Mexico City

Felipe Ehrenberg

Encompassing fifty years of production, “Manchuria: Peripheral Vision” is the first formal retrospective of Felipe Ehrenberg. The artist’s participation in Mexican art and culture during the late 1960s and ’70s would prove critical in a country whose restrictions on artists and intellectuals, institutional inefficiency, disinterest, poor communication with the international art world, and political violence (especially the Tlatelolco massacre following large student demonstrations in October 1968 in Mexico City) led Ehrenberg to establish independence from any system or institution and move with his family to England in 1968.

Ehrenberg’s six years there were crucial for the development of his conceptual strategies, as evinced in Living in My Art Room: Considerations on the Habitable Space, Ideas for Ergonometric Actions, 1973. Here one is reminded of Mel Bochner’s approach to art as language and the ideas about quantification and space presented in his measurement pieces. Ehrenberg’s typewritten Mecanographic Symphony for Rhythm and Storm, 1973, and handwritten Art According to Me, 1973, also exemplify his language-oriented works from the ’70s. As he recently said, “Ninety percent of my production is written and on paper.” The Beau Geste Press, an independent publishing company emphasizing handmade art and founded in 1970 by Ehrenberg, his wife, artist and architect Martha Hellion, and art historian David Mayor, became one channel for Ehrenberg’s participation in Fluxus, designing and printing graphic material, books, and mail art. He also staged actions and performances.

Other works in the show extend these explorations of historically “minor” media such as drawing and collage: Generation Ehrenberg, 1973, a book of photographs of the Ehrenberg family taken by street photographers; Time heals all wounds, 1972, a sequence of thumbprints on paper; and Untitled No. 3 from the series “Unrepeatable Works,” 1974, a collage of printed materials that displays Ehrenberg’s graphic pop work and dadaist handling of materials. The artworks in the exhibition, as a whole, refer to post-Minimalist practices in performance, body art, installation, and process art. Some are politically motivated—for example, When I paint I make art, when I live I make politics, 1971, a textual piece printed in a newspaper, or the collage Coca-cola progresses because Mexico progresses, 1971, which refers both to Mexico’s substantial consumption of this product (the country occupies second place in world intake of soft drinks per capita) and to the influence of the United States over Mexico.

Ehrenberg’s rich iconography moves between cultures. When interviewed, the artist emphasized urban life in Mexico City as crucial to his work. He specifically drew attention to uniquely local ways of installing markets, display windows, and religious offerings as well as Mexican handicraft, popular culture, and the region’s comic/erotic approach to death.

A significant piece in the show, Tube O Nauts, 1970, presents a set of actions formulated for exploring urban systems. The artist traveled across London’s underground producing “a series of diagrams documenting train connections, his own physical state, and the ads and newspaper headlines he encountered along the way.”

“Manchuria: Peripheral Vision” underlines Ehrenberg’s critical impulses and eclectic creative output. One of the main participants of Los Grupos—collaborations among artists in Mexico during the ’70s who experimented with the relations between art and society—Ehrenberg is a point of reference for anyone interested in the cultural shifts that took place in Mexico thirty years ago.

Jessica Berlanga Taylor