New York

Miguel Calderón

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Who can blame Mexico City’s artists for making a habit of investigating their hometown in their work? At twenty million people and counting, theirs—as many an exhibition press release has stated—is a megalopolis of extremes, characterized by vast disparities in wealth, the aftereffects of colonialism, and changes wrought by NAFTA.

In Miguel Calderón’s “Forcing the Forces of Nature,” the hometown connection was less striking than in his earlier work, but it’s visible nonetheless. Calderón’s “Chapultepec” photo series (all works 2003) features picnickers in the eponymous park whom he asked to “play dead” at their picnic tables for his camera. The resulting photos merge B-movie horror tableaux, images of Jonestown, and Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. The series “Secundaria” is made up of eight class portraits of private secondary school students. The children—some in dress and some in athletic uniforms—sport aviator sunglasses, provided by Calderón, which make them look like an army of miniature dictators. The implication seems to be that this is exactly what these young members of Mexico’s elite may one day turn into. “Falcon,” a group of three photographs of Calderón’s best friend from childhood riding a BMX bike through the city and tending a falcon, also references privileged urban adolescence.

The sculpture on view was less like sketch comedy and more like a cartoon. The three-ton concrete Bar Rustico Montañoso—complete with a selection of liquors and four bar stools—riffs on a Mexico City trend of re-creating “rustic” folk bars for city dwellers, while Resistol 5000, three giant glue cans suspended over fiberglass pools of poured “glue,” nods to the resourcefulness of urban teens bent on getting high. (Two other works rounded out the show: Moses Superstar, a video of the biblical prophet dancing in a traffic tunnel, and an English-language comic book that Calderón cowrote with British artist Nick Waplington.)

There was lot here that looked familiar. Calderón is aggressively juvenile and addicted to the aesthetics of the amusement park in a way that recalls Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. But on the whole his shock tactics are milder; the “Falcon” photos in particular veer toward a more poetic, nostalgic—almost elegiac—brand of regression, along the lines of younger Americans like Slater Bradley or Ryan McGinley. (The photo of the falcon on the handlebars also strikingly recalls a work by McGinley shown in the same gallery last year.)

Calderón creates his own Mexico City: a kind of zany southern sitcom far more diverse—even mundane—than recent representations put together by outsiders, either the makers of Hollywood films (Traffic is one example) or exhibition curators (as with the dreary P.S. 1 exhibition of 2002, “Mexico City: An Exhibition About the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values”). Calderón, thankfully, did little to translate his work through its layers of localness. It came off a bit like a dubbed television show: a slightly shaky hybrid, a happily unholy union—bad-boy post-Conceptualism with a big dose of Pop nostalgia, lobbed back across the border.

Martha Schwendener