The Museo Jumex is plopped in the center of Mexico City’s Plaza Carso, a sleek mixed-use development of shiny high rises for the super-rich and a posh shopping mall of international luxury retailers and upscale restaurants. Backed by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim — once ranked the richest person in the world — Plaza Carso is on land that was formerly the site of a battery and tire plant.
Now, however, Plaza Carso promotes a lifestyle of newness.
And in its center, the David Chipperfeld-designed Museo Jumex building stands out as a thoughtful, calm, travertine-clad structure amidst the glossy attention-grabbing architecture surrounding it. Inside, interestingly, the museum offers spaces specifically designed to frame vistas of the architectural spectacle of the surrounding area.
One such space is the gallery on the museum’s second floor with big windows and a commodious balcony. And it’s here where Austin-based artist Michael Smith stages his tongue-in-cheek exhibition, “Imagine the View from Here,” on view through March 3.
Plaza Carso is its own capitalist-created bubble designed to erase a working-class industrial neighborhood and replace it with swanky amenities attractive to foreign investments and posh lifestyles. For the better part of the last decade, Mexico City has become a fashionable international tourist destination. And while more and more foreigners move to the city, their expectations of a new, glitzy lifestyle in pesos runs hand-in-hand with the expectation to be consumed themselves by Mexico’s sleek contemporary culture.
Smith’s exhibition boldly and humorously delves into this existential dilemma by positioning the Museo Jumex itself as a cog in this luxury-generating machine.
Smith again channels his longstanding alter-ego Mike Smith as the protagonist in a scenario about a fictional timeshare business, The International Trade and Enrichment Association (ITEA), that offers the museum’s galleries as Jumex Terrace, an investment for foreigners desiring “The Fully Curated Timeshare.”
The exhibition is essentially a series of marketing materials — kiosks, posterboards, sales videos. And with his endlessly optimistic outlook on life, the character Mike imagines his active artistic existence within the walls of the museum.
With its floor to ceiling windows and a glass door which leads out to a terrace that wraps around the entire floor, the gallery overlooks the Plaza Carzo and offers stunning views of the surrounding neighborhood. Inside, informational stations, complete with photographs of the museum timeshare and videos illustrating the benefits of a fully curated art-centered existence scatter the room — but don’t exactly fill the room. Indeed ITEA’s is ultimately a sad attempt at selling an upscale lifestyle, one that combines the gleefully, ignorant optimism of Mike, the innocent everyman, and what is essentially an underwhelming marketing display.
The end result is a dry, absurdly funny and convincing show that leaves viewers chuckling as they exit the gallery or head out to the terrace to lounge in traditional Acapulco style chairs and take in the view, imagining their lives in Jumex Terrace.
The central focus of the exhibition is a video of Mike spending his days at home at Jumex Terrace. We see Mike waking up and wandering the gallery in his bathrobe coffee in hand, spending time with Jumex curators learning about the art on view, getting tips on a painting he is working on, and generally just passing time in his curated yet temporary home.
“Imagine the View From Here” re-contextualizes the kind of upscale expatriate living in which foreigners pay top prices for a comfortable and temporary home by plopping it into a sleek contemporary art museum setting, itself a highly curated space. Smith’s installation conjectures that such a lifestyle of “fully curated” culture can indeed be purchased, and does so effectively enough that the even marketing for the exhibition includes the curatorial staff offering Mike their “24/7 Curatorial Services.” Life at Jumex Terrace is not just any getaway shared with other foreigners in a bubble, but a very particular and specific bubble targeted to a group of people eager to buy it.
The irony of “Imagine the View From Here” lies in the seemingly low production quality of the informational centers contrasted with the very earnest way in which the exhibition proposes such a lifestyle. It is endlessly funny, and it forces those in the creative realm to reconsider their position on concussing culture.
It makes us wonder if Mike’s proposal isn’t actually so far from the distant future.