Tony Moxham on the role that collaboration plays in MT Objects, the practice he shares with Mauricio Paniagua
Catalysts and comers of the effervescent Mexico City design scene, Tony Moxham and Mauricio Paniagua originally met in New York in 2003. Back then, Moxham, an Aussie-expat, was the art director of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine. Paniagua, born in Guatemala, was a top corporate headhunter. What began as a chance encounter between two heterogeneous spirits out for Memorial Day festivities at the Phoenix in the East Village blossomed into a fruitful partnership in both life and work. Today, under the moniker MT Objects, a sequel to their preceding DFC atelier, the duo collaborates with master artisans from across Mexico to create collectible, postmodern, brutalist ceramic vessels and furniture offered through AGO Projects, also based in CDMX.
“Our first collaboration was the house we owned and ‘renovated’ together in Williamsburg,” Moxham recalls. “We had little respect for gravity at the time, so a lot of what we did made the house largely unviable for normal people. We opened walls and closed off windows; we picked apart a staircase until it fell down; we closed off the garage with a glass wall, making it accessible only through a shag-carpeted crawl space. Then we filled that garage with large fish tanks.” All of these unconventional interventions, however, did not preclude the sale of the house in 2005. From there, Moxham and Paniagua moved on to Mexico City and redirected their creative impulses toward the production of charismatic, hand-crafted design objects.
The couple’s early years in Mexico were filled with cross-country travel, which instilled in them an intense fascination with Mexican artisanal traditions and led them to launch the design-for-retail brand DFC. “We fell in love with Mexico's pueblos and pre-Hispanic cultural heritage,” Moxham explains. “A large amount of the work we created with DFC was made directly with artisan communities famous for skills and styles evolved over millennia.” Around a decade later, Moxham and Paniagua transitioned from DFC to MT Projects while continuing to collaborate with regional makers. MT Projects, though, is focused toward international art and design collectors rather than retail shops.
Moxham explains the impetus behind their creative evolution like this: “We'd always been drawn to history and to decadence, but creating functional design for retail didn't give much chance for exploration of these themes.” The work of MT Projects, presented in a gallery setting, has given the duo the artistic license they crave.
“Most of what we create for MT Objects revolves around ideas of ritual and death, mostly from a pre-Hispanic, Mesoamerican perspective,” Moxham says. “There's a lot of symbolism in the forms we design, the materials we use, and in the way we decorate things that is a reflection on pre-Hispanic cosmovision. The brutalist ceramics we cast from Mexico City sidewalk concrete, for example, represent ideas of dystopia, failure, and collapse of civilization, while other vessels are more directly ritualistic in nature, such as our series of sacrificial bowls or our funerary vessels, which are literally inspired by Mayan, Aztec, and Totonac burial and ceremonial ceramics.”
When asked to describe MT Object’s ongoing relationships with the artisans that produce their designs, Moxham says simply, “It's fun!” But he is quick to add that they take these relationships very seriously: “As foreigners, it's crucial that we respect, acknowledge, and most importantly pay the people who have developed the unique skills and aesthetics that also carry huge cultural and religious weight in Mexico. Our work often reaches a much wider audience than many artisan communities are capable of reaching, and we understand the responsibility we have to acknowledge everyone we work with.”
Moxham and Paniagua play complementary roles in their shared enterprises. The former focuses more on formalist decisions—design choices, graphic presentations, photography, social media—while the latter has a stronger hand in managing production. Moxham confirms though that the creative juices flow from from the partners equally. “Ideas come from both of us,” he says, “inspired by diverse sources from the travel we do together to the television shows we watch.” The main distinction is that, “Mauricio's ideas are usually more rooted in tradition given his knowledge of art history, while mine are more contemporary, often from the shallow end of the popular culture pool.”
Whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Over the last ten years or so, Moxham and Paniagua have attracted a number of influential champions, including The Future Perfect, Murray Moss, ADN Galería, and most recently Rodman Primack and his AGO Projects. Moxham recognizes each, one by one, for their contributions to the success MT Objects enjoys today.
On The Future Perfect: “It was literally the first store to sell our designs... Without the support and visibility that David and Laura have given us over more than a decade, I doubt we'd still be making art and design today.”
On Murray Moss: “Moss supported us when we began making more heavily handmade pieces and were moving towards unique work and limited editions. Mr. Moss's ability in helping the public see the beauty and value in modern decorative arts… was integral to our evolution as artists.”
On ADN Galería: “Paulo and Paulina were similarly supportive when we created our first important ceramics for MT Objects back in 2015. They helped legitimize us at a gallery level—rather than just two strange guys at the weird end of retail.”
On AGO Projects: “Rodman and Rudy have supported our contemporary brutalist ceramics and brought our work to an audience we could never have reached alone. Their support of Mexican, artisan-made contemporary design has been hugely important for us and is fantastic exposure for Mexico's diverse art and design communities.”
The distinct character of MT Objects is ultimately the vision of Moxham and Paniagua, still the quality of their work owes much to the makers they commission. Moxham puts it this way: “We've created an aesthetic world of our own. In our work with artisans, we're seeking the technical prowess they bring. Most artisans we have been fortunate to work with tend to prize the skills of their own hands and the collective knowledge of their group over creative individuality. Although of course this is not the case of all artisans, and we don't want to speak for them. In towns like Santa María Atzompa in Oaxaca and Ocumicho in Michoacán, for example, ceramic artisans are fiercely creative, and the work they produce is stunningly idiosyncratic. Even after 15 years living in Mexico, the country's artisans and artisanal history surprise and delight us.”
At present, Moxham and Paniagua have a crew of three full-time artisans and a "rolodex," as Moxham says, of other artisanal experts they call on as needed. “Right now we're working during lockdown to develop a series of colored ceramic slips and custom glazes with four different outside artisan crews. The specialist artisans we work with understand the intricacies of what we make far better than Mauricio and I do.” ◆