“Definition: Curate, noun, 1: one who has the care of souls, 2: as assistant or a deputy of a rector or vicar in the churches of the Anglican communion and in the Roman Catholic Church”
— Webster’s Third Edition
“What is the Basic Responsibility of a Museum ?”
My wife and I have been living in Mexico City for more than two years. I travel for work in California, New York and Asia. Since moving to Mexico we have seen an explosion of new and renovated museums, including the excellent Museo Tamayo and Museo Soumaya (in the interest of full disclosure I worked on the opening of MIDE). In Mexico there is a quickly expanding middle class with a hunger to understand the world.
On a Sunday morning, my wife and I decided to visit the Museo Jumex. This museum is located in “Nuevo Polanco”, a shopping district.
Our visit to the museum begins at 11 a.m. The lobby is a big, beautiful space with five Mexican hipsters seated behind a large wood table with electrical and communication cables spilling out the back. We make our way to the top floor — the third floor. Here we find “A Place in Two Dimensions, A Selection from the Coleccion Jumex + Fred Sandback, Curated by Patrick Charpenel” printed on a large text panel that also discusses the duality of space and time:
“Thus, parallel realities or dimensions are possible for all those not subject to the limitation imposed by a single system. The principal of dimensional simultaneity establishes that two or more physical objects, realities or perceptions can coexist at the same time and in the same space. [ …]
A Place in Two Dimensions […] reformulates these concepts through two independent and autonomous exhibitions installed in a single space. This project features, on the one hand, representative works from the collection of Eugenio López Alonso (including sculptures, paintings, installations and videos created by over fifty different artists), and on the other, a solo show by American artist Fred Sandback (1943–2003). Thus, different works made with diverse languages and media are superimposed and connected to seven minimalist installations that are characteristic of Sandback’s practice. The simplicity and agility of Sandback’s projects contrast with the strong visual and physical presence of the pieces selected from Colección Jumex.”
My reaction to the text panel is passive and we enter the gallery to the sound of five woman in their thirties taking photos of each other very loudly in front of the Art. The women are literally shrieking with excitement as they take their photos. My first reaction is to go over and discuss with them a “museum-level of speaking”, but it seems pointless. They were probably in the area to do some shopping and therefore had a completely different mindset upon entering the museum.
The third-floor gallery displays work by Carl Andre, Ellsworth Kelley and Jeff Koons loosely associated through “space”.
We round the corner to find a piece by Artschwager (a favorite artist of mine). I suddenly feel lost. I try to think back to the text panel, but I’m unable to draw a connection between one gallery and the next, nor can I figure how they are tied to ”space”.
I love the work of Artschwager, but to include him in a group of artists related to space is a stretch. I stand back and try to make sense of what I am looking at: there are many different artists from different periods hung next to each other. I have a strange sense of confirmation when I see the work of Yoshiro Suda installed on the floor, in line with the fire pull-box, the thermostat and the gallery video camera which hang on the wall. This is the same piece that has been used in promotional materials: it is featured on posters above the lobby entry desk, in the museum’s shop window, and on the gallery level.
If the piece is of so much importance, why is it hung in view with the thermostat, fire pull-box and video camera?
If it is of such great importance, why aren’t they offering interpretation of the Artwork?
I watch as couple after couple approach the piece, unclear where to look, until they finally point to the floor. The piece “Spring of Wood” 2001 by Yoshiro Suda is a small, delicate sculpture that requires the attention of the viewer. It is unfair to both the viewer and the artist to place the piece in a corner, let alone such a cluttered one.
On the second floor there is a wonderful exhibition, “James Lee Byars: 1/2 an Autobiography”, organized and curated by Fundacion Jumex and MoMA PS1. The curation assistance of PS1 is evident and a welcome change of pace.
On the sublevel is a mishmash of Art pieces without interpretation. We go back upstairs and ask for a list of the pieces on display. We are told they only have one copy and that we can look at the list but not take it to the lower level.
I leave the museum scratching my head. It’s now 1:30 p.m.
The Artwork displayed in the museum (or in any museum) requires context, as each artist builds upon their predecessors. If the public is not made aware of this history, the museum experience turns into something akin to a shopping experience. Visitors will loudly take photos of themselves in front of the collected artists’ names and take only the superficial experience back home. The humbling lesson in history and progress is lost.
I take the museum experience very seriously, it is my religion. I relish the hushed atmosphere of MoMA and DIA.
In the USA we have the luxury of a long history of Modern Art experiences. Mexico City has several wonderful museums such as Museo de Arte Moderno, MUAC, Museum Tamayo, and each have significant interpretation and offer a critical approach to curation. This approach is lacking in Museo Jumex.
A museum experience must be different than shopping. It shouldn’t reflect the eclectic whims of those who purchased the art but should be evocative of the careful thought and planning that goes into creating an exhibition and the inevitable history that exists within each piece of Art. All artworks belongs to a continuum of Art history, therefore the Art requires available educators, it needs on-floor interpretation.
I believe Museo Jumex crossed a boundary. The best Art collections will communicate a greater sum than their parts; a message will emerge from the overall collection that is not apparent in the individual Art pieces. I was not made to connect with this greater sum as I walked through the Jumex collection. Just as some would be offended by mixing shopping and religion, I am offended by mixing a shopping experience with a museum experience.
Museums in developing countries carry a greater responsibility to educate the expanding middle-class public on the importance of museums as a touchstone to civil society and culture. Mexico has a rich and diverse history of Contemporary Art, none of which was made clear at the museum.
My photos of Museo Jumex on Pinterest