“Hotel Palenque Is Not in Yucatan,” an exhibition curated by Montserrat Albores Gleason as the culmination of her three-year curatorial fellowship at the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) at Bard College, takes as its starting point Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque, a slide projection taken from a lecture that he delivered at the University of Utah in 1972. Smithson’s work, in which he gave a deadpan structural analysis of the hotel where he stayed while visiting the Mayan ruins in Chiapas, collapses the conventions of travelogue, land art and artist’s talk, and the CCS exhibition, which is on view from November 6 to December 19, renarrates that act of displacement, further conflating notions about time, history and memory, the manmade and the natural.
The project, located in the Hessel Museum of Art, includes a pavilion, made in collaboration with Mexico City architects Pedro & Juana, that will serve as the venue for an international curatorial conference organized by CCS and the LUMA Foundation on November 6 through 9. As temporary classroom and conference room, the exhibition integrates these facilities with the gallery, with the curatorial discussions of the symposium literally weaving through the space. The exhibition also contains the work of A. L. Steiner & Robbinschilds, Adriana Lara, Alex Hubbard, Luc Tuymans, Pablo Sigg, Pedro & Juana, Tania Perez Cordova and Ulla Von Brandenburg, as well as a selection of Pre-Hispanic pieces from a private collection.
Also on view from November 6 through December 19 is Spectres, an ongoing project of Belgian artist Sven Augustijnen that revisits the abduction, torture and execution of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of independent Congo, in 1961. Its centerpiece is a film by Augustijnen that follows a French-speaking Belgian historian, Jacques Brassinne de La Buissiere, who was a civil servant at the time of Lumumba’s assassination and is embarked on a search to reconstruct the traumatic events. The film, which was released in 2012, resulted in an investigation into Lumumba’s murder by the Belgian government. The screening of the film will be accompanied by archival elements related to Lumumba’s death by firing squad after he was unseated by a coup d’etat just 12 weeks into his term; the United Nations failed to intervene, and Belgium, the US and the United Kingdom were all accused of complicity.
“The two exhibitions are similar in that both are interested in how art can reveal something about place and about geographies maybe we’re less familiar with, through a specific form of curatorial research,” said Tom Eccles, executive director of CCS. “Both are exemplary of the new model of the curatorial presentation and, while unusual, offer new ways of looking at art, drawing a comparison between objects and artists and items that normally wouldn’t be shown in the same environment. In Sven’s case, part of the exhibition bleeds into our library. This is a pretty ambitious set of exhibitions.”
Montserrate Albores Gleason, who was born in Mexico City, graduated from CCS in 2006. Since 2007 she has been working as an independent curator, with shows in Mexico City, Vigo, Spain, Guadalajara and Brooklyn. She writes for ArtForum.com and is the author of Misfeasance? the first publication of her recently founded editorial project Frederic. Almanac Weekly’s Lynn Woods recently contacted Gleason in Mexico City:
What was your purpose in curating “Hotel Palenque Is Not in Yucatan?” What led you to the Smithson slide projection?
I am, and have been for a long time now, fascinated with Smithson’s Hotel Palenque. It opens up the possibility of considering there are different and parallel ways for building and thinking. The exhibition is an exercise in assuming that the mental space that Smithson describes in Hotel Palenque indeed exists. The exhibition is constructed as a fiction. It is as fictional as Smithson’s reading of the hotel, of the inhabitants of the hotel or of the actual and ancient Mayans. This exhibition posits the museum as a place where narratives are built, and in this case we are building a narrative, taking as factual what Smithson encountered in Chiapas. This means that if what Smithson found is possible, then it is possible to have a place without linear or progressive time, and without differentiation between the human-made and the natural wonders – to build a narrative in which there is no memory and there is no progress, but instead something is happening in reverse and in a different way.
Another fundamental issue is the idea of displacing places to other ones. I like to think that Smithson transported both the hotel [a contemporary ruin] and the Mayan site of Palenque to the University of Utah while giving the conference. If we think that the exhibition is taking place in the Center for Curatorial Studies, and we pay close attention to the notion of the center, I believe we are filling the center with a whole new set of values – values that are changing and that will make it difficult to locate the center again. Where are we when we enter “Hotel Palenque Is Not In Yucatan?”
What will people see in the exhibition?
They will encounter what is described in “Hotel Palenque” once and once again. They will encounter a museum quite empty in terms of the objects but full of gestures… There is an apparent stillness, but if you look closely things are indeed happening: Adriana Lara’s flowers are dying and need to be changed once a week. Tania Pérez Cordova’s color marker in a glass of water is silently losing the color and painting the water et cetera. The show is built as the snake that bites its own tail: You might find yourself constantly in a situation that you think you have already come across, but you will notice that simply, you are in another point of the same circle.
Describe the structure designed by Pedro & Juana.
The Pavilion of “Hotel Palenque Is Not in Yucatán” is a collaboration between Pedro & Juana and me. It has a strong precedent in another pavilion called Pabellón Mexico projected in 2013 among the three of us and art historian Jimena Hogrebe. The Pavilion of “Hotel Palenque Is Not…” tries to displace to the CCS both the Hotel Palenque’s restaurant (where Smithson used to talk for hours with his trip companions) and the University of Utah classroom, therefore creating a space for the dialogue. It rearticulates the idea of the jungle and the idea of the Mayan architecture, but as cold and as distant as possible from the exotic and tropical associations of these elements.