Fair and Unfair

The 2018 Material Art Fair in Mexico City, with scaffolding by the architecture firm APRDELESP. (Photo: P.J. Rountree and Material Art Fair)

MEXICO CITY’S ZONA MACO has been resting on its laurels for quite a while. The fifteenth edition, which ran from February 7 to February 11, has become, like many art fairs, lethargic—a state that can easily lead to death. Because of this, I’m eager to pinpoint the subtler but more engaging attractions from inside and, of course, outside the fair.

A satisfyingly loaded point within the supersaturated image carnival that is Zona Maco was its “Sur” section, curated by Brazilian Kiki Mazzucchelli. In this area was Galerie Jerome Poggi’s presentation of Babi Badalov. The artist created banners made of found fabrics and emblazoned them with poetic texts describing the conditions of the itinerant, or perpetually immigrant, personage of the twenty-first century—much like Badalov himself, an Azerbaijani artist who failed to get political asylum in the UK and now lives in France. Also in the this section was Ana Gallardo (who is represented by Mexico City’s Machete gallery), with her stunning black-on-black, charcoal-on-paper drawings: Sin título (Tríptico) (Untitled [Triptych]), 2018. Their fathomless ebony surfaces reveal terrifying messages from young women who were victims of human trafficking in Mexico. Badalov’s and Gallardo’s urgent and emotionally charged projects awakened a keen desire in me to get deeper into the fair.

Valentina Jager’s tissue paper sculpture, Colgante V (Pendant V), 2018, hanging against the wall in guadalajara90210’s booth in the New Proposals section of Zona Maco. (Photo: Ruben Garay and guadalajara90210)

In the “New Proposals” section, curated by Humberto Moro, I had more trenchant encounters. The gallery guadalajara90210 was responsible for Mexican artist Valentina Jager’s sculpture Colgante V (Pendant V), 2018, an organic, almost animal-like form on delicate tissue paper suspended from rebar. I also took in Elena Dahn’s Saliente (Outgoing), 2016, a video of the artist trying to remove a bright pink Rothko-esque vinyl “painting” from a wall. She sits on her knees with her back to the camera, and her careful, almost loving gestures became more aggressive as she struggles with the work.

Babi Badalov’s presentation at Zona Maco. (Photo: Galerie Jérôme Poggi)

The sixth edition of Salón ACME, an art and artbook fair, was also going on, spread out in a semi-ruined midcentury mansion close to Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. One of the strongest works here was a video—selected by curator Daril Fortis—by Aldo Guerra: Mantra (What is this feeling of wasting time thinking in silence like?), 2017, a feat of low-tech prowess that many mistook for CGI. It shows a single vintage-looking teacup, with small traces of a tea or coffee at its rim, floating within black nothingness. The video’s soundtrack, the ambient noise of an unusually quiet Tijuana morning recorded from the artist’s studio at 3 AM, accentuates the work’s creeping sense of anxiety.

Ana Gallardo, Sin título (Tríptico) (Untitled [Triptych]) (detail), 2018, charcoal on paper, 107 x 92 1/2".

The Material Art Fair was housed at the Frontón México, an impressive Art Deco building erected in 1929. The exhibition space, designed by the architectural firm APRDELESP, was a three-tiered scaffolded structure. I had the pleasure of witnessing Brazilian artist Bruno Miguel’s Mexican debut via New York’s Sapar Contemporary: “Essas Pessoas na Sala de Jantar” (These People in the Dining Room), 2012–14, a series of four hundred sculptures made from a variety of media, including china and foam. These colorful objects, which seemed to blossom from the floor like little exploding islands, are a humorous yet critical take on colonialism and exoticism. Madrid’s Galeria Alegria highlighted Spanish artist Jorge Diezma’s paintings: miniaturist oil reproductions of art-historical masterpieces, mixed in with tiny versions of his own works. Diezma is an astonishingly skilled painter who takes on the medium’s freighted history with the confidence of a prizefighter.

Away from all fair madness was Melanie Smith’s “Fake and Farce: Backdrops for Seven Scenes” at Proyecto Paralelo. Her filmic works, scenes re-created from images by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, were originally made at La Tallera, David Alfaro Siqueiros’s former studio in Cuernavaca, Morelos. The footage was cunningly edited for a multichannel installation surrounded by exquisitely detailed paintings of fragmented nudes, battlefields, and idyllic landscapes. Smith’s exhibition sharply tweaks the master narrative of painting all the way from—indeed—the old masters to now.

Tambuco playing instruments designed by artist Pedro Reyes. Performance view, LABOR gallery, Mexico City, February 3, 2018. (Photo: Concepción Huerta)

Thankfully, my week of art insanity met some deep serenity in the form of two concerts. The first one, at the gallery LABOR, featured the musical stylings of Tambuco, a world-famous percussion ensemble. The band expertly composed five pieces for artist Pedro Reyes’s exhibition there, “Música para litófonos” (Music for Lithophones). Reyes created large stone instruments based on pre-Hispanic designs out of black marble and recinto. Each instrument produced such intensely vibrant sounds that the audience half-expected the objects to shatter. At Mathias Goeritz’s Museo Experimental El Eco, a trio of Mexican musicians—Iván Manzanilla, Carlos Iturralde, and Alexander Bruck—performed two compositions: La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #7” (1960) and James Tenney’s “Postal piece #10: Having never written a note for percussion” from 1971. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say that the “emotional architecture” of the show, as Goeritz would put it, had a lasting and profound effect on everyone.

Aldo Guerra, Mantra (What is this feeling of wasting time thinking in silence like?), 2017, video, color, sound, 12 minutes.