Curated by Alexis Fabry
November 18, 2016 - January 3, 2017
Josée Bienvenu is pleased to present a selection of rare and never exhibited ephemera, works on paper and textile banners by the collective Grupo Suma (Mexico, 1976 -1982).
In the summer of 1968 the police repression and the following riots of a university student democratic movement became a turning point in the collective consciousness. Citizens lost all trust in the Mexican government and a renewed spirit of social and political awareness was awakened among a generation of young artists. The widespread formation of artist collectives between the years 1974 and 1982 led to a decade of art action known in Mexico as the movement of Los Grupos.
Grupo Suma was the most influential of these politically active collectives. It was formed in 1976 at La Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas by students in Ricardo Rocha's visual experimental workshop and was made up of 22 artists. The group met on a weekly basis to design and plan specific projects, to create experimental works, and to evaluate the success of past projects. Suma's guerrilla art actions on the streets of Mexico City sought to challenge the commodity status of art, and they did so by integrating the experience of art with everyday life.
"The activities of Suma cannot be defined by a particular style or medium, but rather the work can best be described as a series of strategies in which artists were: 1.) seeking to depersonalize the process of artistic creation; 2.) redefining the role of the spectator and conditions of receivership; 3.) rejecting the autonomy of the art object; 4.) attempting to reach a broader and more popular public; 5.) addressing and critiquing domestic political and social issues; 6.) reacting against the weight of institutionalized artistic practices — primarily the importance of painting in Mexico, and by extension the practice and rhetoric of Mexican Muralism. More generally, these criteria represent the local conditions that gave rise to the development of experimental and non-object-based art during the decade of the 1970s, and form part of a broader trend in the international emergence of Conceptual art that challenged the commodification of art, and its systems of production and distribution in late capitalist society”*
As an alternative to the artist's individual signature, a Mexican eagle with the words Grupo Suma became the logo of the group. The group's initial public works involved a combination of graffiti art and abstract expressionist painting that incorporated words, phrases, symbols and signs painted onto bare city walls. Whereas Muralism had promoted a nostalgic and largely idealized portrait of Mexico's indigenous past, Suma's imagery attempted to show the current conditions of Mexico's indigenous and mestizo populations.
Their interventions, gradually incorporated more and more elements and techniques of popular urban culture and were often ephemeral. No identity was exalted in their work, but rather the objects of mass culture in an ironic mode. Suma’s interest in public art was reinforced with the introduction of photographic offset and stencil art techniques (mimeographs, photo offsets). By using the familiar visual codes of mass media and advertising in a country where daily newspapers, television, and radio broadcasting were largely managed and manipulated by the State, Suma presented alternative imagery that focused on the plight of the homeless, government corruption, urban poverty, and the "disappeared,” in order to direct community attention to critical issues.
The exhibition brings together a selection of collages, drawings, cut-outs, flags, as well as a vitrine of mailed found objects, taken from that period, showcasing the collective’s interest in local urban imagery, detritus from the streets, and popular media symbols, signs and images.
*in Charmaine Picard - The art of Urban Recycling: Grupo Suma 1976-1982)