The Jumex is a three-month-old contemporary art museum in the Polanco district of Mexico City area, established by Eugenio Lopez, whose family fortune was made through the Jumex fruit juice empire.
Before our recent trip, we had read an excited review of the museum in the New York Times. As longtime readers of this blog will know, modern architecture is an interest of ours, and a big part of why we wanted to see Museo Jumex was to see the building itself and its slightly older neighbor, the art museum of another Mexican billionare, Carlos Slim. Lopez has been collecting since the mid-90s and the Jumex collection now stands at over 2,750 pieces; the museum is the largest contemporary art museum in Latin America and Lopez has said that he intends to eventually donate the building and its contents to Mexico.
Quebec, still mired in nationalistic debates, provincialism, and insecurity about its place in the international cultural scene, might take note of the following:
...[previously] Mexican collectors had mostly stayed within the few socially acceptable categories of pre-Columbian, -Colonial, muralism, and so on, all of which focused on a nationalist past. Lopez instead wanted to position Mexico City to be a part of what he calls “the network,” the intellectual and cultural circuit that connects New York, London, Berlin, Bejing, and other global centers. “I saw an incredible opportunity in doing a collection that was not just Mexican or Latin American,” Lopez says, noting that before him, very few people were doing that. They all had Diego Riveras, Frida Kahlos, but no one bought a Jasper Johns. “I said, ‘I want to do it on an international level.’ ”
A 1997 visit to London’s Saatchi Gallery hatched Lopez’s vision for a Jumex corporate collection that would be open to the public—then, a novel idea in Latin America. The art adviser Patricia Martín, a key mentor, got him to think beyond that trophy mentality to imagine instead a foundation that would not only collect art but also dispense scholarships for arts education, provide grants for young Mexican artists, and fund acquisitions of Mexican art abroad...
When we visited, on a Friday, we were told by a cheerful, laid-back attendant in the sign-less lobby that the museum was free that day. He sat at a table with computer cords snaking away from wall sockets, while the room next door was a sleek, minimalistic black cafe; it seemed either like the lobby was unfinished, or had deliberately avoided the designed-to-impress entrance of so many of its peers.
The entire building is clad in a creamy travertine marble, and the use of that material on the interior floors as well enhances the typical Mexican porosity of indoors vs. outdoors. We rode to the top floor in a sleek elevator and worked our way down; on the top level was a curated show of works from the collection, more memorable to me for the spaces themselves than for the works, although I really liked a Basquiat portrait and a floor-to-ceiling graphite "drawing" by Carlos Amorales on one of the exhibition walls itself.
On the floor below was a very fine show about the work of the late performance artist/sculptor James Lee Byars, co-curated by the Jumex Fundación’s Magalí Arriola and MoMA PS1’s Peter Eleey: a travelling collaboration that may be a good indication of Lopez's intentions for the future.
Much of Byars' art was made of paper, linen, silk and gold-leaf; it had a Zen aesthetic and was provocative, intelligent, and often amusing, while avoiding excessive cerebralism.
The museum's internal staircase is unexpectedly brilliant.
But my favorite physical space was the second-floor wrap-around outdoor "porch" which the architect, David Chipperfield of Britain, uses to frame vistas of nearby architecture and far-away horizons, making statements about the Jumex as both a physical and psychological presence within Mexico City. Beyond that, it was simply beautiful: I stayed out there a long time, while the sun went down, and then we finally exited to take some more photographs of the museum's exterior before leaving Polanco and heading back to our hotel.
If Carlos Slim's astonishing, shining tile-encrusted hourglass is a statement piece set amid Polanco's tall monuments to corporate success and Mexico's future, then the Jumex, with its straight sides and saw-tooth pate, is an understatement. It sits like a slightly smug, self-contained toy block set down amid much snazzier neighbors, but seems quite well-positioned both to stay, and to be heard.