“Latin America’s most important contemporary art fair…” At Zona Maco, sales are slowing down but Mexico City’s art scene is thriving.
Throughout this week, Zona Maco’s website was unavailable to use half of the time with a message appearing across the screen announcing “Resource Limit Is Reached”. One wondered if the message was an unintentional commentary on the fair’s performance, as much as that on the dysfunctional website. Though the energy fluctuated across the opening days (8-12 February) as well as across the sections, Zona Maco often appeared slightly out of breath, lacking the thrill excitement that typically accompanies the global art world’s most successful “trade shows”.
Hopping from one international fair to another with a baggage of art celebrities’ latest multimillion creations is no doubt an exhausting business, which might explain the weariness at some of the booths, particularly those of the top galleries from New York, Paris and London, whose abundance in the exhibitors’ list makes Zona Maco the most international art event in the region. Zona Maco 2017, presenting 120 galleries and 1500 artists, was unequivocally described as the most international edition so far, both when it comes to the geographical spread of participating galleries, and that of collectors in attendance.
The sales however were uneven. With many dealers confirming the fair’s sluggishness when speaking in private, and asserting fantastic sales when approached in writing, one can only assume the truth must be somewhere in the middle. Los Angeles’s Steve Turner confirmed all works from their stand, part of a curated section Zona Maco Sur, were snapped up within the first four hours after the opening. The gallery was showcasing paintings and a video by Yung Jake, a multidisciplinary artist “born on Internet in 2011”, fusing hip-hop, technology, and contemporary art. Curiously, all the works went back to the US, rather than finding a new home south of Texas. Turner has been faithfully returning to the fair every year since the launch in 2003, but has he established a local collectors’ base as a result? “It’s a very closed society,” he replied negatively. “What really makes me come back is the artists.”
The energy of Salón Acme
Another “veteran” visitor is a Brussels-based financier and collector Alain Servais who has not missed a single edition since the fair’s inauguration fourteen years ago. Alain commented on the sleepiness of this year’s Zona Maco and praised instead the energy of Salón Acme – an artist-run initiative that offers works by artists who don’t have a gallery representation – where he acquired six works. He bought at Maco as well: from Arroniz, Proyectos Monclova and Hilario Galguera. When asked the same question on “what makes him come back”, Servais replied that he considers the Mexican art scene extremely dynamic and purposeful, one that encompasses quality museums, art fairs, galleries, non-profit spaces, and – most importantly – exceptional artists. “The whole ecosystem is very balanced, very dense. The only thing truly missing is the more adventurous collectors,” says Servais. I nod in agreement as the arch-example immediately springs to mind: Mexico City’s Museo Soumaya by Carlos Slim – the world’s richest man’s collection of the world’s most expensive artworks (European Old Masters, Impressionists, Rodins, etc.).
Back at Zona Maco, some of the dealers looked more content than others. Lisson Gallery in the main section allegedly sold works by Pedro Reyes, Ryan Gander, Lee Ufan, Tony Cragg, and Jason Martin in addition to placing a large-scale bicycle installation by Ai Weiwei in a Mexican public collection. The latter was a sponsored acquisition, though no selection committee nor the amount of prize have been announced.
An overt comment on the current political situation
Some of the younger galleries, such as Brussels-based Harlan Levey in the New Proposals section curated by Humberto Moro, were also thrilled with the sales, as well as with a number of engaging conversations they had with local and international curators from several institutions. Harlan showed works by three young artists Amelie Bouvier, Marcin Dudek and Emmanuel Van der Auwera, and brought all three along to the fair.
Mexico City’s most established gallery kurimanzutto was one of the few to make an overt comment on the current political situation, hanging Rirkrit Tiravanija’s new (i.e. two-week old) works on the booth’s outer wall. The artist known for his socially-engaged work used broadsheets of Mexico’s most widely read newspapers that came out on one single day: 20 January 2017, and placed his response across the sheets: “EL MIEDO DEVORA EL ALM” (Fear Eats the Soul).
Just across the aisle, John Isaacs’s large-scale hand-woven work worth $70,000 – “Please Leave This World” (2016), on view at Madrid’s Travesia Cuatro – resonated with Tiravanija’s work, creating a short corridor of unease, as one was reminded of the disturbing news rolling in the background of Maco’s week of festivities.
As Wolfgang Tillmans opens his solo show at London’s Tate Modern later this week, his recent work could be spotted at a number of blue-chip booths including David Zwirner and LA’s Regen Projects.
Contemporary art, however, is not Zona Maco’s sole focus. The fair brings a number of local and international galleries showcasing modern and contemporary design, from carpets and furniture to jewelry and fashion, in a section curated by Cecilia León de la Barra since 2014.
A glass of mezcal
At the opposite end of Centro Banamex’s vast hall is the Modern Art aisle, curated by Alejandra Yturbe, Mariana Pérez Amor and Enrique Guerrero. The section, now in its fifth year, is dedicated to 20th century masters and rediscoveries, with Fernando Botero, Rufino Tamayo, and Mathias Goeritz making a regular appearance at the stands of Miami-based Gary Nader or the local Galeria de Arte Mexicano. Elsewhere, Fifty24 dedicated a solo booth to the renowned Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg (b.1936), with a selection of his recent illusionistic vertigo-inducing drawings and paintings (on offer at $50,000-$100,000) and bronze sculptures ($150,000).
Zona Maco is praised for its crucial role in putting Mexican art in the global spotlight but the attention is clearly shifting, as some of the galleries such as Labor are relocating to the satellite Material Art Fair, and many collectors are choosing to spend their time (and presumably money) at the young and daring Material and Salon Acme instead. As the fair week draws to a close, one raises a glass of mezcal to the artists, writers, and curators – those who keep up the energy of this generous city, even and particularly at the most difficult times.