Where Do We Go From Here? Selections from La Colección Jumex is the kind of wonderful group show that the Zaha Hadid-designed Contemporary Arts Center was built to exhibit. It helps tremendously, of course, that the downtown museum’s director/chief curator, Raphaela Platow, knows the strengths of her building so well and can supervise this exhibit’s installation.
For the show, up through Jan. 30 and the first to tour the U.S. from Mexico’s most prestigious contemporary art collection, really benefits from a space/architect/curator sympathetic to its underlying theme — that art reflects (and speaks truth about) the precarious nature of our place in the world right now and our unease about it. We’re not hopeless about the future but warily curious about what comes next. That’s an especially important message from Mexico.
With its black, ramp-like stairwells contrasting white gallery walls, and gallery areas that seem to turn and contort as if a built-environment nature trail, the CAC communicates a sense of precariousness. And excitement. It’s disorienting, yes, but it makes you feel like a thinking adult negotiating through it.
Not only has Platow’s installation (with help from Jumex’s own curator, Victor Zamudio-Taylor) given Jumex life, she’s even supplied what is sometimes a tough, challenging show with an impish sense of humor.
For instance, Jumex can be funny as shit. Quite (semi-)literally, actually. If you follow the exhibit to its conclusion at the end of a small corridor on one of its two floors, after passing a couple color photographs of icky-looking props from artist Paul McCarthy’s video-performance work, you’ll find the last object hidden until you turn to greet it. Meet Sarah Morris’ lovely 1996 Pop-style painting — in glossy household paint — of the word “Shit,” orange on red.
You have to laugh.
The Jumex collection was started by Eugenio Lopez Alonso in the 1990s. He is head of the Mexico City-based Jumex fruit-juice empire and is dedicated to showing the work of top Mexican contemporary artists alongside those of major American and European artists. He also has been interested in seeing how others interpret his collection outside the context of Jumex’s walls — this show came about from his working with Platow and Sylvia Karman Cubina (chief curator at Miami’s Bass Museum, where Jumex debuted last December).
It has its Art Stars, to be sure. Andy Warhol is represented by one of his early (and ancient, by Jumex standards) painting/silk-screens, 1964’s “Jackie (Smiling),” and one of Jeff Koons’ classic Pop-object pieces — three Spalding basketballs perfectly balanced inside a saline-solution-filled fish tank — has a pride of place. Carlos Amorales, who had his own recent CAC show, is here, too.
But this is not a “greatest hits” show. It’s meant to work as a whole in addressing how we negotiate this new weird century.
It’s a Mexican artist, Gabriel Orozco, who has the most metaphoric piece. His 1996 “Oval Billiard Table with Pendulum” is a beautifully constructed object, placed in the center of a gallery space as it might greet a visitor to some snooty rich man’s parlor. But one of the balls is suspended on a string. Whether you hit it with the others or not, it won’t go where you want. Just like the future.
The walls of this “parlor,” by the way, are lined with black-and-white and color photographs, not of sports figures or something equally banal, but of chairs and other commonplace objects precariously balanced atop each other. These are by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who also have contributed the white-plaster, scale-model “Ford I,” which has an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like quality because of its lack of delineated features.
If this show has one particular “power spot” for me, it’s where the lower-floor space opens up to the fifth, like an atrium. Here, a dizzying grouping of odd but lovingly crafted work occupies the area like beckoning lights to a twisted carnival. American artist Robert Gober turns the tables on Marcel Duchamp with his painted plaster-and-wood “Urinal” from 1985. This is no readymade; it’s too carefully rendered and intentionally artful. Yet you still wonder what the heck it’s doing here.
The hot European artist Rudolf Stingel, who has had a show at the Whitney and has several pieces in Jumex, has one of his Styrofoam “Untitleds” from 1999-2000 attached to display space above the viewers’ heads. It’s been stomped on, the footprints like dance steps. Hovering above the works clustered here, maybe protectively or maybe ominously, is a neon chandelier made in 2006 by Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans.
Upstairs, where the view of his chandelier is better, you can look out while admiring Gabriel Kuri’s 1999 “Caretilla IV,” a pile of shiny colored Christmas balls packed into a wheelbarrow. This Mexican artist is intentionally recalling how objects are carried and sold in his country’s markets, thus bestowing beauty on this historically rustic activity. But it also has a larger meaning to us. Colored Christmas ornaments usually are meant as mere decoration — not art — but Kuri elevates them.
In fact, Jumex elevates many unexpected materials to the realm of art. That’s ultimately its positive message — art is about what’s possible, whatever the world has in store.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? SELECTIONS FROM LA COLECCION JUMEX continues at the Contemporary Arts Center downtown through Jan. 30. Get exhibition and CAC details here.