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Thursday 10/18

Museum as Hub: Reflections on “Edificio Metálico” at TEOR/éTica in Costa Rica

by Inti Guerrero, Associate Artistic Director, TEOR/éTica, tagged with TEOR/éTica, San José, Edificio Metálico, Metallic Building, Museum as Hub
Cover Image:

Edificio Metálico, prefabricated building shipped from Belgium to Costa Rica in 1890s

As part of a conversation supported by the Museum as Hub initiative, I was invited to share some images and thoughts about the exhibition “Edificio Metálico,” which offer insight into the exhibition and raise questions that will drive TEOR/éTica’s future program.

I was recently appointed Associate Artistic Director of TEOR/éTica, an art space in San José, Costa Rica, started in 1999 by Virginia Perez-Ratton (1950–2010). I decided to present three exhibitions during my first year of programming, which culminated with “Men Amongst the Ruins.” The exhibition explores the present-day meaning of a 1939 building constructed by Fascist sympathizers of German and Italian descent living in Costa Rica, which still stands today.

Earlier in the year, curator Pablo León de la Barra was invited to organize the exhibition “Novo Museo Tropical,” examining how the rise of the modern nation-state is entangled with narratives of exploitation, exoticism, and fantasy—produced and perpetuated by global capitalist enterprise, and exemplified by banana plantations in Central America.

My first exhibition at TEOR/éTica looked to architectural history as a framework for understanding our temporal and geographic location in the present. “Edificio Metálico” (Metallic Building) is both the exhibition title and the name of a prefabricated building that was designed in Belgium, and then shipped to and assembled in San José, Costa Rica, in 1896. The Neo-Classical style of this building is representative of a modern aesthetic paradigm championed by the nineteenth-century elite, embodying their aspirations to be in tune with a more global experience. I became interested in thinking about the Metallic Building as part of a civic or nationalist project led by Costa Rica’s ruling class, who had acquired wealth and power by growing coffee for export. The eclectic international style of this building suggested a dislocated modernity—the metaphorical façade of a developing nation-state that sought to “belong to the world.”

The exhibition at TEOR/éTica did not directly address nineteenth-century politics or the Metallic Building’s history. In fact, none of the artworks depicted the building itself. Rather, the works and the select events from popular culture dismantled our understanding of the “authentic” and the “patrimonial.” The exhibition revealed that the promise of the tropics’ modernization was not characterized by a continuous narrative of progress but rather constant negotiation of contradictory contexts.

Participating artists included: Francesco Bracci (San José), Neil Beloufa (Paris), Gilda Mantilla and Raimond Cháves (Lima), La Fania All Star, Dominique González-Foerster (Paris/Rio de Janeiro), Ossama Mohammed (Damascus), The White Stripes, and Ramón Zafrani (Panama City).

“Edificio Metálico,” 2012. Exhibition view: TEOR/éTica, San José, Costa Rica

“Edificio Metálico,” 2012. Exhibition view: TEOR/éTica, San José, Costa Rica


The White Stripes in Manaus, Brazil, 2005. Documentation of concert produced by MTV Brazil. Video, 5 min

In 2005, MTV Brazil produced a rock concert by the band The White Stripes at the Amazon Theater, a huge opera house constructed in Manaus in 1896. The video documentation of the concert presented in this exhibition depicts the excitement of a young crowd in contrast with the bourgeois formality represented by the conservative architecture of the opera house.

Ramón Zafrani, Sin titulo, 2008. Discarded wood, photographs

Ramón Zafrani, Sin titulo, 2008. Discarded wood, photographs

Ramón Zafrani’s series of architectonic works that model recent high-rise buildings are constructed out of lumber from old North American houses in the Panama Canal Zone. These historic buildings, specifically designed for tropical conditions yet made from redwood pine imported from the US, are currently being demolished. Meanwhile, high-rise buildings, indicating globalized architectural developments, are being built in Panama City.

Ossama Mohammed, Step by Step, 1977. 16mm film transferred to DVD, black and white, 28 min

Because it houses an elementary school, the Edificio Metálico possesses a heightened level of symbolism. The experimental short film Step by Step (1977), directed by filmmaker Ossama Mohammed, confronts the crudest ways authoritarian power used the disciplinary institutions of military and school to act upon the bodies and minds of its people.

Neil Beloufa, Kempinski, 2007. Video installation, 14 min

Neil Beloufa created a site-specific video installation for TEOR/éTica. In the video, shot in Mali, people reveal their personal visions of the future, which are in turn hopeful and poetic, spiritual and fantastic.


Fania All-Stars in Zaire, Africa, 1974. Cinematographic documentation of concert. 35mm film transferred to DVD. Director: Leon Gasde

The 1974 Fania All-Stars concert in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) took place in Kinshasa’s modernist stadium, featured in many shots of the documentary. Here, modernist architecture became the face of new political agendas, political and economical stability, and “progress.”

Opening reception at TEOR/éTica

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