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Contemporary art gets new home south of the border

MADRID. Jason Edward Kaufman
The National Autonomous University’s museum recaptures the spirit of student rebellion

Mexico City’s vast new contemporary art museum, Muac, opened to the public on 27 November with an inaugural installation that is as provocative as it is political. The Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, to give it its full title, is a significant addition to the Mexican art world, providing 3,300 sq. m of gallery space, which its chief curator, Guillermo Santamarina, plans to fill with large-scale international exhibitions, installations and Mexico’s largest public collection of contemporary art.

For its opening, the most cavernous of the museum’s nine galleries is filled by Miguel Ventura’s sprawling installation Cantos Civico, 2008, a labyrinth with walls carpeted in swastikas and dollar signs. Visitors encounter a maze of live rats amid a chaotic display of suffed animals and photographs of Nazi soldiers, pornography and overflowing toilets juxtaposed with pictures of art world luminaries, including Tate director Nicholas Serota, US artist Ellsworth Kelly, as well as members of Mexico’s social and artistic elite.

Part of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the 270m-peso ($20m) museum is on its campus in the southern suburbs of the Mexican capital. The university already boasts a cultural centre, several museums and the national library. The new contemporary art museum has been designed by leading Mexican architect Teodoro González de León, who 30 Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, also in Mexico City.

With meagre acquisitions budgets, public art museums have lagged far behind Mexico’s private collectors, such as Agustín Coppel and César Cervantes, and its independent museums, such as the Jumex Colección in Mexico City, and Marco, the contemporary art museum of Monterrey. The university’s art collection dates from the 1950s, but it did not start to seriously collect contemporary Mexican art again until 2004, led by its curator, the late Olivier Debroise. Before his untimely death in May this year, Mr Debroise acquired 290 new works by the likes of Damián Ortega, Mexico City-based Francis Alÿs and Gabriel Orozco. Debroise also secured the five-year loan of 126 more works from Patrick Charpenel, a Guadalajara-based collector. These include works by international artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Tom Friedman, Olafur Eliasson and Pipilotti Rist to provide a balance to the university museum’s own collection of local artists.

Graciela de La Torre, the irector of Muac, who was ormerly the director of the national museum of modern art, which she renovated during her tenure, has raised 90m pesos ($6.7m) to fund Muac’s opening exhibitions. The collection will be rotated as there will be no permanent installations. The annual budget, as yet unconfirmed, will also need to fund the museum’s conservation, education and public programmes.

Miguel Alemán Velasco, a former governor of Veracruz and the son of a former president of Mexico, led the fundraising campaign. Mr Santamarina says the art museum plans to organise international loan exhibitions and is currently negotiating to borrow from the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and other foreign museums. The inaugural installations included loans from the Museum of Modern Art, NewYork, and theWalker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Mr Debroise curated one of the museum’s inaugural displays in collaboration with the independent curator Patricia Sloane. It explores “the contradictions between artistic practice considered as a mechanical act and the ‘anti-natural’”, and includes a hanging sculpture by the Cuban-born, Mexico-based artist Juan Francisco Elso of a human heart made from twigs and tar. Another installation, curated by José Luis Barrio, considers the relationship between violence and technology through documentary photographs and films by Jean-Luc Godard and Werner Herzog. The National Autonomous University of Mexico played a pivotal role in the brutally suppressed student uprising of 1968. Showing Mr Ventura’s political installation of Nazi paraphernalia as the centrepiece of its inaugural display suggests that Muac plans to continue the tradition of challenging authority figures.

On view are works by Mexican artists Francis Alys, Mauricio Alejo, Carlos Amorales, Calimocho Styles, Mario García Torres, Isa Genzken, Thomas Glassford, Silvia Gruner, Daniel Guzman, Jan Hendrix, Enrique Ježik, Yishai Jusidman, Marcos Kurtycz, Teresa Margolles, Erick Meyenberg, Edgar Orlaineta, Gabriel Orozco, Damián Ortega, Diego Pérez, Mario Rangel Faz, Marta Palau, Vicente Rojo, Jaime Ruiz Otis, SEMEFO, Santiago Sierra, Melanie Smith, Luis Miguel Suro, Pablo Vargas-Lugo, and others.

Loans from Guadalajara-based collector Patrick Charpenel include works by Robert Morris, Thomas Hirschhorn, Tom Friedman, Olafur Eliasson, Pipilotti Rist, and others.