The Best Shows to See in Mexico City During Art Week

From Varda Caivano’s tiny metallic abstractions at LABOR to Tania Candiani’s ode to the capital’s dance halls

BY Mariana Fernández in Critic's Guides , Exhibition Reviews | 07 FEB 24

Beatriz González: War and Peace: A Poetics of Gesture’ / Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) /25 November 2023 – 30 June 2024

Beatriz Gonzalez, La madrépora, 1967. Foto: Niko Jacob
Beatriz González, La madrépora, 1967. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Niko Jacob

Only in the last few years has the Colombian painter Beatriz González been celebrated for her critical role in defining a sort-of Latin American pop (or perhaps, anti-pop) art. Where recent surveys of her work have looked at her extensive output as a commentary on the horrors of Colombian political life since the 1960s, ‘War and Peace’ offers a sustained study of the many bodily gestures González spent decades culling from press images: palms covering agonized faces, hands holding coffins or united in prayer, bodies collapsed in pain. Curators Cuauhtémoc Medina and Natalia Gutiérrez sort the artist’s obsessive rehearsals of grief and mourning into several groups – from the multiplied image of a sobbing woman in En familia (1995), to the endless cycle of people carrying the remains of their loved ones in the series ‘Cada uno con su ofrenda’ (2010). They posit that through numerous formal strategies like vivid colours, simple lines and repetition, González’s paintings confer agency back to those lost in the disposable news cycle, unlocking something akin to empathy in the process. 

Varda Caivano: Luz de Luna’ / LABOR / 6 February – 29 February

Varda Caivano, Untitled, 2023.  Técnica mixta | Mixed media 10 x 30 x 2cm  (3.9 x 11.8 x .8 inches) Cortesía de la artista y de Labor, Ciudad de México. Courtesy of the artist and Labor, Mexico City.
Varda Caivano, Untitled, 2023, mixed media, 10 x 30 x 2 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Labor, Mexico City

Though firmly abstract, Varda Caivano’s paintings offer tantalizing glimpses of landscapes, still lives or mystical apparitions before quickly retreating back into themselves, into painting. In the new body of work on view at LABOR (all Untitled, 2023), Caivano experiments with metallic pigments, applying mostly muted palettes to intimately scaled linen and jute canvases. Her characteristic layers of paint rubbed, scraped and reapplied intermingle with the irregularities of the canvas’s weave to form loose arrangements of forms and lines that hide different compositions and choices below the surface. Flashes of silver and gold peer out from in between metallic blue lines, bright yellow lacerations in a canvas of soft green-browns. In one of the few works with a horizon line, what could almost be a scene of dense fall foliage is interrupted by thick smudges of bronze and areas of unpainted linen. Each mark evinces Caivano’s painting process – thoughts, rather than half-cooked ideas, already on their way to becoming something else.  

Guadalupe Rosales, rafa esparza: WACHA: viajes transtemporales’ / Commonwealth and Council / 6 February – 30 March

Installation view, Guadalupe Rosales and rafa esparza, WACHA: viajes transtemporales, Commonwealth and Council Mexico City, Courtesy of the artists and Commonwealth and Council. Photo: Yomahra Gonzal
Guadalupe Rosales and rafa esparza, ‘WACHA: viajes transtemporales’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artists and Commonwealth and Council; photograph: Yomahra Gonzal

Moving through ‘WACHA: viajes transtemporales’ feels like being hit with a barrage of memories all at once. rafa esparza and Guadalupe Rosales each present tender and funny works in sculpture, installation, photography and painting that explore different meanings of identity and home. esparza specifically focuses on national mythmaking with the sculpture Deconstruct Cortez: Nuevo Mundo Prophecy: Homie Love (2022), his reimagining of the Mexican coat of arms as a black canvas belt wrapped around several worn pairs of Nike Cortez sneakers, and Colosio en lomas taurinas, después del guardado (2024), a new adobe panel painting depicting the frantic moments before the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994. A devoted archivist of 1980s and 90s Los Angeles youth culture, Rosales contributes glossy photographs of candy-painted vintage lowriders with titles like Lo-Low and Gangsta Lean (both 2023), along with brightly lit go-go boxes doubling as vitrines for photographs, party flyers, black-light posters and other vivid ephemera of a Los Angeles of yore.

Lourdes Grobet: Crear sin miedo’ / Casa del Lago  / 29 September 2023 – 10 March 2024

Lourdes Grobet, La Tragedia del Jaguar
Lourdes Grobet, La Tragedia del Jaguar. Courtesy: Casa del Lago UNAM | Lourdes Grobet S.C

Lourdes Grobet first came to prominence for her documentation of the lucha libre scene in Mexico City. Her images of masked fighters, male and female – in the ring, but also in the dressing room, at church, caring for babies, tasting soup – are iconic: quotidian moments made extraordinary by the sanctity of performance. The selection printed on fabric and displayed outdoors, animated by the gentle movement of the wind, is an apt prelude to a small survey about Grobet’s devotion to documenting uniquely Mexican forms of spectacle, and her dialogue between the permanence of photography and the ephemerality of performance. The show includes other important projects, like her images of Indigenous theatre productions, ‘Teatro campesino’ (1984–2018), and glimpses of the artist’s own self-fashioning before the camera in collaborative works such as Hora y media (1975): three successive photographs by Marcos Kurtycz which depict Grobet emerging from an opening in a sheet of tin foil, breaking from the limits of the frame like a modern version of Botticelli’s Venus

Tania Ximena: Río de niebla, río de adobe, río de sangre’ / Ex Teresa Arte Actual / 25 November 2023 17 March 2024

Tania Ximena, exhibition view, 2023
Tania Ximena,‘Río de Niebla, Río de Adobe, Río de Sangre’, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes

Tania Ximena’s show opens with three large paintings suspended like icons from an alcove of the former convent. It is not immediately obvious, but their geometric patterns each record a moment in the life cycle of Mexico’s last living glacier, Jamapa: its birth atop the Pico de Orizaba volcano, its journey as a river through the state of Veracruz and its confluence with the mainstem in Boca del Río. Ximena – no stranger to long-term field research – has been documenting the threatened state of the glacier for the better part of a decade. Her collaborative exhibition at Ex Teresa uses sculpture, video, photography and sound – including a moving collection of audio recordings by Carlos Edelmiro – to present the ice giant as an almost mythic figure who refuses to disappear despite the devastating effects of climate change.

Tania Candiani: Pista de Baile’  / Museo Kaluz  / 10 February – 29 April

Tania Candiani, Pista de Baile, 2024. Film still. Courtesy: the artist
Tania Candiani, Pista de Baile, 2024, film still. Courtesy the artist. 

Tania Candiani’s commission for the atrium of Museo Kaluz in the Colonia Guerrero is a love letter to storied neighbourhood dance institutions like the Salón México and the Salón Los Ángeles. To create the centrepiece of the show, a hypnotic video titled Pista de Baile (2024) installed on a nine-meter-long LED screen, Candiani used a motion sensing camera to film nine couples dancing guaracha, cumbia, rumba, danzón, foxtrot, swing, mambo, chachachá and salsa before a green screen. Through a process of visual synthesis, she then translated their choreographies into a series of graphic notations resembling the fleeting movement of light particles. Synthy versions of classic ballroom harmonies, composed by electronic musician Pepe Mogt, score the work and act as a soundtrack for the nine dance floors installed throughout the atrium – each a space for audiences to experiment with different styles and to engage in something like the joyful release and sociality of dance hall culture. 

Mexico City Art Week 2024 runs across multiple venues February 07–10

Main image: Beatriz González, Entierro en el Museo Nacional, 1991. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Julio César Flórez

Mariana Fernández is a writer and curator based in New York, USA.