“Kids come here from Spain to learn bullfighting; we have one of the best schools,” our bus tour guide announces over the sound system, as we drive past Plaza de Toros Monumental. Now this unlikely industrial town in North-Central Mexico has something else to be proud of, with the launch of the multimillion-peso development Macro Espacio para la Cultura y las Artes (MECA), one of the most ambitious cultural projects undertaken in the country’s recent history.
Occupying the site of former railway workshops, MECA is a creative hub housing an Arts university, library, graphics arts workshop, symphony hall, and Museo Espacio, its contemporary art museum. It opened in February with an exhibition by Greek artist Jannis Kounellis (a leading figure of the Arte Povera movement) and is now playing host to the influential French conceptual artist Daniel Buren, who recently revamped Paris’ Fondation Louis Vuitton with his signature multi-coloured stripes.
Como un juego de niño, Buren’s most significant exhibition in Mexico to date, is an intervention on the museum’s 60,000 square meters consisting of over a hundred wood and metal modules referencing childlike playfulness. The exhibition is arranged symmetrically, with one side painted entirely in white while bright colours adorn the other.
“It was love at first sight!” says Buren of his first visit to Mexico in 1957, while researching the murals of social realists David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, with whom he shares a commitment to working beyond the confines of museums. “The use of colours in Mexican culture only validates my own sense of the importance of colour,” explains the French artist, who’s known for indulging in vivid shades and contrasts. “It’s always amazing to see the power of colour – when used naturally, without much technical or historical constraints – especially in an architectural context.”
Since early on in his career, Buren has produced works outside of traditional gallery spaces. In the late 1960s, his affichages sauvages (hundreds of striped posters) were illegally pasted over billboards and metro stations in Paris. Since then, Buren has intervened on a range of spaces and historical buildings, from the Guggenheim in New York to the courtyard of the Palais Royal in Paris. “Whether it is a museum, a small gallery or a public space, I always try to find a different response,” explains the 78-year old.
A long way from his earlier roguish work, Buren’s collaborations with luxury brands in recent years have brought about some controversies in the art world. In 2013, he lent his talents to 17 Louis Vuitton window displays internationally, but he suggests that’s not completely different than working in the street. “Boutiques are mostly located in city centres, directly onto the pavement, seen by everybody,” he explains. “It allows to show works in a way that no institution in the world can, which is a paradox but also a reality.”
He points out to the current political climate, which has made working in the public sphere increasingly problematic: “It is the most interesting space for art to develop, but I am not so optimistic: we are going through a period of intolerance, which makes so-called public art even more difficult”.
Daniel Buren: Como un juego de niño runs until October 2 at Museo Espacio, Aguascalientes me.gob.mx