Patrick Charpenel studied philosophy and has worked extensively as a curator and collector. As the current director of the Museo Jumex in Mexico City – since 2013 housed in an elegant David Chipperfield building in the neighbourhood that developers like to call Nuevo Polanco – Charpenel is the steward of what is perhaps the city’s most important collection of contemporary art. Tank sat down with him in his busy office.
Thomas Roueché How does Jumex fit into the wider explosion of cultural activity in Mexico today?
Patrick Charpenel When Jumex was founded in 2001, it was one of the first institutions focusing on contemporary art. For decades, the government, which owns the INBA [Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes] museums and university museums, didn’t collect art. They didn’t have money to make acquisitions for their permanent collections. They only incorporated a very few pieces which meant that all the important works went to private collections. Jumex became the most active collector and, along with the artworks, we acquired a very big responsibility because most of the important works, most of the important artistic productions from this last decade, are here. We have a cultural and a moral responsibility in the sense that this kind of patrimony is in our hands. And we have to use it in an intelligent and responsible manner.
TR Tell me about your publications programme?
PC Our publications are not only about artists, we are also working on publications about professionals who have played an important role in the Mexican cultural sphere and who have never had an important publication done about them. For example, we are working on a publication about Fernando Gamboa. He was like Mexico’s Alfred H. Barr Jr. [the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York] and he was responsible for conceptualising most of the museums here in Mexico. He also strongly promoted the film industry. He was very active between 1930 and 1980 and was quite politically engaged. We are working very closely with the Fernando Gamboa Archive to research his work. He was very influential, talented, and also very powerful. In Mexico, we say that in visual art history there is the Gamboa period and the period that came after Gamboa. We’re also, for the first time, trying to publish a book about [Alejandro] Jodorowsky. There’s never been an important publication about him. And I’m not talking about Jodorowsky as a filmmaker; I’m talking about Jodorowsky as a person who was doing performance theatre, psicomagia [psychomagic], or group therapies. We want to publish the first important book that gives an idea about his life and work. He’s from Chile, but he worked for a long period of time in Mexico. We are interested in these characters, geniuses really, who are kind of forgotten figures. And, of course, we publish many other things, including catalogues.
TR What sort of art projects have you been organising outside of the new Chipperfield building?
PC I’ll give you an example of the kind of radical art projects we are doing. They have a political and social approach. With SUPERFLEX we created an exhibition in which we activated different pieces within the informal economy of very marginal areas. We are pushing a project that is titled Supergas, a bio-digester that is a beautiful object, designed to go to rural communities where there is no electricity. Using manure, we’re producing methane gas for cooking and electricity. And we’re trying to bring this object to mass production so that thousands and thousands of people, in Mexico, and around the world, can use one. This is not only a project as a technical tool, but also as a symbolic tool – a symbol of alternative energy, of change. It’s a beautiful object. It’s also artistic because of its symbolic complexity. We are also working on a project with David Hammons. He is a leader in the African-American art community in the US. We went to Tepito [a neighbourhood in Mexico City with a reputation for its markets of pirated products], and he got very excited about it. We identified some of the economic and cultural contradictions of a globalised world, in this area of the city. Instead of having all of these biennials that pretend to be very political, we want to create the Tepito biennial, which would consist of nothing more than framing the experience of Tepito as a biennial.
TR How do you see your audience? How do you break out of Nuevo Polanco?
PC Our first space was in a juice factory in Ecatepec, the most populous county in the country, in the outskirts of Mexico City. Ecatepec is a very interesting place where you can experiment a lot of contradictions – a little bit like Tepito. Eugenio [López Alonso, the founder of Jumex] wanted the museum to be in a more accessible area where more people from all types of backgrounds could visit us. So our audience reflects that. It is very diverse and includes a lot of young people. And, it is interesting that you mention Nuevo Polanco. Although developers are trying to have this area branded as “Nuevo Polanco”, it is not Polanco. The neighbourhood is called Ampliación Granada and it is at the crossroads of different areas, with middle- and lower-class neighbourhoods on one side, and Polanco, a higher-class neighbourhood, on the other.
TR Who are the people that come to the museum?
PC Although it might seem that we only have bankers and office workers in this area, as I mentioned before, we have a range of different neighbourhoods that surround us. We also seem to attract a lot of young people. Students interested in art and culture. I’m impressed by how many young people we see in our galleries!
TR So is Jumex creating a canon of contemporary Mexican artists?
PC I don’t think we can speak of a “canon”. Mexico City is one of the cities with the highest number of museums in the world. We are just adding to this diverse range of cultural offerings. Within those museums there is the Museo Tamayo and the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, which are two large institutions with very ambitious programmes and amazing activities. Of course, we each have our own philosophy, but we all add to a larger and very diverse and exciting range of cultural activities that include a wide range of artists and artistic expression.