“Please remain inside your vehicle.” That’s not what one might expect to hear at the entrance to an exhibition, but it is a requirement at Museo Autoservicio — a drive-through art show inside a parking lot in Mexico City, enjoyed entirely from the comfort of one’s car.
Curated by Daniel Garza Usabiaga and produced by Mariangeles Reygadas and Daniel Feher, the exhibition is fittingly titled Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear (Los objetos en el espejo están más cerca de lo que parece, in Spanish). It brings together over 30 works by more than 20 contemporary artists, from sculpture to video works and LED installations, across three floors of a commercial parking garage in the city’s Polanco neighborhood.
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The year 2020 prompted a reimagining of what an art exhibition could be. Museums and galleries, forced to close their doors to help contain the spread of the virus, rushed to migrate existing programming to digital platforms and create new content that could serve a new at-home audience. Artists bypassed official institutions, finding ingenious ways to present work in public, outdoor settings; miniature galleries took off.
Mexico, whose government has been criticized for its lax public health response, is among the Latin American countries hardest hit by the virus. Despite its rich artistic patrimony, it is also a nation where the state of culture is fraught: austerity measures this year have rocked the sector, and some international experts fear many institutions will not recuperate.
Museo Autoservicio was born out of a need for socially-distant exhibition spaces, but it was also a way of affirming the value of culture.
“One of the things we wanted to do was to rethink access to culture as a necessity,” he told Hyperallergic. “The amount of digital arts content created during the pandemic, such as online films and music, has demonstrated that culture is essential.” The seed was planted in the early days of lockdowns with the help of artist Mario García Torres, who had been creating works inspired by the empty museum spaces.
At that time, drive-through concerts and dance performances were becoming more and more popular across the globe, making the format an obvious choice for an art show. But the tradition of seeing art from a car also has deep roots in Mexico, Garza Usabiaga notes, from David Alfaro Siqueiros’s massive exterior murals to Mathias Goeritz and Luis Barragán’s “Torres de Satélite” (1958), a group of monumental urban sculptures that appear to shift shapes as one drives past them.
“The car acts as a sort of sensorial prosthesis,” Garza Usabiaga said. “This dynamic way of seeing has been explored with relation to public art for a very long time. From a more commercial standpoint, you also have things like drive-through cinemas and theater marquees. That was one point of departure, looking back at those legacies.”
The result was a delightfully unconventional experience of art: Museo Autoservicio couldn’t be further from a white-wall gallery. Artworks are dramatically illuminated in the tenebrous parking lot, producing an effect that is more theatrical than institutional. Pieces like Sofía Taboas’s “Cualquier Abertura Filtrada, Giratorio” (2019), a tinted glass sculpture resembling a folding screen, engages directly with the specific lighting of the space, reflecting a kaleidoscopic multicolor geometric grid on the cement floor.
“We wanted to create an experience that was completely different from a traditional exhibition space. Not just because you’re in a car, but because museums are usually perfectly illuminated, without any real sense of drama,” said Garza Usabiaga. “The title, Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, refers to how you can see the works both in front of you and as you drive away, in your rear-view mirrors. I was very interested in this idea of strange perception.”
Though not an explicit theme of the exhibition, some of the works on view reflect on car culture and the automobile industry, often through the lens of environmental waste. Artist Jorge Méndez Blake, for instance, recreated a version of his sculpture “Haiku para estacionamiento” (“Haiku for a parking lot”) (2020), based on a poem composed by the artist. The work consists of a white car, found abandoned in a ranch and covered in dry leaves, elevated on one side by a stack of haiku books. Its derelict beauty is haunting; one wonders who the car belonged to and where they are now.
Other pieces address confinement and solitude, topics prompted by this year’s long periods of quarantine. “40 Años” (2020), a video work by Daniel Monroy Cuevas, opens with the scene of a deserted birthday party. With no one present to blow out the candles, they begin slowly melting, deforming, and eventually collapsing onto the cake, bringing the room to complete darkness. Another video work, “Carri” (2020) by Manuela de Laborde, incorporates footage she filmed in Cuba of a single dancer performing choreography in utter silence.
Visitors enter Museo Autoservicio through the garage’s lower level, where flaggers — or gallery assistants, rather — help direct the flow of traffic through the exhibition circuit and lead cars to the upper levels. The entire tour takes around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how long one stops at each work. Cars are allowed to park near the pieces and contemplate them, as long as they do so from their vehicle, encouraging both physical safety and social distancing.
Garza Usabiaga says a priority was making the exhibition accessible to a diverse audience, and not only contemporary art connoisseurs. A checklist of works with short, engaging summaries written by each participating artist can be downloaded on Museo Autoservicio’s website. The organizing team also secured a sponsor to lend cars for the exhibition so that those who didn’t own a vehicle also had an opportunity to attend.
“Maybe because it takes place in a mall parking lot, it was never imagined as a project for ‘specialists,’” Garza Usabiaga told Hypearllergic. “It’s truly an exhibition for people who are stuck at home with nothing to do, and who want to see something different.”
Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear at Museo Autoservicio (Antara Polanco, Acceso Av. Moliere, prol. Moliere 37, Polanco, Mexico City) is open through the end of this week, with a possible extension to be announced.