a young artist called Pia Camil who uses a combination of curtains, sculptures and wall painting to create a very art-immersing environment. OMR gallery will be exhibiting at Basel art fair in Switzerland this June.
Kurimanzutto is definitely the most beautiful gallery space I have ever encountered! On view was a major installation by Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas: Los teatros de Saturno who has created a massive installation taking up all the gallery space including the working areas.
About the gallery, the owners Jose Kuri (also from Lebanese origin!!) and Monica Manzutto were ranked 74 in the 2013 Power 100 List by ArtReview and the review goes as follows:
Started in an apartment in 1999, Kurimanzutto is today one of the largest gallery spaces in Mexico City. And yet still the palatial space does not fully reflect the influence of the gallery, which is one of – if not the – most powerful galleries in Latin America. Founded and run by husband-and-wife duo José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto, Kurimanzutto has achieved the kind of monolithic, quasi-institutional status that most galleries can only dream of.
Working with some of Mexico’s most established artists, such as Gabriel Orozco and Damián Ortega, they continue to expand their programme with younger international artists such as Colombian Gabriel Sierra and Argentine Adrián Villar Rojas, as well as the Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari, going on to expand their influence both in Latin America and abroad.
Day 5: Casa Luis Barragan/ Labor GalleryLuis Ramiro Barragán Morfín is a Mexican architect born in 1902 in Guadalajara Mexico (Guadalajara is actually one of the hottest spots of contemporary art in Mexico and a preferred destination for many Mexican artists). His style is very influenced by Modernism as one can see by the design of his own house. Photography was not allowed inside the house but the interior walls of his house vary between white, yellow and a neutral pink. Barragan was highly interested in the way natural light interacts with the indoor environments he created. He was a very humble and simple man, living a very religious and non-materialistic life.
At the Labor Gallery, we met with the artist Terence Gower whose current show Baghdad Case Study mainly revolves around the architecture of the US embassy in Baghdad originally built by Catalán architect Josep Lluis Sert in the 60s. The idea of the project is to analyse the shifting attitude and ideology of the American presence in Irak. Gower looks at the “diplomatic devolution” of the US embassy in Baghdad manifested in the shift from a friendly and locally immersed architecture earlier in the century to the more recent “super-bunker” and aggressive structure completed in 2007.
I hope you enjoyed this little insight into Mexico City’s art scene!