garage talk: “The Paint’s Not Dry” Mexico City in the 1990s

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On May 12, 2005 the haudenschildGarage presented the Garage Talk Mexico City in the 1990s: The Paint’s Not Dry in collaboration with the Visual Arts Department of UCSD.  The goal of this conference was to rethink the explosion of culture in Mexico City in in the mid-90s. The title of the event, The Paint’s Not Dry, was to serve as an indicator that “for what history” this extraordinary period of cultural productivity would be remembered was still available for debate, discussion and direction.

The organizers were , Yoshua Okon, and Rubén Ortiz-Torres.  Participants included Gerardo Estrada (UNAM & former Minister of Fine Arts, Mexico), Cuauhtémoc Medina (Art Critic & Curator, Tate London), Rubén Ortiz-Torres (Artist), Yoshua Okon (Artist), Monica Manzutto (Co-Director, Kurimanzutto Gallery), and (Director, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo).

The 1990s in Mexico City were a period of tremendous political upheaval and incredible cultural energy. The art that grew out of that was socially interactive. Today, that art is internationally recognized. But does that mean it might lose its living spirit? The goal of this conference is to take a breath before the art has become ‘official, important art.’ We want to recapture its undergroundedness, its funkiness – and its politics.

Is the image of Mexico City circa 1995 no longer one of experimentation and anarchy-or of putting whatever together? Without us noticing, has it now been refigured as a minor capital of arriviste entitlement? To what degree are “we” willing to settle for only this Mexico City, a dot on the map of the moveable feast that is the art world’s list of usual suspects: “If it’s Tuesday, it must be____________. (Fill in the blank with GATT member wannabe of your choice.)” With “Before the Paint’s Dry,” we wish to revisit 1990s Mexico City: bars, cantinas, the pre-“Fondesa” cafes, alternate spaces, “bad music,” and strong opinions. What stories and histories and political interventions were being imagined-and are still to be written now? We wish to convene a día de los muertos to see if this corpse called Distrito Federal can still sing a calavera to us from the mid-1990s in a charmed and off-tune timbre: tuba as melody; tambor militar as rhythm.  Mexico City, circa 1990s: The art scene was blooming and bleeding-edge – and as complex and messy as those adjectives imply. Before the story is sanitized and boiled down to a simple chapter in an art-history tome, the Visual Arts Department of the University of California, San Diego is convening some of the scene’s leading participants to argue alternative accounts. – Steve Fagin

About the Participants
Carmen Cuenca

Since 2011, Carmen Cuenca has been the Director of the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. A native of Mexico City, Cuenca graduated in 1980 from the Universidad Iberoamericana with a degree in Art History. Prior to moving to Tijuana in 1989, she served as Associate Curator at the San Carlos Museum in Mexico City. For the past 20 years, Cuenca has been actively promoting contemporary artists and artistic practices in the binational region. She recently resigned as subdirector of visual arts at the Centro Cultural Tijuana, where for five years she directed the curatorial and programmatic development of El Cubo, the first international-scale museum in Baja California. From 1994 through 2005, Cuenca played a central role in the project, a binational venture focused on commissioning new public projects by artists in the San Diego/Tijuana region. She served as coordinator of Mexican projects for 94 and as Executive Director, Mexico, for both 2000 and 05. During her work with , Carmen Cuenca was responsible for completing over 200 commissioned projects, from site-specific installations to performances to the production of film and video works. Prior to joining full time in 1997, Cuenca served as cultural attaché for the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, and before that as chief curator at the Centro Cultural Tijuana.

Cuauhtémoc Medina

Cuauhtémoc Medina is an art critic, curator and historian who lives and works in Mexico City. PhD in Art History and Theory from the University of Essex, UK. Researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas at the National University of Mexico and Associate Curator of Latin American Art Collections at Tate Gallery in London. He is also a member of Teratoma, a group of curators, critics and anthropologists based in Mexico City. He has just curated the exhibition Walking Distance from The Studio at the Colegio de San Ildefonso Museum in Mexico City and is currently preparing an exhibition of British-Mexican artist Melanie Smith titled Ciudad Espiral/Spiral City. Among his recent publications is When Faith Moves Mountains, coauthored with artist , documenting the action produced in Lima in 2002, released by Turner in Madrid.

Gerardo Estrada

Dr. Estrada is Coordinator of Cultural Diffusion at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He is also a full-time Professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences of UNAM and President of its Association of Graduate Students since 1991. His career has provided him with a vast experience in the cultural sector. Since the beginning, he has occupied important positions such as Director of the House of Mexico in Paris, Director General of the Mexican Radio Institute, Cultural Attaché of the Mexican Consulate in Chicago. From 1992 to 2000 he was Director General of the National Institute of Fine Arts, a position which he held for 8 years, and before assuming his current position at the UNAM, he was Director General of Cultural Affairs of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2000 to 2003. Estrada received his BA degree in Sociology from the School of Political and Social Sciences of UNAM in Mexico City. From the École d’Hautes Études des Sciences Sociales of the University of Paris he later received his MA and PhD degrees in Sociology.

Monica Manzutto

Manzutto is the co-director and co-owner of the internationally influential Kurimanzutto Gallery in Mexico City.

Roberto Tejada

Roberto Tejada is the author of many books that include, most recently, “National Camera: Photography and Mexico’s Image Environment” (University of Minnesota Press, 2009), and “Celia Alvarez Muñoz” (UCLA/CSRC; University of Minnesota Press, 2009). He has served also as co-curator on the exhibitions “Manuel Álvarez Bravo: Optical Parables” at the J. Paul Getty Museum (2001), and “Luis Gispert: Loud Image,” at the Hood Museum of Dartmouth College (2004). His research has earned awards from the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation (2009) and from the National Endowment for the Arts (2007). His writings appear frequently in exhibition catalogs, among them “Images of the Spirit: Photographs by Graciela Iturbide” (New York: Aperture, 1996); and “Mexico/New York, Photographs by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Walker Evans” (New York: DAP, 2003). Tejada has published critical writings on contemporary U.S., Latino, and Latin American artists in Afterimage, Aperture, Bomb, The Brooklyn Rail, SF Camerawork, and Third Text. He lived in Mexico City (1987 – 1997) where he worked as an editor of Vuelta magazine, published by the late Nobel laureate Octavio Paz; and as executive editor of Artes de México. Tejada is, as well, the author of several poetry collections, including “Mirrors for Gold” (Krupskaya, 2006) and “Exposition Park” (Wesleyan University Press, 2010); he founded and continues to co-edit the journal “Mandorla: New Writing from the Americas”. Tejada’s research and teaching methods interrogate modern and contemporary image environments from an interdisciplinary viewpoint: a critical art history whose visual knowledge can locate objects and actors in the global-culture context. He received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York, Buffalo, and has taught at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); at Dartmouth College, where he was the César E. Chávez Fellow (2002 – 2003); and at the University of California, San Diego (2003 – 2008). He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Texas, Austin.

Rubén Ortiz-Torres

Rubén Ortiz-Torres is an artist who is joining the Visual Arts Department effective Fall 2001. He began his career as a photographer, printmaker, and painter in the early 1980s, well before he received his M.F.A. from the California Institute of Arts in 1992. Ortiz-Torres is a Mexican-born artist who has been living and working in Los Angeles since 1990. Ortiz-Torres is widely regarded as one of today’s leading Mexican artists and as an innovator in the 1980s of a specifically Mexican form of postmodernism. Over the past ten years, he has produced a body of work in a wide range of media — extended series of photographs, series of altered readymades, a feature film, several videos (including three in 3D), large scale video installations, major painting series, sculptures, customized cars and machines, photocollages, performances and curated exhibitions. Since 1982, Ortiz-Torres’s work has been featured in 25 solo exhibitions, over 100 group shows in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and more than 50 screenings of his films and video works. Over 150 written pieces cover his work in mainstream media such as The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Reforma (Mexico), La Jornada (Mexico), and El Pais (Spain); in significant art world publications with international circulation such as ArtForum, Art Images, Frieze, New Art Examiner, Poliester, Bomb, Flash Art, and Art in America; and in numerous exhibition catalogues and books. Ortiz-Torres has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants from, to name a few, the Andrea Frank Foundation, the Foundations for Contemporary Performance Art, the U.S. Mexico Fund for Culture, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the Banff Center for the Arts, and the Fullbright Foundation.

Steve Fagin

Steve Fagin ( is Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, and has produced a series of feature length videos including The Amazing Voyage of Gustave Flaubert and Raymond Roussel, The Machine That Killed Bad People and TropiCola. These films have been featured prominently at museums, international film festivals, art biennials and have been screened on Bravo International in Latin America, Canal + in Europe and PBS in the United States. His work has had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and is the subject of a book from Duke University Press, Talkin’ With Your Mouth Full: Conversations with the Videos of Steve Fagin. The work has been presented at both the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in many contexts including both of their summary shows of the essential art of the twentieth century. From 2005-2009 he worked as creative consultant for the haudenschild Garage and commissioning editor of the hG, Spare Parts projects. The Last Book, an hG, Spare Parts project, was conceived and directed by him. Currently he is working on a feature film, A Cloud of Hope, about the independence movements in Africa, circa 1960 and on a series of “smart phone pieces”, both as commissioning editor and as one of the artists for LACMA.

Yoshua Okon

Yoshua Okon, artist and founding co-director of La Panaderia which was a key arts crossroads space in Mexico City. Since the late 1990s Mexican artist Yoshua Okon has been developing his own variation on these themes. Okon considers himself a performance artist, even though most of his work takes the form of videos that document invented scenarios set up in collaboration with invited participants. Among his best-known projects is Orillese a la Orilla (1999–2000 – the title, a command meaning ‘move to the curb’, is a grammatically incorrect phrase that, to the local ear, suggests both poor education and low social status), in which Okon asked Mexico City policemen to act out the threatening techniques they employ in everyday life.