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Melanie Smith's Mexican-inspired art exhibit opens at CAMH

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“Warning”! artists visiting this exhibit may inspire new admiration for Mexican culture and change your life.” This sign is NOT posted at the entrance to the Zilkha Gallery in the basement of the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston for the opening of Melanie Smith's exhibit March 21, but it should have been.

Melanie Smith's work illustrates what might happen when a keen mind trained in modern art and sculpture encounters Mexico's vibrant art community. According to Wikipedia: “Melanie Smith is the artist curated for the Mexican Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.[1] Her work has been characterized by a certain re-reading of the formal and aesthetic categories of avant-gardes and post-avant-garde movements, problematized at the sites and within the horizons of heterotopias. Her production is intimately related to a certain expanded vision of the notion of modernity, maintaining a relationship both with what this means in Latin America, particularly in Mexico, and with the implication this has for her formal explorations as a critical moment in the aesthetic-political structure of modernity and late modernity.”

In layman's terms, Ms. Smith is a thoughtful artist “on the edge” of several movements. She arrived at the Zilkha Gallery to find Mexican Consul, Dr Luis Malpica y de Lamadrid and his wife, along with dozens of enthusiastic artists, students, photographers, and the eagerly awaiting a chance to meet her.

I asked her just how she decided to move from the UK to Mexico City in 1989.

“It was sort of an accident.” she said. She had several friends who had planned the trip, and she decided to “tag along,” almost as an afterthought. But once on the scene, she began meeting the Mexican artistic community and learning more about the local culture, tradition, and aspirations of contemporary Mexicans, and decided to stay. She is fluent in Spanish and graciously chatted with the Mexican Consul and his wife before the interview.

Smith's exhibit includes sculptures, drawings, and 3 videos; Xitilac Desmantalada 1, Xitilac dismantled, Bulto: fragmentos (Bulto fragments), and Elevador (Elevator). The first shows a sequence of images from a creative architectural project with a constant stream of images. The second, a large red statute being displaced. The Elevator” is perhaps most accessible, and best displayed in a separate room, so the audio effect is less interrupted and closer to Ms. Smith's intentions. It shows a sequence of videos taken in or from an elevator showing the shaft interior as it moves up and down. The door opening at different floors and surprises each time, ranging from a live pig to an agitated crowd.

The Zilkha Gallery is a large space with echoes, which caused issues for the first video. But the black curtains and floor provided an ideal display area for the sculptures. Two low display tables show collections of smaller sculptures in various media, including traditional Mexican art, disjointed body parts, miniature pyramids, and mathematical structures.

The exhibit will be on display from March 21, 2014 to June 15, 2014.

Melanie Smith is made possible in part by a grant from AMEXCID, MEXICAN MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, and the CONSULATE GENERAL OF MÉXICO

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