Around Town: Condo Mexico City

The gallery-sharing initiative offers cross-cultural conversations and access to artwork rarely exhibited in Mexico

BY Jessica Berlanga Taylor in Reviews | 30 APR 18

CONDO arrived in Mexico City amidst the city’s hottest season, as its famous jacaranda trees reached peak lilac bloom. The gallery-sharing initiative, founded in 2015 in London by dealer Vanessa Carlos, invited 49 international galleries to organize exhibitions in 22 local commercial spaces around the capital, creating conversations between artists from Paris and Puerto Rico, Sydney and São Paulo. Each participating gallery, negotiating space with their host or guests, also contend with Mexico City’s messy sprawl and traffic-clogged boulevards, which made it difficult to catch every show during my opening weekend tour.  

‘The Clean Carcass of the Host’, installation view, Sultana Gallery. Courtesy: the artist and Sultana Gallery

Arredondo/Arozarena, recently relocated from an historic building in Colonia Juárez to another edifice in Colonia Tabacalera, a 19th century neighbourhood known for a bohemian literary and artistic efflorescence in the 1950s (including brief stays by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara), hosted a solo exhibition of work by Joanna Piotrowska, in collaboration with Madragoa, Lisbon and David Radziszewski, Warsaw. Piotrowska’s series of black and white photographs, ‘Frantic’ (2016-17), taken in Warsaw, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro and London, explore her interests in peformance, architecture and the human body, particularly through the notion of ‘safe spaces’. Subjects were invited to create their own shelters using furniture and other domestic wares, and the resulting assemblages are reflective of the bodies and personalities that built them: compact and minimal, precariously tangled, short and sturdy. The work feels especially poignant in earthquake-prone Mexico City, just a few months before the country’s most important presidential election in decades, when many structures – political, economic, physical and psychological – appear increasingly fragile. In Self-Defense (2016), Piotrowska captures women reenacting a series of poses from self-defence manuals, their bodies tense while engaging an invisible enemy, their faces either turned away or covered by hair or hands. Their frozen movements appear awkward, but counter the sense of vulnerability often projected onto women’s bodies. The only noise in the gallery comes from Piotrowska’s whirring 16mm film, Untitled (2016), which captures a young girl as she points to the weak points of her own body, a simple choreography that simulates violence and shores up defence, in which the girl plays both victim and aggressor.  

Joanna Piotrowska, installation view, Arredondo/Arozarena. Courtesy: the artist and Arredondo/Arozarena

Galería Hilario Galguera, best known for organizing site-specific projects with gallery artists like Daniel Buren – who in 2015 transformed the 19th century Hospicio Cabañas in Guadalajara through a series of colourful interventions – has partnered with Denver’s Gildar Gallery for ‘Palletable Relations’, featuring a spectrum of artists engaging with light and space. Most striking are Amber Cobb’s irridescent silicon casts, such as Ache (Tender Spasm) (2018) and Grasp (Lured by the Belly) (2018); Oliver Marsden’s skilfully blended, gradient acrylic painting, Spectrum Fade GCBVM II (light) (2017) ; Andrew Jensdotter’s eight rubbed latex on canvas works, Red 75 and Turquoise 83 (both 2018); and Marco Treviño’s Pintura Policiaca No. 3 (2018), monochrome paintings on canvas completed with the pigment used to cover up graffitti. Taken together, the show’s wide variety of hues, colour gradients, geometric shapes and fluid forms have a dissociating effect, slightly altering our perception of time and space, and our sense of groundedness.  

‘Did you close your eyes to make this painting?’, installation view, 2018. Courtesy: BWSMX; Photograph: PJ Rountree

‘Did you close your eyes to make this painting?’, a group show at BWSMX organized by Misako & Rosen, takes its title from a 2018 work by Ken Kagami, one of several on display, which employs humour and sarcasm to critique the history of Western painting. The exhibition highlights the importance of artistic gesture, especially when traced by hand on a surface, be it paper or canvas. Pia Camil’s eight black and white marker drawings recall Picasso, Matisse, Miró and Louise Bourgeois all at once; in Dancing Penises, Groper, Struggle, Uphill Upclose and Amordazada (Gagged) (all 2018), the tension between her forms suggest male and female bodies of strong sexual energies. The colourful, pulsating layers of paint in Miki Mochizuka’s White Leaf (2018) and Dusk (2016), also seem to transmit unrestrained sensuality. Five bold, black and white paintings by Sangree (Shi Tzu, Olmeca, Boca de Pez, Pastor and Montaña, all 2018) – a collective formed by artists René Godínez Pozas and Carlos Lara – combine large, basic geometric forms that subtly allude to pop-cultural forms and prehispanic sculpture.  

For ‘The Clean Carcass of the Host’, Marso played host to two Parisian galleries, Sans Titre (2016) and Sultana. Paloma Proudfoot’s glistening ceramic ‘husks’, New Lovers and Uncoupling (2018), lie unsettlingly on the gallery floor. Their sensual curves echo the eroticism of the figures in George Rouy’s paintings Red Mountain (2018) and Kerri (2017), with their thick, fleshy lips, large eyes, ambiguous facial expressions and contorted limbs. These are sites of mythical, primal fantasies. In an adjacent room, an embroidered textile work from 2017 by Carlos Arias bears the eponymous phrase ‘Vivimos en un mundo muy primitivo aún’ (We still live in a very primitive world). Arias, who fled the Chilean dictatorship for Mexico in 1975, has long explored issues of gender and postcoloniality in his work. His oil-on-canvas painting Pareja (1995), which also appears here, questions the conventions of masculinity in Latin America. Yet another room contains several arresting works by Lorena Herrera Rashid, assembled from objects she collected in a small town in the state of Morelos, one of the poorest in the country, after it was devastated by a recent earthquake; Untitled (2018), for instance, has been fashioned from concrete rubble, aluminum, polymer resin – all materials used for informal housing construction.  

Michael Smith, The Sears Class Portraits, 1999-present. Courtesy: the artist and Dan Gunn

At Augustina Ferreyra, hosting Chapter, New York and Dan Gunn, Berlin, 14 colour photographs by Michael Smith (The Sears Class Portraits, 1999-present) play humorously with Smith’s double persona of Artist and Professor. Shot over decades in the same studio, Smith is captured slowly aging, while his many students, dressed in their Sunday best, are preserved in images of eternal youth. By bringing galleries and their artists together in intimate ways, CONDO offers cross-cultural conversations and access to artwork rarely exhibited in Mexico, at a scale that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. The project also reveals smaller, younger galleries’s willingness to consider alternative business models. Its sense of collectivity, however brief, is sorely needed.

Main image: ‘Palletable Relations’, 2018, Gildar Gallery and Galería Hilario Galguera. Courtesy: the artist, Gildar Gallery and Galería Hilario Galguera

Jessica Berlanga Taylor is a curator and art critic based in Mexico City. She is currently Chief Curator at Alumnos47 Foundation.