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Axis Mexico: Common Objects and Cosmopolitan Actions
by Olivier Debroise

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Contemporary art is booming in Mexico, like in other parts of the world, especially those nations that share International Monetary Fund status as "new industrialized countries" and whose societies often face new, incomplete, fragile, and de-centered models of democracy that demand a leap into globalization. Because it is a space of experimentation of cultural forms and systems, it is not surprising that the multinational, multisocial, and interdisciplinary Mexican art scene receives the attention of curators and analysts and is used as a model.

Several of the artists represented in Axis Mexico: Common Objects and Cosmopolitan Actions, for example, were recently invited to participate in group shows, or were represented by galleries in the United States and Europe. At the same time, the debates on the function of the visual arts and, especially, the way in which conceptual art is articulated in the context of a country experiencing political renovation and becoming increasingly open to the effects of globalization, have multiplied in the last few months. In addition to local forums organized by art schools, museums, and independent associations, three international conferences where artists, curators and critics from several countries filled rooms with an audience eager to reflect on these issues received front page coverage in the cultural supplements of newspapers.

Today, the success of Francis Alÿs, Santiago Sierra, and Minerva Cuevas-to mention only the most relevant artists-almost displaces the "international" monopoly held by Gabriel Orozco in the 1990s. Their work is reported and analyzed on a weekly basis. Public and private cultural spaces in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey were literally overrun by a new, very young, keen, recurring, and enthusiastic audience. Openings multiplied; new groups of visual artists from heterogeneous fields-music, communications, architecture, design-appeared with renewed regularity. Despite some critics, museums, alternative spaces, and several galleries have become the display windows for a transformation in Mexico's way of life. The complaint of Post-Situational art seems to be the visible manifestation of a generational fissure that has been opening for several years but had not yet found a means of expression. This dynamism, which is unexpected to some, has surprised even the most skeptical critics, and has created tensions and expectations at the local as well as the international level. Here I will try, if not to explain this phenomenon, which is too recent for its complexity to be evaluated, at least to outline a diagnosis and some hypotheses.

There were earlier symptoms of this phenomenon that ranged from Gabriel Orozco's sudden emergence into the international market to the success of the independent spaces designed in the mid-1990s by young artists of the Temí¬≠stocles 44 break, as well as some of the original presentations by Curare, Critical Space for the Arts, an association of independent curators and critics. But, we can mark 1997 as the true beginning of a general effervescence and an acceptance of contemporary forms, when Magali Arriola organized an exhibition of the paintings and installations of filmmaker Peter Greenaway at the Museo Rufino Tamayo. The exhibition broke attendance records and was the first to attract a massive, very young audience that until then did not frequent museums. As a filmmaker of excess, the expansion of the senses, and carnality, Greenaway had already captivated this audience. Just as A Clockwork Orange was Mexico's cult film of the 1970s and Blade Runner that of the 1980s, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover was the country's cult film of the 1990s. Although it took Magali Arriola five years of negotiations to convince the museum management, her task was to enable that generational transport of audiences from one cultural territory to another. "There was a hunger in the air, but I don't think we had thought it out well, or not enough," recalls Arriola. "My intuition tells me the success of the exhibit owed less to its content -that might have not been too relevant for the country's artistic scene-than to the pseudo-glamorous and avant-garde look of his films, whose excesses allowed us to fill a void we felt everywhere, not just in art."1

It was not by chance, then, that in those very months the growing interest in contemporary practices and the examples set by many-albeit ephemeral-independent spaces both in Mexico City and Guadalajara, caught the eye of Mexico's cultural authorities. In 1998 two official spaces, the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in southern Mexico City, and Ex-Teresa Arte Actual, a cultural center inaugurated in the early 1990s as a vague legacy of a late-1970s "alternative art salon," were simultaneously handed to two of the leaders of the transformation of Mexican curatorial practices. The first one was Cuban-born poet and essayist Osvaldo Sánchez, and the second Guillermo Santamarina, one of the more aggressive curators of his generation. Both were well known in international circles, wrote for specialized magazines, and, most importantly, had been the first coordinators of Guadalajara's International Forum on Contemporary Art Theory (in Spanish, FITAC), which played a smashing role as the engine and discursive platform of the transformation of the local art scene. In just a few months, they radically transformed the image of both institutions.

Set in an old downtown church, Ex-Teresa had followed erratic and uneven paths, mostly due to its inadequate construction, which did not match its objectives. But it lived up to its experimental nature and its openness. The Carrillo Gil abandoned its role as a platform for local artists and opened itself to the critics by setting a sort of curatorial filter that did not exist in Mexico up until that time. It offered complete bodies of work in retrospectives, and thus opened a space for reflection.

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