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Pushing Conceptual Boundaries in Mexico City

Being here in D.F., as it is known, I feel like I’m being bathed in an atmosphere filled with internationally focused artists concentrating on exploring boundaries, pushing limits and feeling free to work out all sorts of theories and ideas.

OMR, the oldest contemporary gallery in Mexico City, opened a new space the other day called Plazariodejaneiro52.

José Arnaud-Bello

This is the brainchild of artist Pia Camil in collaboration with Stefan Bruggemann. Camil explained that she, along with her collaborators, wanted to explore both the idea of something, which included the physical gallery space itself as a part of the exhibition, as well as bringing the viewer into the dialogue. Additionally, since five of the artists were born in Mexico City, and the fifth, Peruvian artist Aldo Chaparro, has lived here for years, they hoped to get people to finally forget everything they thought “Mexican Art” was supposed to be. OMR co-director Jaime Riestra said he wanted to establish a space for young artists, which would also push the idea of “non-object.” He told me it was a total experiment to see how a gallery about ideas would be received.

Although the artists are young they have impressive credentials, Camil has studied at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and Slade school of Art in London. Julieta Aranda lives in Berlin and New York and currently has an installation at the Guggenheim, Stefan Bruggemann also studied in London and has international representation, as do Jose Davila and Jose Arnaud Belo.

The show called “This Is Not An Invitation, It’s A Presentation” is installed in a house with a staircase winding up five stories. Painted all white, it was left barely furnished with the works deliberately made from low cost materials. Each floor is given to an individual artist.

Chaparro has a stack of flyers arranged on the floor. Each one has a different quote and while here they are placed on the floor, they were designed to be left on a table, at a concert for example, where people could freely take them.

Aldo Chaparro

Aranda has a large wall hanging which says “Fill in the appropriate colors” in the blank space, but the words for the spaces are ideas like sweet nothings, debonair, echo, etc. and for her space, Camil has reconfigured the gallery floor.

In addition, to the works, another mostly bare room has a table with a recording people can listen to as well as a table filled with the books each artist felt had been important to them, so there was Julian Barnes' Flaubert’s Parrot as well as Moby Dick

All of this is meant to allow for a play between the work, the space, and the visitor, a call for a consideration of how each interacts with the other. So even though it actually looks a bit like a place in which some artists recently moved out but left some works behind, the excitement of Camil and presumably, the others, for collaboration, for exploration, for finally showing the concerns contemporary Mexican artists are exploring is palpable. In addition to the physical gallery, there is a blog at plazariodejaneiro52.blogspot.com for visitors to explore in Spanish and English.

Next door, at OMR, they are also showing artists experimenting in a variety of media.

Julieta Aranda

Among others, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is showing a sound and video installation he created in commemoration of the student massacre of 1968. Hemmer works with sound installations, with “new” media and with varieties of technology to create his projects. Here he has recorded various average citizens giving their thoughts on the massacre, but through the use of photons and technology, he translates their words into colors and light

Ruben Ortiz-Torres lives in Los Angeles, and had previously made representational Chicano themed paintings, but now he creates panels using the paint from auto body paint shops and designed so that the color changes based on where the viewer is standing. One work looks black from a distance, but reveals its metallic reds when you move closer. He has a prototype bench with the same characteristic. I couldn’t help thinking that if Mark Rothko had hung out with lowriders, his whole color field theory might have taken on more glitz.

Ruben Ortiz-Torres

Down the street at Arroniz Arte Contemporaneo, Argentine-born Jose Luis Landet has created a Mayan referenced calendar installation, exploring the twin poles of Reason and Desire (La Razon a Voluntad). For each of the thirty days in the last month, he made a different symbol exploring a different aspect of Reason, which filled one wall. For another thirty-one days he has adorned another wall with symbolic hieroglyphs exploring desire. So the whole wall forms a type of calendar revealing aspects of both these poles if thought. Landet has been studying in Mexico for a while, and said he finds Mexico to be far more open to experimentation than Argentina is at the moment.

To be here is to be caught up in a swirl of experimentation and creative exploration by artists who have traveled widely, and who have absorbed all of the dialogue throughout the contemporary art world. Pia Camil said that they had gotten some grief because much of the work was in English, but she pointed out this is the world we live in, and she is really trying to get people outside of Mexico to get over all of the stereotypes and clichés they like to impose on artists from Mexico. It’s hard to disagree or not to sympathize.

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