'Normal Exceptions' Wrestles with Its Own Sprawling Framework

At Museo Jumex, Mexico City, a survey of the past two decades of Mexican contemporary art struggles to unite a broad range of artworks within a cohesive structure

BY Gaby Cepeda in Exhibition Reviews , US Reviews | 01 JUL 21

Featuring more than 60 works by 45 artists, ‘Normal Exceptions’ at Museo Jumex – curated by Kit Hammons with Adriana Kuri Alamillo and Cindy Peña – is a survey of Mexican contemporary art from the past 20 years presented in six thematic sections. The show’s curatorial statement references the genre of ‘microhistory’ – pioneered in the 1970s by Simona Cerutti, Carlo Ginzburg and Giovanni Levi – that focuses on smaller-scale historical research. But the sheer scope of this exhibition, which draws extensively from the museum’s collection, ultimately undermines that approach, while many of the works cannot be so readily thematically compartmentalized. Much like the undisciplined urban sprawl of Mexico City itself, ‘Normal Exceptions’ is simply too big to hold together a close-knit curatorial theme.

Daniela Rossell,Third World Blondes (Harem Room), 2002. Courtesy: the artist and Museo Jumex, Mexico City
Daniela Rossell, Third World Blondes (Harem Room), 2002. Courtesy: the artist and Museo Jumex, Mexico City

The first gallery opens with ‘Portraits’, where Ana Segovia’s small, brightly coloured, oval-shaped paintings of the actor Mauricio Garcés – Mexico’s own effete Don Juan of the 1960s and ’70s – continue her inquiry into the modes of mainstream Mexican masculinity (‘¡Arroz!’, 2021). Together with Daniela Rossell’s equal parts cynical and affectionate photographs of her wealthy peers shamelessly posing in their garishly decorated homes (‘Third World Blondes’, 2002), these series add a touch of telenovela-flavoured kitsch and glamour that feels out of place in an otherwise solemn room. Nearby, for instance, is Ilán Lieberman’s series ‘Niño Perdido’ (Lost Boy, 2005–06) – a set of small graphite portraits of children who have gone missing in Mexico.

The other sections in this gallery – ‘Excavation’ and ‘Transformation’– are perhaps best embodied by Teresa Margolles’s 1 tonelada de escombro. Calle Santos Degollado, Ciudad Juárez. 2010 (2019), in which the artist transformed a ton of recuperated steel from demolished queer and trans nightclubs in Ciudad Juárez into a seemingly nondescript, slightly rusted, 50cm cube that retains the secrets of its origin story. A similar transformative exercise is present in Tania Pérez Córdoba’s Una olla en una olla (A Pot in a Pot, 2021), in which she created a mould out of a Dutch oven only to melt it down and re-shape it almost exactly as itself, but missing a few chunks here and there.

Stefan Brüggemann, Conceptual Decoration Silver and Black Wallpaper, 2008. Courtesy: the artist and Museo Jumex, Mexico City
Stefan Brüggemann, Conceptual Decoration Silver and Black Wallpaper, 2008. Courtesy: the artist and Museo Jumex, Mexico City

The second-floor gallery hosts three further thematic sections: ‘Interventions’, ‘Records’ and ‘Markets’. A large portion of the walls is covered by Stefan Brüggemann’s Conceptual Decoration Silver and Black Wallpaper (2008), a dark, shiny, silver wallpaper on which the words ‘conceptual decoration’ are printed in black ink and repeated endlessly, draining much of the light from the space. A trite quip on the nature of the art market – how artworks become coveted collectibles by a sheen of industry-fed intellectualism – the piece created an uphill battle for the many less-snarky contributions in the room. The vibrant, hand-dyed colours of Pia Camil’s Espectacular Telón Pachuca I & II (Pachuca Billboard Curtains I & II, 2014), for instance, were depleted by the presence of Brüggemann’s crass wallpaper.

Finally, in the first-floor space, dedicated to presenting three separate installations during the exhibition’s run, was Aires Acondicionados (Air Conditioners, 2021), a project by artist duo Rometti Costales in collaboration with ZONAMACO (on display 29 April – 20 June). It included a diaphanous projection (Reviving Airs and Other Things, 2021) of a woman performing a pansori – a traditional Korean genre of musical storytelling – and a silver thermal blanket (Space Blanket, 2021), still bearing the grid marks of its tight folding, trembling softly as it hung suspended a few centimetres above the ground. The contrast between this gallery and the preceding ones evinced, for me, the show’s main hurdle: how to gather a broad range of practices under a cohesive theoretical or narrative framework to spark dialogues and connections between artworks that transcend the vague and dispassion.

'Normal Exceptions: Contemporary Art in Mexico’ is on view at Museo Jumex, Mexico City, through 15 August 2021.

Main image: 'Normal Exceptions: Contemporary Art in Mexico', 2021, exhibition view, Museo Jumex, Mexico City. Courtesy: the artist and Museo Jumex, Mexico City

Gaby Cepeda is an independent curator and arts writer.