A ‘Hank Rhon’ appears in a museum, and Mexicans mostly shrug


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MEXICO CITY -- The art world in this art-obsessed city entertained a minor controversy last week during the official reopening of the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Chapultepec Park.

With President Felipe Calderon presiding at an official ceremony, the museum was reinaugurated with the names of two patrons placed in gold-lettered signs in two refurbished halls.


One hall is now named for Angelica Fuentes, president of Omnilife, a supplements company. The other is named for Carlos Hank Rhon, a banker who sparks polarizing reactions anywhere Mexicans gather to gossip or argue about the state of their country.

Hank Rhon, who recently entered Forbes’ wealthiest list, is brother of the scandal-ridden former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon. Their father is Carlos Hank Gonzalez, former governor of the state of Mexico and a powerful figure in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

La Jornada, the stalwart of leftist newspaper journalism in Mexico, quoted a rebuke from the respected art critic Raquel Tibol, who knew Tamayo and sometimes squabbled with the painter (links in Spanish).

‘It is embarrassing that culture and art these days must depend on the money of ricachones’ -- fat cats -- ‘without determining the origin of those accumulations,’ Tibol said.

There were similar complaints on Twitter.

‘Better be the room dedicated to surrealism,’ one quipped. ‘At this rate, the new airport will end up being named Joaquin Guzman,’ after the world’s most-wanted drug lord, another huffed.

But the complaining didn’t last very long, and for some that crystallizes a cold reality. Private money is increasingly a crucial source of funding for public cultural institutions in Mexico.

In turn, private cultural institutions are gradually muscling out public ones as the sources of dynamism with the art community at large. Last year, for example, the biggest art event in Mexico was the opening of the new sponge-shaped Soumaya Museum, built by the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim.


Hank Rhon is a longtime patron of the Tamayo museum, one of several grouped under the Olga and Rufino Tamayo Foundation. The foundation provided $2.5 million for the renovation, or about a third of the total cost (link in Spanish).

The size of the gift from Hank Rhon that led to his name being placed in a gallery hall, however, was confidential due to the foundation’s rules, said museum spokeswoman Beatriz Cortes.

Carlos Hank Rhon is not directly implicated in any of the kind of scandals surrounding his brother Jorge Hank Rhon, whose Tijuana compound was raided in June 2011 by Mexican soldiers looking for weapons. Jorge Hank Rhon was arrested, but later released, to the approval of many residents of Tijuana whose livelihoods depend on the family’s businesses.

Yet the name sizzles among the political chattering classes. Some still said they thought the gold-lettered names were a bit too much.

‘Is it an art piece?’ asked artist Miguel Calderon. ‘Because if it’s an art piece, that’d be amazing.’

On Sunday, the first day the renovated Tamayo opened to the public, visitors mostly shrugged when asked for their opinion of the museum’s new Hank Rhon gallery.

‘I don’t have a document that tells me where his money came from, and I don’t need it,’ said Ricardo Martinez, 40. ‘I applaud the gesture, bringing art nearer to the public.’


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