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Curatorial Practices
Interview with critic Cuauhtémoc Medina
by Jennifer Teets

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Cuauhtémoc Medina is currently a Researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM as well as an internationally known critic and curator, and director of FITAC, "Foro de Teoría del Arte Contemporáneo" (Contemporary Art Theory Forum).

JT: To begin, you organized the 8th International Forum on Contemporary Art named "Commodified Aesthetics and Critical Commodities" that just took place in Monterrey. Can you explain the motive of the move from Guadalajara in 1991 to Monterrey in 2002?

CM: FITAC was born attached to "Expo-Arte", the Guadalajara art fair. Back then this was a rather original model. It was not common that commercial structures like art fairs would consider it necessary to add a theoretical annex to the marketplace. In fact, Guadalajara's example had an impact well beyond Latin America. The symposium programs at ARCO in Spain started in great part as a result of Guadalajara's model. However, the Guadalajara Art Fair was always small, no matter how important it was in terms of starting a market for 90's art in Mexico. This had two consequences: along the seven years that it lasted, FITAC (Foro Internacional de Teoría de Arte Contemporáneo) somehow took over as the central piece of the event. It became the interface between an emerging contemporary arts community in Mexico and Latin America, and the contemporary discussion in Europe, USA, and the rest of the world. But, unluckily the fair failed to last due to financial reasons. So by 1998 FITAC was interrupted due to the acute economic crisis in Mexico and the fact that Guadalajara did not developed a large enough structure of collectors.

JT: Do you believe that where a forum is to be held is determined by the larger collecting community?

CM: No. It simply happens that when the people behind the new MUESTRA in Monterrey decided to reactivate the interest in collecting that Monterrey had in the mid-eighties, they also decided to resuscitate the forum. If the forum was moved to another city, it was because the binomy of an art fair/critical forum model developed in Guadalajara seemed a requisite to set up a new art fair. This suggests that in a place like Mexico, the market still needs to grow on the basis of promoting a wider and more complex contemporary art offer than just a space to buy and sell artworks. This may be the only advantage of having a rather weak art market: it cannot work on its own, but needs to cooperate with alternative venues, open space for critical discourses and involve a process of cultural promotion. On the other hand, between 1999 and 2001 the Mexican contemporary art world was very anxious about the lack of something like FITAC. As a result of that, in a few months, three related events were established: the symposium at The University of the Americas in Puebla in November 2000 that will continue this year with its second edition. There is also SITAC, the symposium in Mexico City that is organized by PAC (Contemporary Art Patron) and now we also have FITAC in Monterrey. Therefore, the Guadalajara symposium did not simply migrate, but has created a complex lineage. Hopefully these three events with different audiences and different approaches will provide a regular program of contemporary art debates in Mexico in the coming years.

JT: Do you think that FITAC will continue a trajectory of working around an economic system? Because Monterrey is the industrial hub of the country and the primary product center which also has a history of private collection. So do you think that the forum will always have this aim/theme around economic conditions?

CM: The forum was thematic since the beginning. The fact that it addressed the question of economic interventions and the relation between art and commodity culture was a specific decision for this edition. It had to do with an attempt to make a first statement in terms of the new history of FITAC. Symposiums involve a negotiation between different goals. We worked in Monterrey, which has had little tradition of theoretical thinking and critical debate, but is the most capitalist and consumerist oriented city in Mexico. But on another level, we were concerned on finding the right theme with which we could do two things: on the one hand, make a very open shift of references so that the forum could contribute to the update of the aesthetical interests of the locality. Second, to find an issue that would be useful locally, regionally and internationally.
So the decision to focus this forum on the subject of "Commodified Aesthetics and Critical Commodities" involved both critical and strategic motives. On the one hand, it was trying to map a current field of practices emerging simultaneously in many different places around the world, in other words, that could not be seen as derivative of a discussion in the metropolitan centers. I believe this was a timely decision: several magazines have lately been devoting special issues to economical concerns. Theme Park, a new journal from England, just released a special issue on the economy, and Parachute in Canada, is about to present a volume on the subject. But FITAC also wanted to invite some of the most interesting artists working in Monterrey on equal conditions with artists and theorists from Mexico City and participants operating in different places of the Americas and Europe.

JT: That's a good way to move on to the next question.
I think the forum was brilliant in setting up a set of elaborated contradictions. This has to do with the essence of your organizational abilities and the work of the participants involved. For instance, the presentation of Gabinete Ordo Amoris who read a Marx text following the presentation of Santiago Sierra's work (which was full of absurd actions and activities, where he claims if he were not revealing the complicity of the art world, he would merely be "washing dishes."), so I wanted to see how you thought to organize the conference, the participants, and why you selected these participants. We can say the same about Minerva Cuevas and Swetlana Heger's discourse. These were brilliant moves too.

CM: I feel a little overwhelmed by the reaction. I think the people invited were brought into the symposium on the basis of their affinities, but also probably more important, the tensions between their discourses and practices. Some of them are people that I've known for many years, like Niel Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska whose work I find incredibly stimulating and challenging, but I sincerely didn't know that much about others, like Swetlana Heger. But, it is true that the symposium had an organizing structure. Mario Garcia and I were interested in distributing the members of each panel so as to explore their points in common, but also their structural differences.

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