September 28, 2023


Make Some Fun

Immersing Myself in Helen Escobedo’s “Whole Environments”

7 min read

Aside from a single photographer, there have been no different guests within the galleries of the Museum of Up to date Artwork of Monterrey (MARCO) once I arrived simply 50 minutes earlier than the official opening of Helen Escobedo’s solo exhibition. For the final 12 months, I’ve been researching Escobedo’s legacy for my grasp’s thesis at Hunter School, however till this summer season, I hadn’t seen a single one in every of her works in individual — few are housed in collections in america. On that balmy August afternoon, I discovered myself alone and surrounded by over 100 of them. Possibly it was the faint tangerine gentle of the early nightfall, streaming via one of many museum’s distinctive deep-set home windows and lending the house the quiet splendor of a cathedral, however I felt like she was there with me.

Helen Escobedo: Ambientes totales (“Whole Environments”), curated by Lucía Sanromán and Paloma Gómez Puente, takes its title from the Mexican artist’s credo that artwork mustn’t solely be seen but additionally inhabited and activated by folks. A collection of work spanning 1969 to 2010, from drawings and collages to sculptures and fashions for each realized and unrealized public artwork initiatives, is anchored by 4 main and often exhibited so-called “ephemeral” installations. One such piece is Escobedo’s “Corredor blanco (Pasaje blanco)” (1969), an immersive L-shaped pathway of white-lacquered plywood panels infinitely replicated via the location of a mirror at one finish. It was initially conceived for the second Unbiased Salon held in 1969 on the College Museum of Sciences and Arts (MUCA) in Mexico Metropolis, one in every of a number of establishments Escobedo helmed throughout her lifetime. As I traversed the maze-like atmosphere, the alternating constructive and destructive parts and modulations of sunshine and shadows produced a shifting, buzzing high quality reasonably than a static expertise of house. Its placement on the entrance of MARCO’s exhibition was like a doorway into Escobedo’s world.

“Corredor blanco (Pasaje blanco)” (1969) (courtesy Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, DGAV–UNAM)

Escobedo emerged as a key determine of the post-ruptura era, a time when artists in Mexico had been grappling not solely with the legacy of the early Modernist muralists, however with the efforts of those that had already begun to insurgent in opposition to that legacy in the course of the century. The time period “ruptura” seems in Octavio Paz’s 1950 essay on Rufino Tamayo, although the motion’s foundational textual content is decidedly José Luis Cuevas’s 1956 manifesto “La cortina de nopal” (“The prickly pear curtain”), a declaration in opposition to the ostensibly outdated artwork of a “restricted, provincially nationalist Mexico.” By making summary, monumental works that could possibly be understood via their resonance with nature and their instant environment, works that weren’t solely legible to a regional viewers, Escobedo helped clear the trail for the brand new period of Mexican modern artwork. In the meantime, her position as a museum administrator, starting with MUCA, mirrored the goals of her private observe, encompassing exhibitions of worldwide artists and assist for an emergent native artwork scene.

In October 1968, simply two weeks after the notorious Tlatelolco massacre wherein the federal government murdered 325 pupil protesters, the artist-run Salón Independiente opened as a defiant antidote to the nation’s official artwork exhibition, which allowed solely Mexican artists to take part. Escobedo was amongst its founding members.

Set up view of Helen Escobedo: Ambientes totales with the artist’s mannequin for “Coatl” (1980) (picture courtesy MARCO)

The primary of 4 sections in Ambientes totales, titled “Inhabiting geometry,” consists of “Sui generis” (1970), the hand-painted Volkswagen Beetle that Escobedo drove round Mexico Metropolis, in addition to drawings and maquettes for a few of her most well-known works. These embody a miniature model of “Coatl” (1980), a traversable, coil-like construction in shades of yellow, orange, and pink. It was conceived for the Espacio Escultórico, a sculpture park raised on the rugged volcanic panorama of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and its title and undulating physique are tributes to the area’s native rattlesnakes.

“Vertical landscapes,” within the subsequent gallery, takes us via a interval wherein Escobedo used steel grating to construct buildings that disappear into their environments. This medium, and the artist’s newfound conical and cylindrical types, permitted a extra seamless integration with the natural world. “El espíritu de los árboles” (“The spirit of the timber”) (1990, 2006, 2008), exhibited within the Ordrupgaard Museum in Denmark, in Mexico’s Desert of the Lions Nationwide Park, and eventually in Escobedo’s personal backyard, options concentric columns of woven steel in heat tones that yield a glimmering moiré impact.

Small sculptures by Helen Escobedo within the Vertical Landscapes part of the present, with “Barda caída” (“Falling fence”) (1979) at left (courtesy MARCO)

Much more attention-grabbing to me, regardless of or maybe due to their lowered scale, had been the geometric sculptural fashions offered at various heights on a stepped platform. A wall textual content refers to works corresponding to “Barda caída” (“Falling fence”) (1979) as “workout routines,” which is correct, however they had been additionally artworks in their very own proper. When her usually formidable proposals for sculptural interventions weren’t dropped at fruition — and even once they had been — Escobedo collaged footage of her designs onto images of landscapes or city areas, choosing a limitless notion of creative realization. The type of “Barda caída,” for instance, is echoed in “Monumento al cigarro” (1983), a small collage rendering of an imagined “monument to the cigarette,” that includes a circle of thin poles toppling on one another like dominoes.

“El monumento al gran taco” (1993) (courtesy Fondo Artístico Helen Escobedo and Galería Proyectos Monclova)

This various mode of bringing her visions to life takes its most absurd and satisfying kind in “Monumento al gran taco” (“Monument to the Nice Taco”) (1993), one other collage depicting one in every of her envisaged public interventions. The piece was made a 12 months after Escobedo co-published, together with photographer Paolo Gori, the e book Mexican Monuments: Unusual Encounters, which was the fruits of the pair’s journey throughout the nation documenting public sculpture. The publication is a not-so-subtle wink to the musty nationalism and heroification of many state-sponsored artworks.

Fittingly dubbed “Counter-Monuments to the Quotidian,” the third part of the present additionally facilities two large-scale ephemeral installations. “La muerte de la ciudad” (“The Demise of the Metropolis”) (1990) addresses the necessity to create dignified dwelling areas via the literal accumulation of rubbish. Baggage of trash are piled up in a slim house that have to be transited to be skilled, illustrating the oppressive impression that improper rubbish disposal and air pollution has the atmosphere in addition to on folks. The second work, “Moda papalotera” (“Kite style”) (2000, 2010), consists of black plastic cutouts evoking easy stitching patterns which might be suspended from the ceiling in a cheeky critique of the retail trade. Each of those installations epitomize Escobedo’s mid-to-late-career transition away from the huge and vibrantly coloured sculpture that after outlined her observe and towards one thing harder to take a look at. Certainly, the works are usually not simple on the eyes, nor do they succeed totally as social commentary, missing the visible magnetism to really stir one’s empathy.

Helen Escobedo, “Los mojados” (2005, 2010) (courtesy MARCO)

The final work within the present, to which the fourth and ultimate part is completely devoted, does accomplish this purpose of galvanizing our feelings. Within the near-total darkness of an remoted room is a haunting phalanx of life-sized figures urged by raincoats dangling from wire hangers, quivering faintly as a fan whirrs robotically within the background. “Los mojados” (“The Moist Ones”) (2005, 2010), one in every of Escobedo’s late works, references the plight of migrants crossing borders and divulges her potential to convey a powerful humanitarian message via minimal, humble supplies.

Drawings and watercolors by Helen Escobedo, with preparatory sketch for “Puertas al Viento” (“Gateway to the Wind”) within the prime row, heart left (Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

One small and unassuming gem of a piece would possibly slip by guests unfamiliar with Escobedo’s oeuvre: A 22-by-19-inch preparatory watercolor for “Puertas al viento” (“Gateway to the Wind”) (1968), the artist’s first large-scale public paintings. The 50-foot-high concrete sculpture was one in every of a number of commissioned by fellow artist Mathias Goeritz for the 10-mile route that linked the totally different venues of the 1968 Summer season Olympics in Mexico Metropolis. Escobedo designed the construction to be seen by residents on dashing vehicles, not in contrast to other post-Modernist urban art of that era in Mexico; its glittering inexperienced and blue stripes evoked the close by alfalfa fields of Cuemanco and the sweeping sky overhead. Watery, gentle, and summary, overlaid in geometric swaths of deep reds absent from the realized sculpture, this little boceto (“sketch”) is the right illustration of Escobedo’s aesthetic sensuousness.

It’s unattainable to encapsulate Escobedo’s inventive vary, comedic timing, and multifaceted contributions to Mexican artwork in a single exhibition, and a second iteration of Ambientes totales, opening in June in Mexico Metropolis’s Laboratorio Arte Alameda, could possibly be a possibility to incorporate totally different works and dive into sure subjects — corresponding to Escobedo’s vital architectural oeuvre and perhaps even her transformation of Juan O’Gorman’s cave home.

The exhibition at MARCO conveys what made Escobedo’s artwork so alluring — and the artist herself, as so many bear in mind and I think about her, irresistible: She didn’t take herself too critically. An anecdote shared by New York-based artist Merle Temkin, who met Escobedo once they each participated in a world sculpture exhibition in 1987, captures her essence and joie de vivre. Temkin recollects the day when Escobedo died in 2010 and he or she obtained an electronic mail, pre-written by the artist and despatched out by her daughter, asserting her personal loss of life. She was “already on an incredible journey,” Escobedo mentioned within the obituary she wrote for herself, and “touring with no baggage.”

Helen Escobedo: Ambientes totales continues on the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey (Juan Zuazua, Padre Raymundo Jardón y Centro, Monterrey, Mexico) via December 31. The exhibition was curated by curated by Lucía Sanromán and Paloma Gómez Puente.

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