Matter of DiscoveryA conversation with Su Wu
Design masterpieces abound: a desk by the now-fabled Cuban-born designer Clara Porset sits near a thick woollen rug, made by the family who wove for the Mexican architect Luís Barragán.
Su Wu is smoking Vogues from the window of her house in Roma Norte, Mexico City, a grand building from the early 1920s in art nouveau-inspired style. She is looking out over her courtyard, a mantelpiece glowing in the sun behind her. Its surface is covered with small sculptures lined up like votive offerings. The space, I tell her as I look around, seems as much like a gallery as a home. Stubbing her cigarette in an ashtray beneath her – a smooth, crafted object, shell-like – she laughs. In a way, both statements are true.
Wu is a mother of two and a polymath with an eye for pared-back beauty and a knack for composing intelligent prose. She moved to Mexico five years ago from New York City by way of Joshua Tree and continues to write for the New York publishing scene – including T Magazine and N+1, where she is arts editor. More recently, she has taken to curating for Masa Galeria, a nomadic gallery that showcases minimalist art and design in the US and Latin America. Her personal collection is vast; the pieces displayed throughout the residence are just one small fraction of what she owns.
“Sometimes my home becomes a gallery,” she says, entering her living room. She gestures to a canvas by the Zapotec painter Francisco Toledo. “This one is due to show in an exhibition in my house soon,” she tells me, explaining that the whole first floor will transform to accommodate the show. It will feature other Mexican painters and sculptors, with pieces referencing those sensational images so often associated with the country: decapitation scenes and depictions of Nahual, indigenous shapeshifters. Then it will return to being a tool for living, she says. “A place where I hang out with my dogs and my kids.”
It is strange to think that the items around us will soon be hidden from sight. Design masterpieces abound: a desk by the now-fabled Cuban-born designer Clara Porset sits near a thick woollen rug, made by the family who wove for the Mexican architect Luís Barragán. Gifts from artist friends and colleagues are dotted between sculptures created by Wu’s husband, sculptor Alma Allen, whose abstract creations might be likened to the early-20th-century forms of Constantin Brâncuși.
When I ask if she doesn’t fear a priceless vase tumbling from its perch, Wu shakes her head. Of course, she tuts when Sugar, her Border-Collie mix, clambers onto the sofa with muddy paws. But as a mother and dog-owner, she’s canny enough to bear in mind that “there’s nothing that can’t be cleaned or mended”.
Beside the home’s present, Wu is conscious of its past. “This was where William Borroughs stayed when he was living in Mexico,” she says. He met with a contingent of other beatniks passing through the neighbourhood, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to name just two. However, Wu says she feels a closer affinity to Burroughs’ wife, whom he tragically killed in the city (“though not in this house,” she says with a detectable touch of relief). “She was a writer, a good friend and a degenerate – and her ghost is safe with me.”
As for the future, plans are afoot. Two storeys will be added to the house, creating a new space for her and the family to live. Her side project, Casa Ahorita – a pop-up shop for art and design – will become a permanent fixture downstairs. “We’ll exhibit everything here in this space,” she says, which means an assortment of pottery treasures from Oaxaca, as well as weighty jewellery from Wu’s artist friends and woollen cushions that she has made in collaboration with her friend Elise Durbecq.
When I ask about the decision-making process for her selections, she explains that “it’s not so much commercial”. When it comes down to it, for Wu, collecting is a matter of discovering things she feels a connection with. Casa Ahorita is one way of letting others share in that. “It’s a very fortunate thing to be surrounded by objects made by the people we love,” she says.
- Words: Louis Harnett O’Meara
- Photos: Maureen M. Evans