Critics’ Picks

Yvonne Venegas, Nirvana, 2006, C-print, dimensions variable. From the series  “Maria Elvia de Hank,” 2006–2009.

Yvonne Venegas, Nirvana, 2006, C-print, dimensions variable. From the series “Maria Elvia de Hank,” 2006–2009.

Mexico City

Yvonne Venegas

Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil (MACG)
Revolución 1608 San Angel, Álvaro Obregón
September 20, 2012–January 13, 2013

Yvonne Venegas’s photography, possessing elements of portraiture and social documentation, tends toward individuals used to attention: adored actors, detested socialites, proud brides, or a famous twin sister. Her museum survey chronologically arranges six photographic series made from 1990 to 2012.

In 2006, Venegas photographed the production of Rebel, a hugely popular Mexican telenovela. Following the show’s third season, the cast became a pop group and performed to sold-out arenas. In Cumpleaños (Birthday), 2006, actress Anahí Puente sits primped between film takes at a hospital bedside as another actor lays connected to an IV line. With filming paused, Puente stares fixedly at Venegas’s camera with a comfort and seduction that suggest she may still be performing. Fans1, 2006, shows a group of girls outside a concert, decked out in white blouses and plaid pleated skirts styled as their adored performers. The girls’ slouchy postures and exposed skin, squeezed within ill-fitted clothing, differentiate them from their larger-than-life idols. Alongside piles of handwritten fan mail, scattered news clippings reveal Puente is romantically paired with an emerging Mexican politician—if past Mexican politics is also prologue, her enormous popularity on- and offscreen will manifest strong election chances for her beau. The series outlines a curious network in which reality and fiction overlap alongside private and public governance.

Another hall presents a collection of large photographs documenting the home life of Maria Elvia de Hank—wife to Tijuana’s billionaire ex-mayor, and famous as a socialite, philanthropist, and matriarch. Images reveal de Hank and her family in their elaborate domestic paradise, complete with pink flamingos, extravagant dollhouses, gold-plated dinners, and her husband’s pet bear. Bolsa (Handbag), 2009, shows de Hank flanked by female family members as a suited male arm gestures to receive her handbag. The women’s manicured sartorial elegance (lush pinks, gold sequins, white lace) and the routineness of the pass-off illustrate a contradiction between de Hank’s tireless self-fashioning and her concurrent desire to appear effortlessly at ease. The exhibition opened days after de Hank’s unexpected death, adding a note of raw fragility to Venegas’s aptitude for capturing individuals in their most tenuous moments, as both subjects in images and objects in life.