On the occasion of Daniel Guzmán’s solo exhibition, The man who should be dead. Notes on the dead house, the fire and the tale, at kurimanzutto, New York, we dedicate the seventh edition of From the Archive to highlight key projects and moments throughout the artist’s career. What follows unveils the wide range of musical, literary, and popular culture references that have defined Guzmán’s creative universe over the past three decades.
Early years in Mexico City
In the nineties, Mexico City buzzed with activity, providing a vibrant environment for a young generation of artists eager to experiment within collaborative networks. Guzmán, a student at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (ENAP), was one of the members of Temístocles 44 (1993–95), an independent art space named after the address of a soon-to-be demolished building in the Polanco neighborhood. Other participants included Eduardo Abaroa, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Damián Ortega, Luis Felipe Ortega, Daniela Rossell, Sofía Táboas, and Pablo Vargas-Lugo. Some members of this group created the fanzine Casper: Revista de título mutable (Casper: Magazine with a Changeable Name). Guzmán designed the cover of the inaugural issue, featuring a silkscreen print of a ghost’s head.
En Temístocles 44, Guzmán colaboró estrechamente con Luis Felipe Ortega en proyectos como el video REMAKE (1994). En esta obra, Guzmán frota su cuerpo contra una pared, presiona su cara contra un cristal y se desliza por el suelo con pintura blanca. Estas acciones reinterpretan performances de artistas estadounidenses como Paul McCarthy y Bruce Nauman, a los que solo habían tenido acceso a través de algunas fotografías y breves descripciones en libros de arte y revistas que circulaban entre amigos. Guzmán concluye la pieza con un segmento original, en el que juega con sus dedos dentro de la boca. Al incorporar esta pieza a la secuencia de reinterpretaciones, el artista se inscribe en la historia del performance.
Musical encounters with New York
In 2000, Guzmán participated in an artist residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. During that same year he created Momentos irrepetibles (Unrepeatable moments), a video where he recorded himself singing the lyrics of songs like “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon and “Come As You Are” by Nirvana. As the video progresses, tears start streaming down the artist’s face. Guzmán has described this intimate piece as a personal exploration of musical memory documenting the interplay between music and emotion. Momentos irrepetibles is a compelling illustration of the impact that music has held throughout his life and work. Another notable instance is The secret history of rock, a series of drawings created in 2003, which include references to Sex Pistols and Iggy Pop.
Music is also a vehicle through which Guzmán incorporates humor into his work. In his 2004 video New York Groove, he adapted the song by Ace Frehley, the guitarist of one of his favorite bands, KISS, into a music video. In the piece, a man with a smirk on his face, emerges from a subway station and walks down the sidewalk to the rhythm of Frehley’s song. Along the way, he encounters three other men who, captivated by his energy, join in on the fun. By bringing New York Groove into the context of Mexico City, Guzmán establishes a cross-cultural dialogue where music becomes the driving force of connection across city streets.
Infinite Sadness at the New Museum
En 2008, el New Museum de Nueva York presentó la exposición Double Album: Daniel Guzmán y Steven Shearer, curada por Richard Flood. La muestra reunía las obras de dos artistas que se adentran en los terrenos del rock y la cultura popular. Entre las piezas exhibidas por Guzmán se encontraba Infinita Tristeza (2002), una obra que critica el materialismo mediante una serie de cadenas de oro falsas suspendidas verticalmente del techo. Al final de cada cadena hay una letra adornada con diamantes de imitación que forman las palabras que dan título a la obra.
Entre sus obras gráficas, Guzmán también expuso Hijo de tu puta madre (2001). La pieza forma parte de la serie Fe, Esperanza, Caridad (2001), compuesta por tres conjuntos de carteles, frases, dibujos y recortes de periódico a través de los cuales el artista reflexiona sobre cada una de estas tres virtudes teológicas, partiendo de sus propios deseos y frustraciones.
Within the pantheon of references that Guzmán has gathered throughout his life, the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco holds a special place. In his 2007 exhibition, La búsqueda del ombligo (The Search for the Navel), the walls of kurimanzutto, then located in a warehouse in Colonia Condesa, were filled with 28 large-format diptychs. Guzmán developed these pieces from an exploration of the series La verdad, created by the muralist in 1945. Orozco’s swift, and at times, forceful black strokes in this series resonate with Guzmán’s affinity for drawing as both a means and an end in itself. For Guzmán, drawing served as an initial foray into graphic art. He perceives drawing as a medium of immediacy that eludes prolonged procedures, such as those associated with painting.
In 2009, My Generation opened at kurimanzutto’s current space in Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec. Guzmán curated works by artists that have shaped the genealogy of his artistic interests. Pieces by Otto Dix, Philip Guston, José Clemente Orozco, and Julio Ruelas were exhibited alongside drawings by Paul McCarthy, Germán Venegas, Mariano Villalobos, José Luis Sánchez Rull, and Guzmán himself. My Generation was not only an homage but a personal quest for aesthetic and ideological foundations, which the artist explored through the strokes made by other hands across generations.
Chromosome Damage: Drawing Room, London
Guzmán’s engagement with a diverse array of references has led him to develop his own processes of iconographic experimentation that, despite their variations, remain rooted in drawing and his aspiration to convey his perspective of the world. This is evident in the drawings of Chromosome Damage, exhibited in 2014 at the Drawing Room in London and in 2015 as part of Death Never Takes a Vacation at kurimanzutto, Mexico City. In over ninety drawings on craft paper, the artist created hybrid figures that allude to pre-Hispanic deities such as Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of the earth. Guzmán amalgamates female forms with elements inspired by pre-Hispanic sculptures he admired from an early age during his visits to the Museo de Antropología in Mexico City. Snakes, associated in Aztec culture with fertility, blend with figures of skulls in a visual dynamism that sustains his constant reflections on the cyclical nature of life and death.
Chapter one: The man who should be dead
In 2017, Guzmán initiated the series of drawings El hombre que debería estar muerto (The man who should be dead), a project disseminated over the last few years as though it were a novel divided into four chapters. The first of these was presented as part of the group project Siembra (2020–21) at kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Split into two exhibitions, the first showcased a gobelin woven by master weavers from the Taller Mexicano de Gobelinos in the city of Guadalajara, where the artist has lived for the past five years. The textile not only confronted viewers with its large dimensions but also with the question ”¿dónde estás?” (where are you?), positioned at the center of its warp and weft. The question served as the visual inception of the series as a whole, whose title makes you wonder who is this man and why should he be dead?
In the second exercise of this first chapter, Guzmán assigned a name and face to that man. He dedicated the exhibition to the Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, whose reflective, radical, and transgressive thinking has accompanied him since his years as an art student at ENAP. On one of the walls inside the exhibition, one could read: “I keep saying that we are all in danger,” a quote, possibly premonitory, from the last interview Pasolini gave before he was assassinated.
The Man Who Should Be Dead. Chapters 2 & 3: The Future Battle & You have to go in to get out
The second chapter, The man who should be dead. The future battle, was presented at the Museo Cabañas in Guadalajara. Guzmán opened his archive: drawings, books, video works, records, magazines, comics, posters, notes, and collectable figures inhabited the rooms of the museum, inviting the public to explore his personal and artistic world. The artist expressed that the subtitle of the exhibition represents a transition into an unknown future.
The third edition of The Man Who Should Be Dead. You have to go in to get out opened at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, in June 2023. As a continuation of the show at Museo Cabañas, Guzmán elevated drawing to a three-dimensional plane, employing four wooden structures that created an open and closed space simultaneously. Guzmán chose an experimental format reminiscent of his earlier works, where sculpture and installation played a significant role.
The man who should be dead. Chapter four: The man who should be dead. Notes on the dead house, the fire and the tale
For the fourth and final chapter of this series, Guzmán returns to New York with The man who should be dead. Notes on the dead house, the fire and the tale (2024). The gallery serves as the setting for a dialogue between characters without precise identities, who inhabit drawings exhibited on both small and large scales. Guzmán narrates the non-linear story of a time traveler, a draftsman capable of revisiting elements of his personal past to imbue them with new life in the present. A Darth Vader helmet recalls his initial visits to a cinema near Colonia Doctores in Mexico City. A snake reveals his fascination with the snake skirt of Coatlicue. Some verses convey hours and hours of listening to music.
The archive exhibited at Museo Cabañas is here, but in a different form. The artist’s universe materializes once again in front of the spectators. With his work, Guzmán reveals what shapes his character and, by extension, his practice, while reminding us that we are all a product of the information we consume, whether that be books, songs, or works of art.