‘I Have to Escape All the Time’: Watch Artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda Transform His Move Out of New York Into Art About Exploration

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Alejandro Almanza Pereda Escapes from New York." © Art21, Inc. 2015.

As a child in Mexico, the artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda was obsessed with filmmaker John Carpenter’s cult classic, Escape From New York, in which Manhattan has been transformed into a prison and the hero is in a race against time to save the US president from a ticking time bomb. 

While this premise is a few light years removed from Almanza Pereda’s current life, he felt a kinship with it when he made the radical decision to leave New York (and its outrageous rent) for his native Mexico City. For the artist, New York may not have been a literal prison, as it was depicted in Escape from New York, but it became a figurative one that he describes as “a playground for really privileged people.”

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, the artist tasks himself with a seemingly impossible mission: to create an entirely new body of work in the three weeks between the time he purchased a one-way ticket for Mexico and the day his plane departed.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Alejandro Almanza Pereda Escapes from New York." © Art21, Inc. 2015.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film “Alejandro Almanza Pereda Escapes from New York.” © Art21, Inc. 2015.

Instead of dwelling on his impending departure, Almanza Pereda channels his frenetic energy into his new project, riffing on Dutch still life paintings by staging similar tableaux that have a twist: the objects are underwater and upside down. The artist gathers knickknacks he accumulated in his Hunter College studio and goes shopping in Chinatown to find more objects. He recounts a lifelong fascination with underwater exploration, Jacques Cousteau, and sea creatures.

Here, on the surface, everything stays put—the gravity,” he tells Art21. “In the water, you can use those levitations to kind of create different sculptures in a way. It’s pretty spectacular.”

In the video, Almanza Pereda goes through a bittersweet tour of Chinatown, which he considers one of the most quintessentially New York neighborhoods, as he prepares his final work and his impending escape from the city.

“I have to say that I think everybody in the world should live in New York at least one or two years to just, kind of, make sense,” he says. “But it’s not the only lifestyle you can have. It’s not the only way of doing things.” Though he is sad to leave New York, the artist isn’t thinking he’ll be in Mexico City forever. “So I might escape from Mexico City, you know? I might go to LA and escape from there. I have to escape all the time.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.