Spring has brought Oaxaca some unusually high temps this year. It has also brought some especially great art exhibitions, which is not at all unusual for our culturally rich gem of a city. Whether you are a visitor in the Historic Center or a local running your daily errands there is an exhibit waiting for you around nearly every corner and beyond the expected visual and intellectual stimulation they also offer a very welcome escape from the midday (all day!) heat! Below are my top three picks for June.
Trine Ellitsgaard is a master of materials. I have seen a number of her contemporary textile works over the last few years, but the current exhibition tekstil was my first opportunity to see an entire gallery dedicated to her impressive, precision work and the breadth of techniques and materials applied in this collection is quite remarkable. From the simple, dramatic elegance of felted wool to the organic beauty of dried pig intestines (yes, pig intestines!), to the intricate, geometric weavings of silk, gold filament, paper, horse hair and more; you will be in awe of the artist’s scrupulous craftsmanship and it will take all of your restraint not to touch the magnificently sumptuous artworks.
The Danish artist has called Oaxaca home for over 20 years now and you can feel the influence of both her current home and her motherland in her work. Ellitsgaard weaves together a beautiful marriage of traditional Mexican materials and techniques with the bold, sleek aesthetic of Danish design. Two pieces that really capture this duality are “Reflexiones Sobre Chamula” and “Negro / Blanco”. The first of the two simple yet striking, large-scale artworks employs the traditional black, shaggy wool from San Juan Chamula, Chiapas split down the middle with a white stripe of reflective thread fringe. The second piece, produced by master weaver Román Gutiérrez, brings together natural and black dyed henequen in a hyper-stylised spiral design reminiscent of the elaborate, decorative stonework found at the Mitla ruins here in Oaxaca.
Don’t miss this exhibition! The effortless entangling of Mexican motifs with dramatic Danish design, produced with both conventional and unexpected materials, will not let you down. It is the perfect combination of old and new, decorative and utilitarian, traditional and contemporary. It is the perfect representation of the soul of this city and all of its beautiful dualities!
Centro Cultural San Pablo
Hidalgo 907, Centro Historico
Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm
“How many faces can a man have?” Guillermo Santos asks this at the beginning of the text that accompanies Francisco Toledo’s exhibition of self-portraits NAA PIA’, YO MISMO. It is a question quite fitting for a man who is not only one of Mexico’s most renowned living artists, but also a tireless activist for social change and the environment, a generous philanthropist and a cultural promoter throughout his home state of Oaxaca. This extensive exhibition brings together over 100 small and medium scale paintings as well as a number of new ceramic works to unabashedly fill the gallery of the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), which the artist himself founded in 1988.
Regarding the man of many faces, on one wall of the gallery’s first room Toledo represents himself emerging from the womb; a full beard upon his golden face and signs of age hint that this is not his first experience of the world, that he has come and gone, has seen many days and has yet to see many more. As an artist working for over 5 decades, his oeuvre is extensive and never ceases to amaze. On this occasion I was beyond amazed to discover that every piece in this exhibition — remember there are over 100 paintings alone! — was made in the five months leading up to it’s installation in an exercise of vigor and intense productivity.
On the far left of the same wall Toledo presents himself as a weary face on a simple toy top; it’s cord has been pulled and though the face appears to be static we known that it is spinning, spinning, spinning. It is hard to decipher if the artist’s troubled expression in this painting is a suggestion that inertia is taking it’s toll on the top and will be bringing it to it’s eventual respite, but anyone who knows Toledo’s work knows he is a man whose momentum will certainly keep him spinning yet — round and round he goes, where he will stop nobody knows.
Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca
Macedonia Alcalá 507, Historic Centre
Mon, Wed-Sun 9:30am – 8pm
The plethora of photography based works shown in Moléculas de Mundo would not feel at all out of place in any contemporary art fair today. As you walk through the wide-ranging exhibition which includes pinhole photography, screen prints, 16mm film, gum bichromate prints, painting and collage among other mediums, you may be surprised to discover that this is indeed the retrospective of nearly 90 year old Carlos Jurado, who has been a key figure in Mexican photography with a career spanning over six decades.
Jurado’s work has an aura of magic about it. Not only in its other-worldly subject matter of unicorns who perforate the tiny holes of his pinhole cameras, or the surprising and bold color combinations of his photo screenprints, or the innocent aesthetic of his collages. What lends this exhibition its enchanting allure is the lack of pretension.
After building a name for himself as a painter by his early 40s, Jurado re-discovered photography in the early 1970’s when his daughter Zinzuni requested his help in building a camera obscura for a school project. This was a turning point for the artist who became immediately enthralled with the camera obscura and has since explored it to nth degree. The artist has shared an anecdote from his early years of pinhole obsession in which he says he was really quite nervous about exhibiting his first photographic works. Coming from the world of painting, Jurado was weary of situating his whimsical images in the realm of photography, a medium that in Mexico at that time lived in a very strong tradition of social and documentary work. The story goes that his first exhibition was so well received by the critics that he quickly became a prominent player of the photographic genre, and the rest is history. Now, in 2017 it is particularly interesting to observe the trajectory of Jurado’s expansive career in the context of the post-photographic age in which we live and find that it remains to be as relevant as ever. Don’t miss this spectacular display of a lifetime of image making that defies definition and has been simultaneously ahead of its time and historic since its outset.
Centro Fotográfico Manuel Alvarez Bravo
M. Bravo 116, Historic Centre
Mon, Wed-Sun 9:30am – 8pm