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date: 18 November 2019

Gruner, Silviafree

(b Mexico City, 1959).
  • Gillian Sneed

Mexican film, video, and performance artist. She grew up in a Mexican family of Jewish Polish Holocaust survivors. She moved to Jerusalem to attend the Bezalel Academy of Fine Art and Design between 1978 and 1982, where her undergraduate thesis examined the relationship between Zen Buddhism and artists Isamu Noguchi and Robert Smithson. In 1984 she moved to Boston, MA, where she received her Master of Fine Arts Degree in sculpture from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1986. She also attended classes in the film department there under the direction of experimental filmmaker Saul Levine (b 1943). She had her first solo exhibition, Conversaciones con un loto azul (Conversations with a blue lotus), at Thompson Gallery in Boston in 1986. That same year she made her first film, a Super 8 titled Arena (Sand, 1986; see Rangel and Cuevas 2016, 92–93), documenting a performance in which she covered her nude body in mud and repeatedly climbed up and fell off a tall dune in Cape Cod, a Sisyphean effort that she claimed was related to the theme of personal change. Following this, she continued making short, Super 8 films and performances.

In 1989 Gruner was invited to show her work in the Third Havana Biennial, after which she married the Cuban artist and educator Gustavo Pérez Monzón (b 1956) and moved back to Mexico City. She continued to use her body in her performances to explore issues around identity, gender, and sexuality, and was a central participant and contributor to the experimental art scene of Mexico City in the 1990s. Her move to Mexico City coincided with the relocation of several foreign artists to the city, including Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, who arrived in 1986; the British artist, Melanie Smith (b 1965), who moved there in 1989; and others who all helped to form the experimental downtown art scene. This group loosely coalesced around alternative spaces like Temístocles 44, where Gruner showed her installation Azote-a (1994; see Rangel and Cuevas 2016, 142). In 1995 she created the photographic diptych, How to Look at Mexican Art (1995; see Rangel and Cuevas 2016, 30–31), in which she suggestively penetrated a traditional Mexican grinding mortar with her fingers, offering a satirical view of Mexican nationalism. In the 2000s she created photographs and videos that presented provocative images of the body in relationship with architecture. The Super 8 film transferred to video, Centinel (2007; see Rangel and Cuevas 2016, 24–25), depicted the artist standing with her had shaved due to recent cancer treatments, standing before an enormous, minimalist, circular fountain designed by the modernist architects Mathias Goeritz, Ricardo Legorreta, and Isamu Noguchi. This and other works in her latter period focused on illness, sickness, and healing, a continuation of her interests in exploring personal representations of the human condition.


  • Silvia Gruner: Collares, reliquias. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1998.
  • with Barrios, J. L. and Emmelhainz, I. Un Chant d’amour. Mexico City: Editorial RM, 2009.


  • Gallo, R. Tendencies: New Art from Mexico City. San Francisco, CA, Walter/McBean Gallery, San Francisco Art Institute, 1995. Exhibition catalog.
  • Arriola, M. and Torre, M. de la. Silvia Gruner: Circuito interior. Mexico City: Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 2000.
  • Hertz, B. and Arriola, M. Axis Mexico: common objects and cosmopolitan actions. San Diego, CA, Mus. A., 2002. Exhibition catalog.
  • Debroise, O. and Medina, C., eds. La era de las discrepancias: arte y cultura visual en México, 1968–1997. Mexico City: Dirección General de Publicaciones y Fomento Editorial de la UNAM, 2014. Exhibition catalog.
  • Rangel, G. and Cuevas, T., eds. Hemisferios: apuntes para un laberinto [Hemispheres: a labyrinth sketchbook]. Madrid, Museo Amparo, Americas Society, 2016. Exhibition catalog.
  • Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985. Edited by C. Fajardo-Hill and A. Giunta. Los Angeles, CA, Armand Hammer Mus., 2017. Exhibition catalog.