Newly opened Astoria Gastrobar currently hosts the retrospective “Visions,” 2009-2016, from Mexican artist Samantha Leiva, where visitors are invited to exert their senses creatively, be it by sipping or contemplating, with the chef and the artist’s rich offer a likely match for the most demanding palates and eyes.
The setting is Mexico City’s eclectic Condesa neighborhood, where a restaurant can conceive itself as fractal space, and turn its fragmented structures into ideal niches for art. Not that the maze her exposition has become disturbs Samantha, who thrives in being transplanted to unlikely settings. “Visions” bridges both different stages of her work and the contrasting cultures that serve as raw material for her paintings and photography. A graduate student of Berlin’s famous University of the Arts, Leiva’s work reveals both her education and her firm roots in the Sierra Mixteca on the coast of the state of Oaxaca.
“Visions” serves as an invitation to a personal journey, reconciling different sources of inspiration. For Samantha, when the time came to trade the sand for the asphalt she carried it all with her and embraced it, quite literally putting it in her work. “One painting even included a whole hammock,” she said smiling.
In the German capital’s abandoned industrial areas she also turned to cement, stone, broken mirrors that reflected her daily life, to include them in her canvasses, seeking new balances and compositions suggested by the novelty of surfaces far removed from her origins.
The exposition functions as a resumé of intervened spaces and expositions, carried out from the Mexican embassy in Berlin to the Tabernas desert in Spain, and from urban wastelands to an indigenous community.
A lifetime’s worth of searches and questioning, the retrospective “is a manner of settling contrasts. In the paintings of the first part, ‘Of the Visible’, you can see the physical work, the physicality of the action. The strokes can be traced, the artist’s action is obvious, my action on the canvas. In the next, ‘Of the Invisible,’ perhaps the artists dilutes, or merely intervenes, as the figures seem to come from elsewhere, dreamlike, a symbology of the image. Visions, as a title, sought to grant margins to both manners of working, and to allow distinctions of the time gone by in between.”
A picture that speaks a thousand words and summarizes her career: the painting “Animal I (Fish)” on display at Astoria was first produced as part of the German collective Die Arbeit. Then as now, it remains a stirring creature of tendons and intimacy, of algae and heartbeats, fluctuating on the unmoving sterilities of an abandoned factory (then) and a restaurant (now).
When questioned about her whirlwind life, Samantha denies conflicts to adapt or reconcile a multifaceted trajectory. “All that man creates, be it industrial or otherwise, has for me its special part, its sacred part, a part worth seeing. As object or environment, as an experience.” Samantha’s work thrives in finding the vision, or angle, capable of dignifying or giving true value to the most unlikely materials. She agrees with this statement and adds “not just of materials, but also of us, everything being reflections of the interior. To seek out that part that perhaps we dislike, our shadow-part, and finding all that is valuable in it.”
ASTORIA GASTROBAR CONDESA
The exposition was accompanied by the creations of chef Monse Costal, giving samplings of her goal to make haute cuisine casual. The food is born of “travels and gastronomic experiences,” seeking to offer a dynamic experience mixing “the traditional with a stroke of the unexpected.” The News recommends: — Cold broccoli shots — Asian whitefish tartar — The patatas bravas with aioli — The Tapioca piña colada.
Juan Escutia 14, Condesa, Cuautémoc, Mexico City (55)6721 1061