In the past decade or so, Mexico City has established itself as one of the most exciting and vibrant contemporary art centers of the 21st century. Even before recent developments like the Zona MACO Art Fair and the Jumex Museum though, the city has long been a vital artistic locale, where strands of modernism from Europe, North and South America mix with indigenous traditions and history. Glasstire travelled to Mexico City (known as Distrito Federal, or DF) recently to interview some of the artists who are part of the city’s rich artistic heritage.
We met with Monica Mayer, who formed one of Mexico’s first feminist art groups, Polvo de Gallina Negra (Dust of the Black Hen), with fellow artist Maris Bustamante in 1983. Most of her work is performance-based social or political interventions, often tinged with humor. Her longest-running project is Pinto Mi Raya, a collaboration with her husband Victor Lerma, which began as an alternative gallery space in 1989. With the intention to “lubricate the Mexican Art System,” when was then closed off to most non-traditional art forms, Pinto Mi Raya has developed into an archive of an astounding 300,000 documents — art reviews, criticism, and news gathered from Mexico City newspapers. Currently on view at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena is a exhibition focused on various performances Mayer and Lerma have staged over the past four decades based on their personal and artistic relationship.
Next we visited with photographer Lourdes Grobet, who cites as her main influences the trinity of German artist Mathias Goeritz, who emigrated to Mexico City in 1949 and helped shape the modern artistic landscape there; Mexican artist and long-time teacher Gilberto Aceves Navarro; and El Santo, one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of Lucha Libre. Indeed, she is perhaps most well-known for her photographs of Lucha Libre, which she has documented since the 1970s, although her career encompasses much more. Originally a painter, she burned all her previous work in 1968 and turned toward photography. She pushed the limits of the medium, holding an exhibition of photos that weren’t fixed, so they faded throughout the show. Like Mayer, she was also involved with the Mexican art collectives known as Grupos, specifically the Grupo Proceso Pentágono, which included legendary Mexican artist and publisher Felipe Ehrenberg. She also spoke with us about one of most recent projects, a documentary on the Bering Strait.
Our third interview with an influential female artist was filmmaker and video artist Sarah Minter. Her early 16mm films like Nadie es Inocente (1986) document Mexico City’s burgeoning punk scene in the 1980s, which she revisited with a follow-up film twenty years later. Although scripted, the film features punk kids from the slums of Neza City, giving it a gritty slice-of-life feel similar to Penelope Spheeris’s Suburbia. Her more recent work tends more towards video installation, such as Ojo en Rotación (2015), a cube with footage of street life projected on all sides that viewers can enter. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit MUAC’s current retrospective of her work, where we saw One-Day, One-Night Trips Through Mexico City (1997), a three-screen city symphony that distills 24 hours in this megalopolis into 30 minutes.
Finally we sat down with Gabriel de la Mora, one of the younger generation of emerging artists in Mexico City. After studying architecture, de la Mora received his MFA from Pratt, and his eclectic body of work shows the attention to detail and craftsmanship of an architect. Working in a diverse range of media including drawing, photography and sculpture, his work repurposes discarded objects and ephemera, revealing their original functions while giving them new life. This form of cultural recycling has a special relevance here in Mexico City, where even the stones of the city’s main Cathedral were appropriated from the destroyed Aztec Templo Mayor.
Look for these video interviews in Spanish with English subtitles on Glasstire in the coming months.