Jill Magid

Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland

Having sold his soul for the sum of his earthly desires, the protagonist of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1604) demands a glimpse of the mythical beauty, Helen of Troy. ‘Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?’, Faustus muses. But Helen didn’t launch those ships by her virtue alone. The love she inspired – strong enough to destroy an entire city – was contaminated by notions of property.

jill_magid_el_bebedero_at_las_arboledas_by_armando_salas_portugal_2013_installation_view_kunst_halle_sankt_gallen._courtesy_the_artist_labor_mexico_city_raebervonstenglin_zurich_and_untilthen_paris_photograph_kunst_halle_sankt_gallenstefan_ja

Jill Magid, El Bebedero at Las Arboledas by Armando Salas Portugal, 2013, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Ja

Jill Magid, El Bebedero at Las Arboledas by Armando Salas Portugal, 2013, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi

When the owner of the Swiss furniture company Vitra proposed to his paramour, architectural historian Federica Zanco, no diamond ring would do. Instead, Rolf Fehlbaum’s fiancée had another request: the professional archive of Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán, which included the intellectual property rights to the architect’s name and images of his work. In 1995, Fehlbaum successfully negotiated the purchase of the professional half of the estate and presented it to his fiancée. Since that moment, this archive has been stored in a bunker under the Vitra headquarters in Switzerland, with Zanco acting as the sole gatekeeper.

jill_magid_the_offering_tapete_de_flores_2016_installation_view_kunst_halle_sankt_gallen._courtesy_the_artist_labor_mexico_city_raebervonstenglin_zurich_and_untilthen_paris_photograph_kunst_halle_sankt_gallenstefan_jaeggi

Jill Magid, The Offering (Tapete de Flores), 2016, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi

Jill Magid, The Offering (Tapete de Flores), 2016, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi

Enter Jill Magid, an artist who uses her multifaceted projects to slip her fingers through the latticework of institutional power structures, testing for places that give or gap. Having stumbled upon the architect’s story (Magid’s Mexico City gallery neighbours Casa Barragán), she resolved to restore Barragán’s legacy to his public. Her project, The Barragán Archives (2013–ongoing), has treated the architect’s estate as a case study for testing the limits of what can be owned. Magid’s most recent exhibition, ‘The Proposal’, questions Zanco’s motivations by offering her a chance to repatriate Barragán’s archives in return for an even more intimate token of ownership: a blue diamond, grown from the cremated ashes of the architect.

jill_magid_the_proposal_2016_installation_view_kunst_halle_sankt_gallen._courtesy_the_artist_labor_mexico_city_raebervonstenglin_zurich_and_untilthen_paris_photograph_kunst_halle_sankt_gallenstefan_jaeggi

Jill Magid, The Proposal, 2016, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi

Jill Magid, The Proposal, 2016, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi

‘The Proposal’ offsets its macabre undertones in the first gallery with The Offering (Tapete de Flores) (2016), a ceremonial flower carpet in the dazzling hues of the Day of the Dead, the yearly celebration of the co-existence of the living and dead. In the next room, the six-minute video The Exhumation (2016) documents, in detail, the physical retrieval of the architect’s ashes from a memorial monument in his hometown, Guadalajara. Before a crowd of Barragán’s surviving family and regional dignitaries, two workmen chip away the concrete and brick to extract the tin of remains, carefully spooning out exactly 530 grammes (the minimum required to grow a diamond) into a plastic bag, then replacing them with a statuette of a horse matching the weight of the extracted remains. This work is preceded by a framed image of one of the architect’s outdoor fountains, which Magid had to extract from Zanco’s own book on Barragán, because no other reproductions have been approved. In effect, the architect’s own body is easier to access than his work.

jill_magid_the_exhumation_2016_installation_view_kunst_halle_sankt_gallen._courtesy_the_artist_labor_mexico_city_raebervonstenglin_zurich_and_untilthen_paris_photograph_kunst_halle_sankt_gallenstefan_jaeggi

Jill Magid, The Exhumation, 2016, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi;

Jill Magid, The Exhumation, 2016, installation view, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. Courtesy: the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Untilthen, Paris; photograph: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi;

In the final two galleries, three vitrines display selections from the project’s impressive paper trail, including Magid’s correspondence with Barragán’s family and with Algordanza, the Swiss company specializing in memorial diamonds. A copy of the handwritten letter Magid presented to Zanco consciously adopts the phrasing of the architect’s old love letters, thus positioning Magid as a new potential suitor, whose grand gesture – the diamond – lies in wait on the other side of the room. According to Algordanza, the stone is 2.02 carats, ‘as grown’ in a shade of ‘fancy deep blue’. Laser cut into the diamond itself is the phrase: ‘I am wholeheartedly yours.’ Openly confusing love and property, these words dangle a painfully vacant promise. Barragán did not choose Zanco; whether she owns his mind (via the archives) or his body (the diamond), she has no claim on his heart. All that can truly be hers is this rock. Ashes to ashes, dust to diamonds. 

Kate Sutton is a writer based in Zagreb, Croatia.

Issue 181

First published in Issue 181

September 2016

Most Read

Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018