Mexico City is at the top of travel to-do list. It’s artistic legacy rivals that of New York or Paris and everyone I’ve ever talked to about it raves. When I go, you can be assured I’ll visit Museo Jumex.
Museo Jumex celebrates its 10th anniversary with light. Mexico City’s premiere contemporary art museum invited Lisa Phillips, Director of the New Museum in New York, to pour through its permanent collection and develop an institution-wide takeover. She came up with “Everything Gets Lighter,” a double entendre exhibition highlighting the physical characteristics of light and light as an artistic medium, but also light in contrast to weight, lightness in opposition to heaviness.
“I looked at the strongest works in the collection, thought about what kinds of stories I might tell, what kinds of through lines existed through these works–and we were coming out of the pandemic, that was very much on my mind, as well as all the other disruptions we were facing in our contemporary life,” Phillips told Forbes.com. “I thought about what people need right now, what I need, and what others need, and light as a healing element and as a life-giving element seemed to have a hopeful sentiment to convey.”
“Everything Gets Lighter” features more than 70 international artists, all considering light and lightness as an antidote to the concerns weighing on society. With works created between 1964 and 2020, Phillips’ curation offers a survey of the collection, inviting visitors to explore themes of ecology, identity, society, and spirit through extraordinary contemporary sculptures, installations, and paintings.
“Light” as illumination, but primarily as a form of freedom.
“The idea of letting go, of living a lighter existence by letting go of materiality, letting go of things,” Philips explains.
A mental, emotional, spiritual–and actual–housecleaning. Artworks lighting the way toward lightening our loads.
On view are pieces by artists employing light as subject and medium such as Dan Flavin, history’s most well-known light artist. His prefabricated fluorescent tubes are a staple of museum displays. Works representing the California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 70s include examples from James Turrell, another art world luminary with prominent installations around the world. Mary Corse’s minimalist works use acrylic paint mixed with microspheres which interact with light differently depending on the viewer’s physical relation to the work.
Simultaneously, “Everything Gets Lighter” showcases artists whose works can be characterized as “light” in the sense of weightless or evanescence.
Alan Saret, a contemporary of Turrell’s, used delicate tangles of wire to fashion both discrete sculptures and entire environments in the 1960s that are lyrical meditations on order and chaos. Addressing the association of lightness with femininity, Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes has manipulated space, material, light, and texture to create “transversal histories” acknowledging women artists who have been obscured by history. Playfully evoking the passage of time and the decay of all matter, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz recreates the images of iconic artworks using materials such as chocolate, jelly, trash, and dust.
Gerhard Richter, Tacita Dean, Richard Tuttle, Robert Rauschenberg, Félix Gonzalez-Torres, Ana Mendieta, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons also have work in the show–no lightweights there.
“Everything Gets Lighter” can be seen through February 11, 2024.
Museo Jumex at 10
Opened in November 2103, Museo Jumex has achieved international recognition for its dual mission of bringing works of renowned international artists to Mexico for the first time and presenting the work of today’s Mexican and Latin American artists.
Established as the main platform of Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo, created by philanthropist, art collector, and Foundation president Eugenio López Alonso, Museo Jumex has organized and presented nearly 100 exhibitions, offered robust public programming, and attracted millions of visitors in its first decade.
“Museo Jumex has contributed to a thriving Mexico City contemporary art culture with international reach, where innovative art from around the world shares the stage with outstanding works by artists from Mexico and Latin America,” Alonso said.
“Contemporary art production (in Mexico City) is really thriving and there’s so many so many leading artists from the region that work all around the world, but they’re based in Mexico,” Phillips said. “I think that’s a (trend) we’ve seen since the 1990s and Eugenio was very much a part of both bringing people in, bringing artists out, and connecting with that international group of artists, whether they’re based in Mexico City or elsewhere. That’s been an important development and I think this museum has had a big role in accelerating that and connecting people.”
Depending on accounting, Mexico City has more museums than anywhere else in the world, roughly 170. Museo Jumex is distinguished from the pack as the first architectural work in Latin America by architect David Chipperfield, the 2023 Pritzker Prize winner–the world’s highest achievement for an architect.
“Museo Jumex was launched with a stunning new building and an outstanding contemporary collection assembled by Eugenio Lopez,” Phillips said. “It instantly became a leading international cultural destination, presenting many memorable exhibitions. Moreover, the museum has been an important catalyst for artistic experimentation and production and a meeting ground for contemporary artists who are both local and global, making a key contribution to Mexico City’s cultural vibrancy.”
Must-See Mexico City
The Mexican capital has been a global hotbed of contemporary art for over a century. From Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera, Mexicanidad and arte popular following the Mexican Revolution, as a site of refuge for exiled European Surrealists during and after World War II, and through to the present day, Mexico City stands shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other great contemporary art capitals.
“Very vibrant, very vital, one of the strongest centers of cultural production anywhere in the world,” Phillips said. “The contemporary life there is really dynamic in all the artforms–in film and music and dance and visual arts.”
Mexico City’s contemporary art cred and historic prominence may surprise American audiences fed a steady diet of sensationalized news accounts of waring drug cartels and so-called “illegal” immigrants as their southern neighbor’s defining narratives.
“Many people would be surprised, not in the art world, but the general public might be,” Phillips said. “We have to overcome some of the stereotypes that have been generated that are absolutely not true.”
Nearly everyone who’s been, especially from the art world, raves about Mexico City’s cultural, culinary, and historic richness.
“The layers of culture and the layers of history, starting with the Indigenous cultures, there’s still remnants everywhere you go, in the subway system you can see archaeological remains,” Phillips said. “The central square in Mexico City has so many layers of history, not unlike what you find in Rome. Then European culture comes in mixing with the Indigenous. The mural movement of the 20th century, one of the greatest movements of the last century and you really need to go to Mexico City to see it, you can’t experience that anywhere else.”
And yes, it’s safe, the people who’ve actually been are a more informed source on that subject than prejudiced and hysterical news anchors “reporting” from 1,000 miles away.