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Art & Theory
Axis Mexico: Common Objects and Cosmopolitan Actions
by Olivier Debroise

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Both directors, following the model that had been initiated by Curare in the early 1990s and consolidated by the creation of FITAC, gathered foreign curators and artists. They purposefully modeled their practices on such independent spaces as El Chopo University Museum and "La Panaderí­a," Yoshua Okón's and Miguel Calderón's art gallery/coffee shop/concert room in Colonia Condesa. Their power to gather audiences increased quickly, in part because, from the beginning, they had advocated interdisciplinary work and an art without hierarchies. The mix of live music with video, of painting and graffiti and electronic forms, was an important catalyst for an enlightened urban group. Bridges were built with institutions from other countries, visual and sound information flowed with unimagined speed through messenger services and via Internet; the only thing that was needed was that for exhibitions to be cooler, if not more articulate. More visual, louder, more radical, more elegant-even if elegance meant showing up dressed weirdly in a real grandma outfit that Prada had just copied. "We had to go at it eagerly," Magali Arriola adds, "and as the audience multiplied, it also became more diverse, and in diversifying, it continued to multiply."2

As could be expected, this audience renewal, its diversification, was accompanied by a deep transformation in the content of the exhibitions. For example, the new reading of the Carrillo Gil's permanent collection curated by James Oles has to be considered among the more relevant projects. This American-born historian used the resources of institutional criticism established by Hans Haacke and Joseph Kosuth and for the first time challenged Mexican institutional practices. It was soon followed by Taller de la Ciudad de México (Mexico City Workshop), a show designed by Fernando Romero, a disciple of Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch deconstructivist architect, and Jean Nouvel, a French architect whose innovative spiritual forms broke-free of the Le Corbusier tradition in French building design. It was the first attempt at an exploration of the blend of art, urbanism, architecture, and design.

Just as it had started, this openness became the rule. Ex-Teresa became the center for the presentation of exhibitions/parties/movie marathons. At the same time that the Carrillo Gil sponsored "Pulp," a loosely structured weekly gathering of techno musicians, designers, and Internet artists in the cafeteria, it also organized Boutique, an exhibition that included the works of Mexican fashion designers. Curated by Ana Elena Mallet at the end of 2000, Boutique overlapped with-and therefore was inserted into-the debate surrounding Giorgio Armani's show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The climax of these events was Las molestias son temporales, las mejoras permanentes (Inconveniences Are Temporary, Improvements Are Forever), a physical deconstruction of the Carrillo Gil quarters by Mario Garcí­a Torres in the spring of 2001. The Carrillo Gil deconstruction took place several months before the opening of the "deconstructed" Palais de Tokyo in Paris (which thus looks like an outmoded attempt by French contemporary artists and curators to fill the gap of the 1990s). These projects on the edge of the tradition of museums in Mexico might not have been very appealing to the taste of directors and cultural officials, but cemented the desire for eclecticism and the museum's need to reach a different type of audience.

The initial push by these two institutions opened the doors for the creation in late 2000 of a third state-run center in another Colonial-era church, the Alameda Art Laboratory. Capitalizing on underdeveloped desire, the center became a space solely devoted to experimentation in electronic media, and has gained a quick acceptance showing Brazilian artist Edgar Santos, the Lebanese-born Mona Hattoun or the French veteran Daniel Buren .3

The new mechanisms of creativity, as articulated in other countries, are already operating in Mexico. In some instances, they are even at the avant-garde of the economic reorganization of art, as exemplified by the Jumex Collection, which gathers works from renowned international artists and is already a model for collectors in Argentina. The Jumex Collection might also be seen as an influence on French tycoon François Pinault for his "excentric" museum, to be open in the former Renault factories on the outskirts of Paris. The slide is obvious if we think that commercial art galleries are now appropriating the "freed territory" that until recently was dominated by alternative and independent spaces. Art & Idea, for example, a fickle initiative in the mid-1990s by Hadée Rovirosa that followed the radical experiences of the group of artists that had gathered at Temí­stocles 44, found a permanent home in a new building by the architect Enrique Norten, who was deliberately inspired by Rem Koolhaas's architectural "transparencies."

Five or six years ago, curators, critics, and museum directors arriving to the country went straight to the editors of Poliester magazine, Curare or Corpus Callosum, Guillermo Santamarina's independent art center in Guadalajara. Now they run to Enrique Guerrero (the gallery that was able to stay ahead of the tide) or to the small dealer of contemporary pieces, Kurimanzutto, that also pretends to operate as a "virtual gallery" without a fixed location, moving to the rhythm of "duty-free capitalism." In some instances, galleries represent a changing of the guard, and they have institutionalized the needs for the transfer between the local and the global that were once the domain of independent spaces. There have been some cases where some have requested official grants (which besides offering money, also represent guarantees of seriousness and validation) to operate in the international arena.

Today, Mexican art-its world and its artists-clearly operates at the intersection of the global and the local. Marking the entry of Mexico into the discourse on globalization as it has been interpreted in the visual arts, this intersection motivates the selections of curator Betti-Sue Hertz and this exhibition's title: Axis Mexico.

It is within this context that the phenomenon of the displaced artist becomes more relevant, as malleable raw material or as social worker of the "artistic condition," the recent works of Francis Alÿs, Minerva Cuevas and, especially, Santiago Sierra are brutally reinserting Mexican art into the international arena.

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