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¿Como se dice "hot mess" en español? It's about the only term I can think of to describe "Turn Off the Sun," an ongoing exhibition of selections from the mighty Jumex Collection now showing at ASU Art Museum.
Initially, I was ecstatic when I heard that work from the Jumex Collection was to be shown locally. My enthusiasm was seriously curbed after seeing ASUAM's selection and treatment of the Jumex offerings — and I saw the show on two separate occasions, to boot.
La Colección Jumex, currently housed in Ecatepec, an industrial area about 45-minute drive on a good day from the Centro Histórico of Mexico City, is said to be one of the largest and most important collections of contemporary art in Latin America. Started by Eugenio Lopez, sole heir to the multinational Jumex food and fruit juice empire and a heavyweight player in the world art market, the international collection includes not only blue chip artists like Cy Twombly, Carl Andre, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons, but also current art luminaries like Mike Kelly, Francis Alÿs, Doug Aitken, the late Félix González-Torres, and Rivane Neuenschwander. Not to mention every important contemporary artist in between, plus emerging Mexican artists.
51 E. 10th St.
Tempe, AZ 85281
It's located in a stunning space inside the Jumex factory complex, though you will have to surrender your passport in order to get in, even with a prior appointment. In November, Jumex plans to open a new five-story museum, more centrally located in Polanco, Mexico City's answer to Bel Aire, designed by noted British modernist architect David Chipperfield. It will be neighbors with another heavy-hitter private museum, Museo Soumaya, housing the private collection of telecommunications magnate, Carlos Slim — said to be the richest man in the world — international art, artifacts, and historical documents from the 15th through 20th century. Talk about an artistic motherlode. These are just a few of the reasons I love Mexico City so much.
However, "Turn Off the Sun" — the phrase is said to have been taken from a passing comment made by Colección Jumex's director and curator as they walked midday from their Tempe hotel to ASUAM in the middle of August — has turned out to be more a misguided, badly planned scavenger hunt than a cohesive, thematically integral exhibition. According to the museum's introductory wall text, work for the exhibition was "selected around the complex relationship between Arizona and Mexico, with broad references to borders, labor, movement, and site," whatever those terms may embrace.
"Turn Off the Sun," according to ASUAM curator Julio César Morales, who worked with ASUAM senior curator Heather Lineberry and Jumex curator Michel Blanscubé in organizing the show, is aimed at being "a curatorial intervention . . . based on how . . .this work [can] really reflect the current state of Arizona and, in general, how . . . it [can] create a dialogue between the United States and Mexico."
Unfortunately, very little of this monumental underlying theme comes through when viewing the work, especially since there are no visible wall texts to inform the viewer about the name of the piece, the artist, or information critical to a real understanding of and appreciation for a particular work. We're supposed to rely on booklets and schematic layouts of the galleries cued to a separate list of the names of art work and artists. Too bad that the first time I saw the show, no booklets were to be found in any of the galleries (security has said that they are ripped off with great regularity) — not that they would have been much help in any event, given their academic, art jargon-laden style and failure to connect particular work with the museum's chosen unifying idea of border relations. Hell, I didn't even get to see a number of pieces strewn within and without the museum proper, including an installation by Raul Cardenas/Torolab in the office of museum director Gordon Knox and a site-specific piece mounted on the back and top of the museum by Alejandro Almanza, because of serious lack of identifying guideposts. I ended up reading about them in the spiffy exhibition catalog accompanying the show.
César Morales says he finds wall texts distracting and that "it's more important to interact with the work and have a visceral response to it." My visceral response to the heavily conceptual offerings, even at a second viewing of "Turn Off the Sun"? Total and abysmal confusion, for the most part. And I have more than just a passing knowledge of Mexico and border relations.
In all fairness, some work stood admirably on its own, though not necessarily within the show's intended parameters. California artist Doug Aitken's four-part Diamond Sea video installation from 1997 in the third-floor gallery, which runs almost 12 minutes, is deeply meditative and poetic, though I came to find out that the mining and desolate desert footage used was shot in Africa in a heavily restricted diamond mining area. Cuando la fe mueve montañas (When Faith Moves Mountains) (2002) by Mexican artist Francis Alÿs in the second-floor Kresge Gallery, a performance/video/installation piece involving 600 Peruvian student volunteers reconfiguring a Lima, Peru hillside, like an act of nature or God, is well-documented and engaging, especially since the video has English subtitles for non-Spanish speakers. And American artist Liza Lou, who now lives in South Africa — probably because it's the beading capital of the universe — scores a direct hit with Security Fence (2005-2007), a Sartrean-No-Exit security enclosure completely covered with shimmery, silver-lined glass seed beads.