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An introduction to MUAC, Mexico's new modern art museum

January 23, 2009 | 10:33 am

A modern monstrosity out of place amid a dated aesthetic, or a much-needed injection of fresh, voguish design? Whichever side you come down on, Mexico City's brand new temple to modern art is well worth a visit.  

The Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo (University Museum of Contemporary Art), also known by its initials MUAC, opened its misted-glass doors to the Mexican public at the end of November 2008. Built by Mexican architect Teodoro González de León -- who also co-designed Mexico City's enormous Auditorio Nacional -- the MUAC sits in the bosom of the green and sprawling UNAM (Universidad Autonoma de Mexico / Autonomous University of Mexico) campus.

Its design borrows from both the New York’s Metropolitan Museum, with an immense, sloping window out front, and London’s Tate Modern, with its minimalist presentation style.

But the modernity of MUAC's design is at the heart of criticisms directed at the project. Writing in the investigative-journalism magazine Proceso, Blanca González Rosas claims that González de León's design bears too-striking a resemblance to Japan's 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in  Kanazawa.

She states that it is an "unfortunate influence that demonstrates the creative exhaustion of González de León," and suggests rescinding the rather sizable government grant he received for the project.

González Rosas also says the MUAC is out of architectural context with its location, where it sits among buildings, including the Nezahualcoyotl concert hall, built in the 1970s. Architect and author Manuel Larrosa, also writing in Proceso, calls the museum a work of self-homage by González de León that dominates its space in an abusive matter.

Tough criticism indeed, but the Mexican public can't seem to stay away.

In its first two weeks, the museum received more than 30,000 visitors, and the smallest number of daily visitors to MUAC during that period was 1,400.

MUAC - Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo (University Museum of Contemporary Art)

When La Plaza popped by on a Sunday in January, a long line of people of all ages formed and snaked away from the entrance after 2 p.m. as they waited their turn to stroll around the exhibitions, which at the time were full to capacity.

The collection is a truly multimedia affair: photography, video, film, light and sound, as well as painting, sculpture, mirrors and installations of a myriad of materials, from bottle tops to twigs.

Highlights for your humble correspondent included a collection of war photography that combined classics from maestros such as Nick Ut, Robert Capa and Lee Miller with more contemporary photojournalists, such as Thomas Dworzak, and Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz's mirror installation, "Breath." Watch the video to see that and more.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Photo: MUAC's design borrows from both the New York’s Metropolitan Museum, with its immense, sloping window out front, and London’s Tate Modern, with its minimalist presentation style. Credit: Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times. See more pictures of MUAC and its exhibits here on Flickr.

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