Mexico City’s Global Conversation and the Work of Chapela Perez

Damian Ortega, "Cosmic Thing" (2002) Disassembled 1989 Volkswagen Beetle, 265x296 in, The Museum of Contemporary At, Los Angeles, purchased with funds provided by Eugenio Lopez and the Jumex Fund for Contemporary Latin American Art. (image courtesy ICA/Boston)

Mexico City is a hub for contemporary art spawning internationally renowned artists that participate in a global art dialogue, and whose work is often not recognized as being from Mexico. An overview of the art landscape in Mexico City reflects a well-rounded and multi-faceted contemporary art climate.

Mexico City is home to over 150 museums, including the Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporáneo and MUAC (Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo), a contemporary art museum designed by leading Mexican architect Teodoro González de León that opened to the public in November 2008.  The city is also home to the world-renowned Jumex collection of over 2000 contemporary artworks — the most comprehensive collection of contemporary art in Latin America— owned by Jumex Group heir Eugenio López Alonso. A number of contemporary galleries such as Gallery OMR and EDS Gallery are household names at art fairs all over the world, and prominent collectors such as Carlos Slim (who also happens to be the world’s richest man) help add to Mexico’s cache as a serious contender in the art world.

Other spaces, such as “House of Gaga,” show acclaimed artists like Paris collective Claire Fontaine and Alex Hubbard. To round this off, Mexico’s contemporary art fair, ZonaMACO (Mexico Arte Contemporaneo) has entrenched itself on the international art route, making Mexico City a destination for artists, galleries and collectors from all parts of the world for over seven years.

Last, but certainly not least, Mexico City boasts world famous artists such as Damien Ortega and is home to artists Francis Alÿs and Gabriel Orozco (born in Veracruz, Mexico).

Emilio Chapela Perez. Photo by the Author

With all of these conditions contributing to the city’s thriving creative atmosphere, local artists are more and more receiving consistent exposure at international galleries, art fairs, biennales and collections — and not because they are “from Mexico.” Last month, I attended two New York City art openings featuring up-and-coming Mexico-City born artist Emilio Chapela Perez. One would not neccesarily know his nationality from his work which speaks universally, but upon reading his biography Chapela Perez specifically describes himself as living and working in “Mexico City and the Forgotten Realms of the Earth.” Like many contemporary artists Chapela Perez lives and works in two art hubs — Berlin and Mexico City. Despite often being classified by his origin of birth in press material, Chapela Perez’ work transcends his nationality, addressing social media and internet-based culture within a global context.

Chapela Perez, "Narco. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010" (2011) (image courtesy the Artist and Henrique Faria Fine Art)

The first work of Chapela Perez I encountered was “Narco. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010” (2011), an abstract sculptural installation exhibited at Henrique Faria Fine Art, NYC as part of solo exhibition A Measure for Some Things, this September. Without the artwork’s title, his sculptural blocks could easily have been a three dimensional representation of a Mondrian painting. However the title of this work makes it clear that each block is a volumetric ratio chart manifested in three-dimension, that depicts how many times the word “Narco” appeared in Google searches over the past four years. The gallery explains, “The exhibition is an effort to organize and measure things that when forced into comparison, express some of the absurdity of today’s world” — the work offers no explanation, rather, it illustrates a dramatic increase of the use of the term over time, revealing perhaps how it has entered mainstream lingo due to the media’s increased coverage of drug trafficking. Either that, or the word has become more popular within colloquial terminology.

Emilio Chapela Perez, "According to Google". Courtesy the Artist

Chapela Perez’ second New York appearance was at Pace Gallery‘s 25th Street space, as part of the current Social Media exhibition. Along with another “block” sculptural installation, Chapela Perez included “According to Google” — an ongoing project he began in 2008. The project consists of rows of books filled with images acquired through Google Image search as the artist searched for specific words, including “Censorship,” “Money,” “Democracy” and “Artist.”

Due to the transient nature of the internet, each search is time-specific and is based on the results of the Google search that day. The thousands of images that result from each search are collated to create visual encyclopedias that reveal to us our collective associations to the meanings of each word.

We don’t realize how big is something until we compare it,” explains Chapela Perez.

Emilio Chapela Perez has chosen to address themes related to the way in which contemporary cultures interact with technology within the world of mass media. In doing so, his work thematically transcends regionalism and geography, revealing few specifics about his Mexico City origins. Mexico is, however, a country that has for many years been at the forefront of political instability, and so it is difficult to ignore its significance in the context of certain works of art produced by artists living and working there. One need only mention the words “organized crime” to bring back the shocking news and statistics of drug-related violence in the country. Chapela Perez’s work, “Narco. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,” echoes the widespread news coverage of Mexico’s drug-related violence, but in a relatively abstract way making it less specifically about Mexico.

Using statistics as case studies, Perez has chosen his word themes to illustrate how an environment can impact the way in which his works operate. By drawing comparisons across time, Chapela Perez is able to analytically reveal our, at times, perverse relationship to places and things within a collective conscious.

Social Media is on view at Pace Gallery (510 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) until October 15.


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