Critic’s Guide: Mexico City

A round-up of the best shows in the city, ahead of this year's Zona Maco, which runs from 8 – 12 February

BY Dorothée Dupuis in Critic's Guides | 07 FEB 17

Ulises Carriòn, Dear Reader Don't Read. Courtesy: Museo Jumex Arte Contemporaneo.

Ulises Carrión
Museo Jumex
9 February – 30 April

To understand the enigmatic figure of Ulises Carrión – from young writer prodigy in Mexico City in the 1960s to student, curator, publisher and conceptual artist in the cold capitals of Northern Europe in the ’70s, to his death in 1989 in relative anonymity – is to discern a long tradition of intellectual back-and-forth between Latin America and Europe whose late modernities have been using displacement and cultural estrangement as powerful aesthetic and conceptual engines. Many of Carrión's works echo Lettrist, Situationist and conceptual experimentations of his time, but differ in their vivid grit and desperate wittiness that might then be loosely attributed to his Latin-American, expatriate situation. The beautiful geometric spaces of the Jumex prove a fitting frame for Carrión's own delicate lines and grids.

 Beatriz Olabarrieta, Plot Bunny, 2016, film still. Courtesy: the artist and NGCA, Sunderland, UK 

Beatriz Olabarrieta
Parallel Oaxaca
7 February – 12 March

‘Book, don’t tell me what to do’, is the second exhibition of Beatriz Olabarrieta at Parallel Oaxaca, the project space founded in 2013 in the small town of Oaxaca by Oliver Martínez-Kandt, which opened a space in the Mexican capital a few months ago. Language and writing are taken here as literal and poetic sources of inspiration to produce a sculptural environment that occupies the whole gallery space. The elements of the show will reappear in short stories commissioned to various writers and friends of the artist over the course of the exhibition and published in a series of artist’s books that will continue the intent of the show.

Andrea Fraser, Museum Hightlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin/Cologne

Andrea Fraser
Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo
15 October 2016 – 12 March 2017

‘L’1%, c’est moi’ is the first solo exhibition of Andrea Fraser in Mexico City and presents more than 30 years of the artist’s work, gathering videos, documentation of performances as well as textual pieces. MUAC’s impressive architecture serves as an ideal backdrop for Fraser’s incisive institutional critique that gets more and more sizeable as one wanders from room to room, the persona of the artist multiplied on a variety of screens, projections and pictures. Seen from Mexico City, the show also outlines the peculiar relationship that Western artists have built with their own museological institutions: mixed feelings of respect and mistrust, hatred and desire.

Pablo Vargas Lugo, Ovipositor, 2017, concrete, steel and MDF, 13 x 3.3 x 2.4 m. Courtesy: LABOR, Mexico City; photograph: Ramiro Chaves

Pablo Vargas Lugo
2 February – 18 March

Pablo Vargas Lugo operates by extracting graphics, shapes and elements from contexts that range from human-crafted designs, to landscape to patterns existing in nature. He later misappropriates these forms into new arrangements, emphasizing pre-existing meanings or altering them drastically through simple displacements of scale and materials. At Labor, a series of new works oscillating between the monumental and the painterly, extends the artist’s interests in astronomy, non-Western forms of knowledge and natural design. Though fascinated by aesthetics, Pablo Vargas Lugo always makes room for doubt in his work, pinpointing the ideologies at stake behind any form-making and trying to suggest other narratives through artistic agency.

Tatiana Trouvé, Les Fumées, 2016, bronze, metal, paint 51 x 38 x 96 cm. Courtesy: Galería OMR, Mexico City

‘The Queen Falls’
Galería OMR
2 February – 25 March

Frequent curatorial collaborators Anissa Touati and Marc Olivier Wahler meet this time over the enigmatic formula ‘The Queen Falls’, a quote taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The quote is suggested as an allegory for works balancing between the fragile and the solid, the monumental and the miniscule, the tangible and the dreamed. Showcasing the exhibiting possibilities of the new and impressive OMR building in Roma Norte, the show spectacularly includes works disseminated on the buildings nearby and visible from the roof of the gallery. Touati’s interests in Mexico’s artistic landscape, that notably include Tapatío stars such as Jose Davila, Jorge Mendez Blake or Gabriel Rico, mixes with an elegant melancholy with Wahler’s talented but usual blue-chip suspects (Ugo Rondinone, Tatiana Trouvé, Oscar Tuazon). Alicia Kwade disrupts the male, pop energy of it all with more conceptual proposals.

 Arturo Hernández Alcázar, Tierra perdida (nuevo orden mundial), 2017, 150 kg of molten copper 4 x 3 m. Courtesy: the artist and MARSO Gallery, Mexico City

Arturo Hernández Alcazar
Galería Marso
7 February – 20 March

Artist and publisher Arturo Hernández Alcazar is an underdog in the Mexican art world and I think he likes it that way. His work’s weaknesses in production act as a plea for attention to ideas and processes primordial to artistic practice. That his works are always on the verge of breaking and disappearing, mirrors the territories he depicts: landscapes from the industrialized Mexican countryside neighbouring pictures of explosions, accidents and raw almost ready-made objects. For Hernández Alcazar narrative becomes sculpture, sculptures become actions and actions become texts, the artist’s own books being an integral part of his practice.

Courtesy: El Cuarto de Máquinas, Mexico City

‘Jippies asquerozos’
El cuarto de máquinas
21 January – 11 March

‘Quid pro quo. Ver la madera por el árbol’ is a show that crystallizes the concerns of a certain Mexican art scene, embodied by curators such as Willy Kautz, Victor Palacios or Daniel Garza Usabiaga, young artists from Soma and La Esmeralda and independent art spaces such as Bikini Wax, Ladrón or Nixon. Miingx New Age relational aesthetics and grupos-inspired tactics to a post modern use of objects and appropriation, they question global and local, historical and socio-political constructions. Conceived by a curator who no longer bothers to invite artists to realize the works presented, the show turns in derision at as many institutions as possible: the art establishment, the market, the academy, the political leader, the spectator. The figure of the ‘damned hippie’ appears finally as the only sustainable alternative.

Tercerunquinto, Grafiti. Representación en grado cero, 2015-17, video still. Courtesy: Tercerunquinto and Proyectos Monclova, Mexico City

Proyectos Monclova
21 January – 11 March

‘For us exhibiting in a gallery or in an institution doesn’t make any difference’, a member of Tercerunquinto tells me maliciously. Emblematic of a self-appointed explicitly political generation of Mexican artists starting in the 2000s, Tercerunquinto presents a show whose rather conservative appearance nevertheless succeeds in exposing the schizophrenia of a Mexican society stuck between hope and disenchantment. As much as the show risks being judged as a painterly market pleaser within the perfect white cube of Monclova, it affirms disappearance and oblivion as intrinsic to the Latin-American reality, keeping the original spirit of the collective alive, albeit in a new form.

Other recommended shows in the city:

Nina Beier 
Show home in new development by Reurbano
José María Vértiz 491 Col. Narvarte
Ciudad de México
8 – 13 Feb

Miguel Calderón
kurimanzutto offsite space:
Gral Manuel F. Loera 42,
Col. Daniel Garza, Ciudad de México
Until 25 Feb

Tacita Dean
Museo Tamayo
15 Nov 2016 – 12 March 2017

Kasia Fudakowski 
7 Feb – 8 April

The Party Was Yesterday (and No one Remembers Anything): A Proposal by Mario García Torres 
Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura
9 Feb - 6 May

General Idea ‘Broken Time’
Until 12 Feb

Gabriel Orozco
8 Feb – 16 March

Fernando Ortega ‘Pink Note’
Museo Tamayo
10 Dec – 16 April

Antek Walczak
House of Gaga
7 Feb – 18 March

Lawrence Weiner ‘Forever & A Day’
Museo de la Ciudad and various locations
8 - 26 Feb
– Nezahualcóyotl 127 (Office of the Secretariat of Public Education)
– Nezahualcóyotl 127, Ejido del Centro, 06080, CDMX
– Plaza de la Constitución S / N, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06010, CDMX
– José María Pino Suárez 30, Centro, 06060, CDMX
– Cervantes Saavedra 647 (Billboard on public highway)
– Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 647, Irrigation, 11500, CDMX

 Main image: Andrea Fraser, Projection, 2008. Courtesy: © Caroline Léna Becker

Dorothée Dupuis is a curator, writer and publisher based in Mexico City. She is the director of, a magazine about contemporary art in the Americas.