Lorraine Pinto’s “Quinta, 1968” (Dimension, 1968) (1968) kinetic installation takes center stage. (image via mam.org.mx)

MEXICO CITY — Despite its relaxed façade, Mexico City is encircled with a buzz of dynamic activity added to by the bustle of its formidable traffic jams. It is no wonder then that notions of “kineticism” underlies many of the exhibitions that grace the city’s art stage during the 8th year of the ever-growing Zona MACO Contemporary art fair (April 18–22). Attracting a total of 95 galleries with internationals primarily hailing from Europe and North America, the fair was no different. It’s inviting and festive atmosphere encouraged galleries to experiment and many opted to dedicate their booth to solo exhibitions — Yvon Lambert gallery showcasing Shilpa Gupta and Henrique Faría encased by a Emilio Chapela Perez installation. Murmurs of sales being slow were hushed over by excited discussion about the next “kinetic” party — inspired no doubt by the city’s latent energy.

A view of the “Cinetismo” exhibition (image via mam.org.mx) (click to enlarge)

Although most commonly associated with Venezuelan artists such as Jesús Rafael Soto, Kinetic Art has an extensive history in Mexico, and it is omnipresent in the country’s art scene particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Tackling this vast topic, the city’s Art de Moderne (Museum of Modern Art) features an exhibition titled Cinetismo (Kineticism). Curated by Daniel Garza Usabiaga, the show offers a small and meticulous selection of work to strategically illustrate the development and scope of the movement without opting for spectacle through scale and monumentality, which the organizers could easily have done.

By including examples that range from Op art and illusionism to surrealism in the work of Xavier Esqueda to optical Cubism by renowned artist Pedro Friedeberg, whose  acrylic and ink work “1970 Maimonides Dream Laboratory” is mesmerizing, these works serve to preempt and contextualize the purely Kinetic-based artworks. At the epicenter of Kinetic practice is Lorraine Pinto’s “Quinta, 1968” (Dimension, 1968) that here takes center stage, with two alien-looking globes that refract blue light off stacked acrylic building blocks housed within each cylindrical part. Usabiaga contextualizes this Kinetic work by comparing and contrasting it to other art styles of the time, and in so doing create s a fuller understanding of the social and cultural situation of the works — and for a visitor such as myself this proves invaluable.

An interactive light installation by Rafael Lozano‐Hemmer at OMR gallery. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Outside the museum and in the city’s dynamic gallery scene, OMR Gallery, which is spread across two large double story houses, is worth mentioning. The second house is dedicated exclusively to the installations of Canada-based contemporary artist Rafael Lozano‐Hemmer, whose electricity-driven artworks solicit immediate interaction from its audience members. A large chandelier of cascading light bulbs flicker on and off in response to the energy (or perhaps heat) of a participant’s hand. Despite being based on the simple concept of impact and response, the work is deeply hypnotic and engaging. Upstairs, a variety of other gadgets measure, quantify and qualify our relationship to data accumulated from the outside world, and a single video screen placed on its side is framed by a series of melting faces that are painted it. As soon as the camera detects your presence as the view, your image is broadcast on the monitor. The work reminded me of one of those tourist photographs that insert you in to a garish destination/themed backdrop except this appeared a lot darker and more twisted.

The famed Jumex collection is worth the trek despite the hour and a half long drive to and from the destination. It may have been the bevvy of bow-tied waiters serving bruschetta, sparkling water and fruit juice — the source of Jumex family’s fortune — that made this destination so pleasant. It may also have been the quirkiness of the exhibition Poule housed within a separate facility on the juice factory compound (next year the collection is slated to move to a new and more central facility designed by David Chipperfield), but either way it was a delight.

Curated by Michel Blancsube, Poule is a sampling of internationally renowned artists working across the gamut of media pulled from the foundation’s permanent collection. Spread across two large by manageable floors, the exhibition theme is disparate, but is made up for by the quality of each work. A huge curatorial oversight I must mention is the replacement of wall labels with a large magazine-sized manual that offers a semi-coherent map of the space with only artist names inserted. Paging to the back of the book one needs to cross reference the artists names with another list that offers the artwork title, media and size of work. Finding information for an art work should not feel like studying for a research paper.

“Poule!,” an exhibition view. (photo courtesy La Colección Jumex)

After a few attempts to use it correctly, I found myself tossing it aside in favor of the flâneur experience, which led me to a near run-in with a crumpled cigarette box that was pulled across my path by a magnet rod. It appeared to be almost wind blown. I was only made aware of its presence by the shrill scream of a security guard navigating the circumference. Looking up I noticed that the invisible overarching magnet rod continued to pull the box in a frenetic dance of twists and turns to meet another unsuspecting visitor. It’s brilliant, and the artist’s name is worth a mention if it weren’t for my petulant attitude toward looking it up.

Much like the goading cigarette box, Mexico City is full of unexpected surprises and dynamic activity. The reports of brutal crimes and the very real threat of stomach parasites — of which I became a victim — may deter visitors, but a visit promises a historically prolific and dynamic art experience.

Claire Breukel is a South Africa-born contemporary art curator and writer. Her interest is in contemporary art that falls outside of conventional modes of exhibition, and often affiliated with “developing”...

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