Entering the contemporary art market with a bang, Mexican artists, collectors, and galleries have made megalopolis Mexico City a major art world destination.
By Marina Cashdan
The arts scene in Mexico City has made it a cultural centerpiece for the contemporary art world and the artistic community as a whole.
The annual La Colección Jumex opening-penetrable only via a thick cardboard invitation and various security checkpoints-is a Dionysian-like affair attended by the who’s who of Mexico’s social network and major players of the art world. The soirée is held in an airy tent on the sprawling grounds of the billion-dollar juice company Grupo Jumex, and guests are a motley crew from all reaches of the map-collectors, curators, artists, designers, celebrities, business tycoons, and connected revelers. Some are there to witness an impressive private collection of contemporary art (the show displays more than 1,200 works, over half by Latin American artists, housed in a 40,000-square-foot bunker-like space on the grounds with a rainbow sign that reads “Love Invents Us”), while others arrive solely to partake in the impressive celebration. Hosting the event is Grupo Jumex heir Eugenio López Alonso, a patron saint for Mexican contemporary artists, who has spent more than $80 million over the last 12 years building a contemporary art collection, fostering artists like megastar Gabriel Orozco.
Ten years ago, Mexico City was known for its smog-choked environment, nightmarish traffic, and outrageous levels of crime, but despite the fact that those problems still exist in some modicum-most notably the pollution problem, though the crime is less prominent-the city’s vibrant cultural scene has counterbalanced the negative, eclipsing criticism with social praise. The contemporary art scene in Mexico has taken off largely due to private collections like López Alonso’s and the presence of a handful of pioneer galleries like Galería OMR, Kurimanzutto, and Galeria
Enrique Guerrero at international art fairs such as Art Basel, Frieze, and ARCO. López Alonso, who is on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, comments, “Mexican artists have a lot to say, and slowly but surely their proposals and ideas have been spreading beyond older institutional boundaries that are now outdated. We find more and more examples of their work in private collections and museums outside of Mexico.”
Via his foundation, López Alonso has spent more than $12 million initiating and underwriting Latin-focused programs in art institutions in the United States. He has also lent works to U.S. and European exhibitions, published catalogs, and funded Latin American arts courses at universities and art schools. Additionally, he will be opening a new exhibition space this year in Mexico City, one that is more accessible to the public. With that said, López Alonso and other collectors have lured curators to Mexico City while galleries like Galería OMR, Kurimanzutto, and Galería Enrique Guerrero have lured collectors, thus building Mexico City into one of the world’s more prominent art destinations.
Mexico City’s first art district, Colonia Roma, was a wealthy enclave 100 years ago, and is still spotted with romantic turn-of-the century Art Deco and beaux-arts buildings from that era. In the 1940s, a majority of the upper middle class living in the Roma district moved to neighborhoods further west and lower income families replaced them. By mid-century, the neighborhood was deteriorating and, after the earthquake of 1985, it fell into disrepair, leaving rents at rock bottom prices. As a result, the neighborhood saw an influx of galleries, bookstores, and cafés move in during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Fifteen years later, Colonia Roma-along with its neighboring Condesa-is now the stereotype of art world neighborhoods, filled with posh boutique hotels, high-design shops, and creative types in funky-framed glasses that emphasize their “individuality.”
Take a walk along Plaza Rio de Janeiro and, peeking out from behind a mysterious pair of iron gates, you’ll find Galería OMR, housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building. A quaint, sun-drenched courtyard takes you to the quirkily lopsided gallery space, showcasing work by Mexican artists like photographer Rubén Ortiz-Torres and international artists like Candida Höfer. A short walk from OMR, on Zacatecas 93, is la Galería Nina Menocal, the namesake of the Cuban-born founder. When it opened in 1990, the gallery represented primarily Cuban artists. From its onset, Menocal organized some of the most exciting exhibitions in the city, with Cuban artists like José Bedia, Arturo Cuenca, Glexis Novoa, Consuelo Castañeda, and Quisqueya Henríquez radically influencing and broadening the art scene in Mexico. As a majority of her Cuban artists have since moved to the United States, Galería Nina Menocal now represents mostly Mexican and Argentinean artists like Boris Viskin and Raymundo Sesma, among others.
The trendy Garash Galería shows installations by young artists in a discreet bi-level space on busy Avenida Álvaro Obregón. Galleries such as OMR, Nina Menocal, and Garash Galería have birthed a community that thrives off venues like the Casa Lamm Cultural Center. Located in a small mansion on Avenida Alvaro Obregón, the center houses three exhibition spaces, a bookstore, café, and chic international restaurant. The center also offers a wide range of art courses.
Any growing contemporary art city is expected to support galleries and museums with a contemporary art fair. New York has the Armory; Miami the Art Basel Miami Beach fair; and five years ago, Mexico City welcomed its first MACO (Mexico Arte Contemporaneo) fair, now an annually held event in late April. This year, MACO will draw collectors, curators, and others with a collection of approximately 70 international galleries.
The arts scene in Mexico City has made it a cultural centerpiece for the contemporary art world and the artistic community as a whole. Mexican artists are key players in the art market, with works by artists such as Gabriel Orozco in a price bracket competitive with pop-culture artists like Jeff Koons. With a great deal of community and international support finally behind them, Mexican artists now have access to an incredible number of resources and an impressive fan base. With that in mind, who knows what great things, or equally superb artists, will arise next.