MEXICO CITY — TRUE STORY at Proyectos Monclova creates a complex interpretation of Latin America’s “truth,” which, although not exactly cohesive, invokes conversations about extreme image production, the distribution of information, and artists’ roles as translators of their circumstances. Curator Michel Blancsubé brought together a menagerie of young Latin American artists and popular European artists, a selection sure to be tantalizing for some visitors and frustrating for others, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Divided between the gallery’s two main spaces, which are stacked one below the other, TRUE STORY looks like two shows. Upstairs, a group of artists toe the line between political critique and satire, while the downstairs space is devoted to a gloomy editorial, video, and photo project by Juan Pablo Macías, including an original translation of Albert Kimsey Owen’s Problems of the Hour in Nine Brief Studies. The work on view in the upper gallery embodies tensions between the lightness of commodity and the violence of our time. Taken together, the seemingly disparate work creates an almost tangible illustration of complex and multidimensional contemporary realities.
An early piece by Francis Alÿs — a small, vague painting on canvas, hung nonchalantly in the brightly lit main gallery space — inspired the show’s title. Surrounded by more explicative work, the Alÿs looks out of context, but intriguing for its weirdness. The little-known canvas, from 1990, depicts a typical hacienda style building, presumably somewhere in Mexico, where the artist has lived for some three decades. The painting’s dark and gloomy pallet sets the tone for the first half of the exhibition, where contradictory story lines create a palpable dissonance that calls for introspection, but also a sense of humor.
Next to the little Alÿs, a series of drawings by Marco Rountree Cruz poke fun at capitalism. The drawings are created on encyclopedia pages. Each page contains a cartoonish graphic of legs wearing pants with outturned pockets and shoes. The legs bend and twist like they’re dancing. The empty pockets — a symbol of poverty — in tandem with the encyclopedic information, create a poetic paradox between widespread access to all of human knowledge via the internet and the equally widespread economic woes that plague and pacify humankind.
Around the corner, a typical Thomas Hirschhorn work adds some gore and more paradox to the mix, with a large collage combining a fashion spread juxtaposed with a bloody scene of mutilation and death. As Blancsubé put it during a press opening for the exhibition, Hirschhorn’s brand of shock value is a necessary evil that, although unsophisticated in its approach, illustrates important embedded hypocrisies in a culture of extremes.
After Hirschhorn’s violent collage, TRUE STORY takes on a more somber and critical tone. Mexico City local Rodrigo Suárez climbed to the top of Mexico’s highest mountain, Pico de Orizaba, where he planted a black Mexican flag — a collective symbol of social activism and resistance since the forced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in 2014. Photographic evidence of the intervention and an official copyright of the image hang in the gallery. Layers of paradox and irony rooted in activism give the seemingly simple photograph energy that extends beyond the gallery.
Elsewhere in the show, more young Latin American artists provide conceptually layered and sophisticated glimpses into their realities. Artist collective Tercerunquinto contribute a series of silkscreened urban photographs that are adorned with pointed anarchist phrases. Chilean artist Francisca Aninat occupies the majority of the main gallery’s floor space with a hand-stitched map of South America, sewn from individually written fragments penned by patients from San Juan de Dios hospital in Santiago, Chile. Aninat, Tercerunquinto, and other emerging artists in the show demonstrate an aptitude for engaging with their environment in order to understand it, rather than simply make images of it.
TRUE STORY offers a glimpse into Latin America’s reality, but also creates a cultural exchange between insiders and outsiders. Blancsubé, Alÿs, and Hirschhorn give their European impression of Latin American dynamics today, without being colonial. The combination of elements reveals an abstract curatorial process in which Blancsubé approaches the exhibition by letting the works speak for themselves and interact intuitively. All the artists, whether established or emerging, like to get their hands dirty, creating a sociopolitical atmosphere of engagement and resistance to the status quo.