MASA, a Mexico City-based gallery, presents an exhibition of contemporary design that includes two chairs by Pedro Reyes, Isamu Noguchi’s model for a Teotihuacan-inspired playground, and sculptures by Miguel Calderón.
Photo: Caylon Hackwith

In the 1930s, Isamu Noguchi had an affair with Frida Kahlo while living and working in Mexico City. Judging by the love letters he sent her, it didn’t end well. “Forgive me dearly for not being all that I should have been – Maybe when we meet again (soon I hope) when we love each other again, I will have the courage and the humility to be very real,” he wrote in one. The relationship seemed to leave an impact on his work. In 1937, he developed a proposal for a mural with motifs taken from Kahlo’s iconography: a fetus, a heart, a cross-sectional image of a body showing its skeleton. The mural was never carved, but Noguchi’s study for the mural is now on display atIntervención/Intersección,” a new exhibition by traveling Mexico City gallery MASA in a disused Rockefeller Center post office.

“It really is the centerpiece of the exhibition,” says Su Wu, the curator of the exhibition. “We highlight the power of gossip and romance — the role that all of these things, which are seriously non-academic, play in creating what we mean by art or design history. We find space for intimacy and private stories.

A study for an unrealized mural by Isamu Noguchi hangs above a bench by Hector Esrawe.
Photo: Caylon Hackwith

Artists have a long history of seeking intimacy and kinship in Mexico City, as does Noguchi. He went to Mexico after failing to secure a Works Progress Administration commission for a playground in New York City and succeeded in securing his first public commission there, a socialist mural on the second floor of a public market. “How different was Mexico!” Noguchi wrote about his experience. “Here, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel weird about being an artist. All the artists were helpful people, part of the community. This sensibility fostered a “creative porosity,” as Wu describes the city’s openness to artists, that still defines the landscape of contemporary art and design in Mexico City today. One example is MASA co-founders Hector Esrawe, Age Salajöe and Brian Thoreen, who hail from Mexico City, Estonia and Los Angeles respectively. Wu also moved there in 2017 and quickly found her place at the center of the city’s creative scene. The show she put on reflects the openness of the city and the work that can result from the mixing of cultural influences.

Architect Frida Escobedo designed a chair from tiny ball chains, in homage to Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (top). The cast metal stools from EWE Studio are parked in a storage cage (bottom left). Lights surrounding a Panorammma table are made of rawhide, inspired by bones left behind after dinner parties and made by design studio Marrow, a side project of Casa Bosques founders Rafael Prieto and Loup Sarion (bottom right). Photos: Caylon Hackwith.

Architect Frida Escobedo designed a chair from tiny ball chains, in homage to Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (top). Cast metal s…
Architect Frida Escobedo designed a chair from tiny ball chains, in homage to Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (top). The cast metal stools from EWE Studio are parked in a storage cage (bottom left). Lights surrounding a Panorammma table are made of rawhide, inspired by bones left behind after dinner parties and made by design studio Marrow, a side project of Casa Bosques founders Rafael Prieto and Loup Sarion (bottom right). Photos: Caylon Hackwith.

Throughout the exhibition, we see how the artists have drawn on deeply personal references. Architect Frida Escobedo, who designs the new modern and contemporary wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, contributed a piece in tribute to Ana Mendieta, the Cuban-American artist whose work was long overshadowed by the circumstances surrounding her death. which, according to some, was in the hands of his partner, the artist Carl Andre. Escobedo creek bench Mendieta’s references Stream, a 1974 film in which the artist emerges naked from rocky waters. Crafted from hundreds of strands of tiny ball chains, the bench mimics on-screen fluidity. A steel table with a lumpy, stitched rawhide surface and a pink silicone jug adorned with sutures by emerging design studio Panorammma distinctly resembles surgically repaired skin and references chemotherapy and hospital stays in the founder. The exhibition continues in the public plaza, with sculptures by Alma Allen, stone seats by Mario García Torres and an installation by Pia Camil of shirts, pants and dresses given to her by the people of Mexico City hanging as flags around the rink. Camil describes clothes as a person’s most intimate objects. they “contain our sweat and our secrets; they bear witness to our moments of joy and sadness,” she wrote. Seeing these objects hanging in the plaza where the flags of the world normally fly brings a sense of intimacy and familiarity to the monumental space.

Artist Pia Camil donned clothes donated by Mexico City residents around the Rockefeller Center plaza. She describes clothes as intimate objects that “contain our sweat and our secrets; they bear witness to our moments of joy and sadness.
Photo: Caylon Hackwith

It is appropriate that most of the show takes place in an old post office, a place that facilitates the circulation of items and ideas by correspondence, such as the letters that Noguchi sent to Kahlo. The setting is not accidental; it reflects MASA’s nomadic strategy. The choice to exhibit in obscure locations stems from his desire to challenge conventional expectations of how we perceive art and design – most often in sterile environments that have been stripped of all character. Experimenting with different locations often results in exhibitions that are less showcases of precious objects and more often surreal, immersive environments where the setting influences how the works are viewed. Its inaugural exhibition, in 2019, took place in a 1970s Mexico City mansion made infamous for being the site of a gruesome murder, which the gallery covered with carpets and red walls – a stark contrast to the works minimalists. A “castle” built by German expats was the site of an exhibition in 2020. The house, paneled with dark wooden walls, looked haunted by the furniture on display in the show. The location of its 2021 exhibition, “The Last Tenant”, was a 1950s modernist house with very little documentation of its history, which inspired the gallery to imagine the daily habits of its last inhabitant and to invent a story to his subject.

The exhibition is based on a story of artists moving between New York and Mexico. One of the objects that evokes this theme is Ana Pellicer’s massive pin for the Statue of Liberty, made using a 500-year-old hammered copper technique from Michoacán.
Photo: Caylon Hackwith

In “Intervención/Intersección”, most of the interior features of the post office remain – the dropped ceiling, fluorescent lights, storage cages and display cases – but they are all covered in creamy beige paint, a palimpsest of what existed. previously. Design pieces interact with these elements: they are suspended from the ceiling and displayed on the post office counter; and in one case, a set of metal stools by EWE are parked in a mail storage cage. MASA chooses its spaces based on its intuition, but what happens when everything is put together, like at the old post office, can seem “fortuitous”, says Thoreen.

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