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It’s so Hardcore!
A Mexican Diary

Since the end of January 2006, the MARCO Museum in the Mexican Monterrey has been the first venue for “More Than Meets the Eye,” a traveling exhibition of contemporary German photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection. For almost three years, works from photographers and artists such as Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Wolfgang Tillmans, Katharina Sierverding, and Günter Förg, among others, will tour through Latin America. But what sort of cultural background is this exhibition celebrating? And why would Mexico City care about Germany photography? Cornelius Tittel packed his bags and, together with the photographer Roberto Ortiz, departed for a trip through both of the Mexican cities in which this exhibition is on view this spring. With his diary, he describes the ins and outs of Mexico’s urban culture and his encounters with the most diverse collection of individuals, including a future porn movie producer, a punk playboy, an artist washing dead bodies, and the world’s best wedding photographer.

The MARCO in Monterrey:
First venue for the exhibition "More thea Meets the Eye", Photo: Roberto Ortiz

Saturday, 4. 2. 2005

11 PM My Polyglott Travel Guide refers to Mexico City as a "moloch full of pleasant surprises." On the way from the airport to the hotel, however, two police cars trapped an old Volkswagon Beetle at a streetlight. The bloody driver bravely defended himself against the police dogs that the police were keeping on a very long leash – so long that their stark white uniforms wouldn’t get dirty. The taxi driver murmured something, and the light turned green.

©Photo Roberto Ortiz

Sunday, 5. 2. 2006

9:30 AM Check into the Hotel Habita, Polanco. The most fashionable hotel in the most fashionable neighbourhood, as my guide informs me. Eames chairs, Castiglioni lamps, Hermes soap, and a pool on the roof.
10:30 AM The sun is shining, 24 degrees celsius. Even on a national holiday, the main street of Polancos seems a bit quiet. Tomorrow there’s a sale again at Chanel, Max Mara, and Boss. Those with money are probably all on Acapulco.
12 noon Even those who aren’t rich seem to have left the city. Even Zoloco, the main plaza in central Storico, is empty. In the Calle Uruguay I come across groups of people. They are flowing over the Pasteleria Ideal, a gigantic pastry shop that presents its wares on the tables. Every customer takes a tray at the entrance, takes what they want, and pays at the register. A few metres further are a few more people in the seafood restaurant, Danubio, where you can get an eight-course meal for 140 pesos (approximately 10 euros).
3:00 PM In the Coyoacán neighborhood, where Frida Kahlo, Diego Riviera, and the actress Dolores del Rio lived in the 1940s. Only the barbed wire and security cameras disrupt the village-like, bohemian atmosphere. In the Blue House , one can visit the living quarters of Frida Kahlo, and in Casa de Trotzky the site of his execution. There is only a line in front of the first.

©Photo Roberto Ortiz, 2006

Monday, 6.2.2006

12:00 noon In the north of the city lies the Basilica de Nuestra Senora Guadeloupe. The virgin after which it was named is something of a national symbol. "First we are Guadeloupan, then we are Mexican", explains my taxi driver. Below the Basilica that rules over the city from atop a hill, there is a modern pilgrimage church for at least 10,000 pilgrims. It is always full—a neverending flow of visitors move through the stadium-sized concrete building whose charm is somewhat reminiscent of Berlin’s Palace of the Republic.
4:00 PM Flight with Air Azteca to Monterrey.
5:30 PM The photographer Roberto Ortiz picks me up—my guide for the following day. My first impression of the city of three million inhabitants: a mix of Wuppertal and Beverly Hills nestled among the mountains. No monorail, but instead a huge Cookie Monster placed in the middle of the city highway advertising the local entertainment park Plaza Sesamo. Roberto made a number of appointments for me with artists, dealers, and curators. On the way to the first meeting he explains that Monterrey is the motor of the Mexican economy. "It’s too American for many Mexicans", he says.
9:00 PM Check into the Crown Plaza. Roberto suggests that we eat at the "Rey de Cabrito". The restaurant looks as if Imelda Marcos had decided to set up a Mexican Ranch. Much like Marcos, the owner has manufactured a cult of personality. Next to the multiple photographs of him posed with local politicians and musicians, the main attraction is the two stuffed lions frozen mid-pounce. The red wine is served ice cold.

Señora Larius at her Bauhaus-Villa in Monterrey.
©Photo Roberto Ortiz, 2006

Tuesday, 7.2.2006

10:00 AM Franciso Larius invited us to breakfast in his Bauhaus Villa on the outskirts of a gated community in the hills above Monterrey. He is successful and enjoys it. His large-format, mostly decorative canvases, which he sells mostly in Los Angeles and Houston, are hanging above Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chairs. That which doesn’t sell so well is kept in black sketchbooks. Drawings of children whose eyes are covered, whose wrists are slit open and whose hands are burning and are bound to driftwood threatening to drown. "He paints these things for himself", his wife explains. And Larius tells stories from his childhood in a small village on the Pacific: "It is very Catholic there, still. Everything revolves around guilt, pain, and punishment." His little brother always ran away from home until his mother began to tie him to a tree in the garden. At least then she always knew where he was. "These images always saved me", he explains. Even the earliest of his paintings dealtwith salvation. Larius wants to rekindle the tradition of Ex Voto, traditional images of devotion commissioned by individuals who experienced some sort of tragedy and who want to prove their faith to Jesus Christ or the Virgin from Guadeloupe.

Francisco Larius and Cornelius Tittel
©Photo Roberto Ortiz, 2006

1:00 PM Parque Fundidora . Bernd and Hilla Becher would feel right at home: a de-commissioned factory that has been renovated into a cultural centre. The photography department is exhibiting German fashion photography from 1945 on: F.C. Gundlach, Will McBride , Wolfgang Tillmans, Peter Lindbergh. Next to this, the local brewery Femsa is presenting its own Biennial. Larius doesn’t seem to be an exception here: violence, sex, and Catholicism are the themes of the hour. Newspaper covers with acts of violence, lingerie with cardinal’s emblems, and photographs of butterflies whose bodies are replaced with labia. One image is called, Fruta con Carne—where vaginal close-ups are montaged over old master paintings of fruit and vegetables. Hardcore stuff.
3:00 PM Ramis Barquet. The gallery that already has two branches in New York. The really good stuff is all hanging in the office: drawings from Marco Arce, who seems to be a kind of Mexican Raymond Pettibon. One shows Martin Kippenberger dancing naked from the waist up. Laura Pacheno suggests that we have to try the grasshopper at one of the restaurants in town.
9:00 PM Casa Oaxaca . I’m eating grasshopper-tacos with avocado and I’m a bit disappointed. It’s a bit crunchy. The insects taste a bit like crabs that weren’t shelled properly. This time the red wine isn’t served cold, but instead sweet.

Wednesday 8.2.2006

Photographer Juan Rodrigo Lluno at his studio
©Photo Roberto Ortiz, 2006

10:00 AM Visit with Juan Rodrigo Llaguno, probably the most talented wedding photographer in the world. Llaguno runs a photography studio in Garca Garcia, a suburb of Monterrey. There are a few Vanity Fairs lying in the sparse entryway, and some black-and-white photographs of happy families are hanging on the walls—proud mothers and newlyweds. Then the shock: what Llaguno does with his "free time" ("I could never live from that alone") is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. For one series, for years Llaguno—who cites Diane Arbus and Irving Penn as two of his greatest influences—visits the park where he played as a child. There he photographs the growth of the upper-middle class and the nannies. He refers to it as a phenomenon, pointing to the pictures that he took week after week with his huge, antique camera: these children spend so much time with their nannies that eventually they begin to resemble them.

Juan Rodrigo Lluno
©Photo Roberto Ortiz, 2006

For another series, he has for years been going to the same square in the centre of Monterrey, where he sets up his camera and asks people passing by if they wouldn’t mind being photographed with him. From mayors to migrant workers, he captures a sort of panorama of society that is reminiscent of August Sander. He claims that the only problem is that his pictures don’t look Mexican enough. An American curator once told him to focus on Mexican clichés in order to be taken seriously on an international scale. Indios, the suffering of the farmers in the south, or maybe the wrestlers of Mexico City or the victims of senseless violence. "Unfortunately, that is not my world. I can’t go to Chiapas and take pictures of rebels. That is as if I were to go to another country altogether. I have to live in the place that I work."

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