Mexico City's nascent 'museum row'

Render Museo Jumex (baja)
A couple of years ago, telecom tycoon and billionaire Carlos Slim inaugurated his $70 million Soumaya Museum, a glittering palace to house his personal collection. Some 16,000 hexagonal aluminum plates cover the 150-foot-tall building, reflecting light from all angles.

The museum, free to the public, was Slim’s gift to the city, and it has created some buzz in the art world. After all, it includes some Toulouse-Lautrecs, Picassos and Dalis, as well as works by Diego Rivera and Renoir. It displays Slim’s vast collection of castings of statues by Auguste Rodin, the renowned French sculptor. Here’s a Wall Street Journal story about that museum.

Now comes news that a new museum will open right next to the Soumaya in the capital’s Polanco district . It is a five-story museum housing the Jumex Collection, the largest private contemporary arts collection in Latin America. Its inauguration is scheduled for Nov. 19. It is full of stark, geometric lines, distinct to the curvy Soumaya Museum.

Like the Soumaya, the Jumex Collection will display the collection of a business tycoon, in this case the food and juice magnate Eugenio Lopez, head of Grupo Jumex.

Lopez has collected 2,600 pieces, mostly contemporary art from the 1990s to the present, and much of it will be on display, including works by Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Martin Kippenberger and Bruce Nauman.

The museum will display an important group of Mexican contemporary artists, and be the site of six exhibitions per year.

The artist’s rendering above comes from the firm of David Chipperfield, the knighted British architect . Chipperfield’s firm designed the reconstruction of Berlin’s Neues Museum, and it’s also done the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and designed a cultural center in Arendal, Norway. In the rendering above, you see the Soumaya Museum (shaped almost like a nuclear cooling tower) behind the Jumex.

Might a third museum be in the offing, making a true “museum row”?


The town that Carlos Slim forgot

A town high in the mountains of Oaxaca state now has a mobile phone network – but it’s not because of Carlos Slim’s Telcel or any other cellular service provider.

The townspeople built their own network with the help of some foreigners, and now their cellular bills are about $1.20 a month, a thirteenth the size of average monthly bills in places where the big players offer service.

The town is called Villa Talea de Castro. Most of its inhabitants are Zapotec Indians.

It’s so remote that there was no cell service. In stepped Rhizomatica, a nonprofit with the goal of increasing “access to mobile telecommunications to the over two billion people without affordable coverage and the 700 million with none at all.”

The U.S. and European experts working with Mexican engineers got the network set up by March of this year. At first, they ruled that phone calls were not to be longer than five minutes each to keep the small network from getting saturated.

By May, local numbers in Mexico City, Los Angeles and Seattle were set up, meaning that Oaxacans in Villa Talea could call relatives in the capital or in California as if it were practically a local call, a few cents a minute.

The French news agency, AFP, just did a story about the project (in English), and here’s an earlier story in Spanish from a Mexican news portal.

AFP says Slim’s Telcel, whose parent company, America Movil, has 262 million subscribers across Latin America, refused to provide service in the town because it had fewer than 5,000 inhabitants.

The local network appears to be quite a success. AFP says “600 villagers signed up since the service opened three months ago.” Already, the Red Celular de Talea (or Talea Cellular Network) is preparing to buy better equipment to improve service and donate their old equipment to another indigenous village.


In the land of Carlos Slim, obesity

Mexico has captured the dubious title of world’s most obese nation.

This story has been getting a lot of play in the overseas press, and obscures the complexities around the topic, including the links between poverty and obesity. 

Some of Mexico’s poorest areas are also where it has the highest rates of diabetes and obesity. This is partly due to the rise of convenience stores, the power of food and beverage conglomerates like Bimbo and Coca-Cola and a more fast-paced lifestyle. I did an article on the soaring rate of diabetes in Mexico a while back.

Certainly here in Mexico City, the rise of roadside stands serving greasy food and sugary drinks is a contributing factor. With phenomenally long commutes, hardworking Mexicans here have little time for anything but cheap roadside food. No longer do they go home for home-cooked meals at lunch. 

The Global Post story of my colleague Dudley Althaus kicked off the spate of coverage on the obesity. Now, 32.8 percent of Mexicans are obese, pushing U.S. citizens down the world "globesity" list.

The sad thing is, fresh fruits and vegetables are so abundant and cheap in Mexico. I went to a neighborhood market Saturday and filled up a large bag with myriad fruits and vegetables. They all look so much fresher and riper than the normal assortment of plastic-wrapped, wax-covered stuff at the U.S. supermarket. And the cost? About 10 bucks.


The hostility facing Carlos Slim

The world's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, is not finding an easy go of it when he makes public appearances in the United States. Last week, at an event at the New York Public Library along with Salman Khan, the head of Khan Academy, a number of activists in the audience interrupted the event with loud laughing. This Forbes posting cites one activist saying it was a protest against Slim's "monopolistic and predatory practices."

Slim faced protests a year ago when George Washington University gave him an honorary degree.

The Forbes story said Slim's son-in-law, Arturo Elias, believes some of the protesters were paid $35 and a Metro ticket to get to last year's events.

Slim's America Movil offers cellular services in 17 countries. A recent monopoly-busting telecom reform in Mexico, Slim's home base, will make it harder for him to hang on to some 70 percent of the cellular market there and 80 percent of the land lines.


Carlos Slim, the richest .0001%

If you want to know more about Carlos Slim in 90 seconds, take a look at this video. Forbes Magazine this week listed Slim for a fourth year in a row as the world's richest man, with a fortune estimated at $73 billion. Trailing slightly is Bill Gates, the Microsoft found, at $67 billion. The two men, who were recently together here in Mexico, have some differences when it comes to philanthropy. Click here to see my story on the issue.


The world's highest political ad

A Mexican mountaineer, Leonardo Fernandez, recently reached the summit of Mt. Everest, the world's highest mountain at 29,035 feet in elevation. Fernandez does more than just gaze out at the stunning panorama from the rooftop of the world. He records a video endorsing the presidential campaign of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

What interested me more about the video (in Spanish), though, was how deeply out of breath Fernandez appears to be. It's for logical reasons. At the top of Everest, there is only a third of the level of oxygen in the air as at sea level. Even at base camp on the Tibetan side, at a little more than 15,000 feet in elevation, oxygen levels are only half what they are at sea level.

I can attest to this personally. Click here for a video I did in 2007 of the scene at base camp as climbers prepare for the ascent. That's me about half way through the video, gasping for air and complaining how I woke up every half hour during the night.

So Sr. Fernandez, my advice is to forget about Lopez Obrador for the moment. Take some long oxygen-deprived breaths and get off the mountain. Otherwise, you'll be one more victim of the Everest "death zone" (that I wrote about here) littered with corpses.


Slim Watch: Richest man in Macedonia

Macedonia Carlos Slim_Nost
The world’s richest man is touring the Balkans. Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecom tycoon, has been in Skopje and Ohrid, Macedonia, pronouncing that he was “delighted at the beauties of the region.”

Macedonia Carlos Slim_Nost(1)Which beauties he was talking about, I don’t know. Perhaps investment opportunities.

“I didn't have much time for more sightseeing,” Slim was quoted as saying on this website. “I knew very little about Macedonia, I knew something about Alexander the Great and the history of the country, but you have to excuse me for my modest knowledge. Only two days ago I found out that Mother Teresa was born here.”

In the AP photo at left, Slim walks with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

During his stay in Macedonia, Slim co-chaired a meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which was convened for the first time outside of its headquarters in Geneva, New York and Paris.

Macedonians interpreted Slim's visit, however, as a sign that their country is an attractive investment destination.

Forbes says Slim is worth $69 billion.

Item: Postings will be light until I return to Mexico April 15th.



This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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