Museum of Mexico City: Five Continents and One City

Gonzales-Day included in the international exhibition “Five Continents and One City” in the section curated by Daniel J. Martinez.

Five Continents and a City. Second International Painting Salon was the title of this exhibition, directed by the Catalan artist Martha Palau, who lives in Mexico, and which was recently presented at the Museum of the City of Mexico, a colonial building located in the center of the great metropolis. The curators of the various sections (one for each continent) were the South African Clive Kellner, for Africa, the Canadian Bruce Ferguson, for the Americas, the Chinese-American Gao Minglu for Asia and Oceania, Cuauhtemoc Medina, for Mexico and the artist-activist Daniel Joseph Martinez, for Mexicoa— merica, whose curriculum vitae and nationality were not given in the catalogue, unlike the other five guest curators. This salon, which is still new (this was only the second edition) and could well have dispensed with the word painting in its subtitle, included some of the most recent works created for the most part by artists from the generation born in the 1960s. Owusu-Ankomah (Ghana, 1956) works with some of the mystical symbols arising from the rich African system of relationships. His work proposes -but with a strong European element resu Iting from his periods in London and Germany, where he currently lives – a kind of re-iconification of African customs, but revisited by a contemporary eye which gives them a new reading, and without stripping them of their own very clear identity, as in such pieces as Fmmaus(1997). In this work, three figures (perhaps the same one repeated?) with negroid features appear in a fine drawing in which, within the human anatomy, a precise triangle has been formed from the chest of the three figures and in the upper part of the work. Here I am, say nothing (Soft Work for Complicated Needs), by Robert Youds (British Columbia, Canada, 1 954) presented a bundle of cushions, probably an armchair, which has been tied together by ropes and lost its usual form and had some paint put on it which, combined with the rest of the piece, substantially changes it and gives it a new presence. Something similar occurs in some of his other pieces, where certain everyday objects are also collected together and transformed into lamps (Goodbye Light Painting is one of them), or rather light paintings, which use fluorescent neons and which he places, not without some mischievousness, on a wall. Zhang Huan (1965, An Yang City, a province of Henan, China, and now a resident of New York), exhibited a series of photographs showing the artist as a receptacle and reason for his own work. Unfortunately, when the visitors to the show looked at him with his body covered in oriental writing, they could not help thinking of Peter Greenaway’s film, The Pillow Book, in which, in a masterly and plastically very attractive way, human bodies are also used as a support for the very unusual words and forms of oriental graphic elements. Mention should also be made of the very strong piece entitled 1/2 (#3), in which, in addition to the writing, a pork rib also covers his body, which evokes the idea of breaking the inside and the outside. It was a very powerful image. Zhang Huan also presented himself in close-up photographs with his face covered in soap and his mouth open. Inside could be seen what seemed to be old photographs in sepia tones of his family members or babies. The Venezuelan photographer and poet Enrique Hernandez de Jesus has also been working with this idea since the mid-1980s. He shows himself with his mouth and eyes replaced by photographs of himselt family members, breasts or unrecognizable fragments of female bodies or various objects. It was the Mexican section, which had the largest number of participants, with the nine names including some well-established figures. Mention must be made of the work of Yishai Jusidman (Mexico City, 1963), who presented a wide range of pieces documenting the recent years of his pictorial career. Unfortunately, the room in which his work was shown gave the impression (but this was not the case) of being a small retrospective. Recently, there was a splendid exhibition of his work at the Carrillo Gil Museum, and pieces by him have been included in practically all the major group shows in recent years. This excess was therefore not really necessary, and even less justified in the case of an artist whose work is very well known. Gabriel Kuri (Mexico City, 1970), one of the most purposeful artists of his generation, participated with works that revealed his fruitful proximity to Gabriel Orozco. Tree with Chewing Gum, a color photograph, was one of the most successful works. In another piece, the artist carved the words “a Ia brevedad posible”, a typical letter-writing formula in Mexico, in particular in official or bureaucratic correspondence. Kuri likes to base his themes on the details of officialdom, making an intelligent use of its linguistic foibles and rituals of relationship, but without lapsing into vulgarity or merely noting something, which in itself does not have any sense. Kuri manages to extract those words and gestures with a bitter and sharp humor: some people are therefore uncomfortable with his work, while others try, in poor and graceless imitations, to reproduce the same thing in the hope of benefiting from the limelight currently enjoyed by this generation of artists at the present time. Miguel Ventura (San Antonio, Texas, 1954, resident in Mexico) surprised visitors with his work. From his first exhibition in Mexico City in 1979 at the Museum of Modern Art, where he was presented by Fernando Gamboa in “a show by the Porto Rican artist Miguel Ventura”, this artist has followed paths which fully anticipated the works which he is producing today. La nueva casita The New Fuck Me Little Daddy House is an installation that includes computer-animated videos and a house-canvas and vinyl tent with a tubular structure that was reproduced in the catalogue. The portraits of the babies, whose eyes have been altered by the superimposition of colored circles, while their playsuits display various texts, are the product of a new system of language designed by Ventura and which is regulated by his self-styled New lnter-Territorial Council of Languages (NILC). Rather than didactic or cryptic, his message with its strong images explores an apparently inoffensive zone but which, with its faces and large false plaits and babies smiling without being able to see, becomes an iconog raphy that confronts us with a warning about something we do not know and which we cannot, at a first glance, read. Finally, in the ghostly region entitled Mexicoamerica, Ken Gonzalez-Day (Santa Clara, California, 1964) presented an exploration of forms of skin seen at close range (with macro lenses?) and its relationship with the racial question and its role in a society in which white value segregate those with dark pigments. With similar results, although with different intentions, the photographer Silvana Agostoni has also explored the very close up view of skin, achieving like Gonzalez-Day, prints in which the skin becomes a piece of landscape, a drawing or a mosaic made up of infinite variations. Although this was a show whose curators belonged to various tendencies, Five Continents and a City left in the air many questions and interrogatives, and the sensation, as we left the exhibition, that it offered only a partial and fragmented vision of the many things that are happening in both Mexico and elsewhere in the world. And then the inevitable question: are these works that really give a turn of the screw to our reading of the “visual, objectual, conceptual”, or are we simply expected to welcome the works of artists which are not always as purposeful or solid as we would like – works which this exhibition surely deserved? A curatorial project of this kind covering all the exhibitions presented in the Museum throughout the year would be very expensive. But it seems to me equally expensive to forego a wide-ranging and detailed analysis of what is happening in contemporary art and to fail to address the urgent task of serious research that now awaits us in the field. Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros

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