The Rituals of Chaos

The Bronx Museum will present The Rituals of Chaos, an exhibition featuring the work of Mexican photojournalist Enrique Metinides, as part of its ongoing Urban Archives series. On view from July 19, 2012 through January 6, 2013, the exhibition will feature more than 25 pieces and will highlight Metinides’ photographic work, known for its stark portrayal of life and crime in Mexico City from the 1940s through the 1990s. In addition to the work of Metinides, the exhibition will present pieces by artists who also capture the pulse of city life: Claudia Andujar, Kader Attia, Alvin Baltrop, Christoph Büchel, Sophie Calle, Carlos Castro, Robin Graubard, Rick Liss, Gordon Matta-Clark, Peter Moore, Peter Dean Rickards, and Jamel Shabazz.

The artists featured in the exhibition share an engagement with the urban landscape: some embrace rituals as a part of their practice, while others employ documentary strategies or appropriation techniques to frame the rituals they witness. The selection of photographs and video-based works, some presented for the first time in the United States, reveals how the camera affords artists a combination of speed, chance, control, and realism perfect for capturing the human experience in the metropolis.

“Metinides’ work is evocative of the universal urban experience—whether in Mexico City or here in the Bronx,” said Holly Block, Director of The Bronx Museum of the Arts. “We are excited to exhibit recently acquired works by this important photographer, together with artists who have been inspired by the Bronx, like Gordon Matta-Clark and Sophie Calle, as well as others.”

Enrique Metinides was born in 1934 in Mexico City, where he currently lives and works. Known as “El Niño” (the kid), he learned his craft as a child by befriending police officers and firefighters and apprenticing under La Prensa’s lead crime photographer, a position he went on to hold from 1962 to 1997. His deep involvement with the Red Cross – which began at age fifteen when he joined as a volunteer and continued when he became a certified rescuer – allowed him unprecedented access to ambulances and prompt arrival at the scenes of accidents. Metinides has produced thousands of iconic images that document the accidents, tragedies, and tensions of a culture and country in flux and has become Mexico’s preeminent practitioner of nota roja photojournalism.

The exhibition includes vintage works, black and white, and color photographs by Metinides that display a balance between instinct and technique, without the element of gore often associated with tabloid photography. His photographs are meditations on death and loss, symbols of his admiration for the work performed by Red Cross rescue workers and firefighters, and empathy-filled images that reveal the human tendency of voyeurism. Influenced by Hollywood gangster films and the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, his pictures are executed with narrative undercurrents that resemble film stills. Also notable is his inclusion of what he calls mirones, spectators surrounding the scene of a crime or an accident, whose presence is a reflection on the viewers of the eventual photograph. Metinides has received numerous recognitions for his contributions to the Red Cross and to the field of photojournalism. His work has been widely exhibited in Mexico and internationally.

The inclusion of works by other artists contextualizes Metinides’ photography within the landscape of contemporary art and highlights the continuing relevance of his work. Several of the other featured artists in Rituals of Chaos also work as photojournalists, suggesting that art and journalism are two sides of the same activity: the production and distribution of images and information. Robin Graubard’s installation of photographs, taken between 1984 and 2006, evokes themes of subculture, violence, and displacement through its juxtaposition of images depicting crime scenes, the mafia, and squatters, intermingled with concert-goers and bird cages. In Rua Direita (1970) Claudia Andujar records the frazzled look of walkers-by who look directly into her lens. For his 2011 video Collages, Kader Attia visited the Hijras community in Mumbai with transsexual activist and journalist Hélène Azera. His video interweaves this experience with the life story of Algerian transsexual Pascale Ourbih in order to explore tradition and modernity as viewed from differing cultural backgrounds and ideologies.

Urban Archives: The Rituals of Chaos is organized by guest curator Monica Espinel, an independent curator based in São Paulo.