The Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver has teamed up with the Biennial of the Americas, a festival focusing on the exchange of art and ideas started by John Hickenlooper in 2010, to curate Saber Acomodar: Art and Workshops of Jalisco 1915-Now. The exhibition consists of a number of pieces from 25 different artists to celebrate the craftsmanship and artistry out of Jalisco, Mexico.
Met Media got to interview Zoe Larkins, the assistant curator at the MCA, Adam Lerner, the Director of the MCA, and Erin Trapp, the CEO of the Biennial of the Americas. Check out our coverage of the exhibition with Zoe Larkins above and read the interviews below.
Met Media: Can you explain what Saber Acomodar is and what the exhibition is all about?
Zoe Larkins: So, Saber Acomodar: Art and Workshops of Jalisco, 1915 to Now is the title of the exhibition. [Saber Acomodar] has really 2 meanings, one is the term in english: know how, or a knack for something, savvy, a skill and, specifically in the context of this exhibition, it refers to a technical skill. But also, it’s the skill that helps one be a good curator: knowing how to place objects, knowing how to organize things to tell a story. The exhibition really is an arrangement of many disparate objects that were made with great technical skill by artisans in Jalisco.
Erin Trapp: I would leave that to the curators, but for [the Biennial of the Americas] it’s about an ongoing, deep collaboration between the MCA and artists of Guadalajara.
Adam Lerner: Saber Acomodar is a very difficult phrase to translate, but it means literally to know how to arrange. But it really implies knowing how to make something, knowing how to curate in a way. Really what [Saber Acomodar] is about is the way that so many artists, maybe for the last 100 years in the state of Jalisco, in Mexico, have actually collaborated with skilled artisans to be able to produce their art.
MM: Saber Acomodar was made in collaboration with the Biennial of the Americas. Can you tell me what the Biennial of the Americas is?
Zoe: The Biennial was established in 2010 and MCA has been a close partner with the Biennial since then, and the Biennial’s goal is really to foster collaboration and dialogue and just awareness between Canada, the U.S., Central and South America. The focus has tended to be from Denver southward and we’ve brought a lot of great artists, not only visual artists but musicians have come to Denver, dancers and choreographers have spent time here, and also it’s intended to facilitate business connections between South and Central America.
Erin: The Biennial of the Americas is an art and ideas festival focused on the western hemisphere.
Adam: The Biennial of the Americas is multifaceted event that includes art, issues related to business, but also issues related to culture. Also it has to do with creating connections across the americas and forging those relationships.
MM: Why did the MCA decide to work with the Biennial of the Americas?
Zoe: MCA has a connection with artists working in mexico, specifically Guadalajara, that pre-dates the Biennial. So MCA has a relationship with Mexico and the Biennial’s interest in strengthening cultural and business relationships with Mexico, and other South American countries, sort of parallels that.
Erin: The MCA is probably a leader in town in working with contemporary artists in a deep way that really demonstrates their practice to Denver’s audience, so we couldn’t think of a better partner.
Adam: The Museum of Contemporary Art has a very long relationship with the Biennial of the Americas. From the very 1st one, 2010, the museum has been the sort of flagship artistic showcase for the Biennial. We’ve always had a great partnership with the Biennial and we believe it’s central to our values, which is to be able to connect our audiences with fresh art and fresh ideas, and we have always focused on latin america, particularly on Mexico in our programming, and therefore the Biennial was a very obvious fit.
MM: The MCA and the Biennial of the Americas alike have made huge impacts in the art community in Denver. What sort of impact do you think this exhibition in particular will have on Denver’s art community?
Zoe: I think that it’s exciting, as I said MCA Denver has had a long standing connection with artists working in Guadalajara and we have shown several of the artists who have work in this exhibition in solo exhibitions here at the museum and I think MCA has fostered this interesting connection between artists here and artists working in mexico, institutional and artistic collaborations and awareness and this exhibition I think will expand that in part just because there are more artists involved. It’s also more historical than a lot MCA’s exhibitions so it gives a historical context to other exhibitions that our viewers might have seen in the past.
Erin: You know, you never know until you do it. But I hope that it will continue to deepen the ties between artists among Colorado and Mexico and help them collaborate, help them exchange ideas and hopefully continue to explore how their partnership can enhance both sides
Adam: the Biennial of the Americas is really about normalizing the cultural affinities with the Americas and I think that this exhibition will really help Denver audiences see that the art that’s coming out of Mexico right now is as important as art that‘s being made anywhere in the world. What they’ll hear about mexico is now not just drugs and the wall, but they’re going to hear that mexico has a very very vital, living artistic culture.
MM: Can you speak to the impact the MCA alone has on the art community and what role it plays in the art community?
Zoe: I think that Adam likes to think of MCA as a living room for Denver. He want’s it to be a very porous institution, not the kind of marble, facaded, greco-roman, neo-classical fortress that a lot of people think of when they think of art museums. He wants it to be a place that people have fun spending time in and have interesting conversations, he wants it to be a place where people can spend time not necessarily looking at art and in that way I think MCA has introduced a lot of people to visual art and to Denver’s creative community because we are able to get people in the door who might otherwise be intimidated to come to a museum.
And we are always looking for new ways to support [local artists] by giving them exhibitions, allowing them space to work here, doing studio visits, connecting them with one another, connecting them with artists outside of our community and coming up with other ways of giving them financial support and a platform.
MM: Can you speak to the impact the Biennial of the Americas has on the art community and what role it plays in the art community?
Erin: The Biennial was created to showcase Denvers cultural strength and we believe that over the years we’ve built a platform for greater awareness and attention to that strength around the world, and because of the Biennial, folks who never come to Denver and may only go to Aspen or Vail when the come to Colorado, now come to Denver understand what great arts and culture institutions we have here and try and return trips to those world class institutions.
MM: A lot of artwork in the exhibition displays beautiful craftsmanship coming out of Jalisco, Mexico, but a lot of the artwork wasn’t actually made by the artists they’re accredited to. For example, Genese en Direct was conceptualized by Fernando Palomar (the artist), but actually made by Taller Mexicano de Gobelinos. Can you speak to that?
Zoe: It’s interesting because I don’t think that anything quite like this relationship between artists and artisans exists in the U.S. It’s something that’s very common in 20th century and 21st century art in that it’s very much the way that conceptual art works, starting when Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal in an exhibition space and called it art, artists have been calling non-art objects, made by people other than themselves, artworks and claiming that idea as their own.
This exhibition can really be viewed from that perspective of conceptual art, where artists conceive of an idea and then find others to manufacture objects to realize the idea, but [Saber Acomodar] is unique in that traditionally in conceptual art, artists were taking mass produced, machine made objects, often industrial type objects, that had no flaws, no evidence of individual creativity and calling those art, whereas the objects that are being claimed by the artists in this exhibition are in fact hand made, relatively unique or made in small batches, small editions, they’re not made by machines. And made by people who have remarkable talent for the crafts that they practice.
Adam: That’s the major theme of the exhibition, in fact throughout these artists have always been working not independently, but collaborating with artisans. And that’s really what makes the art from Jalisco unique is that they have a very strong tradition of skilled artisans.
Written & Photographed by Sandisz Thieme
Video by Steffen Beal