Material World

Linda Yablonsky at the 12th edition of Zona MACO in Mexico City

Left: Dealers José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto. Right: Architect Enrique Norten and Zona MACO founding director Zelika Garcia. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

A FUNNY THING HAPPENS at art fairs. What you remember is seldom the art. That’s probably because the only context such random displays can give it is social. Thinking back, what comes first to mind is people you met, events you attended, and the city where all of it happened.

Zona MACO has the good fortune to be in Mexico City. That’s its main attraction. No matter which galleries show up to offer works by what artists, what ultimately resonates are the long lunches at Contramar and warmth of every personal exchange, the museums, the cantinas, the architecture, and the incredible snarl of evening rush-hour traffic circling the Independence monument to get across Reforma. As the Portuguese artist Ângela Ferreira put it, “I like this fair because it’s small and the quality is good. But I like the vibe in Mexico City best.”

For visitors from northern climes, the weather for MACO’s recent twelfth edition, February 4 to 8, also appealed. Some south-of-the-border dealers, however, wished founding director Zelika Garcia and artistic director Pablo del Val would move the fair back to its original slot in April. This time of year, they say, is the Latin American equivalent of our spring break. Big spenders go on vacation with their families. That could explain why there were more North Americans—from New York, Denver, Seattle, Durham, North Carolina, Los Angeles—among the VIPs than ever before.

Left: Dealer Jose García Torres and artist Simon Fujiwara. Right: Artists Mario Garcia Torres and Ryan Gander.

Among them were Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. The first-line collecting couple arrived early on the third, a Tuesday, and stopped in for tea and mole at the new Roma Norte home of expat artist Danh Vō. Francis Alÿs also dropped by with Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art director Dirk Snauwaert for a tour of the three-story house, which Vō built last year on the footprint of a home formerly occupied by Pedro Reyes. By design, it has treacherous, Luis Barragàn–style stone stairways without rails. “I sleep on the lower floor when I get too drunk,” Vō joked, as we passed through a guest room currently occupied by Juan Gaitán, installed as director of the Museo Tamayo only last month.

“There are 161 museums in Mexico City,” Gaitán told us. That’s an astonishing figure for a single city, even one as large and art-friendly as this one. “We’ve been to a handful,” Westreich said. “And they’re all spectacular.”

But MACO eve traditionally unfolds with a VIP gallery hop around town. From Vō’s house, even after dark, I could walk to Proyectos Monclova. On the ground floor, the British conceptualist Ryan Gander had collaborated on “Nobody walks away from true collaboration triumphant or un-bruised,” a clever show of variously arcane and technology-laced objects and installations with Mario Garcia Torres. “We think alike,” Gander said. Another Brit, Simon Fujiwara, filled the spacious upstairs gallery with trash bins common to German households but done in bronze, nearly nude canvases painted with the face makeup that Angela Merkel wears for television, and intriguing canvases sewn with strips of cast-off furs. It was quite a production, really, and included an animated video that I wished I’d had more time to watch.

Left: Artist Ângela Ferreira. Right: Museo Jumex director Patrick Charpenel and MUAC chief curator Cuauhtemoc Medina.

After Ubering across town to Carlos Amorales’s show of collage paintings at Kurimanzutto, there was no time, sadly, for Melanie Smith’s opening at Proyecto Paralelo or any of the other gallery openings, not at Gaga or OMR. So back to Roma it was for a pre-fair Gladstone Gallery dinner at Rosetta, where Anish Kapoor was holding court for some of the wealthiest collectors in Mexico’s 1 percent.

The guest list included representatives of the nonprofit sector as well: Patrick Charpenel, director of Eugenio López Alonso’s Museo Jumex; Cuauhtémoc Medina, chief curator at MUAC, the enormous contemporary museum at the University of Mexico; and former Jumex curator Patricia Martin, now director of Casa Wabi, the Tadao Ando–designed, Puerto Escondido artist residency founded by Bosco Sodi, who also turned up. Collector Richard Massey crashed the party, and then did the same at the table outside where the Monclova crowd sat down at 11 PM, prime dinner hour in this town, especially since the MACO welcome party at Covadonga wouldn’t get under way till midnight.

Yet the dealers participating in the fair were in their booths at the cavernous Centro Banamex at eleven the next morning for MACO’s VIP preview, invoice books and iPads at the ready. Actually, patience is required at this fair, where most sales take place in its final hours, so early on the action was sleepy. As one dealer told me, “If collectors here don’t know you, they won’t even come into the booth.” If they do know you, they’ll open their wallets.

Left: Collectors Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner. Right: Dealer Pamela Echeverria.

Thus, Josée Bienvenu, a returning dealer, had interested parties in her booth most of the day. Lacking introductions, first-timers James Fuentes and Tim Nye had to twiddle thumbs and force smiles. David Zwirner and Victoria Miro, on opposite sides of a transverse aisle, both offered works by Yayoi Kusama, a recently anointed superstar in Latin America. The galleries weren’t competing. “We planned it this way,” said Miro director Glenn Scott Wright. His broad grin indicated that business was just fine.

The fair is inclusive but not exactly democratic. Most of the big-ticket galleries get pride of place at the center of the main section, while midsize operations line the aisles. At the fringes are New Proposals, where small galleries present emerging artists in small booths, and the Modern Art section, organized by Museo Experimental El Eco curator Mauricio Marcin, for galleries with Calders, Miros, and Dalís. A separate section houses design galleries offering furniture, jewelry and ceramics.

While it was still quiet—the Jose Cuervo–soaked evening vernissage would bring crowds —it seemed a good time to “remember the future,” as Kunsthalle Lisbon codirectors João Mourão and Luis Silva described the strategy they chose for organizing this year’s Zona MACO Sur, a selection of seventeen solo presentations fronting the bathrooms at the back of the fair. “What binds these projects together,” Silva said, “is what the artists make of speculation.”

Most of their art, in other words, came out of fictive—or in the case of a film by Alejandro Almanza Pereda at Guadalajara’s Curro and Poncho—uncanny situations. At Marc Foxx, Gander proposed options for artworks that a collector could choose from. Brazilian Cinthia Marcelle had black and white paint rollers and buckets on the floor of the Galeria Vermelho booth, as an installation waiting to happen. Peruvian artist Jose Vera Martos produced a film about a museum built with a fake Neoclassical facade and Pre-Colombian inside, also fake. Gavin Brown and Laura Owens brought bright paintings and handmade books that dealer Thor Shannon suspected went over the heads of those who passed by.

Left: Museo Tamayo director Juan Gaitán. Right: Dealers Fernando Mesta and Thor Shannon.

At the junction of the main, the Modern Art, and the Zona MACO Sur sections, in a booth painted terra-cotta red, sat the pioneering Mexican dealer Enrique Guerrero. “He started it all for contemporary art here,” dealer Massimo Audiello told me. “He’s a glory of Mexico.” GAM (Galería de Arte Mexicano) looked like a stage set. Weirdly located in the Modern section, its three walls were open to the aisles and covered with tangled graffiti by Stefan Brüggemann. “It’s insulting,” said Argentine-American dealer Henrique Faria, “that Galería de Arte Mexicano would fall for such a terrible work.” He was even more outraged that a group of European investors allegedly paid $500,000 for it.

That wasn’t the only scandal brewing. After an evening reception at the Tamayo that Gaitàn described as “like being at a wedding,” word got around that Charpenel was leaving Jumex. Curator Magali Ariola had already been sacked, but her spirits were as high as everyone else’s during a boisterous dinner at Contramar that José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto hosted with Zwirner directors Hanna Schouwink and Bella Hubert. An ebullient Eugenio Lopez, the Jumex founder, sat at another table. Later in the week, the New York dealer Marc Straus e-mailed a letter protesting the museum’s cancelation of a Hermann Nitsch show, supposedly to appease Catholics offended by the idea. (Asked for a comment, Charpenel did not respond.)

Otherwise, controversy took a back seat to flying the good-time art flag. House of Gaga proprietor Fernando Mesta had a whole other, somewhat younger crowd for another lively dinner at Mero Toro. Afterward, guests headed to a dance party sponsored by Perrier and Harper’s Bazaar Latin America, and hosted by its art issue’s guest editor, Igor Ramírez Garcia-Peralta, with Brenda Díaz La Vega at M.N. Roy. For me, this temple to the DJ was a nonstarter, but when I left the Camino Real hotel the next morning, the Guadalajaran artist Gonzalo Lebrija was just coming back from the party.

Left: Artist Bosco Sodi. Right: LAND founder Shamim Momin and artist Jose Davila.

The day’s itinerary started with an elegant show of silver plates, bowls, and Daguerreotypes by Simon Starling curated by Abaseh Mirvali for the studio at Casa Barragán. Across the street at Labor, Pamela Echeverria—one of the brightest young dealers in Mexico City—hosted a brunch on the gallery’s rooftop deck, while VIPs took turns wandering solo (as required) through her potent Santiago Sierra show downstairs. From there, Mirvali led a group from the MCA Chicago to the Mathias Goeritz–designed El Eco for the second part of Starling’s show, a short film featuring Pilar Pellicer, a dancer who had performed at the opening of the museum in 1953 that was choreographed by filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

That was a treat, but it only got better from there, when we departed for Ariola’s one-two punch of a Danh Vō exhibition with Abraham Cruzvillegas, curated by Clara Kim for Jumex. Both shows were almost ridiculously superfabulous, in an Arte Povera kind of way. Next came a lunch across the Carso Plaza at Bros, one of the better restaurants in developer Carlos Slim’s version of the Time Warner Center mall. Chef Margarita Carillo extolled Mexican cuisine by noting its new status on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, the first cuisine in the world to make it. Hosted by Shamim Momin, founder of LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division), and Artspace CEO Catherine Levene, the lunch celebrated Jose Dávila’s Homage to the Square, a limited-edition, gilded ceramic to benefit LAND and its Dávila exhibition scheduled for Pacific Standard Time next year.

Later on, back at the fair, I moderated a panel on collecting, “The One That Got Away.” The Belgian collector Alain Servais confessed that he only got jealous of others’ holdings when he saw a work that he wished he could steal. Dealer Monica Manzutto admitted feeling troubled by not always knowing where the money for art was coming from. (Hmm.) The evening brought the opening of a Sodi show at Hilario Galguerra, cocktails at the Colección Isabel y Agustín Coppel, an intimate dinner with Echeverria, Massey, Shannon, and dealer Danny Baez at Maximo in Polanco, and the boozy opening party for the Material Art Fair, a forty-gallery independent satellite offering attractively priced works by emerging international artists. Nightclub promoter Tolga Albayrak was also holding a fair-week party at the Hotel Condesa. At 1 AM, he texted that it was “nuts,” but by that time I was spent.

Left: Art adviser Ana Sokolov and FLORA ars+natura curator Jose Roca. Right: Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art director Dirk Snouwoert and artist Francis Alÿs.

Friday was my day to wind it up. It began at curator Chris Sharp and artist Martin Soto Climent’s one-room project space, Lulu, in Roma Sur, and a preview of “The Luluennial: A Slight Gestuary,” the first of a three-part biennial that cocurators Sharp and Fabiola Iza characterized as “a reliquary of slight gestures.” Tagged to a photograph by Gabriel Orozco, it included small works making big impressions by a half-dozen mostly European artists that were all a breath of fresh air.

Sharp then led the way to the Auditorio BlackBerry, the theater where Material’s second edition was opening for the day. This fair, cofounded by Yautepec Gallery dealers Brett Schultz and Daniela Elbahara with Incontemporary Art Advisory founder Isa Natalia Castilla, is really a true, low-rent alternative to MACO—small, energetic, friendly and unpredictable. Dealer Prem Krishnamurthy’s presentation of paintings by Elaine Lustig Cohen encased in an ironwork installation by José León Cerrillo excelled. Work by Ramiro Chaves at Argentina’s White Lodge also got my attention. So did minimalist drawings of golden punctuation marks by Angie Keefer at Kunstverein Toronto, ingeniously priced to fluctuate daily with that of gold.

Material also had the best VIP room I’ve ever seen: a carpeted platform erected over the seats in the theater’s balcony and outfitted with Herman Miller furniture and a full bar. A basement club turned out to be a group art installation by the Lower East Side collective Beverly’s. A shop on the ground floor offered small press and unique artists’ books, and limited-edition gifts. As one dealer at MACO confided, “I can’t wait to switch over to Material next year.”

Material might have the fun, but MACO has the power to drive the rest of us back to town.

Left: Artists Elena del Rivero and Paola Bragado. Right: Artist Francisco Ugarte and collector Richard Massey.

Left: Dealer Pilar Corrias, artist Tala Madani, dealer Sylvia Squaldini, Museo Jumex advisor Patricia Marshall. Right: Curator Sylvia Chivaratanond.

Left: Dealer Marc Foxx and artist Amalia Pica. Right: Liatha Rodriguez Lopez and Liana Bosa Vasquez.

Left: Museo Tamayo curator Julieta González. Right: Dealer Lorcan O'Neill.

Left: Dealer Carlos García Montero. Right: Casa Estudio Barragan director Catalina Corcuera Cabezut with independent curator Abaseh Mirvali.

Left: Igor Ramírez García-Peralta. Right: Artists Tala Madani and Ahmet Ögüt.

Left: Creative Time director Anne Pasternak and collector Melissa Schiff Soros. Right: Ines López-Quesada.

Left: Beverly's Dan Sutti and Leah Dixon. Right: Bree Zucker and Francisco Cordero Oceguera.

Left: Dealer Johannes Vogt. Right: Dealer Karisa Morante.

Left: Enrique Guerrero and Massimo Audiello. Right: Ellen Lesperance and Amy Adams.

Left: Collector Gabriela Garza. Right: Dealer Shane Campbell with his son Felix.

Left: Dealer Hannah Robinson with Material Art Fair cofounder Brett Schultz. Right: Artist James Brown and art book publisher Alexandra Brown.

Left: Material Art Fair cofounder Isa Natalia Castilla. Right: Dealers Alan Gutierrez, John Riepenhoff, and Michael Jon Radziewicz.

Left: Dealer Michael Clifton. Right: Collector Alain Servais and artist Gonzalo Lebrija.

Left: Dealer Mieke Marple. Right: Dealer Meaghan Kent.

Left: Dealer Prem Krishnamurthy. Right: Dealer Rhiannon Kubicka.

Left: Curator Sophie Göltz. Right: Design/Miami director Rodman Primack.

Left: Dealer Chadwick Gibson from Smart Objects. Right: Artist Thorsten Brinkman and dealer Arne Zimmermann.

Left: Ooga Booga founder Wendy Yao. Right: Artist Stefan Brüggemann.

Left: Zona MACO party. Right: Artist Katie Holten and collector Dillon Cohen.