A pyramid for the people - a visit to the Jumex Museum by David Chipperfield Architects
Diary of a visit to the museum hosting an exhibition by Jeff Koons. Mexico City, 17th September 2019.
It is a hot and sunny morning towards the end of summer and I slowly walk up the Bulevar Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra when suddenly the Jumex Museum appears on my right, occupying a triangular plot in between the big avenue and an old railway. I imagine the old trains transporting the barley grains to the beer factory located a little bit further west where they produce Modelo, Corona and other Mexican beers.
Jumex is a popular Mexican juice company that, through its foundation, has become one of the major patrons in the art world since the 90s under the direction of Eugenio Lopez Alonso, the only heir of the juice empire. The museum opened in 2013, was designed by David Chipperfield Architects and promotes contemporary art of the biggest calibre.
The building reminds me of the Aztec pyramids, just in this case it steps upside down. Each step defines a different exhibition space. It presents itself as a serene and calm block, a jewel box cladded with massive Mexican travertine tiles from Xalapa of a light and creamy colour. A few big openings expose the people visiting the building which help one understand the scale of the construction.
Trying to escape from the heat I walk around the front of the building and go up to the podium where the museum rests. Like an ancient temple it detaches itself from the surroundings, allowing oneself that pleasure of the slightly elevated point of view. A continuous concrete bench limits the space from which to observe the urban chaos of cars and people rushing some meters below.
A few steps across this piazza and I enter the museum. The access is resolved by means of an intermediate space between the outdoors and the indoors, covered but open, very appropriate for the local climate. I cross the line defined by the round and big concrete columns. The shade of the building hovering over the podium provides a kind feeling of freshness. An air of austere elegance defines the space.
Looking back to the outside one can’t help but remembering my visit some time ago to the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies Van der Rohe. The travertine, the glass walls with the steel joinery, the perimeter bench, the podium, all relates back to Mies. I then turn around and start the visit by taking the lift to the third floor after buying the surprisingly cheap ticket. Thirty pesos, which equals to a couple of humble “tacos al pastor”. I can’t believe that one can visit an exhibition exploring the parallelism between the work of Jeff Koons and Marcel Duchamp for that price.
Each exhibition space floor has different lighting and height, which offers variety for artists and curators alike. The top floor is the biggest and tallest of the three. It is covered by the sequence of saw-tooth sky lights that enlighten the space from above with a sort of misty light and give the museum a scaled up atelier image from the outside. The second floor is the shortest and the only opening has been blanked off for the show, turning the room into a concealed container letting the art be the protagonist.
Down on the first floor the city reveals itself again. The light invades the entire floor through the full height glass panes, and the surrounding gallery, with its balconies on the four sides, frames the views of the environment, providing the visitor with a comfortable safeguard from where to observe the life in the busy square below.
I take the stairs down once again and avoid the temptation of finishing my visit at the shop and restaurant in the lobby – the latter run by Michelin-starred chef Enrique Olvera - and venture down to the basement. And my effort is rewarded. Preceding the most elegant toilet ever built in a museum there is a small exhibition room covered with a carpet of multi-coloured marble stripes created by Martin Creed. It felt like discovering the secret room behind the hidden door. An authentic wonder chamber inside the pyramid that Jumex built as an offering to the people.