Most New Yorkers aren’t fazed. But when Brian Thoreen told a group of locals that he and a crew of construction people were lifting and pushing with forklifts right in the center of Rockefeller Center, they gasped. On Tuesday May 10, the artist and design dealer stayed up until 4 a.m. to hang clotheslines for Pia Camil’s new work “Saca Tus Trapos Al Sol (Air Out Your Dirty Laundry)” on the 193 poles surrounding the rink (you know, where Jeff Koons and Kaws have oversized statuses often loom).
Camil’s site-specific intervention is a cheeky public commentary that brings together over 700 used garments, collected by Camil from donations in Mexico City and still imbued with the humanity of their former owners. This is part of a show called Intervention/Intersection, the latest venture of MASA Galería, until June 24. Co-founded in Mexico City in 2018 by Thoreen, Age Salajõe and Héctor Esrawe, the traveling design platform seeks unconventional ways to present and dialogue about the urgencies of material culture. Past projects include performances in a Oaxaca Medical Clinica Mexico City rectory in ruinsAnd one empty skyscraper in the Roma district of the city. Now MASA has come to New York – to the RockCenter, of all places – which might not sound particularly noteworthy, except in this case, it really is.
The first meeting of Intervention/Intersection is Camil’s raw installation. But deep down old post office from Rockefeller Center, there is a group exhibition curated by another whisperer of Mexican design and transplantation, Su Wu, which brings together a specific selection of Mexican artists who bridge the contemporary and the historical – reflecting on the expression of private intimacies, embarrassing realities, failed dreams, and the frailties of the human condition.
In an interview with Hyperallergic, Thoreen said that this show was actually about four years in the making, and it was still all about finding the right place. In his mind, it was RockCenter. How did Tishman Speyer, the corporate owner of the Midtown landmark, agree to let a nomadic gang of nice kids from Mexico take over federal property? Well, Thoreen agrees: patience.
“I wanted the show to look like a flattened model of space,” he said. In 2019, when Thoreen (along with Esrawe and Salajõe) first saw the now disused post office, with its low ceilings and monochrome buttercream surroundings, it matched Thoreen’s vision. But it was still a functioning post office back then, and the hardest-working government agency in the land wasn’t going to stop delivering the mail because a bunch of design darlings said so. When the call came about six months ago that the space was available, MASA jumped at the chance.
MASA and Wu have brought together a group of artists from all walks of life. The outsider artist Martín Ramírez, whose drawings from the 1950s and 1960s were done inside a mental institution, contain the kind of contemplation and sassiness that could make up an Instagram account even today. Continuing through the main space into a back room is Freda Escobedo’s chain link chair responding to Ana Mendieta’s 1974 film Stream – in which the Cuban-American artist lies naked in the water, filming herself becoming one with the natural element – but in a material often used to restrict spatial movement. Sculptures by Rubén Ortiz Torres, made of car hoods from scrap yards in Tijuana that were damaged by cartel violence and repaired with gold leaf using the Japanese method of kintsugi, join a woven textile work based on Tania Candiani’s performance capturing the words she has heard said about her work, including the misconceptions imposed on her practice. Elsewhere in the show there are Pedro Reyes chairs evoking symbols found in Aztec imagery; works by Jose Dávila, Alma Allen (Wu’s husband) and Thoreen himself; and, of course, an Isamu Noguchi playground mockup in the center of the floor to tie the concept together.
According to Thoreen, the show was put together in a lightning-fast timeline, about six weeks in total, with Wu herself shaping the vision to center works “that really connect to the history of this place.”
“We really want to think about artists who have gone out of the canon because they are women or their sexuality, or who have no privileges or who have not done functional work – not large civic murals” , Wu told Hyperallergic. “And all the ways in which history is disrupted and rewritten.”
Don’t forget that the RockCenter was once supposed to house Diego Rivera’s 1934 mural “The Man at the Crossroads,” slated for the lobby of 30 Rock, but destroyed before being finished. Rivera’s inclusion of Vladimir Lenin proved to seal his fate. And while MASA’s exhibit isn’t about the tensions between capitalism and communism, as Rivera’s mural was, Thoreen points to another interesting dichotomy that forms a common thread throughout the exhibit.
“Mexico is very inclusive, rather than exclusive,” he said. “It creates a community where everyone wants to collaborate and share. You can see it in what we are able to do at MASA.
And it is precisely this exchange between Mexico and the United States that makes this show interesting – beyond the individual works. Isn’t this a signal that New York, the proverbial hub of the art world, is importing Mexican artists for a salable exhibition centered around the idea of community and quiet stories that have been overlooked for being too raw, real or genuine? This is not triumphant imperialist work, exported as cultural supremacy, but rather a buzzing subversion of what public art can look like and a blurring of the lines between art and design. .
Perhaps the most subversive aspect of the show as a whole is that it’s so rooted in mutual support. “It’s all in the family,” Thoreen said. “For the most part, we’re all friends and that’s how MASA started. The business idea came from showing us our work and that of our friends, and showing the work as we want to see it. If there’s one lesson we’ve learned lately, there really is nothing more powerful than the strength that community provides.