MAYBE IT WAS THE ALTITUDE. Or the good weather. Or the exhilarating energy of Mexico City itself. Whatever the reason, the November 16 opening of collector Eugenio López’s Museo Jumex set off a weekend of spirited patronage topped by a drink-all-you-want, dance-till-you-drop blowout. Roll together all the parties at any Miami Basel and it still wouldn’t hold a candle to this one.
Guests who stopped over in Guadalajara a few days earlier had a taste of the hospitality to come when Silvia Ortiz and Ines López-Quesada opened an outpost for their Travesía Cuatro Gallery in Madrid with a group exhibition by hometown artists Gonzalo Lebrija, Jose Dávila, and Jorge Méndez Blake. When I arrived that afternoon, they were all relishing a typically hours-long lunch organized by collector Jose Noe Suro at Alcalde, one of several new restaurants here effecting a foodie revolution in Mexican cuisine. Also at his table were Francis Alÿs, Claudia Fernandez, and Samara Guzmán, whose exhibitions at MAZ (Museo de Arte de Zapopan) others in the party—Berlin dealer Esther Schipper, independent curators Agustín Pérez-Rubio and Abaseh Mirvali, Guggenheim Museum curator Pablo León De La Barra, São Paulo dealer Felipe Dmab, and Miami-based collector Richard Massey—had just toured with curator Viviana Kuri.
At the opening that evening, they formed the nucleus of a crowd that swelled to well over a hundred, much to the pleasure of Noe Suro, who has been working for years to give Guadalajara some solid art-world cred. A traditional mariachi band snaked through the buffet dinner served next door, in the candlelit garden of the comically dysfunctional Hotel Demetria, where infrared goggles are required to find one’s way around the dimly lit, black-on-black bedrooms. But how not to love a hotel that gives its lobby over to the exhibition of a massive sculptural installation, in this case by Méndez Blake? Need the reception desk? See art first.
The party went late, as parties in Mexico will. “Never trust a Mexican who says, ‘One more drink and we’ll go,’ ” Noe Suro observed. Next day, after studio visits and another mariachi-laced lunch, the group caravanned to his family’s ceramics factory in suburban Tlaquepaque. The attic alone was an awesome sight. It was filled, floor to ceiling, with haphazard piles of plaster molds that factory craftsmen had fashioned for the many artists invited there to work, John Baldessari, Jim Lambie, Jorge Pardo, Sarah Morris, Marcel Dzama, and Jason Rhoades among them.
Before his death, Rhoades dreamed of trucking the whole kit and caboodle to New York for a show at David Zwirner. Now, said Casey Kaplan, who had joined the tour, artist Geoffrey Farmer will realize the project as the last in Kaplan’s Chelsea gallery, which he plans to vacate a year from now. After a dinner in the Noe Suro home that rainy, cold night, I felt more than prepared for the watershed Jumex moment ahead. Or so I thought.
At least half of the 1,500 people who came to worship at the inauguration of López’s David Chipperfield–designed, travertine temple in Polanco had traveled from New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, London, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, or Paris. Many began the day on Friday by visiting galleries. Big SUVs kept pulling up to Kurimanzutto like tour buses. No sooner had longtime López advisor Patricia Marshall marched her flock of visiting dealers off to lunch at “Casa Garza” (the estate of collectors Ramiro and Gabriela Garza) than out of another spilled Hans Ulrich Obrist and Julia Peyton-Jones with the Council of the Serpentine Gallery, a support group of multinational collectors.
Dealer Paul Schimmel and the Guggenheim’s Ari Wiseman were already inside, where Gabriel Sierra was conducting walkthroughs of his Le Corbusier–inspired interventions with the gallery walls. Monika Sprüth and Sarah Watson arrived together, and their constant companionship over the weekend set many a tongue to wag—about the possibility of a Sprüth-Magers in Los Angeles—but there wasn’t time to speculate. A few blocks away, José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto had installed a pop-up group show in the remains of a beautiful, nineteenth-century nunnery, soon to be transformed into their family home.
Meanwhile, Fernando Mesta had moved his House of Gaga gallery into his present home in Condesa. After a tipoff from Thea Westreich, I grabbed the expat American artist James Brown and caught a group show that included Coply and James Metcalf, and was both illuminating and really fascinating. Just as unique, in its own way, was Lulu, a back-room exhibition space that curator Chris Sharp opened last April with artist Martin Soto Climent in a dilapidated house entered through an obscure alley in southern Roma. On show was a single “monochrome study,” a magnificent spray of fresh white flowers selected by Willem de Rooij. “The idea is to show artists who have never exhibited in Latin America,” Sharp told me, and before you could say “tuna taco,” it was time for lunch at Contramar.
When the international art world descends on Mexico City, Contramar becomes its exclusive club. At the risk of sounding like the Palm Beach Daily News’ Shiny Sheet, I can report that every table was seated with a different claque. Lisson Gallery’s Alex Logsdail and Angela Brazda snagged an outdoor table to catch the eye of everyone else going in. Dealer Gordon Veneklasen surrounded himself with Angelenos Rosette Delug, Wendy Stark, and Waldo Fernandez. Pérez-Rubio was tête-à-tête with Lorena Jáuregui, director of FONCA (Mexico City’s Fondos de Arte Contemporáneo). Noe Suro commanded a group that included Zwirner director Bellatrix Hubert, Kaplan, Massey, and artist Oscar Murillo, while Contramar’s indefatigable Gabriela Cámara presided over it all as if it were just another day at the ranch.
Back at the Camino Real, the great Luis Barragán–inspired hotel, the lobby was filling with what appeared to be hundreds of Jumex guests as I left for the first of the evening’s soirees: a cocktail party for Obrist and Peyton-Jones at the modernist home of architect Fernando Romero and Soumaya Slim Romero in Lomas de Chapultepec (Mexico City’s Beverly Hills). In his remarks, Romero characterized López as “a visionary human being.” (Indeed, Mexico City pretty much owes its place on the contemporary art map to him and his collection, probably the largest in private hands found in Latin America.) Out of the sea of black frocks and black suits appeared Obrist in an electric blue jacket, and in thrall to Pedro Friedeberg, “the godfather of design” in Mexico. “His house is mesmerizing,” Obrist said.
The main event that evening, at least for us foreigners—most of our Mexican counterparts had to fend for themselves—was a humongous welcome dinner hosted by López at Casa de la Bola. Accessed from a dreary, commercial street and across a parking lot, we entered a total fantasyland—beautifully lit, terraced gardens of tropical plants and trees interrupted here and there by statuary or fountains. Its winding brick path led down to a gorgeous hacienda once owned by a wealthy German-born bachelor, I learned, who bequeathed it to his dogs, and to his servants, who rent it out for parties.
Here, the true measure of art-world regard for López and his grant-making foundation became visible. On hand were the entire board of the New Museum and part of MoCA LA’s—López is an active member of both—as well as directors or curators from the Hammer, the Nasher, the Guggenheim, LACMA, and MoMA PS1; dealers from seemingly everywhere; collectors Michael Chow, Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner, Jennifer McSweeney, Alan Hergott, Maria Arena Bell; and artists including Anri Sala, Thomas Demand, Adam McEwen, Anne Collier, Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell, as well as Danh Vo, who had just moved to Mexico City. Before the evening was out, many in the crowd who had sampled the local cuisine, the architecture, the warm weather, the cheap real estate, and the beautiful people were thinking of doing the same. “Omigosh,” exclaimed Alex Israel. “There’s Paulina Rubio!”
It’s so relaxed in this city that no matter how late you arrive at an event, you’re always on time. López, who is not known for punctuality, came into the room well after his guests had helped themselves to a giant, strangely un-Mexican buffet. Making his way into the crowd while directing the phalanx of photographers and cameramen trailing behind, he shook hands with the men and embraced every woman in sight, including his mother. “Now I can relax!” he said. “The building is done! I’m a happy man.”
His guests were happy too. Over the past ten years, visiting Jumex Collection shows required a two-hour trek in hideous traffic to his father’s Jumex fruit juice factory. The prospect of seeing the shows in town generated no small excitement. Clearly, López had chosen the right architect and spared no expense realizing his design. The five-story structure, which is about the size of the Whitney Museum’s Marcel Breuer building, wowed everyone at the morning VIP preview for visiting gringos. (Natives had to wait for the evening opening.)
The three exhibitions on view had surprises in store. Few, it seemed, expected Patricia Marshall’s group show in the underground parking garage to deliver the strongest punch. Several dealers, meanwhile, were puzzled to find a James Lee Byars retrospective—a collaboration between Jumex and MoMA PS1—in the museum proper. “Why Byars?” said one grump. “He never influenced anyone.” Curators and collectors, however, took the high road. “It’s like having a closet full of black,” said Jennifer McSweeney. “It’s all good.”
On the top floor, illuminated by filtered light from sloping skylights angled in the manner of classic artists’ studios, director Patrick Charpenel had installed a disorienting mini Fred Sandback show within a larger display from the permanent collection. They were largely market favorites but also included a Robert Gober that usually hangs in López’s other home in Los Angeles. “Best use of Sandback I’ve ever seen,” said one observer. “If you open a museum in Mexico,” said Charpenel, “it has to be important for the country, not just the art world.”
Judging from the number of entertainment and society figures, politicians, businessmen, and artists who came for the opening that night, it’s certainly glamorous. López posed for the cameras surrounded by smiling babes. Strobes lit up when Eli Broad offered López his congratulations. “Who’s that?” one photographer asked. No one had to identify López senior, a beaming bear of a man who once reportedly despaired of his son’s dalliance with art. Now he was the biggest game in town.
How big came clear at the awesome afterparty, which took place in a temporary structure erected for the occasion within an equestrian arena controlled by the military. Its designer was Etienne Russo, who usually produces runway shows for the likes of Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dries van Noten, and Maison Martin Margiela. This time out, he counted as at least one person inspired by Byars.
A dark tunnel led into the arena, where four long, gold-leafed staircases rose from the dance floor to the blackout ceiling. Clearly, there was nowhere to go but up, and down. The stairs, which were there just for show, divided three successive tiers of sectioned banquettes, where the different social groups arranged themselves around glass tables. On the tables were silver buckets stuffed with bottles of champagne and tequila. When I arrived, around 11 PM, an orchestra was playing swing music. The musicians were dressed in top hats and tails, with partial skulls painted on half of each of their faces. “It’s all so elegant!” I heard someone say. “It’s like an Oscars party,” offered Phillip Larratt-Smith. Pushing his way up through the crush, Tony Shafrazi put it differently. “This is an exotic nightmare,” he said.
Russo passed by, shouting into a headset. “He can’t find the DJ,” said Nadine Johnson, whose PR firm was managing the American guests. Then the orchestra departed and Mark Ronson slipped behind a laptop perched on a gold-leaf podium that traversed one golden staircase. After a moment of silence, the voice of Amy Winehouse brought a mob to the dance floor and the party went into high, high, high gear. Traveling sans wives or girlfriends, Vito Schnabel, Sam Orlofsky, Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld, P. C. Valmorbida, and Alex Marshall formed a stag line along one banquette. “The billionaire boys’ club,” Jeffrey Deitch noted. But heads only turned when López, his photographers in tow, threaded his way through the stands. Here was a host so magnanimous that a thousand guests would find the gift of a signed and numbered, chicken-and-egg sculpture by Urs Fischer waiting in their hotel rooms.
Making an early exit, at 2 AM, I passed a dancing Oscar Murillo. “They really should do this more often,” he said.