NOVEMBER 7, 2014
Toward the end of an extremely narrow street in Tlalpan, a district on the southern edge of Mexico City, there is a block full of dentists’ offices marked by signs depicting dental picks and teeth. It’s a fitting place for Damián Ortega’s studio. He is a master of the tool, an artist of the everyday, an expert bricoleur. On a recent Friday, Ortega, who is forty-seven, invited me into his studio’s tool room. “I’ve had some of these for years,” he said. “I’m a collector.” Drawing upon the politics of daily life, Ortega has become a fixture in the international art world for his striking deconstruction of the ordinary, a poetics of the quotidian that is at once thoroughly Mexican and globally resonant.
Nearby was a room whose ceiling was dotted with colored pegs forming concentric circles—this is where Ortega makes his objects float. Ortega rose to fame thanks to his gravity-defying installations, the most recent of which, “Cosmogonía doméstica“ (Domestic Cosmogony), appeared outside of Mexico City’s new Museo Jumex this year. It is situated directly in front of the Museo Soumaya, which is also new—a shimmering, startling structure designed by Fernando Romero and commissioned by the billionaire Carlos Slim. “My reaction,” Ortega told me, “was to bring the eyes down, to focus on the human scale.” He built a domestic scene: the contents of a commonplace kitchen—plates, bowls, teapots, utensils—spun above a wooden table. Everything rotated slowly, half floating, around five concentric circles built into the floor. The piece, sandwiched between the new icons of Mexico’s wealth (the Jumex is the home of the art collection of Eugenio López Alonso, the Jumex juice heir), was classic Ortega: a subtle play on the routine amid bureaucracy, capital, poverty, and the megalopolis. The installation, he told me, “is no more than the atmosphere of la vida diaria,” he said, or everyday life—with a twist. Chairs balanced on one leg; vegetables were suspended in mid-air. Naturally, there was something cartoonish about it.
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