This summer, Lulu, the independent art space in Mexico City’s Roma Sur neighborhood cofounded by Chris Sharp and Martin Soto Climent, is undergoing a transformation by becoming a nonprofit satellite space for Museum X in Beijing. This new chapter gives continuity to Lulu’s program after Chris Sharp’s relocation to Los Angeles where he has opened his eponymous commercial gallery.
I met Chris for the first time seven years ago at a mutual friend's flat in Mexico City. We had an animated conversation about having both recently worked with Morton Bartlett’s eerie dolls. We were trying to figure out if it could have been precisely the same figure, one I had to scout for a replacement wig in an antique market that I shampooed and coiffed at home for an exhibition at a gallery I used to work in.
Since then, arriving at Lulu has always been a great pleasure. Walking up the narrow passageway of the small Roma Sur house, crammed with plants, sunny as any other early Saturday afternoon in Mexico City. And just after noticing the unique color of the gallery’s freshly painted floor, a feature that gives each one of the shows its distinctive personality, in tune with the intricacies and beauty of the works and ideas Chris shares with conviction.
Lulu has left an indelible contribution to not only the local art scene but also abroad. When the art world is bloated with excess and overindulgence, Lulu’s small space has been a refuge. Not only with the scale of the space and the works itself, but also the ideas themselves. Mind you this was seven years ago, when Chris was sharing with us fresh possibilities to the dominant conceptual and sociopolitical topics presented in local galleries and institutions. Talking about coloration, craft, forms was very welcoming for me.
In late April 2021, we had a nice chat over Zoom: Chris at his freshly inaugurated Chris Sharp Gallery in midtown Los Angeles in the company of an oversized leather biker jacket by Ishi Glinsky in the main space, me in my home office in Mexico City.
ANA CASTELLA: The first core topic that I want to discuss with you is Mexico: What did you see in Mexico? What brought you here in the first place?
CHRIS SHARP: Mexico, for me, is a combination of things. My first love for Mexico and Latin America has more to do with literature than art. The usual suspects: Borges, Bolaño (who really meant a lot to me), Juan Rulfo, and his relationship to American literature. When I visited to do a residency at SOMA in January of 2012, I fell in love with Mexico City. I think my real love, like a lot of other people, is the place itself: the city, the food, the architecture, the sensuous nature of it, the sounds and smells, just being there. My engagement with the art world and art came after that. But it was really all of those different things that initially bewitched me.
AC: After this time here, do you feel that Mexico changed you in a way as a professional? And how has that transformed you?
CS: Yes. Definitely. It’s hard to say exactly how. It will probably take me years to understand. As a U.S. American, when I moved to Europe—actually it was when I moved to Mexico—I realized that there were different temporalities in each part of the world. The dominant temporality of Europe is the past. It’s all about recognizing and preserving its past, especially in France, and I think the dominant temporality of the United States is the future. And then, I realized that in Mexico, the dominant temporality is the present. It was Bolaño who helped me realize this. It’s not to say Mexico doesn’t have history. There’s just a different relationship to duration. I think this has as much to do with pre-Columbian culture as it does with European culture. It’s a really unique situation and those are all things I came to appreciate and understand through living in these different places: how Mexicans can really inhabit the present like no other people. At least nowhere else that I have lived. And I think maybe that changed me? At least in terms of understanding the world.
AC: I’d like to still talk about change and temporality but shift your attention a bit to discuss these eight or nine years that you spent here in Mexico City. Did you see the city or the country change a lot? And what were these changes? Is there something that also made you decide to go to Los Angeles?
CS: It’s hard to say. One change I definitely noticed is—and this could just be because of my limited purview—but I feel that when I first arrived in Mexico, there was this univocal idea of what a Mexican artist was, that if you are a Mexican artist then your practice was necessarily sociopolitically engaged conceptualism. I feel like over the past eight years or so that I’ve been involved, it’s become much more pluralistic and open and accommodating of diverse modes of making and points of view. I would like to think that things changed politically, but Mexico can be really heartbreaking, you know? It’s like the States, in a way. There are these massive political upheavals and nothing changes. Mexico City also seems to have become more cosmopolitan, for better or worse. It has always been cosmopolitan to a certain degree, going all the way back to the 30s and 40s, but it’s hard to say. It’s all the Airbnb tourists, and it’s about who is really going to stay and try to make a difference or not. Those are a few changes I noticed. I don’t know if you agree or disagree.
AC: I do. I think there’s also a bit more space and encouragement for smaller projects to open and even thrive, no? Exhibition making has gained a little bit more diversity. Also, with new international players and different voices of exhibition makers and thinkers, not only of artists and the audiences, it’s become more dynamic.
CS: Yes. It feels like it.
AC: Tell me a little about Martín Soto Climent. How did you meet? How has this collaboration between you two and Lulu been? Who was in charge of the decisions, and how was that job delegated?
CS: I first encountered Martín’s work in 2010 or 2011. I put him in a show, then started to get to know his work without ever meeting him, then put him in a couple different shows. We met briefly at a show in Paris after working together for years. And then we got along really well so I stayed with him (in Mexico), and Lulu was a very organic, totally unforeseen thing. We were out at an opening at the old Proyectos Monclova one night and we were like, “Why don’t we just open a project space?” as a just sort of hypothetical joke or something, like, what if? And then next thing you know we’ve just opened this space. We collaborated pretty closely in the beginning of those first few years, and then I basically took over and was in charge of programming, inviting artists and doing the exhibitions. Then we continued to make all the major decisions together.
AC: When the world is kind of obsessed with large-scale, luxurious, the sumptuous... how do you manage to grab attention in a small space with small-scale works? What would be the talent there, or the secret?
CS: It’s funny thinking about it now. I felt like when I first arrived in Mexico there were some project-space initiatives, the best one being Preteen by Gerardo Contreras. He’s not talked about enough. I think that is still one of the most important spaces of the past ten years. He had this program, something like queer post-internet, or gay post-internet way before anyone was talking about these things. And he painted his entire apartment a blinding white, including the floor. It almost hurt to go in there. But it was so specific and precise that it inspired me. He was so different than what was generally happening. Generally, it just felt like in Mexico City, the bigger the space the more important. We thought, what if we did something very simple and formal, what could happen there? I don’t know. I think in some ways people found the economy of Lulu refreshing. I feel like before the pandemic, the logic of the art world was to be as expansive and expanding as possible, constantly growing and colonizing. And Lulu resisted that logic. I also feel like Lulu’s visibility was due in large part to being in the right place at the right time, Mexico City. If you do something really small and precise and very thoughtful in this place, you’ve already done half the battle as it were.
AC: Intimate rather than intimidating, no? Intimidating is something that the art world has not understood, that it’s not the best way. Now you’ve moved to LA. You’ve been there for a year now, more or less. Tell us a little bit about the city, your move, your new space and what we should be looking forward to at Chris Sharp Gallery.
CS: It’s great here. I never wanted to live in Los Angeles, but I fell in love with a woman here and then eventually settled down for the pandemic. There are some good institutions, a fair amount of good galleries and just no shortage of really good artists. Artists from different generations. The gallery was born from that. It’s going to be a lot like Lulu insofar as the primary thrust of the program is still the same: showing artists who think plastically.
Before coming here, I hadn’t lived in the States for about 18 years, so there’s something about returning to the States and where I’m from with these different perspectives (I guess you could even say temporalities) and doing something which somehow comes from, or acknowledges, all of that.
AC: It’s exciting. A homecoming. I think you need to go away for a while to learn to appreciate where you’re from. At least that’s what happened to me. With the post-pandemic, what I’ve seen is that I’ve been going back to non-art world friends, childhood friends. You kind of go back to your original, I don’t know, persona, funnily enough.
CS: Something happened like that with me as well. I feel like I’ve reconnected with high school friends that I hadn’t talked to in decades
AC: Perhaps this is a good opportunity to ask you the unmissable question now: Where do you think or want the art market, art work as well as art workers, to go now after the pandemic? What can we learn? What should we be learning?
CS: I really look forward to a more local sense, or a local perspective, of the art world. I think it’s one of the things that made opening a gallery during this time feasible for me. But I think something is going to change in terms of the market, this whole N.F.T. thing was interesting for a total of three minutes. I think the market is somehow really strong right now. Who knows. I don’t think we’ll ever get away from how commercial the art world is. That’s just the way it is. We exist in capitalism. There’s something about it that feels... really frantic. There’s a weird frenzied energy, which I think is something that’s going to be part of the post-pandemic world. Just a bunch of people sitting at home who haven’t spent their money on anything in ages want to buy shit... and party. We’ll see.
AC: Can we talk a little about art writing and contemporary criticism? Because I think this is something we are terribly lacking in Mexico. You have a lot of experience with writing, and I would like to know your thoughts.
CS: What I’ve realized living and working in different places is that small scenes just don’t have real criticism, for the simple reason that you’re probably going to see the person you’ve been critical of that night once you go out. And even though Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in all of the Americas, it’s still a very small art scene, and it’s just true.
It makes it hard. Also, in Mexico, the other thing that complicates it—and feel free to disagree with me—is that Mexicans are congenitally polite. I feel like any criticism even if it’s constructive is seen as somehow damnably impolite in Mexican society. So in those kinds of contexts, criticism will ideally manifest itself in more kind of positive forms, in terms of propositions. For me, there’s a critical component to Lulu. It really avoided or proposed an alternative to sociopolitically engaged conceptualism. Let’s say it was critical of these practices or what you could even call hegemony which was felt in Mexico, at a certain point. How it was critical of that was by proposing a positive alternative, which was Lulu itself and the kind of work we were showing. I feel like that’s maybe the most effective or plausible form of criticism in that context, really advocating for what you believe in. I’m less interested in your e-flux journal grievances, but show me something... What’s more constructive? What’s your alternative?
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All photographs by Ramiro Chaves. Courtesy of Chris Sharp.