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Mexico City is a thriving hotbed of artistic talent, with big names like Frida Kahlo having lived and worked there and rising talents like Sofía Castellanos calling it home. As far as contemporary art goes, there are plenty of splendid examples to choose from, but these are the ten contemporary artists born in Mexico City that we think the world needs to know about.
Possibly the most globally recognisable name on this guide, Damián Ortega is a Mexico City native who has dabbled in pretty much every imaginable field of art – sculpture, cartoons, photography, multimedia and installation pieces. A former student of the legendary Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco (from Veracruz), the influence of this art world giant on Ortega is clear throughout his entire body of work, which is principally marked by wit, alongside a general preoccupation with consumerist culture and politics.
The work of Carlos Amorales has been displayed around the world, but he remains one of Mexico’s lesser-known contemporary artists in many ways. However, Amorales’ prominence is indisputable and his work (particularly his so-called Liquid Archive) is always delightfully dark and cynical, relying heavily on imagery of nature’s seediest creatures – think bats and spiders. As with Ortega, Amorales is also a multi-disciplinary artist, principally influenced by Mexican culture, who’s worked with video, installation, and sculpture.
If Carlos Amorales’ work is influenced by Mexican culture, then the expositions and installations of the fantastically named Betsabeé Romero are wholly inseparable and entirely connected to the cultural ebbs and flows of Mexico. Most recently she was part of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead mega ofrenda, but her work has also traversed themes like the femicides in Ciudad Juárez. Of her most famous exhibitions, her spiralled llantas (tyres), elaborately decorated with pre-Hispanic motifs and symbols, stand out by a mile.
Renowned for being both one of the country’s leading contemporary artists and a prevalent social activist, the work of Minerva Cuevas is (as you can imagine) thought-provoking. Again, she utilises various techniques in her work, which range from graphic design to murals and photography, but all her pieces are constant in their ever-changing complexity, adaptability and criticism of modern culture and inequality. This is most apparent in her pieces which critique the consequences of capitalism by appropriating its form and language.
Dr. Lakra is the pseudonym for Mexico City-born, Oaxaca-based former tattooist and current contemporary artist Jerónimo López Ramírez. Alongside Damián Ortega, Dr. Lakra is perhaps one of the more internationally well-known artists on our guide and has been exhibited in Paris, New York and London. Concerned with pre-Hispanic culture, Dr. Lakra’s works are elaborate, graphic, kitsch and heavily influenced by his tattooing past. Fun fact: famed Mexican painter Francisco Toledo is his father.
If the surname Kuri sounds vaguely familiar, the chances are you’re thinking of the uber cool Mexico City art gallery kurimanzutto, which is run by contemporary artist Gabriel Kuri’s art dealer brother José Kuri, alongside his wife Mónica Manzutto. Gabriel Kuri, on the other hand, is in the business of creating art, not dealing it, and focuses his attentions on sculpting, collage and installations predominantly made from mass-produced or repurposed materials. As with many of his peers, consumer culture is at the forefront of his concerns.
If anyone breaks out of the mould of ‘typical contemporary artist’ (if there is such a thing), it’s undoubtedly Mexico City-born, Mexican-Canadian Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. His installations are profoundly concerned with the role of technology in modern life, which is unsurprising considering his background as both chemist and electronic artist. Whether it’s solitary computer chips or entirely interactive, forward-thinking performance pieces that bring together art and technology in a shockingly seamless way, Lozano-Hemmer is undeniably at the forefront of Mexico’s contemporary art scene.
A contemporary of, as well as influenced by, Gabriel Orozco, the conceptual artist Abraham Cruzvillegas is far better known in his native Mexico than further afield, although he has exhibited hugely successful installations at internationally renowned venues such as London’s Tate Modern. His artistic talents lie heavily in the recontextualization of seemingly disposed and disposable objects, which ultimately leads the observer to question the completeness of the work and purpose of the items themselves.
The only architect in our guide, Fernando Romero is an incredibly prevalent contemporary artist in Mexico and abroad, having most recently designed the New Mexico City International Airport, as well as the iconic Museo Soumaya building in Polanco. The latter may or may not be related to his position as son-in-law of Soumaya owner Carlos Slim. Either way, he is widely considered one of the leading architects of his generation and places emphasis on the sustainability of a structure in context.
Finally, we round up the guide with hyperrealistic, controversial painter Daniel Lezama, whose fantastical style manages to transform popular Mexican mythology into something modern, contemporary and transgressive all at once. Over the span of his career, he’s headed up over 20 individual expositions in both his native Mexico and around the world, and many have compared his use of light and dark to the chiaroscuro style of Old Masters like Caravaggio.