Artist Spotlight: Pedro Reyes


Pedro Reyes, Shakers y Zampoña, 2013


In light of his current exhibition “Return to Sender” at Museum Tinguely in Basel, on view through November 15, 2020, we dedicate a second spotlight to Mexican artist Pedro Reyes.

Reyes was trained as an architect and is best known for his sculptures using repurposed weapons. In the early part of his carrerr, Reyes spearheaded the art space ‘Torres de los Vientos’ in Mexico City from 1996-2002. The space was created in 1968 by Gonzalo Fonesca as part of the sculptural complex Ruta de la Amistad designed for the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968. The complex contains 19 sculptures along the Periferico highway. The interior space was first used as a studio by Reyes in 1995, and in 1996 it was restored and used to mount some 35 site-specific projects.

In 2008, Reyes initiated the project ‘Palas por Postolas’ in Culician, a Northwestern city in Mexico with a high gunshot death rate. Together with the local authorities, he collected weapons from citizens in exchange for coupons to buy electronic appliances or groceries. One thousand five hundred twenty-seven guns were collected and crushed by a steamroller and melted into 1,527 shovels used to plant trees in Mexico, Vancouver, Jamaica, San Francisco, London, France, among other locations.

In 2012, in collaboration with the local government in Juarez, Mexico, Reyes used 6,700 seized or turned-in guns to create an orchestra of fifty musical instruments in a project titled “Imagine.” With the help of 6 musicians over the course of two weeks, he created instruments such as winds, strings, and percussions.

Pedro Reyes, Guitarra, 2013; Pedro Reyes, Cuernofono, 2013

Cuernofono from the Tiroche DeLeon Collection was commissioned as part of a solo project for Zona Maco in 2013. Along the lines of his formal project “Imagine,” Reyes created a veritable orchestra where Cuernofono was the central instrument - a large automated marimba instrument with 12 drum pedals playing rhythms controlled by software. Next to it were the Guitar and Shakers and Zamfona. 

“‘Palas por Pistolas’ is a synthesis of three of my mentors and sources of inspiration: Joseph Beuys, with planting trees [for the work 7000 Oaks]; Antanas Mockus, who had campaigned to collect weapons in Bogotá and turn them into spoons; and an encounter that I had with Alejandro Jodorowsky, in which I asked him about a therapy method he does call psicomagia [psychomagic]. (There is a ritual to overcome a traumatic situation; it often ends with putting a plant into a pot; he told me that closure has to come with an opening of a new process.) I put together those different ideas from Jodorowsky, Antanas, and Beuys into this one project, Palas por Pistolas, in which the metal from the guns was [melted] but then cast into shovels, to become tools for planting trees.” - "Pedro Reyes: Imagining Alternatives," Art21

“It’s important to consider that many lives were taken with these weapons,” he says, “the music expelled the demons they held, as well as being a requiem for lives lost.” He wishes for his art to have an international effect in the broader sense of the term “It occurred to me to make musical instruments because music is the opposite of weapons,” Reyes said. “This exercise of transformation we see with the guns is what we would like to see in society.”

In his current exhibition in Basel, he transforms repurposed guns into music boxes that play tunes from countries where the guns were produced. The project is coupled with the planting of a new chestnut tree directly in front of the museum.

Pedro Reyes studied architecture at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City. Solo exhibitions have been held with Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland (2020); SCAD, Savannah, GA, USA (2019), Creative Time, New York, USA (2016); Dallas Contemporary, TX, USA (2016); La Tallera, Cuernavaca, Mexico (2016); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2015); ICA, Miami, FL, USA (2014); The Power Plant, Toronto, Canada (2014); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA (2011); Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA (2011); CCA Kitakyushu, Japan (2009); Bass Museum, Miami, FL, USA (2008;) and San Francisco Art Institute, CA, USA (2008). Reyes has participated in group exhibitions at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan (2015); The National Museum of XXI Century Arts (MAXXI), Rome (2015); Beijing Biennale, China (2014); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012); Liverpool Biennial, UK (2012); Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2012); Lyon Biennale, France (2009); and the 50th Venice Biennale, Italy (2003). In Fall 2016, Reyes served as the inaugural Dasha Zhukova Distinguished Visiting Artist at MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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