Critics’ Picks

  • Daniel Monroy Cuevas, El martirio del camarista (The Cameraman’s Martyrdom), 2019, black pigment on paper, 8 1/4 x 11".

    Daniel Monroy Cuevas

    Arredondo \ Arozarena
    Ezequiel Montes #36 Col. Tabacalera
    February 4–April 27

    In the inferno that engulfed Mexico’s National Film Archive in 1982, Daniel Monroy Cuevas has found a fertile context to explore the paradoxical relationship between fire and image-making processes. While his previous work has dealt with the unfolding of the actual conflagration—its beginning behind a screen, which happened to be showing a fire scene, and incineration of most of the archive’s holdings—Monroy Cuevas’s latest exhibition obsesses around the loss of a series of drawings from 1932 by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, fated to burn in the same event.
    The twenty-nine prints on display are negative copies of facsimile graphic works made during the Soviet auteur’s Mexican sojourn. Monroy Cuevas covered a glass sheet with soot, scratched out Eisenstein’s confident pencil strokes, and transferred the entire image, via Magic Tape, to paper. Plants, portraits, self-portraits, contorted human figures, and religious marriages between unalike species emerge from these cinder screens. El martirio del camarista (The Cameraman’s Martyrdom) and El martirio del camarista II, both 2019, which show a man falling (from heaven?) onto a cactus as his tripod camera follows his descent, lead us to the exhibition’s coda: ten untitled prints depicting the persistent tripods in a sequence that gradually zooms in on one camera, which, to no surprise, has caught fire. The apparent fragility of the works’ surfaces—scrapes and crevices abound—hint at the elisions of Eisenstein’s complicated production in Mexico. But what’s most fixating about the work is Monroy Cuevas’s own engrossment with the perils and pleasures of various image-making processes, as well as the sacrifices they entail.

  • View of “Fraccionar,” 2019. Right: Chuco Reyes, untitled, undated.


    Estancia Femsa
    General Francisco Ramírez 12-14 Ampliación Daniel Garza
    February 2–May 2

    The best piece in this group show is, arguably, not a work of art. It is a miniature folding screen featuring six panels jointed together, each with a different image of the transcendental beauty of the supermodel Iman. The curiosity rests on its own wooden table, to the right of a massive colonial-period painting of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. That both of these objects are right in front of Luis Barragán’s bed, and that he would have opened his eyes every morning to the Virgin Mary receiving civilization-changing news as well as to the beauty of Iman, is, to me, remarkable. Even better is Inti Guerrero’s curatorial acumen to hang, right above Iman, one of Chucho Reyes’s flamboyant Christs (untitled, n.d.), this one wearing a feathered, carnivalesque loincloth, standing almost mid-dance as he bleeds.

    The precision of the installation is striking, especially for a space like Barragán’s home, where perspicuity reigns and foreign objects often look dispensable. An example of this is the guest bedroom, overtaken by Mientras me despierto (While I Wake Up), 1985, a jewel-toned Julio Galán canvas in which a man stares out a tiny window—mirroring the very oneiric, actually tiny window in the room—in a hallucinatory scene that includes a goofy but threatening dog wearing boxer shorts. That this oversize painting wasn’t always there to stimulate houseguests’ dreams makes no sense. In the white room, Liliana Maresca’s No todo lo que brilla es oro (Caja Grande) (Not All That Glitters Is Gold [Big Box]), 1989, brings out the mysticism of Barragán’s monastic architecture. In the video, she plays with geometric metallic objects in an alchemical-looking ritual made no less serious by its delightfulness, a child’s laughter ringing in the background.

    The incorporation of works by Maresca, a religionless but ardent mystic, and Galán, the enfant terrible of Mexican painting, into Barragán’s Catholic-decor extravaganza is not an obvious call but one that clicks immediately. After all, it takes a certain amount of queerness to reconcile opposites: peaceful nature and the city, externality and interiority, devotion and desire.

  • Mauricio Rocha, Pabellón Fonográfico (Phonographic Pavilion) (detail), 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable.

    “Modos de Oír”

    Laboratorio Arte Alameda
    Dr. Mora 7 Col. Centro
    June 29–March 31

    Ex Teresa Arte Actual
    Licenciado Verdad 8, Centro
    June 29–March 31

    Marcel Duchamp’s early-twentieth-century plaint about the deeply retinal nature of art doesn’t seem to resonate in present-day Mexico, whose art scene can feel awash in visuality. Attempting to counter the situation, Laboratorio Arte Alameda and Ex Teresa Arte Actual have conducted a joint survey that engages entirely with sonic phenomena.

    “Modos de Oír” (Ways to Listen), which maps the national production of art-and-sound couplings, is vast, embracing sound art, electroacoustic music, sound-activated sculptures and low-tech devices, radio art, historical voice recordings, and more. At Ex Teresa Arte Actual, viewers are welcomed by Pabellón Fonográfico (Phonographic Pavilion), 2018, an architectural installation by Mauricio Rocha located in the main nave (both venues are former churches). The scaffold structure rightly conveys a sense of incompleteness: It’s an ascending wooden, spiral ramp with seventeen speakers embedded more or less randomly. María Sabina’s mushroom ceremony, philosopher Luis Villoro’s musings on silence, Felipe Ehrenberg’s and Juan José Gurrola’s experimental music, and Tito Rivas’s phonographic reconstruction of a student massacre were sourced from archives, artistic or otherwise. Altogether, the recordings generate a soundscape whose plurality hints at the dissonant array of voices provided by the show’s curatorial team.

    At Laboratorio Arte Alameda, several works employ obsolete media to reflect on the cultural implications of material conservation—how the survival of an entire language and its history, for example, might rely on a flimsy wax cylinder. The politics of sound is capital to Minerva Cuevas’s The Battle of Kalliope, 2004, in which she curses the US administration using an antique music box that simultaneously plays a German melody and the rhythm of a vodun ritual. As an overall project, “Modos de Oír” is a welcome addition to the charting of new genealogies in Mexican art, and it joyously leaves the door open to further readings, and hearings.