MEXICO CITY — International art collectors, guzzling mescal and flexing gaudy taste, are descending on this megalopolis, and will leave on Monday with a hangover and something shiny. Meanwhile, behind the silk curtain, an international community of up-and-coming artists and project spaces is coming together for the Material Art Fair, which has established itself as the adolescent alternative to the corporate Zona MACO. Although probably unintentional, the success of this year’s Material is also its Achilles’ heel: chaos, color, and disorder. The fair spreads out in a labyrinth, revealing itself over time. Gallery’s respective spaces are poorly defined and blend into each other. The formality of the cubicle fair format is undermined by interventions and passages that I’m not sure whether to describe as art, ephemera, or party favors.
In other words, Material appropriately represents its context. Some galleries definitely got a raw deal, forced into transitional spaces or shoved against each other, an undoubtedly frustrating obstacle for showing and selling work. On several occasions during my visit on Thursday, I asked one gallerist about work being shown by another, because in certain spaces its impossible to tell which art belongs to whom. Still, there is something genuine in the chaos, representative of the diversity and excitement of emerging practices and forms. Whether a progression or digression, this year’s Material is tremendously different from last year’s, which featured standard distribution and more space to spread out. A friend said this version feels like being in a Mexico City market: cramped, loud, disorganized, vibrant, and claustrophobic. Welcome to DF.
The hustle and energy of the young artists and galleries is apparent in their installations, which demonstrate a turn away from formal minimalism and internet conceptualism — although both of the latter are fairly well represented, too. San Francisco’s Et Al. gallery is showing a series of multimedia paintings by artist Nico Colón, which border on illustrative, but lean toward abstraction, with layered forms, light and texture. The most interesting piece includes a camouflage hunting tarp layered with LED lights and stretched like a canvas. Around the corner, local gallery Yautepec’s installation, featuring work by Natalia Ibáñez Lario and Ryan Perez, is one of the most cohesive in the fair. Perez’s works— glossy techno-sensual collages made from automotive lacquer, steel, and carbon fiber — hold the space with force.
Artist Morgan Mandalay, also represented by Yautepec, showed up to Mexico City with his own nomadic project space, SPF15, which usually sets up on the beach in San Diego. In a tent that serves as the exhibition space, paintings by Josh Reames vibrate like digital screens, meshing imagery and symbolism into psychedelic advertisement narratives. From the beach in San Diego to Guelph, Canada, one of the benefits of Material is discovering unknown galleries from places off the art world map. Ed Video gallery, a nomadic space based in Guelph, made itself at home in what should have been an awkward in-between space. Galleries that used the fair’s close quarters and untraditional layout to their advantage fared better than those that tried to shove a square peg into a round hole.
A repose from the bright and overwhelming work dominating the rest of the fair, Mexico City’s Lulu gallery is showing minuscule but infinitely complex etchings by José Antonio Suárez Londoño, “Colombia’s best kept-secret,” as gallery co-founder Chris Sharp told me. Lulu, which was founded in an apartment by artist Martin Soto Climent and Sharp, an independent curator, also took the opportunity to inaugurate a brand new space concurrently with the fair.
Adding pins to the map, Denver-based Gildar Gallery is showing strong work from Mile-High City artists Zach Reini and Dmitri Obergfell, alongside Mexico City’s SANGREE collective, who also designed the fair’s official “art bar.” Obergfell created busts from graphite while in residence at Casa Maauad, where his work is also being featured this week. Gildar is one of few important spaces in Middle America working to connect local artists to an international conversation.
Material feels special because of the community that it catalyzes. Now in its third year, there is a sense of growth for the underdog fair, which still has plenty of time to define itself. The heavy-handed and chaotic curating that reigns supreme this year might be problematic for viewers’ expectations of art fairs, but with some tweaking it could evolve into a more sophisticated execution.