An entrance to Zona Maco in Mexico City (courtesy of Zona Maco)

MEXICO CITY — Trying to get to the Zona Maco Art Fair feels a lot like trying to get to the airport. After almost an hour of traffic, I arrived at the curb of Centro Citibanamex, an expansive convention center located at the edge of the city. I trailed a power-walking art fair denizen up a very tall escalator until spotting the obligatory metal detectors signifying the fair entrance was near.  Founded in 2002 by Zélika García, Zona Maco is the largest fair in Latin America, a one-stop-shop for a variety of luxury ornaments; not only contemporary art, but also furniture, jewelry, textiles, limited edition, decorative objects, art books, antiques, and photography from all eras. The cluster of booths immediately around the entrance featured local crafts and cool-kid magazines, heightening the feeling that I was passing through a duty-free shop on my way to my flight’s gate — last chance to get a souvenir or in-flight reading material before takeoff!

Works on view at Zona Maco in Mexico City (courtesy of Zona Maco)

One of the fair’s plazas at Zona Maco in Mexico City (all photos by Galia Basail Mulcahy, unless otherwise stated)

I was already experiencing some vertigo and the various shiny objects — contemporary art and sculpture best suited for the living rooms of the .01% — were no help in steadying my vision. More or less literally reeling, I almost ran into “La Dama Oaxaqueña,” a 1949 painting by Diego Rivera, placed as it was on the outward-facing wall of the booth of Galerías Cristóbal. The style was clearly his, but being much more familiar with Rivera’s overtly political and maximalist murals scattered all around the city, I had to double-check the label. This large but understated painting, done in the canonized style of European aristocratic portraiture but with a Mexican subject, was a necessary palate cleanser before taking in the rest of the fair.

Diego Rivera, “La Dama Oaxaqueña” (1949), on view in the Galerías Cristóbal booth at Zona Maco

Unfolding my map, I searched for“Plaza de la Informalidad” (Informality Square), a project I had seen making its rounds on Instagram. It wasn’t a booth, but there were still works for sale. Guadalajara 90210, a gallery from the eponymous city in Mexico, invited about a dozen artists and collectives to drop off their work. A Mexico City-based streetwear brand hawked jackets in one corner, while puppets and prints hung side by side; when I got up to leave, I bumped my head on a low-hanging mobile. Sales were being made, and while it was a slice of chaotic comfort, it felt a bit like a hasty handout to the local scene. The organizers seemed happy with their end of the deal, but I wished the fair had donated some real square footage for a local project space booth.

Installation view of the Plaza de la Informalidad at Zona Maco

Installation view of the Plaza de la Informalidad at Zona Maco

Zona Maco does have a section dubbed “New Proposals,” curated by José Esparza Chong Cuy, dedicated to showcasing “work by artists that point towards imaginative and experimental ways of living and thinking.” It was there I found the tiny booth of Proyecto Nasal, a gallery based in Lima, Peru. On display were several works by the Mexico City-based duo asma, made up of artists Hanya Belía and Matias Armendaris. One work, “Plato de Barro (Clay Plate)” (2020), looked to be a wreath of thorns made of clay but was actually bronze, painted in oil and burned to a clay-like finish, a fitting subversion to the big bling energy found in other booths.

Asma, “The Pupils of the Eye,” (2020), “Plato de Barro” (2020), “The Seeds of the Fruit” (2020) on view in the Proyecto Nasal booth at Zona Maco

Matias Armendaris, “Spell Mirrors” (2019)on view  in the Proyecto Nasal booth at Zona Maco

On the other side of the fair, a jumpsuit hung in the corner of a booth. A black pit crew-style uniform — the kind used when popping wheels on and off a race car, with some very obvious additional seam work to make room to wear with breasts — made me think another streetwear brand had sprouted a pop-up shop. A closer look and a conversation with Tamara Ibarra, cofounder of Prras! — a feminist Mexico City-based collective — revealed it to be a sculpture commissioned by the collective and made by designer Lorena Vega called,  “Prras! Pit Crew” (2020). Heavily branded with white logos from collectives and events involved in its making and activation, it suggests the ways labor inscribes itself on the bodies of women while also looking very cool. Another collaboration between Prras!, and photographer Dulce Pinzón, featured a series of color photographic portraits commissioned of women-identifying artists and designers wearing the jumpsuit in a location of their choosing.

Installation view of “Body Machine” (2020) (in collaboration with Lorena Vega) and Body Atelier (2020) (In collaboration with Dulce Pinzón) in the Prras! booth at Zona Maco

Detail view of “Body Machine” (2020) (in collaboration with Lorena Vega) and Body Atelier (2020) (In collaboration with Dulce Pinzón) in the Prras! booth at Zona Maco

By the time I exited the convention hall’s windowless labyrinth, hours had passed and the sun had set. Although art from dozens of countries and galleries I will never get to visit were available to view and consume, I found myself most drawn to local work. By making space for local artists and their projects, an art fair can resist the de-personalizing airport feel. However, if I visit again, I’ll make sure to pop a Dramamine first.

Zona Maco continues through February 9 at Centro Citibanamex (Hall D, Avenida. Conscripto 311, Lomas de Sotelo, Mexico City, Mexico)

Layla Fassa is a writer and independent researcher based in Mexico City. Her criticism has appeared in Art in America, Artforum, Frieze, and Resident Advisor, among other publications.