Better Late

Mexico City
12.03.08

Left: Artist Francis Al˙s. Right: Dealers José Kuri and Monica Manzutto. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)


“WHATEVER TIME THEY TELL YOU to be somewhere, add an hour,” warned an expat friend on my arrival last Friday in Mexico City. That was a conservative estimate. No matter when I reached any of the pre–Art Basel Miami Beach cocktails, lunches, and dinners and gallery, museum, and private-collection previews that Kurimanzutto Gallery had organized to toast its new home in San Miguel Chapultepec, it was always the right time.

For this perpetual latecomer, that was a bonus, though I still missed the Mexican-style Thanksgiving dinner that Jumex fruit-juice scion and art collector Eugenio López cohosted at his Polanco penthouse on Thursday. “We even had turkey!” exclaimed Museo de Arte Moderno board president Lupe (Guadalupe) Articas de Rayos-Cardenas, when she climbed into the silver Chevy Suburban that the Jumex Foundation had supplied for my visit. We were driving south from López’s art-filled apartment to another dinner for the Kurimanzutto contingent at the glass-walled home of Taco Inn owners Monica and Cesar Cervantes––enthusiastic collectors of contemporary art, from the look of it.

Works by Kurimanzutto artists Gabriel Orozco, Abraham Cruzvillegas, and Damián Ortega were prominent, of course, but the first familiar face I saw among those from Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, Paris, and London at the buffet table in the garden belonged to New Museum curator Richard Flood. Los Angeles dealer Shaun Caley Regen popped out of the dark, as did curator Francesco Bonami, UCLA art school dean Russell Ferguson, and Ferguson’s wife, Karin Hegel, the director of the Japanese-American National Museum.

Left: Artist Gabriel Orozco. Curator Francesco Bonami.


In fact, an impressive number of dealers, artists, art advisers, collectors, and museum staff—local and foreign—had gathered in this vast metropolis to acknowledge what José Kuri and Monica Manzutto have accomplished in the nine years their sometimes-itinerant gallery has been in business. Passing by the taco table, I bumped into Rirkrit Tiravanija, another Kurimanzutto artist, and another cohost, MUCA (University Museum of Arts and Science) curator Patrick Charpenel, who had organized Kurimanzutto artist Fernando Ortega’s first solo museum show, which opened that day. Charpenel was the only actual host I saw there––López and fellow collectors Isabel and Agustin Coppel were the other names at the top of the invitation, which called for dinner at the unheard-of hour of 7:45 PM. We got there at 10—exactly right for acclimating to the scene.

In short order, I met Museo Amparo director Roberto Gavaldón and Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan, the organizer of “An Unruly History of the Readymade,” which culled from the eighteen hundred contemporary works in the Jumex Collection, the largest private art holding in Latin America. Standing nearby were the raven-haired Hilario Galguera, whose gallery Damien Hirst has given a shot in the arm since becoming a part-time resident in Mexico, and American Embassy arts attaché Bertha Cea, who is making do with a recession-size budget for bringing American artists to Mexico.

Yet the global economic crisis has actually not affected the Mexican art world so much. While the country has always been depressed, its collectors and artists seem in better shape than ever before. Both López and communications billionaire Carlos Slim Helú are building new art museums in town, and there was no shortage of local fat cats at this or any other party I attended over the weekend. Still, Kuri told me that having a gallery in an art-world outer ring like Mexico City means doing business mostly abroad. “We work with a lot of museums,” he said. “One of us is always traveling for the artists we represent.”

Left: Collector Eugenio Lopez Alonso. Right: The New Museum's Eungie Joo and dealer Shaun Caley Regen.


This time, the art world had come to them. Partly because it was on the way to Miami, but mainly due to Kuri and Manzutto’s good will. Such benevolence was obvious the next morning, when their exhibition, ironically titled “Market Economy,” attracted a few hundred guests to brunch in the sun-dappled garden of the new gallery, a former lumberyard converted by architect Alberto Kalach. From the rafters of the large, open exhibition space, Cruzvillegas had strung a daisy chain of small coconuts (representing the heads of 450 innocents slain in drug wars), snaking it around thirty industrial aluminum shelving units on which artists including Miguel Calderón, Monika Sosnowska, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Carlos Amorales had installed objects reflective of their work or sensibilities. (Each unit, with shelves by three artists, was priced at sixty thousand dollars.)

The gallery organized the weekend like professional party planners––stunning in the land of mańana, mańana––arranging hotels, transportation, and sightseeing, but gave the afternoon over to individual pleasures. Mine came early that day, when I joined curator Benjamin Weil, Berlin gallerist Esther Schipper, Los Angeles architect Kulapat Yantrasast, and Jumex’s Victor Zamudio-Taylor for what we all agreed was one of the most transformative experiences of our lives: a visit to Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s house, a sanctuary of the most refined domestic modernism imaginable. Then, with art adviser Curt Marcus, expat American artist James Brown, and his wife, Alexandra (whose Carpe Diem artist-book press is based in Oaxaca), I made the gallery rounds, crawling through a door cut into the metal gates of Petra Gallery, getting a preview of a show by collagist Raul Ortega Ayala at the magnificent El Eco, designed by Barragán associate and painter Mathias Goeritz, and finally, at Galguera’s two-story town house, discovering Benjamin Torres, a terrific young artist who cuts and pastes up magazines (including an entire run of Interview from 1992) into colorful new pop objects.

But the main event was yet to come: the nearly $150,000 dinner and three-DJ dance party Kurimanzutto hosted for three hundred at the sixteenth-century downtown home of the Museum of Mexico City. Guests sat themselves at tables placed in an interior hall four stories high, and were served a four-course meal catered by Contramar, the best seafood restaurant in Mexico City and an art-world clubhouse. At dinner, I met Rodrigo Peńafiel, of the water-bottling family. Paloma Porraz Fraser, director of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso Museum, called him her Robin Hood. A dynamo of a promoter who rounds up corporate sponsorship for cash-starved Mexican museums, Peńafiel also just opened an instantly fashionable nightclub, Leonor, and has a plan to turn every big commercial-business owner in Mexico into a part-time cultural philanthropist.

Left: Curator Benjamin Weil and dealer Esther Schipper. Right: Collector José Noé Suro.


I left before 2 AM, but others kept going until daylight at Leonor’s or López’s digs. Surprisingly, some still appeared bright-eyed the next morning for Morgan’s open house at the Jumex Collection, located about an hour’s drive from town on the grounds of the juice factory. In Duchampian spirit, Morgan had installed one hundred works by Duchamp, Warhol, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jack Pierson, Francis Al˙s, Jimmie Durham, Urs Fischer, Daniel Guzmán, John Cage, Cildo Meireles, and Marepe within the yellow boundary lines of the actual factory, equating juice crates with art-shipping crates and galleries with production. It was great to find hand-tooled art within a factory setting, but it will be better for artists and artgoers when López makes the collection more accessible to the public.

Collectors Ramiro and Gabriela Garza gave the farewell dinner at their Beverly Hills–like manse, proudly displaying work by Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Christopher Wool—all acquired at the top of the market, no fooling. Art advisers loped between tables as if looking for prey, while nimble-footed collectors like ceramics king José Noé Suro kept his conversations with artists like Orozco going full force. “This will be the last year for Art Basel in Miami,” I heard someone say. An American primary-market collector who canceled her trip didn’t disagree. “I'm glad the frenzy is over,” she said. “I’m only buying art I like from galleries now, so I have time to go home and think about it.” In the austere new year ahead, that sort of thing could move destination galleries like Kurimanzutto right to the center of the earth.

Linda Yablonsky

Left: Dealer Brent Sikkema. Right: Artist Miguel Calderon.


Left: CCA Wattis director Jens Hoffmann. Right: REDCAT director Clara Kim and curator Ilene Kurtz-Kretschmar.


Left: Dealer Emi Fontana. Right: Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and curator Patrick Charpenel.


Left: Rokeby's Ed Greenacre and artist Raul Ortega Ayala. Right: Fondation Beyeler director Samuel Keller.


Left: Dealer Hilario Galguera and cultural adviser Bertha Cea. Right: Collector Gabriela Garza.


Left: Architect Fernando Romero, promoter Rodrigo Penafiel, and Soumaya Museum director Soumaya Slim Domit de Romero. Right: James Brown.


Left: Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico director Cristina Faesler Bremer and Colegio de San Idelfonso director Paloma Porraz Fraser. Right: Critic Victor Zamudio-Taylor.


Left: Russell Ferguson, chair of the UCLA Department of Art. Right: Dealer José Kuri with Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan.


Left: Rodrigo Penafiel and Dr. Lakra. Right: Princess Rosario Nadal and dealer Curt Marcus.


Left: Oxana Bondarenko. Right: Architect Kulapat Yantrasast.


Left: House of Gaga's Fernando Mesta. Right: Roberto Gavaldón Arbide.


Left: Hotelier Rafael Micha. Right: Entrance to the Petra Gallery.