Artful Blogger

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Discover Ottawa art in Mexico City


Work by Ottawa’s Guillermo Trejo on display in Mexico City

It is rather disorienting to be walking through Mexico City’s downtown park, the Alameda Central, and finding yourself staring at Maman, the giant spider created by Louise Bourgeois.

The spider is supposed to be standing in front of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. But there it was, standing in front of Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City’s over-the-top art nouveau building that is a performance and exhibition space and a century-old architectural marvel.

Actually, this was Little Maman, an adolescent version of the Ottawa spider. Inside Bellas Artes was a marvellous exhibition of Bourgeois’ sculptures. Just down the street in a baroque 18th century building, the Colegio de San Ignacio de Loyola Vizcainas, there were some more Ottawa treats.

Among the tenants of the old college is a contemporary art gallery called La Trampa Grafica Contemporaneo. The current show is called The Infidels. It was jointly organized by curators at La Trampa and Guy Berube of Ottawa’s La Petite Mort Gallery. The artists represented include some from Ottawa, Mexico City, and elsewhere.

Peter Shmelzer’s work from Ottawa is instantly recognizable and not just because the first of his paintings you see at La Trampa is a portrait of Berube. The painting is well executed but not all that flattering to the subject, who looks like he is suffering from indigestion. But the picture fits in well with the Infidels theme.

“The Latin word infidelis means ‘one without faith,’” according to a text accompanying the exhibit. “Far from medieval Christian (and Islamic) origins, the word is reborn here with a new vibrancy to embrace aesthetic practices puncturing the sanctuary of the body.”

And this show does puncture the sanctuary of the body. Shmelzer is certainly an artist who has made a career of puncturing the sanctuary of the body. This exhibition is the perfect venue for his work, which tends to be macabre and there is no place that worships the macabre like Mexico with all its Days of the Dead ceremonies.

Mexico City artist Veronica Bape offers several small portraits of distorted faces in Infidels. These people look like they hang around in the same circles as the oddball loser men painted by Ottawa’s Michael Harrington. Bape thankfully will be part of Infidels, part II, when La Trampa organizes a companion exhibition at La Petite Mort from April 4 to 27.

The most stunning work in the show is by Mexico City artist Omar Arcega. He has created a 3-D collage of tiny, interconnected animals in the shape of the outstretched wings of a bird. One can stare at this concoction endlessly and contemplate the universe.

Another winner is by  Whitney Lewis-Smith of Ottawa. It is an oversized photographic print of a coyote clutching a dead bird in its mouth. The work is simultaneously gruesome and glorious and, like Shmelzer’s work, has found a perfect home in Mexico City.

The Infidels, Part I, is a winner. Part II in Ottawa, with some of the same artists represented, promises to be equally good.

The show continues until March 15 at La Trampa, which is located at Puerta 3, at the corner of Calle Aldaco and Calle Vizcainas in Mexico City’s Historic Centre.