The Parallax Flu

Mexico City

Left: Curator Ann Temkin and dealer José Kuri. Right: Whitney Museum adjunct curator Shamim Momin with Colección Jumex founder Eugenio López. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky)

IN MEXICO CITY, the custom is to smile and never say no—unless, that is, the tequila is yellow, green, or blue. Last Wednesday night, before swine flu hit town, those suspicious drinks were a winking detail of the big bash that collector and fruit-juice heir Eugenio López threw for fifteen hundred guests to celebrate the opening of “Nothingness and Being,” the exhibition that Whitney Museum adjunct curator Shamim Momin has culled from the holdings of his Jumex Foundation.

Unlike the bright lights and hot colors of the feathers and flowers inside the big party tent, Momin’s austere show was mostly a silver and black affair that evoked the dark tidings promised by her title. “The collection is so strong that I was able to do a show about things I’ve always wanted to say about the world,” Momin said, standing beside a beaming López. “You know what I mean?” I didn’t, exactly, but López seemed to. “What she is saying is true,” he said. “It’s an important show.”

It included almost a hundred works—by artists as disparate as Francis Alÿs, Jim Hodges, Louise Lawler, Gregor Schneider, Eva Rothschild, Mike Bouchet, Nayland Blake, and Tracey Emin—that were all about sex, narcissism, death, consciousness, cynicism, and beauty: in other words, life. A molded chair lying on its side was perpetually in flames, courtesy Banks Violette. A creepy video by Moris was installed in a pitch-black room filled with the sound of a wild animal growling, while its eyes glowered on-screen. Another video, by Knut Asdam, focused on the crotch of a man’s jeans and the dark stain that spread as he peed into them. “Every man’s dream,” observed James Brown, the American expat painter who was in town for a show of his new watercolors opening at Hilario Galguera Gallery the next day.

Left: Philanthropist Lulu Creel and Colección Jumex's Victor Zamudio. Right: Collector Jose Noe Suro.

The Jumex event was pitched to coincide with the first day of business at Zona Maco, the six-year-old art fair hosting eighty galleries, mostly from Mexico but also Spain, Brazil, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, and New York. With López’s 10 PM helicopter arrival at the juice-factory grounds, the party tent filled with dealers, collectors, artists, and art students bused through end-of-the-world traffic jams that stretched from the convention center to the Jumex warehouse housing the show more than an hour away. Inside the tent, the dance music was pounding, the drinks were flowing, and waiters were laying out a buffet of grilled shrimp, ravioli, and salad—distinctly un-Mexican fare meant to please the foreigners.

Of which there were plenty. Momin headed up a table of Angelenos who included Christine Kim, the curator who is Momin’s partner in LAND (Los Angeles Nomad Division), a public-art agency the two are establishing in Hollywood. With them were former Works on Paper proprietors Maynard Monrow and Christine Nichols, who are about to start a residency studio in Venice with Maya Lin.

So many projects, so little time! Miami’s Bass Museum director Silvia Karman Cubiñá and Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center director Raphaela Platow are presenting another Jumex Foundation show set to debut during Art Basel Miami Beach in December. That will be the collection’s first appearance on American soil. Mexico City philanthropist Lulu Creel spoke about Mexico Vivo, a Jumex Foundation beneficiary that helps the growing number of women with AIDS in Mexico and raises money through art auctions. I wanted to hear more, but Momin nudged us outside for the lighting of Cerith Wyn Evans’s Gertrude Stein–inspired sign, which apparently only gets to shine once every decade or so, at least at Jumex. It reads, BEFORE THE FLOWERS OF FRIENDSHIP FADED FRIENDSHIP FADED, but the moment itself faded as López submitted to television cameras for interviews and negotiated a phalanx of eager hangers-on. López should get credit for waking up the new rich in his town to contemporary art. Where once there was only Jumex, now there are at least twenty private collections, and López himself is planning to build a new museum within the city limits.

Left: Alexandra Brown with artist James Brown. Right: Artist Gabriel Orozco.

Mexico City already has contemporary art institutions, such as MUAC, its new university museum, and the equally impressive Rufino Tamayo Museum. (Mexican architecture is far too undersung.) On Wednesday night, the Tamayo took advantage of the moment to put on a five-thousand-peso-per-person benefit (that’s about $450) that attracted visiting dealers like Massimo Di Carlo’s Ludovica Barbieri and a troop of Mexican collectors, including Ramiro and Gabriela Garza. For the dinner, the energetic nightlife impresario Rodrigo Penafiel carved a twinkling black-and-white club out of one exhibition area and flew in DJ Rawdon Messenger from the Chateau Marmont for the afterparty on a terrace. I stayed only long enough to note that the affair was just a tequila-fueled version of the same museum functions taking place in any other part of the world, all smiling men in suits, tottering women in painfully high heels, and an exhibition that few were noticing—in this case, a handsome Liliana Porter retrospective.

From there, it was off to join the crush at James Brown’s “Formas de Pensamiento” (Thought Forms) show at Galguera. The magnificently long-haired dealer, also Damien Hirst’s representative in Mexico, had outfitted the courtyard of his white-on-white townhouse gallery with golden poufs, a DJ, and a copiously stocked bar where a number of attractive young things rubbed elbows with seasoned museum curators and José Noe Suro, who relieves the humdrum manufacture of tubs and toilets at his ceramics factory in Guadalajara by commissioning international artists to make work there.

Brown, who has been one of them, was leading Mexican magazine editors through the sequences of his eighty-four abstractions on paper, a show inspired by John Cage’s 84 Pieces for Piano—music, Brown said, “that preys on your imagination.” He insisted that the sound could “nourish that part of your brain that allows you to produce something you desperately want.” Small wonder people want to be artists.

Left: Dealers Maynard Monrow and Christine Nichols. Right: Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler.

Friday afternoon, the surgical masks that were to become commonplace as swine-flu fatalities increased made their first appearance in public. It was unnerving to see people sitting in restaurants pulling off their masks long enough to eat. Odder still to drive up to a hotel to be greeted by masked valet parkers and bellhops. Museums and schools were closed, but deadly disease doesn’t stop the art world, especially when there is money at stake: The Zona Maco was just as busy as it had been on opening day, and the big parties went on, though I-20 Gallery’s Paul Judelson sent word that, with the building closed, artist Eduardo Sarabia’s tequila salon had to be moved outside the Natural History Museum, where Cyprien Gaillard orchestrated one of his signature video screenings just before artist Miguel Calderón took over as DJ.

None of this was as surreal as the story Galguera told during a late-night taco dinner that architect Manolo Mestre was holding for friends and artists in his collection, like Ariel Orozco and Emilio Chapela. Galguera was about to leave for Leipzig, where he was opening a new gallery with a group show featuring Hirst, Daniel Buren, Jannis Kounellis, and fifteen others. For his installation there, Kounellis charged the dealer with finding twenty-six used prosthetic legs. Though he cast a wide net, Galguera could get only twenty-five—until the night prior, when his brother, a bullfighter, won the final leg in a poker game with a former picador who had lost a limb in a bullring. The man actually left without his leg? Said Galguera, “Everything is a gamble in Mexico.”

Left: Bass Art Museum director Silvia Karman Cubiñá. Right: Artist Scoli Acosta and dealer Laurent Godin.

Left: Dealer Carolyn Alexander and Tate curator Tanya Barson. Right: Dealer Paul Judelson.

Left: Massimo Di Carlo's Ludovica Barbieri with collector Gabriela Garza. Right: Curator Christine Kim.

Left: Architect Manolo Mestre. Right: Artists Ariel Orozco and Emilio Chapela.

Left: Yvon Lambert director Luisa Lagos. Right: Dealers Ines Lopez-Quesada and Silvia Ortiz.

Left: Colección Jumex curator and registrar Michel Blancsube. Right: Dealers Claus Robenhagen and Nils Staerk.

Left: Raphaela Platow, director of the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinatti. Right: Film producer Christian Valdelievre and dealer Henrique Faria.

Left: Jewelry designer Ana Lucia de Teresa. Right: A Mexico City restaurant. (Photo: Miggi Hood)