“It was very interesting to present artists in Todos Juntos without any hierarchy, on the same level, some who, perhaps in places like New York, have a much less well-known voice, but who we deeply believe in and who we must insist on. One of the fundamental tasks of the gallery is that: to insist, beyond reactions from the market,” Kuri points out.
kurimanzutto, its artists and staff, were already “all together” when they opened their first exhibition in 1999 at the Medellin Street Market in Mexico City. They often return to that nomadic, itinerant stage of the gallery, even though they are now more established—because a gallery is not determined by its space alone, as was evident in TITAN.
The outdoor art project TITAN was conceived in 2020 by Damián Ortega and Bree Zucker, using a series of phone booths on Sixth Avenue in New York as displays for contemporary art. The premise was that a gallery can exist in an open space, free to all viewers at any hour, even at midnight.
Other previous projects have involved exhibitions and performances in spaces such as local markets, floating gardens, parking lots, or airports.
“And when we opened the space in San Miguel Chapultepec, all of the artists were present then too, as they are now. We like the idea of insistence; if you look at the list of artists from twenty-three years ago, then the one from 2008 and the current one, they are very similar. It’s just a matter of adding people,” Kuri explains.
Today kurimanzutto represents thirty-seven Mexican and international artists who are involved in the gallery’s evolution.
“I don’t think there’s a single important decision for the gallery that we don’t make as a group, almost like gypsies,” adds Manzutto.
They were “all together,” in fact, since artist Gabriel Orozco—who conceived the gallery with Kuri and Manzutto in 1999—organized the legendary Friday Workshop.
In the second half of the 1980s, Gabriel Orozco’s house in Tlalpan became a space for art, reflection, study, and friendship. The “Friday Workshop” offered an alternative art education to the one given in art schools. Orozco was returning from the Circle of Fine Arts in Madrid when the artist Damián Ortega proposed the workshop.
Ortega said he was looking for an experienced person who could provide the academic side of art education missing from the curricula of institutions such as the National School of Visual Arts (ENAP) or La Esmeralda National School of Painting, Sculpture, and Printmaking. The first workshop was made up of Gabriel Kuri, Abraham Cruzvillegas, and Jerónimo López (Dr. Lakra), among others.
“We changed its name every Friday. Suddenly the workshop was called ‘Here Comes Carlitos,’ because we would run away from a guy who wanted to come [to the workshop]; he would call, and we would lie and say we were not there. He also wanted to attend the parties, so we wouldn’t answer the phone and sometimes we wouldn’t open the door and we would just stay very quiet for a while. Another time we called it the ‘Ben Johnson’ workshop after the Jamaican sprinter, who later started doping; we had become fans,” said José Kuri.
Orozco thought of a different type of gallery, one without a permanent space, one that would adapt to the needs of new art from the country. Thus, kurimanzutto was born, with risk inherent to its mission.
“We have always been ready to take risks, by not having a space and functioning as a gallery that was moving around the city, an idea that we worked on with Gabriel Orozco. And then each artist began to understand the city as their playground. And now we have been playing for twenty-three years.
We have been thinking together, having a great time—that is an important part of what drives the gallery. I don’t say that in a light-hearted way. I think somehow we’ve enjoyed it a lot,” Manzutto explains.
It is a different, special place where commitment and seriousness at work do not conflict with enjoyment, she explains.
Together but Not Closed Off
Although they stay “together,” they do not succumb to closed loop thinking, note the gallery owners. They establish conversations with other generations and other groups of artists, as they did in the multi-year exhibition Siembra (2020-2021).
“When you are closed off, thinking about your artists, you can miss everything else. One of the ways to prevent this from happening was to present Siembra, inviting artists from other generations to be in close contact with others,” says Kuri.
“If you stay locked up in your four walls, in your four conversations, they wear out; you have to nourish these relationships all the time with what you see, with what you feel. What we like most on Saturdays, Sundays, Thursdays, or Fridays is to see exhibitions; there is not one that we don’t see in Mexico. In New York we also go to all the galleries, to the museums. You don’t have to be closed off.”
How has art defined you beyond your professional life?
Mónica Manzutto– I think there is no difference between my personal life and my professional life. It is one and the same; my best friends are the gallery’s artists, who I like to be with, who we spend our vacations with. Also, my children, our children, have become part of that family, and there is not a moment when we are not thinking about art.
José Kuri– The way I see and relate to the world is through art. For example, I love to see the history of Mexico—my mother is a passionate historian—through the Valley of Mexico painted by José María Velasco, or Mexico after the Revolution through muralism.
MM– Art is a tool to understand ourselves and the world.
Has it also been a tool to achieve not only a gallery, but also a long-lived partnership like yours?
JK– We have been together for thirty years, twenty-three years as a gallery. We sleep, we eat, we breathe this.
MM– I suppose that if only one of us worked on this project, it would not be the same. The special part is being together, that’s what gives this project the dimension it has and what makes it possible for us to understand each other. We are very different: we complement each other, and we think in a way that is also important for artists.
What is the first piece you see when you wake up?
JK– Right here we have a Jimmie Durham, one of the gallery’s artists, and one of our guides and closest friends who died a year ago; we think of him as our “guardian.” When we found a place to live in New York, all the walls of the house were blank and I felt a hole in my stomach.
I deeply believe that art can transform you as a person and make you think differently, and we live by that.
The moment we filled our space, taking over the place, everything worked in a different way. We wake up and the first thing we see are two drawings by Jimmie, and all over the house, in the children’s rooms—they choose what they want—we are surrounded by art. Art, it has already been said, is not only contemplated: it is also (above all) breathed.
published article in Reforma newspaper, December 3, 2022