Before arriving in Mexico City for my IDSVA residency in January of 2020, my visions of Mexico were purely cinematic. Through the guest lectures and tours of historical sites and museums, I garnered a deeper appreciation for the diverse artistic and cultural history of Mexico. I found enjoyment in the planned excursions, conversations with friends, and even surprise appreciation for experiences that deviated from my original expectations, such as our visit to Museo Tamayo.
Entering the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, our IDSVA group discovered the first exhibit we were there to view was “missing”; yet, I found great joy in its absence. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure it would have been grand. But after visiting numerous museums prior, seeing those empty walls and appreciating the light coming in from the windows was a refreshing experience. Even though the unexpected was unfolding outside of the itinerary, I liked it. Museum director Magali Arriola, who greeted us at the entrance, politely laughed and admitted the primary exhibit had gone, as exhibits do. After a brief welcoming introduction, our guide proceeded to lead our group past the bare galleries in transition for the next art installation, to view the remaining exhibitions.
I learned that for a gallerist, this is the best part of the job: imagining and then creating a new space for an artist’s work. Rufino Tamayo, Mexican artist and museum founder, created this mission statement: “Rather than attempting to give a comprehensive view of [a] collection … this museum is dedicated to modern and contemporary art… a living entity in a constant process of development” (Gallery Label).
Adriana Varejão’s exhibit was part of that ‘living entity’ of modern art we were fortunate enough to see. Her show was called “Palvo Portraits” (2015-2018). “Palvo” in Portuguese means octopus. The ink the octopus releases in its defense contains melanin, the same substance that gives coloration to human skin. Varejão collected oil colors labeled as flesh tones and created her own pigments used only for this series. “Curiously, all of them correspond to a light pink hue, even those produced in parts of the world where it is not a dominant skin coloration of the population” (Gallery Label). There were 33 portraits and 12 color wheels representing the artist herself in various skin tones she commissioned to Chinese copyists. Certainly the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology), with its permanent Mayan and Aztec exhibits, was as fantastic as it could possibly be, but stumbling upon an unexpected temporary exhibit of skin tones celebrating diversity? This is exactly the type of experiences that makes these residencies so enjoyable. As Rufino Tamayo once said: “I contemplate the earth and space… I paint and feel that it is emerging in me a great love… in a universal sense” (Tamayo rufinotamayo.org.mx). Through the empty and filled spaces of the Museo Tamayo, there was plenty of room for contemplation, if not love, for its art.