Transitios, a group exhibition, consists of close to fifty works of art anchored to Mexico City as well as the works of dozens of artists included in the collection of the Proyecto Cangaritto. The show is loosely grouped into four themes: communication, economy, currency and geography. I say “loosely” because given the nature of the works, any or all of these thematic monikers could apply to almost any art work presented.
Highlights of the show are those works that best represent the core themes of the exhibition. Máximo González’s Magma Marino CCCLXX-II (2012) fits perfectly into the show’s economic themes. It’s made of uncut sheets of pesos woven together like a rug and pinned to the wall; slightly rumpled, the otherwise flat sheet takes on an elegant volume. The implication is rather straightforward. A precious commodity—or better, the symbol of value—transformed into another precious object (art), itself a new symbol of value.
(Left to right) Maximo Gonzalez, Magma Marino CCCLXX-II, 2012; non-circulating currency and pins; Michael Hernandez de Luna, Just Horsen Around, 1999; 2 Balazos (2 gunshots), 1996; Mixed media collage; Catherine Matos Olivo, Serie: Trabajo = Trabajo (Series: Work = Work); Pintora de Brocha Gorda, (House painter), 2008; Guardia de Seguridad (Security guard), 2008; Acompañante de Envejeciente (Caretaker for the elderly), 2008; Ujier (Sargeant), 2008; Mesera (Waitress), 2008; Perforadora Corporal (Body piercer), 2008; Cuidadora de Gatos (Cat sitter), 2008; Personal de Venta (Salesperson), 2008; Digital prints; (Front) Yu Inoue-Tabuchi, 3 yrs 9 months 25 days, 2011; Wood, cloth, and thread; image courtesy of Artpace. Photographed by Todd Johnson.
The majority of the exhibition is filled with small works from the collection of the Proyecto Changaritto, a small vending cart that pops up at exhibitions filled with works by emerging artists. Changaritto is a non-profit organization started by Máximo González in response to the economies of both the country and art world he inhabits. The works presented at Artpace are a part of the permanent collection built from previous Changaritto participants. From the collection, a subtle but powerful example of historical value in relation to place is Brion Nuda Rosch’s Somewhat Culturally Significant Artifacts Purchased at 99 Cent Store (2009), a small display bag filled with small painted plastic horse busts. The object conjures thoughts of triumphant monuments, the Wild West, labor, freedom, a Ford Mustang, horsepower and Napoleon crossing the Alps. But of course, all of these images depend on the viewer’s culture and the references they draw from the object.
Jose Antonio Vega Macotela, Intercambio 44/Time Exchange 44, 2006-2010; Paper and video;15 min loop. Courtesy of artpace. Photo by Todd Johnson.
The works in Transitios offer evidence of the artistic energy from Mexico City without becoming mired in stereotype, identity or locality. Stylistically, this exhibition is proof of an insular artistic society within a broad and globally-aware society. The tropes of a Latin American exhibition are not easily identifiable; regionalism is not evident. This sets up a cultural paradox: international artwork with no overt identifier is easier for a viewer to access conceptually; on the other hand, identifying traits can be powerful weapons to combat a bland, formulaic and universalizing tendency. This exhibition points out this paradoxical approach while effectively addressing the most pertinent aspects of the mundane side of human existence. We all have to make and spend money, we all exchange ideas and goods with one another and we are all self-aware of our geographic place in the world. We are all confronted with the challenge of trying to effectively communicate with each other. The success of this exhibition is that these are universal concerns addressed by a smart group of artists able to communicate their ideas effectively to the viewer without falling too easily into exoticizing tropes.
(Left to right) Máximo González, Temperamental Chair-Tree, 2012; Merry Christmas Chair-Tree, 2012; Psychological Chair-Tree, 2012; pre-fabricated chair and found wood; image courtesy Artpace. Photographed by Tim Johnson.
The most engaging work from the show is perhaps the simplest: Armando Miguélez’s If we talk in English they won’t understand us (2013). Two stacks of take-away stickers with the text printed on them, one stack in English, the other in Spanish (Si hablamos en español no nos entenderán). Much like Hans Haacke’s MOMA Poll of 1970, the size of the stacks will diminish according to the public’s response to the sentence in English or Spanish. Ultimately, this is a simple and clever gesture, but the rational reaches beyond that of the old bar sign that says, “This sign is in Spanish when you’re not looking.” The comment is funny, no doubt, but the real social implication comes into play when you stop to think about where you’d put your sticker. The placement of the sticker won’t leave my head. It’s the placement that creates the social implication. If I put the English version on my bumper, will other drivers consider me racist? I would, if I were them. If I put the Spanish version on, well, my Spanish isn’t that good. What does it mean to put this sticker on a power tool, a MacBook Pro, a broom, a Ford Mustang, a bronze monument of cultural significance? Like Rosch’s 99 cent store objects, we are forced to consider the cultural significance of our surroundings. Ultimately the viewer creates the work’s cultural significance.
It is, yet again, the struggle to effectively communicate.