Moisés Cosío: ‘Go to As Many Exhibitions As Possible and Have a Beer With As Many People As Possible’

The film producer and collector reflects on working with the likes of Pedro Reyes and Alejandro Jodorowsky, and gives advice for February’s upcoming fairs

BY Matthew McLean AND Moisés Cosío in Interviews | 11 JAN 23

Matthew McLean I know in many cases that you have a very personal relationship with the artists you collect, so I wanted to start by asking: what comes first – encountering the art or making a connection with the artist?

Moisés Cosío For me it's totally about meeting people and talking. I'm much more drawn to the thought process behind certain artist’s work than trying to catch any specific trend. I'm passionate about getting to ask questions and learning. For example, I first met the artist Pedro Reyes about 15 years ago, when I was just starting out. In the beginning, the thing we talked about was about books. Because Pedro has trained as an architect, I asked if he would design the library in my house. But we had too many other ideas, so he didn’t do that. But we’d always get together to talk about whatever I was thinking about or he's thinking about.

Moisés Cosío in his home in Miami, November 2022. On wall: Richard Long, November Sunshine, 1991.
Moisés Cosío in his home in Miami, November 2022. On wall: Richard Long, November Sunshine, 1991. Photo: Josh Aronson

In 2008, he presented his Baby Marx project at the Yokohama Triennial in Japan, and when I saw that work I told him: ‘Listen, we need to make better puppets and we need to make a real show for television.’ So, we made a script, a whole set and better puppets and filmed a pilot of the Baby Marx TV series. We went to LA and presented it to several TV companies. Obviously, nobody ended up buying it. But when the Occupy Wall Street movement was in New York, we took the puppets to New York to film onsite: with Karl Marx and Adam Smith interviewing the protestors.

MM Amazing. That must form part of a Pedro Reyes survey one day. I would love to see the pilot…

MC You know what? Pedro thought it was really funny, and I thought it was really funny, but when we showed it to people, nobody laughed. So we realized, maybe we're not that funny. In 2012, we worked together again on a huge project in Mexico. The government donated us weapons, guns and rifles, they had seized from the drug war in Ciudad Juárez and were going to destroy and bury. Pedro used the metal parts and remade them into musical instruments. We organized a concert with musicians playing John Lennon’s Imagine on those instruments nonstop for six hours. This then became another project that Pedro called Disarm [2013].

Now, if you ask me what pieces I have bought from Pedro, the answer is none. Still, I think of myself as one of his biggest ‘collectors’, because we've done so many projects together. So that’s the kind of relationship I want: one that’s about just going crazy and making what the artist really wants to do.

MM It goes beyond being a patron in the way that some collectors are – instead, you’re really being a collaborator, or an impresario, even.

MC Exactly. It becomes really intimate and obviously the friendship grows. You start thinking about the past 15 years and you're like: Wow, we've really done some crazy things.’

GO RONDINONE  Moonrise, east, September, 2006 , 2006
Ugo Rondinone, moonrise, east, september, 2006, 2006. Photo: Josh Aronson

MM So, you mention you met Pedro first when you were just beginning as a collector. What was your process of starting out?

MC Patricia Martin Méndez was very important to me. She was the Director of the Jumex collection in the very beginning, then after many years of working with Eugenio [Lopez] she stopped to start a family. But she's a workaholic, so she couldn't stop doing things. I met her through her husband, and he suggested that she could give me private art lessons. At that point, I was passionate about cinema, theater, music, but I had no idea about art, so I was very intrigued. So, from these lessons, that's how I started collecting. Eventually with her I founded the nonprofit Alumnos47.

Patricia is very curious, very dedicated, and she really cares about the important stuff. She's very into the whole philosophy and history of art, and its repercussions. I remember when I was learning about Duchamp in our lessons, honestly, we spent two months just talking about the urinal [Fountain, 1917]. Two months!

MM It’s interesting to me that you spent such time on Duchamp given that you have a piece by Piero Manzoni in your collection, Artist’s Shit [1961], which has a clear lineage from Duchamp, and which, to be frank, is a bold and quite surprising piece to find in a private collection.

MC There are certain pieces and artists that really I cannot get over. Piero Manzoni is one of them. Everything he did, and at that particular timing in history: it gets me obsessed. There are a few artworks that are like that. For example – and this has nothing to do with Piero Manzoni – but I remember when I was first setting out seeing Francis Alÿs’s When Faith Moves Mountains [2002]. At the very beginning, I didn't even see the video – just images online and a book I studied in classes with Patricia. But I was just obsessed, asking ‘What's that? What is he doing? What even is art?’ I couldn't get over that work. I still can’t.

SARAH LUCAS  Benito Juarez , 2012
Sarah Lucas, Benito Juárez, 2012. Photo: Josh Aronson

MM I agree it’s an incredible work. Alÿs has been based in Mexico City since the 1980s. Is it important for you to collect art associated with Mexico specifically? I was thinking of how the Sarah Lucas work we photographed is from the body of work she made how she began in dialogue with Diego Rivera’s museum, Anahuacalli.

MC Definitely my collection right now has to do almost totally with Mexico, the new pieces I'm acquiring. It's definitely one of my interests. But I arrived to that organically. With the Sarah Lucas piece, because she made it in Mexico, that's amazing for me, but it is important because I've always really admired her and her generation. In fact, the first piece I bought of Lucas was from Frieze in London, many years ago. The gallery had installed it high up, so you could almost go underneath it. The feeling was amazing: you felt like at any moment it was going to kill you. I remember I just walked under and under and under and I couldn't get over the feeling.

It was a big piece, and as I was just starting out, I was reluctant to acquire it. But the gallery told me there were three pieces like that one: one was in a museum in Germany, the other Sarah gave as a gift to Damien Hirst, and that the third one was the one for sale. That was it for me. I was like, ‘Okay, then I need to get this.’ And that's how I started getting to know Sarah Lucas. Did you see the documentary about her time in Mexico? It’s amazing.

Moisés Cosio
On wall: Julio Galán, Hice bien quererte (I Did Well Loving You), 1997. Photo: Josh Aronson

MM I haven’t, I need to. But sticking with the Mexican context for a moment, I’m thinking about the timeline – you set up Alumnos47 in 2011, the same year as the Museo Soumaya opened, followed by the Museo Jumex a couple of years later – and the changes you must have witnessed. How would you describe the art scene in Mexico City now?

MC I feel like we are still in a much more – how can I say this? – in a ‘teenage’ stage. But in the right way.

For example, the big blue painting here is by the late artist Julio Galán. He just had a retrospective at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. He came from a very closed and old-fashioned society, and for him to paint what he painted and to become what he became in such a context – he was actually at some point close with Andy Warhol – is just unbelievable. Galán was from a small town close to Monterrey in Mexico, and all his work ended up in small galleries in Monterrey. There’s a whole generation of artists, curators and galleries who all really admired Julio Galán growing up, but it was believed that nobody could ever given him a decent retrospective because very few people had all the works and nobody could ever get them together. Well, Magalí Arriola, the Director at Tamayo, finally did it and was a great retrospective for an important artist.

So, when I say the scene is young it’s in a good way – where artists, collectors, galleries can still take a lot of risks that are maybe not possible as much where the market is much more mature. Also, I feel Mexican art, feels closer to the art of a lot of European countries. With a lot of American artists, what you see is what you get. Whereas I feel Mexican art has a lot of layers. Like cinema, which you can watch and watch again and learn from.

GABRIEL OROZCO  Untitled (bill 13), 2016
Moisés with Gabriel Orozco, Untitled (bill 13), 2016. Photo: Josh Aronson

MM That's a good segue. You’ve been a producer on several films, including Atom Egoyan’s Remember [2015] and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor [2015]. How long have the movies been your passion?

MC Since always.

MM Do you remember the first film that really mattered to you?

MC I do remember the first time I saw El Topo [‘The Mole’, 1970] of Alejandro Jodorowsky. I remember watching it and I was just like, ‘What is this?’ I couldn't understand anything, and still, I couldn't stop watching it. That one and the Luis Buñuel's, the short film El Perro Andaluz [‘Un Chien Andalou’, 1929]. Both experiences where I was really confused and intrigued and wanted to learn more.

MM It sounds like a parallel with what you're saying about seeing When Faith Moves Mountains and this complete sense of awe, or confusion, and wanting to work through the mystery somehow…

MC Yes. I remember with Jodorowsky, I was young when I saw El Topo, and so afterwards I had nobody to tell me what to read, or what to see next. Somehow I found Jodorowsky’s book Los Evangelios Para Sanar [‘The Gospels to Heal’, 1970]. It’s not one of his most known books: in fact, I've still never met anyone that has read it. But reading that, I totally became a fanatic of his. I was lucky enough to meet him and I produced his two last films.

MM Is there a shared attitude or sensibility between the art that interests you and the film projects that interest you to work on? Or do they sit in different areas of your mind?

David Lynch, Untitled, undated. Photograph: Josh Aronson
David Lynch, Untitled, undated. Photo: Josh Aronson

MC I think they sit in different areas, but I think the interest is the same. For me, the most fulfilling project I made in film, was Tenemos la Carne [2016], I believe in English it's called ‘We Are the Flesh’, with a very young filmmaker, Emiliano Rocha. He's also a very close friend of mine. I believe the way he does film is exactly like an artist does a work of art. I think, in that sense, it's exactly the same interest, but obviously in film, I always expect for the film to sell and it make good business. In the art it's different because you never expect that…

MM In that sense, when you do acquire art, you don't have a view on its investment value, so to speak?

MC Never. No. In fact, I've hung out with many collectors who have really a specific trained aesthetic eye that, honestly, I don't possess at all. For example, if somebody asked me: ‘What's the most important piece you have by Pedro Reyes?’ I honestly wouldn’t know. I don't know if one piece or another will go up in value, or which one is rarest, or most interest to a museum. I just know what I’ve bought because I felt I really need to a have a part of this process.

I always remember these two phrases from the very beginning of my formation in collecting, my classes with Patricia. Once she told me, ‘Art doesn't have to be free.’ Then another time, she was talking to me about a very significant piece, and I told her, ‘I don't like it.’ She said: ‘You don't have to like it. That's irrelevant.’ That always comes back to me. It doesn't have to be nice. I don't have to like it. It's another thing.

SAM DURANT  Open your eyes, 2017
Sam Durant, Open your eyes, 2017. Photo: Josh Aronson

MM What a powerful lesson to learn. Okay, so to finish, I’m thinking about Frieze Los Angeles coming up, and, as someone who has spent a lot of time in the city, I wanted to ask you: what would be your advice to a collector heading to LA for the fairs?

MC I’d probably say try to go to all the social stuff – for me, that’s almost as important than the actual fair and what you see in the booths, because it’s how you make real connections. In LA, I love the museums. I would go to the Hammer Museum and take it from there.

MM As a film lover, have you been to the Academy Museum yet?

MC I haven't. I wanted to go before, but it was just crazy full with people.

MM I’m sure there will be a VIP event during the next fair. So, if you're here for the fair, make sure you come to that. The week just before Frieze in LA of course is Zona Maco and Material in Mexico City. What’s your advice for someone coming for the fairs there, maybe for the first time?

MC Somewhere like Contramar is a place that always filled with everyone from the art world, the film world, architecture. That's a good spot to find people and have conversations. But again, my advice wherever is simple: go to as many exhibitions as possible and have a beer with as many people as possible.

Main Image: Moisés Cosío in his Miami home. On wall: Julio Galán, Hice bien quererte (I Did Well Loving You), 1997. Photo: Josh Aronson

Matthew McLean is creative director at Frieze Studios. He lives in London, UK.

Moisés Cosio is a film producer, art collector and patron. In 2011, he founded the nonprofit Fundación Alumnos47. He lives in Mexico City, Mexico and Miami, USA.