A New Show of Contemporary Mexican Design Explores the Explosive Scene on Its Own Terms

"Everything Here Is Volcanic" features unusual materials—including actual volcanic rock—at Friedman Benda gallery.

Pedro Reyes, Volcanic Table (2022). Volcanic stone. Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Pedro Reyes.

Mexican art, architecture, and design have long garnered attention, more so in recent years as the country’s capital has emerged as a cultural agora for Latin America, if not the wider world. The renewed interest, however, has the potential to bring with it certain stereotypes. For many, Mexican design consists of thick woven tapestries, bright geometric patterns, and the use of natural fibers like rattan—items we might expect to find in a touristy market.

With the “Everything Here Is Volcanic show, running January 12 to February 18 at New York gallery Friedman Benda, curator Mario Ballesteros has set out to challenge those cliches. He’s borrowed the metaphor of volcanoes from Swiss architect Hannes Meyer’s observations of Mexico’s eruptive creative scene in the 1940s to reveal that such categorical thinking does little to encompass the full scope of its contemporary output. Residing in Mexico City for over a decade, Meyer (formerly the director of Bauhaus Dessau) aimed to counteract how certain forces overlook undefinable talents to maintain easily packaged images.

Tezontle, Vernacular Kitchen (2022). Copper, volcanic rock, concrete. Photo: Lucas Cantu, courtesy of Friedman Benda and Tezontle.

There is something about Mexico that makes it impossible to categorize neatly,” Ballesteros told Artnet News. “The show is a small attempt to contain this flowing, vibrant, chaotic energy that transcends professional or typological concerns. Are these works by artists or designers? Is this furniture or sculpture? Are these objects speaking to the past, to the present, or the future? Where do they all meet? Where do they all point to?” 

Andrés Souto, cHaRcO Lamp (2022). Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Andrés Souto.

In the exhibition, while art and architecture studio Tezontle reinterprets a suite of age-old cooking devices using volcanic rock in Vernacular Kitchen, fashion designer and artist Bárbara Sánchez Kane crafts her Body fillers and plastified diet (2022) bucket seats out of leather and pinewood. Pedro Reyes’s organicist Volcanic Table is literally made out of hardened lava. Amorphous figurines abound in Tony Mascarena and Ángela Esteban’s ceramics. In keeping with the rebellious theme of the exhibition, Andrés Souto’s cHaRcO Lamp riffs on Italian architect and designer Achille Castiglioni‘s iconic Arco luminaire.

Bárbara Sánchez-Kane, Body fillers and plastified diet (2022). Photo: Daniel Kukla, courtesy of Friedman Benda and Bárbara Sánchez-Kane.

Other noted exhibitors include renowned architect Frida Escobedo; rising talent Fernando Laposse; sculptor Lorena Ancona; ceramicist Alejandro García; fashion polymath Víctor Barragán; and young artists Allan Villavicencio, Tony Macarena, and Wendy Cabrera Rubio.

Frida Escobedo, Creek Chair (2022). Photo: Studio C129, courtesy of Friedman Benda and Frida Escobedo.

What curator Mario Ballesteros is demonstrating is that there is as much sophisticated conceptual ideations, material transmutation, and personal expression enacted through various creative disciplines in Mexico as there is in the United States and Europe, not that those scenes should be the rock against which all else is measured.

Fernando Laposse, Feliz Navidad (2022). Cactus wood and thorns, stained beech wood, 3D printed eco-resin, patinated steel. Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Fernando Laposse.

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