Museo Tamayo Mexico: Emotional Landscaping

Museo Tamayo Mexico: Emotional Landscaping
The Tamayo Museum in Mexico City hosts contemporary pieces and performances that will make you cry until you laugh.


The Tamayo Museum has presented an array of contemporary exhibitions, hosted in a building influenced by pre-Hispanic architecture, since 1981. It can be found in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City – an area of great natural beauty and cultural importance.

Rufino Tamayo (1899–1991) was a renowned artist from Oaxaca. Born to a family with Zapotec roots, Tamayo sought to create paintings in “the Mexican tradition,” distancing himself from the political and nationalist movements that dominated Mexican art after the Revolution.

Tamayo’s exploration of painting as an aesthetic and spiritual activity distinguished him from his contemporaries such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, who focused on communicating their social and political messages.


Petrit Halilaj: RUNIK

Petrit Halilaj’s (b. 1986) migratory creatures gather around a floating replica of the house his family built in the capital of Pristina, after their old home in Runik was destroyed during the bombings of the Kosovo War. RUNIK features fragments of childhood memories, “destroyed by men in need of love”, and strewn together through illustration, installation, sculpture, costume, and design – groundless filaments connecting loose feathers, a stuffed toy laid to rest in the corner of a broken home, and a cerulean butterfly weighed down by a body of crushed stone.

For Halilaj, art is not just a vehicle for travelling and learning from the world, but a means of expressing and exploring the complicated emotions that surround the history of his native land, as well as his queer identity. While being deeply personal, his work is inherently tied to Kosovo’s recent history and the consequences of the region’s political and cultural tensions, with each room sitting in dialogue with the collective memory.

As part of the exhibition a large scale chicken – a bird famously known as one of the few unable to fly – is inscribed onto a Boeing 737 aircraft operated by Aeroméxico; Both the architectural rendition of his family home and the airplane serve as vessels for his memories and his journey, which continues to challenge notions of nationality, place and belonging.

Birds, butterflies, moths, snakes, turtles and mythological creatures gather in this arc of transformation – moving from the war-torn and mud-covered creatures trapped between bars of gold, towards the floor to ceiling visions that defy gravity itself. Like the creatures his work gives life to, Halilaj has learned to create a home where he feels connection. Now living in Berlin but with strong roots in Kosovo and close ties to several places around the world, Halilaj’s understanding of home – or what it means to be loved and to belong – is anchored in diasporic bonds of affection.


Ragnar Kjartansson: Things You See Before the Curtain Hits the Floor

Ragnar Kjartansson is an artist from Reykjavik, Iceland. The exhibition title is a reference to the closing lines of Theatre Impressions, a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, the 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature: “But the curtain’s fall is the most uplifting part / the things you see before it hits the floor: / here one hand quickly reaches for a flower, / there another hand picks up a fallen sword.”

Kjartansson’s engaging performance pieces highlight the absurd paradoxes that underly the everyday – the fluid boundaries between fact and fiction, spectacle and confession, person and character; throughout his theatrical installations, videos and paintings, he simulates the truth. This sits in contrast to his brief stint working in the advertising industry: “I looked on this period as my masters degree in art… You use all the same techniques, except that you’re lying.”

In the first gallery we travel through the literal hellscape that underlies “domestic bliss.” Smooth melodies from a concerto of live guitarists sweep across scattered household objects, as the cloned musicians drape themselves along various bits of furniture. The sweet sounds carry throughout the gallery, amplifying the experience of neighbouring exhibitions such as RUNIK. Yet in the centre of the room a screen displays a silent horror movie set in a suburban household, and next door static life-size flames engulf the darkness, “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Family dynamics were a focal point as far back as 2000, when Kjartansson was in his last year at the Iceland Academy of the Arts. Here he made a ten-minute video, called “Me and My Mother,” in which he and Guðrún Ásmundsdóttir (his mother) stand side by side, immobile, facing the camera. Every ten seconds or so she lovingly turns toward him and spits, vehemently, in his face. The shock, confusion, and uneasy hilarity of watching this exercise in family values are compounded by Kjartansson’s stoical lack of response.

Mother and son have re-enacted this piece every five years ever since, and the four versions, displayed side by side reveal subtle and not so subtle variations in relationship, strength, vulnerability, age, stoicism, and saliva formation. At its inception, Kjartansson’s Art Teacher reportedly disliked it – critiquing the theatricality, but these comments did not deter Kjartansson from polishing the truth of his own insights.

In a railway station in St. Petersburg, backed by a full orchestra, Kjartansson sang the words “Sorrow will conquer happiness,” in Russian, for six hours. This is recreated in the final part of the gallery, where the same lyrics seep into a satin pink room adorned with romantic glamour. It touches on Kjartansson’s clichéd adolescence spent “taking my shirt off and shaking my tits” in bands, as well as his love of the book World of Light – about a poor poet who longs to be an artist, and longs for beauty. He has described this piece as mocking the romantic spirit, yet full of love for it.

Simply titled “Dios” the satin-pink curtained closure features a lot of ironic nostalgia, with echoes of Frank Sinatra and Hollywood Technicolor musicals, but also something more complex. “With repetition, narrative things like songs, concerts, or operas can lose their traditional form and become static – but also become more vibrant, like paintings or sculptures… I often look at my performances as sculptures and the videos as paintings.” Instead of following a story as it develops, the pliant viewer sinks so deeply into a single moment that it becomes epochal, like a kaleidoscopic mantra.


“I was sort of losing my religion – I was so religious when I was younger. I wasn’t Catholic, but I loved the rituals, and I lied my way into being an altar boy. But I eventually just stopped going to church. And it was very freeing, somehow, to know that bad things were going to happen, and sorrow would conquer happiness, and we’re going to die, but that it’s all right, it’s all fine. I wanted a big title for this melancholic, reflective piece.”


Kjartansson often feels that he is playing the role of an artist, rather than embodying one. His work, which is based on repetition and duration, not storytelling, could be seen as an attempt to bridge the gap between performance art (film, video, or live performance by visual artists) and traditional theatre.

Kjartansson’s brand of performance art, in which Nordic gloom goes hand in hand with his own brand of ironic humour, has made him one of the busiest performers on the planet. As a counterweight, or antidote, to the market-driven art world of obscene prices and speculative buying, performance art offers an artistic experience that reaches out to the viewer and demands nothing but a willingness to participate, and spend your time on it.