Supermarket Sweep

Linda Yablonsky at the 14th Zona Maco

Left: Zona Maco founder Zélika Garcia. Right: Artist Gabriel Orozco in his appropriation of an OXXO store. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

AFTER WEEKS OF THE POLITICAL PORN that is now our presidency, what a relief to arrive in Mexico City—even for an art fair. Here was a place that welcomed foreigners, despite (or because of) a 30 percent drop in the peso.

Well, money isn’t everything. Not in Ciudad de Mexico (now known as CDMX). So what if you can’t take a deep breath without feeling faint? The oldest capital in the Americas is a place of constant wonder and discovery. What’s more, it seems to be generating more invigorating art activity than anywhere else in the hemisphere.

Art doesn’t just matter here. It’s fun.

Take the exacting appropriation of an OXXO convenience store that Gabriel Orozco has installed at Kurimanzutto, sending the highfalutin art market crashing to earth in a supermarket. Or the fascinating revivification, by Mario García Torres, of the nearly forgotten Museo Dinámico (Dynamic Museum), a revolutionary mid-1960s partnership of anti-institutional art and architecture. Or this year’s entire Material Art Fair, in Juárez, a “developing” neighborhood where bootstrap galleries are colonizing vacant commercial space in the manner of ’70s SoHo.

Left: Dealer Pamela Echeverria. Right: Artist Lawrence Weiner and dealer Shaun Caley Regen.

The city’s mayor even got into the act by cutting the ribbon on “Forever and a Day,” a multisite exhibition by Lawrence Weiner that opened February 7 at the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico (a former palace in the historic center) and four other public spaces around town, including the Zócalo (one of the grandest plazas in the world).

“They really get me here,” crowed the seventy-four-year-old Conceptualist, submitting to a phalanx of adoring photographers and autograph hounds in the museum’s interior courtyard.

Heading out for what is traditionally the prefair gallery hop, I wondered if Weiner’s title wasn’t a sly reference to the barely perceptible movement of weekday traffic. “It’s like Mumbai,” as Labor’s Pamela Echeverría put it. “Without the animals.”

On balance, that was a small price to pay for the considerable pleasures of great food, a temperate climate, and superlative art and often astounding architecture, which Zona Maco (February 8 to 12) has done much to illuminate in the past fourteen years, simply by bringing more people to it.

So has the internationally inclined Kurimanzutto, where LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne joined dealers Paul Kasmin and Chantal Crousel, Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover, architect Kulapat Yantrasast, and what looked like the entire corporate structure of the OXXO chain for the opening of “OROXXO,” where everyday goods were nearly indistinguishable from Orozco’s Haim Steinbach–like arrangements of the same commodities.

Left: Artist Francis Alÿs and dealer Bella Hubert. Right: Architect Kulapat Yantrasast, dealer Chantal Crousel, and LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne.

Guests were given paper bills that melded the graphics of the peso with the dollar, substituting Orozco’s divided red, blue, and gold circle for the portrait. “No wall here!” he cracked. “All you really need is a bridge.”

The desire to shop was the link. People could exchange the artist’s bill for any item in the faux store not emblazoned with an Orozco logo, which identified it as art. The receipt was the real takeaway, but many people thought the bill more collectible. “I’m keeping mine,” murmured Melissa Schiff Soros, browsing with Creative Time director Katie Hollander.

This opening, where food and drink freely flowed on the outdoor patio, was a hard act for other galleries to follow, even if they did include the Mexican debut of B. Wurtz at Lulu Gallery (part of which also had a shopping theme), Antek Walczak at the dependably subversive House of Gaga, a rocketing Pablo Vargas Lugo at Labor, the always bracing Tercerunquinto collective’s excavation of the “archeology of rage” at Proyectos Monclova, or the irresistibly titled “The Queen Falls,” a group show at venerable OMR curated by Anissa Touati and Marc-Olivier Wahler.

All of a sudden it was time for dinner. The choices were many. With traffic at a standstill, I opted for the closest, Barbara Gladstone’s annual feast at Rosetta. Like Orozco’s bilateral currency, it put Mexican and American collectors together in about equal parts.

With Zona Maco drawing traffic the next morning to the Centro Banamex convention center, I cruised south to the Museo Anahuacalli–Diego Rivera, a massive stone temple where Bosco Sodi’s ceramic rocks, terra-cotta bricks, and lavalike red paintings gave a contemporary lift to Rivera’s two thousand-piece collection of pre-Columbian art.

All you really need is a bridge.

Left: Dealer Lawrence Luhring with collector Eugenio López Alonso and dealer Roland Augustine. Right: Artist Bosco Sodi’s installation outside the Museo Anahuacalli-Diego Rivera.

Meanwhile, the fair had upped its game by introducing a greater number of blue-chip galleries to an international mix. (To call Zona Maco “regional,” as many do, is a misnomer.) “I can’t tell you why we decided to come,” said Roland Augustine, who found his footing when Museo Jumex founder Eugenio López Alonso walked into the booth for a tour of the Jeff Elrod paintings on view.

Despite the relative quiet of the VIP preview, Salon 94 was doing brisk business with wall pieces by the Aboriginal artist Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. For those in the mood to raise the dead, Gaga’s Fernando Mesta had unearthed outsidery paintings by the late Juan José Gurrola, better-known in Mexico as a theater director and the actor who played Diego Rivera opposite Salma Hayek in the 2002 biopic Frida.

“I like this fair,” said art adviser Benjamin Godsill, “because you can really talk about art, not just prices. And you can find good work—and buy it, because there’s less competition.”

Perhaps the depressed peso was having an effect. Though more Americans than usual were in the aisles, attendance did seem sparse—at least until lunch in the outdoor VIP area, serviced by Habita Hotel, where the meet and greet was buoyant. Artist Carlos Betancourt, for example, swooped in from a book signing to declare that he owned “the largest collection of Christmas ornaments in the world.”

That propelled me to New Proposals with section curator Humberto Moro, whose day job is with the Savannah College of Art and Design. Dealer Karen Huber was featuring a faded American flag painting by Manuel Solano, a gay activist blinded by an HIV infection. “This is the only gallery in Mexico boldly advocating for gay rights,” said Moro. “It’s still a taboo here.”

Left: Collector Melissa Schiff Soros and Creative Time director Katie Hollander. Right: Zona Maco artistic director Daniel Garza.

We moved to a large space that Maco artistic director Daniel Garza-Usabiaga designated for galleries presenting artists under thirty years old. “I think it’s unusual for a fair, isn’t it?” he asked. It’s certainly nice. Everything here was new, unpretentious, and capable of arousing curiosity, even in brand-seekers wandering over from the territory ruled by Zwirner, Gagosian, Regen Projects, and Bortolami.

I hope some also took time for Zona Maco Sur, the section for solo presentations chosen by Kunsthalle Lissabon codirectors Luis Silva and Joao Mourão. The bearded Portuguese duo was returning for the third year with “Case Study #3: The F.R. David Complex,” a syndrome that describes a sudden loss for words.

New photo collages by Linder stepped up to the theme at Stockholm’s Andréhn-Schiptjenko, but the artist who took it most literally was probably Ximena Labra. At Y Gallery, she had hung, as corridors of shrouds, full-scale rubbings of books in an immense private library in El Salvador that has since been destroyed by both earthquake and war.

And somehow the day went by.

I had to hustle to catch the opening and book launch of “Retrospective,” Nina Beier’s perfectly mad installation of a bourgeois, windowless apartment in a half-constructed building found for her by dealer José Garcia Torres. In my rush, I’d forgotten my VIP wristband, so I couldn’t get into the Zona Maco party that followed.

Left: Material Art Fair cofounder Brett W. Schultz and Material director of exhibitor relations Rodrigo Feliz. Right: Dealer Fernando Mesta and restaurateur Gabriela Cámara.

No matter. Mexican hospitality runs deep. So I joined Echeverría and Mesta, cohosts of a dinner catered by Gabriela Cámara, queen of Contramar, the art world’s commissary of choice. (Only a chef wise to artists would serve a roasted sweet potato as a standalone course.)

The Creative Time group was there. Stefan Kalmár, a month into his directorship of ICA London, was too, as was Hatje Cantz program director Holger Liebs, Mousse editor Stefano Cernuschi, Centre Pompidou Foundation curator of American art Florence Derieux, and collector Richard Massey—and that was just one table.

The next morning, Material cofounder Brett Schultz was at the door of Expo Reforma, welcoming out-of-towners to his fair’s fourth edition, reconfigured this year as less a labyrinth of tiny stalls than a park-like plaza across two floors. Gallery booths surrounded a café or bar smartly outfitted with benches. (As Art Basel veterans know, good benches mean a good experience.)

Material’s opening also boasted a paparazzi magnet, Kim Gordon, in town to launch a book of her own later in the day. Now she was visiting the #DearIvanka-themed installation that Sadie Laska and Lizzi Bougatsos plastered on the walls of Joaquin Garcia’s Mascot Gallery booth, featuring lyrics from Bad Sex, the art duo’s new album with their band, IUD. “I’ve discovered weed ointment,” Bougatsos gushed. “My neck pain is cured.”

With a whole floor yet to visit, it was already clear that this fair, where most works were priced well under $2,000, is providing a valuable counterweight to the high-end ambitions of Zona Maco, which serves the converted. If Material’s feeder galleries can engage a younger generation of artists and collectors, it can only create a healthier market.

Left: Artists Sadie Laska and Lizzi Bougatsos with artist-author-musician Kim Gordon. Right: Architect Fernando Romero.

Due to traffic snarled by one of the frequent protest demonstrations on Reforma, the city’s main drag, I arrived too late to catch the musical performance opening the excellent Museo Dinámico show at Archivo (the foundation created by architect Fernando Romero) but luckily caught the buffet lunch sent over from Casa Merlos.

The same traffic then stopped me from seeing the annual popup shows organized by Salón Acme in a crumbling Juárez mansion—one of the hot-button events of the week. With withering patience, I made the opening at the Jumex of a retrospective for the late Ulises Carrión, an artist, bookmaker, and publisher who left Mexico for Amsterdam in the 1980s and hadn’t been back. Till now.

With Kalmár, I also caught the giant ice floe in the museum’s General Idea exhibition, which advertised itself by floating giant retroviral pill inflatables over the terrace opposite Romero’s torqued silver girdle of the Museo Soumaya, the jewel of Carlos Slim’s glass-and-steel development. “Only in Mexico,” Kalmár grumbled, is “the antiestablishment culture this show represents smack dab in the middle of a mall for the wealthy.”

I couldn’t stay for the party. This was the night of the annual Museo Tamayo benefit gala, and my one chance to see a Tacita Dean show beautifully realized by Tamayo director Juan Gaitán. “Tacita made this work while she was in residence with us,” said Getty Research Institute deputy director Andrew Perchuk, attending with Getty Foundation deputy director Joan Weinstein.

Left: Dealer Inés López-Quesada with collector Jorge Pérez and dealer Silvia Ortiz. Right: Dealer Stefania Bortolami.

I was happily seated at a table filled with members of the board at PAC (Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo), a nineteen-year-old educational, curatorial, and editorial support organization founded by independent art professionals––“not rich people,” said its director, Mariana Munguía. An important group.

Dealers, both native and visiting, anchored other tables with artists and patrons. Travesía Cuatro partners Silvia Ortiz and Inés López-Quesada landed Pérez Art Museum Miami benefactor Jorge Pérez, who was applauded for standing up to Donald Trump and refusing to build “the wall.” The two real-estate developers have known each other for years. “Now he’s not speaking to me,” Pérez said. He was laughing. The party went late.

Then came Hans Ulrich Obrist Day, an unofficial holiday commemorating the one-two-three books that the Serpentine Gallery’s artistic director was launching. The first, at Kurimanzutto, was a Cahiers d’Art monograph for Orozco containing an interview with the two. Then came the Mousse reprint of The Air Is Blue, the catalogue for an “imaginary” exhibition that Obrist conceived in the 1990s with artist Pedro Reyes that was mounted at Casa Barragán.

A four o’clock lunch followed at a nearby cantina, where the Fundación Alumnos47, which is basically an art-book library, honored the publication of Obrist’s Conversations in Mexico.

Did you know that Leonora Carrington invented her own “caviar” (tapioca spiked with squid ink) with Luis Buñuel? You can read about it in this truly edifying collection of interviews, which Obrist and Reyes conducted over several years, with artists ranging from Carrington and Elena Poniatowska to the very much alive Graciela Iturbide and Eduardo Terrazas, both of whom were present. “Everything about this book is about friendship,” Obrist said.

Left: Dealer José Kuri. Right: Artist Pedro Reyes and Serpentine Gallery artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist.

The same could be said for everything in Mexico City. That’s the way it goes—and the way it went that night, in the Beverly Hills–like enclave where a couple hundred people came to a housewarming party hosted by Eugenio López.

Is every week here like this? I still had the Saturday opening of “Kindergarten,” an exhibition by Gregor Schneider at MUAC, the vast museum on the city-size campus of the University of Mexico. “I collect rooms,” the artist told me during the reception. “That’s what I do. Someone has to. Museums can’t and galleries won’t.”

But here they were, with a new installation of a nonfunctional playground—Schneider’s first “exterior” room—and an all-encompassing Andrea Fraser retrospective, a two-channel film by the Camel Collective, and “Prussian Blue,” a show of Holocaust-themed paintings by Yishai Jusidman. What could I do next but return to Material, where three of the four-man Peruvian collective Sagrada Mercancia won my heart?

There were more galleries to visit—in, garages, offices, nightclubs—and a wild, nearly all-night dance party given by José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto at Café Paraíso, with a DJ imported from Havana.

I’ll be back.

Left: Artist B. Wurtz. Right: Dealer Hilario Galguerra and television producer Pedro Torres.

Left: Mousse publications editor Stefano Cernuschi, SCAD exhibitions curator Humberto Moro, and MCA Chicago curator José Esparza Chong Cuy. Right: Artist Mario Garcia Torres.

Left: Kunsthalle Lissabon codirector and curator João Mourão, Philadelphia ICA curator Alex Klein, and Kunsthalle Lissabon codirector and curator Luís Silva. Right: Soumaya Slim.

Left: Alumnos47 president Moisés Cosio and artist Eduardo Terrazas. Right: MUAC-UNAM director and chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina.

Left: Sebastian Fernandez and Museo Jumex senior curator Julieta González. Right: Artist Ektor Garcia.

Left: Alumnos47 founder Adriana Maurer. Right: Art advisor Sabrina Buell with dealers Adrian Rosenfeld and Max Falkenstein.

Left: Artist duo Carla Verea and Francisco Lake. Right: Art advisor Maria Britto.

Left: Artist Eduardo Sarabia. Right: Artist James Casebere.

Left: Artist Jonah Freeman and Artadia executive director Carolyn Ramo. Right: Artist Jan Hendrix.

Left: Artist Ximena Labra. Right: Artist Pablo Vargas Lugo.

Left: Artist Markus Selg and curator Attilia Fattori Franchini. Right: Artist Yung Jake.

Left: Curator and dealer Chris Sharp. Right: Dealer Georges Armaos.

Left: Dealer Homero Fernández. Right: Curator Magali Ariola and dealer Marc Foxx.

Left: Dealer Victor Giesler and art adviser/curator Ana Sokoloff. Right: Dealer Isa Benitez.

Left: Artist Ryohta Shimamto. Right: Artist Mateo Zuñiga and dealer Liz Caballero.

Left: Artist Terence Gower at the door of Casa Barragán. Right: Artist Yves Scherer.

Left: Artists Pablo Concha, Adolfo Bimer, and Matia Solar. Right: Artist Michelangelo Miccoli preparing for a performance at the Material Art Fair.

Left: Carpe Diem Press publisher Alexandra Brown and artist James Brown. Right: Writer Emily King and Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover.

Left: Collector Suzanne Cochran. Right: Collector Eduardo Prieto and hotelier Moisés Micha.

Left: Curator Abaseh Mirvali, artist Nina Beier, and Stefano Cernuschi. Right: Dealers Laura Bartlett and Martin Coppell.

Left: Curator and PAC (Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo) director Mariana Munguia. Right: Dealer Tyler Park.

Left: Dealer Karen Huber. Right: Dealer Nils Staerk.

Left: Dealer Mary Sabbatino. Right: Dealer Verana Codina.

Left: Dealer Thorsten Albertz. Right: Dealer Meaghan Kent.

Left: Dealers Ashley Stewart and Alissa Friedman. Right: Dealer Peggy Leboeuf and artist Ivan Argote.

Left: Dealers Danny Baez and Marta Fontolan. Right: Dealers Hunter Bradley and Amelia Szpiech.

Left: Design Miami director Rodman Primack with art advisor Pippa Cohen and dealer Adrian Rosenfeld. Right: PAC (Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo) director Mariana Munguia with Gabriela Camara, Melissa Schiff Soros, and Katie Hollander

Left: Filmmaker Massimo Audiello and artist Anuar Maauad. Right: Photographer Graciela Iturbide.

Left: Material Art Fair VIP relations director Isa Natalia Castilla. Right: ForYourArt founder Bettina Korek.

Left: Museo Anahuacalli-Diego Rivera curator Karla Nino de Rivera Torres. Right: Writer Kevin McGarry and Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Left: Pivô artistic director Fernanda Brenner. Right: Lizworks creator Liz Swig.

Left: SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib. Right: Museo de Arte Zapopan director and curator Viviana Kuri Haddad.

Left: Dealer Walter Otero and artist Carlos Betancourt. Right: MUAC-UNAM curator Virginia Roy and dealer Michael Feliz.