Cage Match

Left: Artist Pedro Reyes and designer Alejandro Fernández Dominguez. Right: Artist Damián Ortega and Mónica Manzutto. (Except where noted, all photos: Kevin McGarry)

IT WAS 2 AM Saturday morning in Berlin—peak party time for the ABC fair—when Gallery Weekend Mexico, organized by the art magazine Código, was scheduled to begin its second edition. While Berlin and DF are occasionally compared to each other for their artist-friendly grit and ease, punctuality is different in Germany than it is in Latin America. Hoping to hit the twenty-one synchronized openings scattered around town in one seamless socio-path, I was rapping at the gates of the Galería OMR mansion on Plaza Río de Janiero at the stroke of six when a figure behind the door moving a bucket of Perrier bottles squinted through the crack and said, “Mmmm… siete.”

An hour later, people began to trickle into Julieta Aranda’s “If a Body Meet a Body,” her 3-D exploration of necks, heads, and the color blue. Inspired by a museum’s locked-off room of Genoese busts, the show riffs on the corporeal divide between the “thinking” part of the body and the costumes of “work,” with shirts dyed blue and white (connotative collars and all). There’s also a guillotine blade in Klein Blue and abstracted re-creations of the germinal heads. In OMR’s adjoining gallery, the Tijuana-based collective Torolab presented new work related to El Laboratorio La Granja Transfronteriza, or Lab Transborder Farm, their urban farm in Camino Verde, one of the border town’s neighborhoods most blighted by poverty and crime. Positing the gallery as a town square–cum-laboratory, the opening kicked off several weeks of workshops to continue as an extension of La Granja’s work on urban renewal and community building.

Good luck trying to zoom around the largest city in the new world during a rainy Friday rush hour. My taxi slowly crawled to San Miguel de Chapultepec, where I made an extracurricular stop at design nonprofit Archivo to check out its exhibition “Copies,” which pairs iconic furnishings from around the world with their Mexican facsimiles, whether bootlegged, tweaked, or improved. The show was curated by Jorge Gardoni and Cecilia León de la Barra, sister of curator Pablo León de la Barra. “She wanted to include the Gabriel Sierra in the show,” said Archivo’s Regina Pozo, indicating a photograph standing in for a fruited interpretation of a famous Eames coatrack “But her brother has it at the Guggenheim.”

Left: Torolab's Raúl Cárdenas Osuna and Ana Martínez. Right: Labor's Pamela Echeverria and artist Ernesto Mallard.

Next we crossed the street to Labor, where an intergenerational two-person show by Mexican artists Ernesto Mallard and Pedro Reyes was gathering steam. Titled “Join the Dots,” the exhibition links Reyes’s work with one of his inspirations, Op art pioneer Mallard, who stopped showing in commercial contexts in 1974. A suite of Mallard’s wall-mounted sculptures made in 1969 and 1970 are complemented by Reyes’s own woven works, the largest of which, Capula Klein’s Bottle, is a biomorphic, translucent cage fit for a half-dozen people, hanging from the corner of the room. “You should go in,” encouraged Labor founder Pamela Echeverria. “But I think to enter you need to bring Pedro another beer.” The artist held court inside his cocoon throughout the opening. If someone joined, you could count on them taking a photo shortly afterwards. “Selfie art,” Reyes joked, though the piece had been built in 2007, somewhat predating the #artselfie movement.

Cages were a running theme of the night. Roman Ondák had concatenated several dozen former birdcages as the centerpiece of his show opening at Labor’s San Miguel de Chapultepec neighbor Kurimanzutto. Stepping into the gallery, a reclaimed chimney housing an empty bird’s nest hangs overhead. To the left, the Kurimanzutto bookshop hosted a project by Damián Ortega, a temporary edition of the Alias library in homage to Russian Constructivism. “They tease me like I’m a biology professor with this outfit,” confessed the nebbishly attired Ortega as he pushed his glasses up his nose and pantomimed flipping pages. Dork or not, he and a hundred or so others retired to the cage-free courtyard where Elena Reygadas, chef of art-world hangout Rosetta, served up ceviche, oysters, edible flowers, and a foam of yerba santa for dessert.

Left: Roman Ondák's “Signature” at Kurimanzutto. Right: Artist Roman Ondák and dealer José Kuri.

After hitting up four galleries on Friday, I had only reached a fifth of my quota, but there was still the rest of the weekend to explore. A handful of newer spaces put on good shows. Marso, named for its founders MAR-ina Magro and SO-fía Mariscal, opened up shop in a palatial French-style mansion in Juárez about two years ago. The old, ornate building once housed a computer school, but now it’s filled with a standout show by the New York–based Korean artist Jong Oh. Deft, geometrically precise threads are weighted at perpendicular angles, suspended from the ceiling or pulled from off the wall, in a suite of site-specific architectural interventions.

Far south in Escandón is the artist-run space Bikini Wax, which recently relocated to DF from León in the state of Guanajuato, some four hours away. In this venue—part gallery, part art frat house—visitors navigated a multilevel homage to the classic American film Home Alone. The brainchild of artist Gabriel Escalante, the exhibition featured rooms that Bikini Wax founders Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba and Cristóbal Gracia had contributed to transforming into installations evocative of iconic booby traps from the movie—a shoe impaled by a nail on the fire escape, a bedroom with a tarred-and-feathered painting, and the ominous and scream-inducing combination of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” underscoring the movements of a live tarantula kept in the entry.

Saturday night, all roads led to the National Music Conservatory for Gallery Weekend Mexico’s big dinner. With an elegant setting and elegant guests, all was as expected, except for the musical accompaniment: live smooth jazz. “We’re about to go under for root canals in five, four, three…,” joked scholar Arden Decker. Rather than general anesthetic, everyone fell under the spell of dancing, and later, dreams of what’s left to come in DF’s ever-expanding calendar. Bring on the biennial!

Left: Guests hang out in Pedro Reyes's sculpture at Labor. Right: Marso's Marina Magro, artist Jong Oh, and Marso's Sofía Mariscal.

Left: Artist Jong Oh. Right: Writer Daniel Hernandez and scholar Arden Decker. (Photo: Kevin McGarry)

Left: Curator Mariana Munguía and Fundación Jumex director Patrick Charpenel. Right: El Archivo's director Regina Pozo. (Photo: Kevin McGarry)