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Art and a place to sit: welcome to Mexico City's Dialogue of Benches


One of roughly 70 fanciful benches arrayed along Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma or in the city centre, all parts of an ongoing exhibition called Diálogo de Bancas or Dialogue of Benches. (Alda Mori photo.)

Okay. What follows is not news.

But it is fun and well worth publicizing.

It’s called Diálogo de Bancas – or Dialogue of Benches – and it’s been a provocative as well as restful fixture of Mexico City’s main boulevard since 2006.

Partly art and partly a series of interesting places to sit down, the ongoing exposition includes 71 unusual benches, designed by a variety of artists, architects, and industrial designers, most of them Mexican but with representation from seven other countries.

The works range from abstract to surreal, and from mainly playful to purely functional. They include a deck of playing cards tumbling down from the sky, an indented hippopotamus, a pair of golden hands perched upon a pair of golden feet, an upside-down bench, a pair of living-room couches cast in what appears to be bronze – and much else besides.

Primarily the brain child of Mexican art promoter Isaac Masri, the exposition was to remain in place for just one year, but here we are some seven years later, and the dialogue continues, with some changes.

Initially, all of the one-of-a-kind benches were arrayed along the Paseo de la Reforma, a broad avenue originally laid out at the command of the Emperor Maximilian a century and a half ago. The boulevard was meant to connect Chapultepec Castle, where Maximilian lived along with the Empress Carlota, to the rambling Imperial Palace – now the National Palace – located in the city’s vast central plaza.

More recently, many of the benches have been moved nearer to the plaza itself. To see a gallery of photos, search the web for Diálogo de Bancas and select "images."

Artists represented in the continuing show include Alberto Castro Leñero, Saúl Kaminer, Noé Katz, and Leonora Carrington. Prominent architects such as Teodoro González de León and José Iturbe also contributed designs of their own.

It’s unfortunate, but probably not surprising, that some of the pieces have been vandalized, while some others have been targeted by graffiti fiends. Most of the benches remain in excellent shape, however, and continue to delight capitalinos and visitors alike – objets d’art that are interesting to look at, think about, and sit upon.

What else is art for?

Oakland Ross is a feature writer for the Toronto Star. He has written two historical novels about Mexico, including The Empire of Yearning (published this year by HarperCollins Canada), which recounts the brief, doomed reign of the Emperor Maximilian.




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