Débora Delmar is an astute critic of the aesthetic habits of her own class. Brought up in a cushy golf club in the moneyed southern part of Mexico City, she is observant of the ways in which, through gentrification and the privatization of public space, the logic of the gated neighborhood has expanded to dominate the entirety of the city. In “Castles,” Delmar’s first exhibition in her hometown in almost ten years, she articulates that critique with surgical precision.
At the very entrance, Delmar has built a high white wall that she adorned with Locator “66” (all works 2023), an illuminated house number corresponding to that of her family’s home. Past this barrier stands another in parallel, Frontier, a yellow scaffolding structure covered in a ubiquitous mesh canvas print, like those so often seen outside soon-to-be-remodeled buildings in gentrifying neighborhoods. Delmar’s fabric covering shows an architectural rendering of the facade of Chapultepec Castle, built for the viceroy of Spain during colonial times and home to Mexico’s later lethal experiment with a Hapsburg emperor. The image is printed in black over greige—the innocuous but extremely popular beige and gray mix that turns up everywhere from living and working spaces to hotels and Kardashian abodes. Behind it sits Fort, an inflatable sculpture based on the towers and features of the same castle, including its iconic checkered flooring. The soft, penetrable structure felt like a cheeky pun on inflation and its effects on the urban landscape. A castle held up by air is a fitting analogy for a city that is currently tormented by a development bubble causing rampant housing speculation and price gouging. On the walls nearby hang works from the series “Community,” a group of dismembered steel gates: rectangular black frames with diagonal bars across them. Delmar had previously shown these dismantled segments as a single piece at Mexico City’s Material Art Fair in 2020, at a booth where promotional flyers for 1950s urbanization projects reprinted on steel sat behind the locked fence to which only the gallerist had the key. Delmar often extracts the domestic signifiers of her mostly upper-class peers and turns them into works that nod to Minimalist history while staying on target with her critique. A cute little piece, Access, dangles by the entrance and adds a note of levity to the somewhat severe show. It’s a lock with a key from which hang dozens of key chains, a few of them with self-referential trinkets, such as the Union Jack (Delmar has lived in London for some years); a smiley avocado, because of her love for the fruit; and a friendly caricature of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
So careful and measured are Delmar’s works that many describe them as cold or cryptic. I’d simply say that she refuses to spoon-feed her critique and that viewers have to put the pieces together themselves. Her approach is poetic rather than didactic, but no less urgent for that. Mexico City’s government is currently working with Airbnb to lure more affluent digital nomads to the already sprawling metropolis, which of course means more displacement, more elevated rents, and the tearing apart of diverse yet tight-knit communities. Delmar weaves a thread between Chapultepec Castle with its historical links to European and American invaders, and this new, less violent, but perhaps no less insidious invasion. In that sense, Delmar’s return to the local scene feels very timely, and her works more mature and eloquent than ever.
— Gaby Cepeda