The Crystal Palace (2018) is both a set of lockers for museum visitors and an exhibition. For this work, Paul Ramírez Jonas (Pomona, U.S.A., 1965) takes as a point of departure the history of the great universal exhibitions of the nineteenth century, at the height of European colonial enterprises and industrial development. One of the most representative of these took place in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, with the construction of the Crystal Palace, a transparent architecture that sheltered the “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.”
Ramírez Jonas evokes the nationalist force of such “universal” displays, but strips them of their solemnity through the use of everyday objects and humor. Located in the museum lobby, The Crystal Palace offers a transparent structure, a cabinet of curiosities, a showcase that aspires to be the “Great Exhibition of the People Who Attend the Jumex Museum.”
Ramirez Jonas’s installation also explores the history of the Aztec Palace, Mexico’s pavilion for the 1889, Universal Fair in Paris. By principle, pavilions were ephemeral and responded to the interests of the time, “they formed a coherent, incomplete, and experimental proposal that sought to persuade spectators of the reality of its propositions.”
By using an object that has a function for the museum’s visitors, they are invited to complete the meaning of the work. Each of the lockers contains an element from Mexican popular material culture chosen by Ramírez Jonas to interpret the history of the Mexican pavilion. Visitors are invited to pair the object already in the locker with one of their own when leaving their belongings inside. This personal item becomes part of the display during their visit to the Museum. Together, artist and visitors, create a continually changing Great Exhibition where the public becomes curator and interpreter of their own chapter in this history.
The Crystal Palace along with Public Trust is part of Agora: A Blueprint for Utopia, an ongoing program of commissions for the Museo Jumex plaza exploring notions of public space through engagement, participation and collaboration. The projects address alternative means of designing, activating, and using public spaces and the permanent and transient communities that move through, and form around them. Through the artists’ works, the means by which the built environment, its administration, and the social life mediate one another is both examined and reimagined.