Gaby Cepeda on Ana Segovia

Paisajes” (Landscapes) was Ana Segovia’s third solo show at Karen Huber, a gallery focused mainly on painting. In the first two, the artist honed his craft, landing on a striking color palette and finding a knack for tight-cut compositions reminiscent of film stills or fashion photography. He also experimented with murals, replicating the emblematic one depicting an amateur bullfighter sneaking into a field, which adorns a wall at La Faena, the bullfight-themed cantina frequented by local artists in Mexico City. All of these elements reappeared in this exhibition, which included eight recent paintings, some of them diptychs, but was most notable for employing performance to consider the manifold yet limited representations of masculinity in Mexican mainstream media and culture, which have long preoccupied the artist. In several invitation-only and public events, Segovia—with the help of choreographer Diego Vega Solorza and writer and researcher Mariel Vela—put on quite a show. The room was set up like a stage: A huge, bright oil painting of a lakeside vista—aptly titled Paisaje, 2022—was placed to the side, one of its ends curving out from the wall as if peeling off, and staggered seating was located at the back. A strikingly spotlighted woman in a blue jumpsuit playing a harp with a screwdriver sat at the end of the stage beyond the painting. The sounds she produced were equally mechanical and angelical. She was soon joined by a man wearing a sort of deconstructed red mariachi/ranchero outfit, wide-brimmed hat, short bolero jacket, high-waisted pants. He was like a faun, doing a fluid dance routine that attuned the audience to the evening’s energy. After that, a line of bent knees began poking out from a side curtain facing the painting. They went up and down, crossing and uncrossing, like the teeth of a knitting machine. Then the men to whom the legs belonged appeared, wearing jumpsuits and dancing robotically, pacing from one side of the stage to the other, crossing each other’s paths, and dropping down to do push-ups, only to jump back up immediately. Eventually the men loosened up, walking more erratically and touching each other more often. They stepped to the back of the stage and, accompanied by a pulsating electronic-music soundtrack and a strobe light, ditched their clothes. From there, the show devolved into a series of moments—sometimes powerful, as when the men formed a kind of moving walkway that one of them strode on, but less so when sexuality and power mixed in more explicit and expectable ways—suggesting a diffuse narrative of toxic masculinity and homoerotic desire. At the very end, the red faun reappeared to sit atop a mound of men.

The show exemplified what I’ve taken to calling a theatrical turn in Mexico City’s art scene: a general feeling that shows need to be “activated” and that art objects should serve a double function as props and sets. This idea that a painting is no longer self-sufficient comes as a shock, at least to me, and it has forced me to reckon with the fact that—perhaps conservatively—I still have great faith in the art object and in its manifold, powerful, intrinsic ability to express itself, regardless of any usefulness as an accessory to another supposedly larger and more meaningful endeavor. In becoming a background, Segovia’s paintings felt slightly inept, as if they couldn’t pull their weight. At one point in the performance, the group of sweaty men ran toward the landscape, rubbing themselves on its pink-and-blue surface for a couple of seconds before collapsing back into the pleasures of their own bodies. The painting was left out of all the fun.

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