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Why Do US and European Galleries Flock to Mexico City’s Zona MACO?

Zona MACO 2015 (all photos by Jessica Cowley for Hyperallergic unless noted)
Zona MACO 2015 (all photos by Jessica Cowley for Hyperallergic unless noted)

MEXICO CITY — Zona MACO, Mexico City’s, and arguably Latin America’s, biggest art fair opened here Wednesday night at the massive Centro Banamex convention center on the outskirts of the city. The twelfth edition of the fair features 120 galleries from 22 countries over 12,000 square meters (~129,000 sq. ft.), but still feels manageable and inviting, with wide aisles and open booth plans. Roughly a third of all participating galleries hail from outside Mexico. Hyperallergic caught up with some of them to see what drew these entrepreneurs down to MACO and what they think of the fair and the burgeoning Mexican art scene.

Zona MACO 2015
Zona MACO 2015

Many of the gallerists we spoke to cited a desire to reach a growing collector base in Latin America and Mexico City in particular. “Mexico City collecting at this point has changed dramatically over the past ten years,” said Samanta Glaser, director of LA’s Kohn Gallery, which is at the fair for the second time. “That’s why Basel has a fair in Miami, because of the Latin American base of collectors. Not just Mexico, but all over Latin America.”

Eddie Martinez at Kohn Gallery's booth
Eddie Martinez at Kohn Gallery’s booth

“Zona Maco is interesting because it brings Northern and Latin America together, so the collector base is very broad,” said André Schlechtriem of Berlin’s Dittrich & Schlechtriem. He also cited a German need for outside validation. “If you have success somewhere else, people in Germany like it even more — that’s typical German. Before they like it, they need to know you’re successful somewhere else.”

Hales Gallery staff with painting by Frank Bowling
Hales Gallery staff with painting by Frank Bowling

“You have the key art fair circuit, but it’s important to deal with the regional fairs and connect with collectors who wouldn’t meet in London or New York,” said Stuart Morrison, gallery director of London’s Hales Gallery, which is at MACO for the first time. “We’re branching out into an international circuit, branching out to collectors in the region — Latin America, Texas, Miami.”

Many gallerists mentioned the opportunity to meet collectors from outside the region as well, from Europe or even just their hometown. “LA is a town where no one wants to drive,” said LA’s Charlie James, also a MACO first-timer. “I’ve met three couples, great collectors, from LA in the first hour, as well as collectors from North Carolina. We’ve had a strong response from Mexican collectors as well.”

“We’ve seen a number of people from LA, curators and collectors. The caliber is very high,” said Luis de Jesus, also from LA. “Seeing people flying down for it as well, that’s very positive.”

Cristin Tierney, whose New York gallery is exhibiting here for the first time, said something we heard echoed over and over. “We’ve found the collectors to be really warm and open, really interested in talking about art, which is nice. You don’t always get to do that at a commercial fair.”

Laura Owens clock paintings at Gavin Brown's enterprise / 356 Mission booth
Laura Owens clock paintings at Gavin Brown’s enterprise / 356 Mission booth

“You actually have one to one conversations,” said Eleanore Hugendubel of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, which is exhibiting Laura Owens clocks and books with LA’s 356 Mission. “The pace is nice, it’s spacious, the fair is actually manageable.”

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Wendi Norris with work by Helen Rebekah Garber and Nicolas Lobo

In addition to collectors, there’s also a strong curatorial presence at the fair. “Many of the museum groups that I know and museum curators are coming through. There’s a group from the Menil, the Tate, Cleveland Museum of Art. It’s a great place to spend time with curators,” said Wendi Norris, whose San Francisco gallery is here for the first time. People cited the strong role that institutional collections play in the region as well, most notably the Colección Jumex, as further motivation. The fair itself has a curated section, Zona Maco Sur, in addition to the main section. This year it’s curated by the co-directors of Kunsthalle Lissabon, Lisbon, João Mourão and Luis Silva, who have selected certain artists and invited their galleries to exhibit their work.

As far as the work that foreign galleries are exhibiting, most of the ones we spoke with brought work they thought would resonate with Mexican and Latin American audiences.

Charlie James and Maria Eguiarte with work by William Powhida and Ramiro Gomez
Charlie James and Maria Eguiarte with work by William Powhida and Ramiro Gomez

“One of my artists, William Powhida, had just completed a residency here wherein he studied the landscape of the contemporary Mexican art scene in great detail and the work really needed a big showing,” said gallerist Charlie James. “My young star Ramiro Gomez makes work that would be very provocative to the rich Mexicans that are going to be here.” The LA-based Gomez paints Southern Californian domestic workers, mostly Mexican, into images of luxury from glossy magazines.

Work by Julius von Bismark and Julian Carriere at the Alexander Levy / Dittrich & Schlechtriem booth
Work by Julius von Bismark and Julian Carriere at the Alexander Levy / Dittrich & Schlechtriem booth

Schlechtriem, in tandem with the Alexander Levy Gallery, is showing collaborative work by two European artists whom they’d flown to Mexico City a month and a half before the fair to create work. Julius von Bismark and Julian Carriere took building rubble from local construction sites and put them into tumblers. The resulting rounded stones provide a rocky terrain for the gallery booth. There is also a local cactus in the space, which was carved into by the artists.

Alois Kronschlaeger at Cristin Tierney's booth
Alois Kronschlaeger at Cristin Tierney’s booth

Tierney brought Jorge Tacla from Chile and Alois Kronschlaeger from Austria, in whose work “you can find strains of early to mid-20th century Mexican avant-garde movements,” according to gallery associate director Candace Moeller.

Hugo Crosthwaite at Luis de Jesus' booth
Hugo Crosthwaite at Luis de Jesus’ booth

De Jesus was one of the only gallerists we spoke to who had actuall brought work by a Mexican artist, Hugo Crosthwaite from Tijuana.

Rafaël Rozendaal at Steve Turner's booth
Rafaël Rozendaal at Steve Turner’s booth

LA-based Steve Turner, for whom this was the eighth year participating in MACO, took a different approach. He is showing brightly colored geometric websites by New York–based, Dutch-Brazilian artist Rafaël Rozendaal. For him, MACO is just one of a number of international fairs that are important platforms for artists to gain recognition. “Good works and good artists deserve to be presented everywhere. If they are good enough, collectors will follow,” he told us via email. “Do I think we will sell his websites at Zona Maco? I have no idea. However, as Rozendaal is part of a new generation of artists with increasing significance, I do not want to wait for him to be too well known outside Mexico.”

Gallerists from outside Mexico are also drawn by the exploding local art scene, and said they saw this as a good opportunity not just to sell work, but to find new artists. “The quality of Mexican artists has risen to the highest level of international contemporary art, over the last 15 to 20 years. Prior to that the work couldn’t get out very well. Today you have world class artists who live in DF,” said Michael Kohn, who also noted that he discovered European artists Troika at Gallery OMR on a previous visit.

“There’s a really strong group of artists practicing here, which bodes well for people like me who are not just interested in coming here and exchanging and doing commerce, but understanding why so much great creative energy is concentrated here,” said Norris, whose gallery is the first from Northern California to show at MACO.

Ryan Gander at Marc Foxx's booth. (Courtesy of Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo Enrique Macias Martinez)
Ryan Gander at Marc Foxx’s booth. (Courtesy of Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo Enrique Macias Martinez)

“For me, Mexico City is absolutely the most interesting creative place on the planet right now,” enthused Marc Foxx, whose LA gallery is here for the third time in the MACO Sur section, showing Ryan Gander. “A lot of that must have to do with a difficult social condition of this city and country, so there’s a lot of things that artists are taking responsibility for discussing. It’s challenging, they’re really asking us to think about things. I’m not seeing that happen anywhere else right now.”

James, who greeted me with a glass of mescal in one hand, was similarly enthusiastic. “I could tell last summer when I came down for Powhida’s show, it’s an ascendant scene. It’s fun, it’s cheap. You can still do it. It’s happening.”

Zona MACO will be running through February 8, at Centro Banamex (Hall D.
AV. Conscripto #311 Col. Lomas De Sotelo, Mexico D.F.)

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