Rush Hour

Linda Yablonsky at the 13th edition of Zona Maco in Mexico City

Left: Dealer Isa Benitez. Right: Dealer Jose Garcia Torres.

THIRTEEN MUST BE A LUCKY NUMBER for Zona Maco. Or maybe it took twelve years for Mexico City’s primary art fair to graduate from an undisciplined, provincial tradeshow to the worldly, sophisticated bazaar that it was last week. I don’t know what sold between February 3 and 7, but the layout made it possible to have a focused experience of art, despite the airport-concourse environment of the Centro Banamex.

Maco founder Zelika Garcia’s new artistic director, Daniel Garza-Usabiaga, must be at least partly responsible for the uptick in quality throughout. (Newcomers included the mighty Gagosian, as well as Jack Tilton, Lia Rumma, and Blain|Southern.) That said, the sense of endless possibility in the air also may have been spillover from the superb architecture, museums, restaurants, and the sheer energy of the streets in Mexico City.

People in the art world are such creatures of habit that some aspects of fair week were the same as anywhere. Those arriving on Monday, February 1 headed either to Gagosian’s dinner at Pujol or to the Hotel Condesa, where co-owner Moises Micha hosted a dinner with dealer Paul Kasmin for the multinational curators, architects, and artists in town. “This is my first time here!” said the almost giddy Chilean artist Iván Navarro. “I love it.”

Left: Artist Carlos Amorales. Right: Artist Thomas Eggerer.

What’s not to like? Okay, rush-hour traffic is incredibly bad. But Mexican time is so elastic that one could have a cocktail in the hotel restaurant, run up to the rooftop terrace for Yoko Ono’s (very brief) appearance to advance her opening at the Museum of Tolerance, hob nob with artists like Pedro Reyes, curators Patrick Charpenel, Abaseh Mirvali, and Pablo León de la Barra, and still make it back downstairs before dinner was served.

Reyes wasn’t just partying. He was also collecting signatures for a petition objecting to a new classroom building erected by the national university. Its blank whiteness is impinging on Espacio Escultórico, an enormous circle of sixty-four, prismatic monoliths surrounded by an acre of jungle protected by UNESCO. Made in 1979 by a group of seven artists, it alludes to the Cuicuilco pyramid—the first in Mesoamerica. Though sadly neglected, it’s probably the most important piece of Land Art in Mexico. “It’s four times the size of Spiral Jetty,” Reyes said. He showed me pictures. It looks amazing. Surely that intrusive building could go somewhere else?

Socially speaking, this was the calmest evening of a week that offered two art fairs, an art-book fair, gallery dinners, lunches, brunches, afterparties, VIP trips to Guadalajara and Puerto Escondido, exclusive entrée to private homes designed by the great modernist architect Luis Barragán, and enthralling shows in the museums.

Left: Artist Wilfredo Prieto. Right: Casa França Brazil director Pablo León de la Barra and artist Iván Navarro.

On Tuesday, though dealers were still installing their booths, Sotheby’s Lulu Creel and Tatiana Peralta held their annual Maco lunch at Gaby Camara’s Contramar, the seafood restaurant in Roma Norte that is the Distrito Federal’s art-world commissary. Inside, Barbara Gladstone, José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto, Adam Lindemann, posses from David Zwirner, and other blue-chip dealers all shared tuna tostados and guacamole with suited-up collectors and advisors from all around. “People told me not to bring anything expensive,” said Lindemann, whose Venus Over Manhattan Gallery was making its Maco debut. “But I didn’t listen, and brought Calders. They’re worth millions! So we’ll see.”

It was such a beautiful day, I sat outside at “the kids’ table,” as Labor’s Pamela Echeverria put it, with dealers Fernando Mesta and Nils Stærk. “I’m really nervous,” said Mesta, who was opening a new show at his House of Gaga while setting up at Maco. Tuesday of fair week is traditionally the night for gallery-hopping, and nearly every dealer in Mexico City was feeling the same pinch.

So was I. It was hard to choose where to go first in a sprawling city divided by nearly impassable rivers of that rush-hour traffic. It cut short my five-gallery tour, beginning with the Josef Strau opening at Gaga, where Marina Rosenfeld performed on a rented piano—the others in the gallery were artworks. Before we could hit Proyectos Monclova (Fred Sandback) or Proyectos Paralelo (Johanna Calle), we were snagged by the gridlock along Reforma. It forced us to skip the venerable OMR, which was not just opening a show by Jorge Méndez Blake but also debuting a big, new location in Roma.

Left: Artists Bruno Gruppalli and Federico Lanzig. Right: Artist Miguel Monroy.

I was lucky to find the crumbling old mansion near the historic center of town where dealer José García Torres had installed a show by the Swiss artist Yves Scherer—one of three different spaces that the former Proyectos Monclova director inaugurated between fairs. The adventure began on a broken sidewalk, continued into a decrepit garage where two paintings hung—the only clue that I was in an art space—and where a guard insisted that I sign not a waiver (in case of injury) but a guestbook, before entering a dimly lit atrium that was open to the stars. (It was too dark to know if that was deliberate or if the roof was missing.)

A threadbare pink carpet led up a grand, sweeping staircase to a fully lit gallery the size of a ballroom. There were holes in the floor and collaged paintings on the peeling walls. Birdsong floated out of a blackened side room installed with palm trees and rotating colored lights. Another installation of found objects was crammed into a closet. The rest of the building, which García Torres hopes to make the permanent location for his new gallery, was vacant. “This one building could be an entire gallery district all by itself,” marveled Mousse’s Stefano Cernuschi, the one other person at the opening with me.

At Labor, Echeverria was escorting collectors around a Calderlike solo show by Canadian-born New Yorker Terence Gower, who based the guitar-pick shapes of his monumental mobile on the free-association process of psychoanalysis—and thoughtfully added a couch (by Mies van der Rohe) to boot. At Kurimanzutto (our next stop), the burbling crowd sipping margaritas in the back garden first had to negotiate a group show organized by curator, critic, and artist Guillermo Santamarina.

“He’s our hero,” said Damián Ortega, who compelled his former teacher at Esmerelda, the DF’s leading art school, to don a pair of janitor’s white overalls, pick up a broom, and keep sweeping away the flurries of Styrofoam “snow” that fell on the floor whenever spectators climbed through a Styrofoam cave that Ortega made for the show. (It also included pots of peyote buttons by Abraham Cruzvillegas and a wall full of album covers modified by Dr Lakra.) “Guillermo mentored our whole generation of artists,” explained Gabriel Orozco, who was breaking from a two-year sabbatical in Japan to attend the opening. “He was the first punk in Mexico,” Ortega added. “And the only one.”

Left: Artists Carla Verea Hernandez and Francisca Rivero Lake. Right: Curator Rosario Güiraldes with her mother, dealer Maria Casado.

After the charming discovery of Basel-based, Mexican artist Rodrigo Hernández in the gallery’s project space, I left with Karma gallerist and publisher Brendan Dugan—another first-timer at Maco—and arrived over an hour late (actually right on time) for a dinner at Rosetta that Gladstone was hosting for clients. One of them was another Maco virgin (from Los Angeles), the upbeat Maurice Marciano, who was only a bit hobbled from injuries sustained in a car crash last year.

Who wouldn’t want to be at Rosetta? It’s the evening counterpart to Contramar and prized for cuisine that proved a little too refined for LACMA curator Jarrett Gregory, who balked at the fried beetles on nasturtiums. “It’s crunchy!” offered one diner, swallowing hard. I passed—there were many courses to go. About halfway through, a plugged-in mariachi band appeared. Much to the joy of home-towners who jumped up to dance, it was led by vocalist Rosa Ruiz, reputedly one of the country’s best. “Isn’t this great?” asked Gladstone. It was rousing, I will say that.

Next morning, Zona Maco opened to the smattering of advisors and collectors who were not sleeping off hangovers. They included Marciano and AIDS activist Aileen Getty, who were very efficient. With Marciano Collection manager Jamie Goldblatt leading, they somehow visited three different museums and then sped through the fair before lunch. Frankly, there was enough going on to warrant a slow pace, but it didn’t take long to see that Garza had repositioned a number of gallery stands to accommodate the newbies, and given large, central locations to smaller operations like that of Josée Bienvenu, who brought a couple of her artists for extra bounce.

Left: Artists Dan McCarthy and Paula Greif. Right: Artist Joaquin Trujillo with dealer Shelley De Soto and artist Brian Paumier.

Actually, there was fine material all around, from the conceptual to the visceral. There was also a noticeably increased collector presence from abroad. Aside from the LA contingent, there were gringos from Texas, among them Howard Rachofsky and Alden Pinnell of Dallas, and a silver-haired financier from Houston who is on the Museo Tamayo’s International Council and goes by the name Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl.

Between runs at the major spaces—Kurimanzutto, Tilton, and Regen Projects were especially good—I spent most of the early hours touring the fourteen solo projects of Zona Maco Sur with the section’s bearded returning curators, Kunsthalle Lissabon codirectors Luís Silva and João Mourão.

This was fun, partly because the pair chose “Rhythm is a Dancer” as their theme. The idea, they said, came from Space-Girl Dance, a hilarious video made in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics, starring a dewy young Raquel Welch. “It’s rhythm as metaphor,” Silva said of the pair’s exhibition. He didn’t need to explain, but the section was also distinguished by its overarching internationalism.

Mexican artists Mario García Torres and Tania Candiani were showing with Tokyo’s Taka Ishii and São Paulo’s Vermelho, respectively. At London’s Gallery Nosco, Guadalajaran Javier Rodríguez had printed every single frame of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 film The Eclipse, and put them together as a takeaway stack. (I got one with Monica Vitti’s hands.) The French artist Xavier Veilhan made his constructivist installation for Stockholm’s Andréhn-Schiptjenko in Mexico, and the impish Bjørn Melhus, a German citizen, told his life story in Cindy Sherman-like color head shots for New York’s Y Gallery.

Left: Collector and film producer Frédéric Goldschmidt. Right: Contemporary Art Museum Houston director Bill Arning.

The Sur sector made other new wrinkles in the social fabric. DF’s Karen Huber showed paintings and self-portraits by trans artist Manuel Solano, who is blind from HIV. At GAM, Miguel Monroy worked out ways a fairgoer could steal artworks without detection. (Perhaps the thief who took Echeverria’s new laptop from her stand had seen his installation first.)

But the artists who really stole the show were Santiago Sierra and Yoshua Okón. “You have to see this!” said the former dealer Massimo Audiello, who led me to the Parque Galería stand in the Humberto Moro–curated New Proposals section. There, on a bathroom-tile platform, laborers were adding a silvery mosaic to the base of a toilet. This was not just a Duchampian flip of the exploitation bird to Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man. This toilet took the unmistakable girdle shape of Slim’s aluminum-clad laughing stock, the Museo Soumaya. “It’s good, right?” said Audiello, who just completed his first film, poetically titled Bitch.

After a long, boisterous evening over more experimental food with Mesta and Echeverria’s hundred or so guests at Pop-up Cala, a one-night restaurant that Camara created next door to Contramar to celebrate her new establishment in San Francisco, the morning brought the opening of the upstart Material Art Fair. First, though, VIPs were bused to a generous brunch at Gilardi house, one of the best designed by Barragán.

Left: Collectors Gabriela Garza and Allison Kanders. Right: Art advisors Meredith Darrow and Benjamin Godsill.

Next came Casa Barragán, the architect’s own magnificent home, viewable only by appointment. This time, it offered “Fetishistic Barragán,” an exhibition organized by former Tamayo curator Willy Kautz with modern and contemporary works from FEMSA, a corporate collection in Monterey whose owners insist on anonymity. The house is already so perfectly in balance that I was afraid to go in, but I was pleasantly surprised to find Kautz’s show unobtrusive and sensitive to its surroundings.

He led a tour that began with the only painting by Frida Kahlo that does not feature her own face or body, only a dress. Also leading tours were Zwirner associate Eugenia Braniff and Charpenel, whom FEMSA has hired to create a two-year program of exhibitions and events in the house. All I can say is, it’s off to a propitious start. Also illuminating was a show next door at Archivo, an exhibition space owned by Museo Soumaya architect Fernando Romero and his wife, Soumaya Slim. Here, de la Barra had drawn from several historical archives to present evidence of the starkly original, Ricardo Legorreta–designed (and Barragán-influenced) Camino Real Hotel, where most VIPs and dealers were staying and where its former black and white contours have been transformed into a fiesta of hot pink and cadmium yellow.

I could have retired to my room at that point, but Material was now underway. This truly alternative fair has moved to a new location in every one of its three years. This year, bigger and badder than ever, it was in an upper floor of Expo Reforma, where I had my first decent espresso of the week. A few minutes later, cofounder Brett Schulz told me that the barista was actually the fair’s architect, Willy Gonzalez, whose firm (APRDELESP) erected a maze for sixty-four exhibitors (including collectives and nonprofits) from North and South America.

Left: Dealer Bree Zucker and art advisor James Lindon. Right: Nighclub operator Tolga Al.

“The idea,” Schulz said, “was to treat the convention center as a vacant lot, where we built a building in a building.” There was such pandemonium around us that I retreated to the excellent bookshop after visiting just three booths—the eponymous José García , mx, Chris Sharp’s Lulu, and Parallel Oaxaca—all good.

I needed strength to check out the opening of the Index Art Book Fair at Eugenio López Alonso’s Museo Jumex—a fantastic (and unexpected) fair with goodies everywhere—and still make it to the evening’s annual benefit gala at the Tamayo. It was the first for director Juan Gaitán, who came into the job last year. “This was totally improvised at the last Miami Basel,” he said, with a nod to the 280 guests carousing in a tent behind the museum. Unfortunately, this was the one night of the week when the temperature dropped thirty degrees, an icy experience. Diners took breaks inside the museum, where the Berlin-based sculptor Nairy Baghramian had made perhaps her best exhibition to date.

The one heater in the tent was near the table where I sat with Danh Vō, Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic, and Heinz Peter Knes, whose photographs were also on view in the museum, beside a terrific Leon Golub retrospective. The heater attracted people from other tables, including Gabriel Orozco and entrepreneur Rodrigo Peñafiel, who showed off Orozco’s new line of jewelry—limited-edition silver and gold rings that were on many a collector’s wish list. “It just sort of happened,” Orozco said.

Despite the cold, no one was in a hurry to move off to other parties. (There are always more parties.) One can indulge in only so much art fair. But as the American Sikh actor and jeweler Waris Ahluwalia discovered in an unfortunate run-in with airport security, the city of mañana can be very hard to leave.

Left: Dealer Chiara Badinella. Right: Dealer Ines López-Quesada.

Left: Dealer Ciléne Andréhn. Right: Dealer Cyril Moumen.

Left: Dealer Henrique Faria. Right: Dealer Steve Turner.

Left: Artist Bjorn Melhus. Right: Dealer Börkur Arnason.

Left: Dealer José Castanal. Right: Dealer Johann Wolfschoon.

Left: Dealer Meghan Kent. Right: Dealer Nuno Centeno.

Left: Dealer Paola Potena. Right: Dealers Timothy Taylor, Teofilo Cohen, and Helen Windsor.

Left: Designer Rudy Weissberg and Art Basel Miami Design director Rodman Primack. Right: Dealers Beatrix Hubert and Max Falkenstein.

Left: Frieze Americas and Asia artistic director Abby Bangser and dealer Matt Bangser. Right: Dealer Mauricio Cadena.

Left: Independent curator Abaseh Mirvali, collector Agustin Coppel II, Coppel Collection director Mireya Escalante and Coppel Collection deputy director Magnolia de la Garza. Right: Patrons of Contemporary Art (PAC) president Aimee Labarrere de Servtje and PAC director Mariana Mungia.

Left: Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic with David Roberts Art Foundation director Vincent Honoré and dealer Marc Foxx. Right: Ruffino Tamayo Foundation president David Cohen and dealer Liz Swig.

Left: Artist Korakrit Arunanondchai. Right: Kunsthalle Lissabon codirectors Luis Silva and João Mourão.

Left: Hotelier Moises Micha and dealer Paul Kasmin. Right: Guggenheim curator and Casa França Brazil director Pablo León de la Barra.

Left: Dealers Mónica Manzutto and Fernando Mesta. Right: Restaurateur Gaby Cámara.

Left: Artist Alex Hank and dealer Barbara Gladstone. Right: Artists Marina Rosenfeld and Josef Strau.

Left: Dealer and publisher Brendan Dugan with dealer José Kuri. Right: Artists Damián Ortega and Gabriel Orozco.

Left: Artist Ana Bidart and Adam Winner with dealer Josée Bienvenu. Right: Collector and Power Station cofounder Alden Pinnell.

Left: Artist Terence Gower and dealer Pamela Echeverria. Right: Collector Sir Mark Fehrs Kaukohl and Museo Tamayo director Juan Andrés Gaitán.

Left: FEMSA collection curator Willy Kautz and dealer Eugenia Braniff. Right: Filmmaker Massimo Audiello.

Left: Material Art Fair cofounder Brett Schultz and architect Willy Gonzalez. Right: Index Art Book Fair cofounder Frances Horn.

Left: L’Officiel Mexico editor-in-chief Pam Ocampo with jeweler and actor Waris Ahluwalia. Right: Artist Danh Vō with Kunsthalle Basel director Elena Filipovic and artist Heinz Peter Knes.

Left: Artists Dr Lakra and Gabriel Kuri. Right: Museo Jumex chief curator and acting director Julieta González.

Left: Artist Mario Garcia Torres. Right: Artist Pedro Reyes and curator Patrick Charpenel.

Left: Artist and curator Guillermo Santamarina. Right: Zona Maco artistic director Daniel Garza with Zona Maco founder Zelika Garcia. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Dealer Nils Stærk. Right: Dealers Connie Rogers Tilton and Jack Tilton.

Left: Art advisor Lisa Schiff and Art Basel Miami Beach director Noah Horowitz. Right: Artist Simon Fujiwara.

Left: Artist Tania Candiani. Right: Dealer Adam Lindemann.

Left: Dealer Niklas Svennung and curator Magalí Arriola. Right: Dealer Alex Logsdail.

Left: Dealer Jessica Silverman. Right: Dealers Hannah Hoffman and Felipe Dmab.

Left: Dealers Michael Fuchs and Stefania Bortolami. Right: Dealers Takayuki Ishii and Elisa Uematsu.

Left: Tenth Bienal de Nicaragua Fundación Ortiz Gurdian curator Oliver Martínez Kandt. Right: MUAC/UNAM director and chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina.

Left: Collector Eugenio Lopez Alonso with PAC director Mariana Mungia, dealer Alexandra Garcia and collector Rodrigo Peñafiel. Right: Curator Humberto Moro.

Left: Art bookseller Dagny Corcoran. Right: Artist James Brown and Carpe Diem publisher Alexandra Brown.

Left: Art consultant Ana Sokoloff. Right: Architect Enrique Norten and dealer Ashlee Harrison.