In Mexico the art scene equinox passes every February when critics, writers, artists and collectors descend upon the capital, attracted by three art fairs and an influx of international art galleries. At the centre of this gravitational movement is Zona Maco, an art fair that, since being founded in 2002, has grown to fill a giant convention centre. Alongside Maco are Salon ACME and Material, founded in 2013 and 2014 respectively, offering smaller galleries and less established artists a chance to be seen alongside the big boys.
Collectively these fairs make up a Goldilocks and the Three Bears type scenario. Zona Maco is daddy bear, Material is mummy and Salon ACME is little baby bear, and just like it was a little European girl with a knack for breaking and entering, only one of the three is “just right.” Not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cool.
General Primm 30, Colonia Juárez
Thursday 9th – Sunday 12th February 2017
price of entry: your name and email (possibly fake)
In a dilapidated colonial mansion, Salon ACME, the baby of Mexico’s art fairs, despite being a year older than Material, takes two distinct steps to differentiate itself from the archetypal model. Idealistically Salon ACME works with artists rather than galleries; an open call process is run with the intention of giving visibility to artists who are not yet represented and the sale price of work is capped at $20,000. Cutting out the middle-man, the fair works directly with the artists and curates them throughout the building, splitting them between salon displays, tiny group exhibitions and solo installations.
The second move Salon ACME makes to separate itself from the crowd is the space they use and the design aesthetic they embrace. Curating within a crumbling building, ACME faces a distinctly different set of challenges than an art fair running in a conventional space; rather than building walls, the design embraces the chipped paint, cracked floors and unconventional proportions. At its best, the fair shows a set of micro exhibitions in rooms enfilade; from room to room both the art and walls change, the architecture’s faded glory on display as much as the artists’ work. At its worst, there are some poorly executed installations, where either the artist’s intentions have not been supported by their allocated space, or the work simply isn’t good enough to hold its own against the environment.
The salon hangs, of which there are three, are a mixed bag. Curatorially there are enough interesting decisions and interesting combinations to make the overall scene aesthetically pleasing, if not a little chaotic. Unfortunately, when the eyes begin to focus, it quickly becomes apparent that a portion of the work simply isn’t good enough.
ACME has done an excellent job of sieving their submissions. In comparison to art fairs where anyone can buy a booth, of which London has a few, the work is substantially better. However, with this year’s move to a bigger space comes the necessity to allow more work in, meaning the standard isn’t always consistent. In order to distract from this, ACME is decorated with an abundance of tropical plants, fairy lights, disco balls and neon, playing to a cliched conception of Mexico. It’s fun, trendy and a little tongue in cheek; one room even serves fresh coconuts, though its hard to know whether its a bar or art.
Material Art Fair
Expo Reforma, Calle Morelos 67, Colonia Juárez Thursday 9th – Sunday 12th February 2017
price of entry: 150 pesos / 75 pesos (£6/£3)
The second fair, Material, presents a more typical interpretation of the art fair. Taking place in the Expo Reforma convention centre, Material occupies two identical spaces, exact mirrors of one another set on the ground and first floor. Of the thirty-five galleries and eighteen projects represented the majority are Mexican, with a number of North American, South American and European galleries adding internationalism.
In design terms the fair works within the difficult limitations of its corporate setting. In the centre of each room a structure of scaffolding, printed banners and neon, functions as a cafe bar. Around them, generic patio furniture, probably on rental from the convention centre, is organised with no perceivable logic. A wall of white mdf runs around the entire perimeter, apart from the fire escape, with smaller walls jutting inwards to create booths for the galleries. Above a trellis of two by fours extends each space a patio, which actually functions well to separate the fair from the entirely utilitarian ceiling. On each floor three Y formation walls create open spaces for the projects, and whilst the metal and wood don’t mix well, both sets of materials are neutral enough to avoid acting in opposition to one another.
If this sounds a little mundane and predictable, it’s because it is. However, that does not mean the fair isn’t worth attending, not by a long shot. What Material has is excellent work from known figures and fresh examples of new artists and galleries. On the ground floor Sultana was showing a set of Celia Hempton paintings, the anonymous chat- roulette genitalia ones; City Limits displayed a selection of sculpturally arranged digital fabric prints by Nando Alvarez-Perez, and (un cuarto) has a wall painted green with work by Leo Marz and Marco Treviño. Upstairs there was a striking video installation by Rehang Zaman with Syndicate; Michael Jon & Alan gallery from Miami were showing a digital gallery by Siebren Versteeg; and Project Pangée went all out with their painting installation. The only downside, Chez Mohamed gallery had run out of their t-shirts.Importantly, Material Art Fair is easy enough to get round in an hour, and good enough to spend a couple more if you’re so inclined. I know this is a bit of a poor reason to judge a art fair by, but by the Goldilocks model of critique, small differences in experiential quality are ultimately important. As we will see with Zona Maco…
Centro Banamex, Av. Conscripto 311, Lomas de Sotelo Wednesday 8th – Sunday 12th February 2017
price of entry: 250 pesos / 150 pesos (£10/£6)
…which is at least four or five times the size of Material. Housed within the Centro Banamex convention centre, a drive west of the city centre, Zona Maco sees some of the world’s most prominent galleries descend on Mexico City. Lisson, Gagosian, David Zwirner and Lévy Gorvy have gallery sized plots, as do home grown contributions from Kurimanzutto, OMR, Proyectos Monclova and House of Gaga. Alongside the big names are smaller booths from less internationally recognised names, plus a series of solo show exhibits. Collectively they make up an extremely international selection, all complimented by design brands and stalls promoting magazines.
The hall itself is giant; so vast that once deep inside the aisles of galleries it is easy to lose a sense of orientation. Four stories up, the ceiling is a pattern of massive ventilation tubes, and around the edges of the hall, large health and safety banners hang, constantly reminding you of the corporate nature of the site. There is an oyster bar, an ice cream parlour and a Starbucks; intermittently you come across bars selling Tequila 1800 Cristalino and Swarovski and Mercedes Benz have shops.
The crowd at Maco is distinctively different to ACME and Material. Once the private views are over, and art world insiders have vacated, the majority of visitors attending a weekend, are Mexican upper middle-class families, interested in art but equally attending for a day out. Groups of teenage girls are dressed to the nines and are keen to find art that makes for an Instagramable image; mums are pushing strollers and dad is stopping for regular ‘refreshment’. Maco makes for a family excursion into the weird, expensive and incomprehensible.
On the plus side, Le Long has an excellent set of light-boxes by Afredo Jaar showing an updated version his 1987 Logo For America; Guadalajara based gallery Curro has a neon scaffolding by Alejandro Almanza Pereda; and Overduin & Co from Los Angeles has a brilliant set of abstracts, that appear computer rendered but are actually stitched together, by Julia Rommel. Seen in the smaller booths, Agustina Ferreyra breaks the white walls with an intense yellow setting and the Henrique Faria Gallery features a mini retrospective of Humberto Márquez.
But the best is Mexico City based Anonymous Gallery whose show settles itself between art fair and installation with videos, custom printed wallpaper and a small sampling of canvases and framed pieces by Fluct, Brendan Lynch and Peter Sutherland.
In the far corner of Maco is a new curatorial project, SAMPLE: Stumbling Over Mountains; that brings together thirty-five artists from fifteen of the fair’s smaller galleries. Curated by Humberto Moro, the open-plan space carefully balances the aesthetic variations of the artists resulting in an display which feels coherent yet disparate. A large wood construct, part steps, part seats, serves as the central feature, around which works act out a game of territorial dispute. Dotted through are some excellent works by Diego Pérez from Galería Alterna and on the far wall is only of my favourite pieces from the fair, a video installation by Juan Carlos Coppel, of Celaya Brothers Gallery, which, via a live-stream, shows a temporary exhibition structure standing in a desolate patch of Sonora, Northern Mexico.
When Goldilocks passed judgement on the Three Bears’ home she did so with three specific factors in mind, the temperature of their porridge, the size of their chairs, and the comfort level of their beds. These might not seem like ideal matrices for judging art fairs, but actually there’s a little wisdom to them. Consider porridge as a metaphor for the art works, if art works are too hot (e.g. big ticket names) then you’ve likely seen it all before, if art works are too cold then the quality will probably disappoint. Scale is also important: summiting the largest fairs is an exercise in time management, map reading and stamina; fine art fatigue is a real, if not extremely first world, problem. And then comfort: do you feel welcome or are you an outsider? Does the gallery turn their nose at your perceived lack of money or are they still happy to chat?
I have a soft spot for what Salon ACME represents; their conviction to work with artists and their indulgence in character is a welcome change to the standard formula. Zona Maco is a behemoth, so large that leaving is a sigh of relief, although, the family outing aspect is charming and it reminds me of going to Frieze for the first time with my parents.
However, as balance is key, my money is on Material as the ‘Just Right’ of Mexico City’s offerings this year. Frequently the art was exciting but the names weren’t household, so there was an element of guessing who’d become important. Getting around didn’t take a day and meant we had energy to meet our friends for drinks afterwards, and vitally it seemed casual whilst stylish, the sort of place where you wouldn’t be afraid to enquire about the price of a work. That said, having done all three in a weekend I’m happy to run away and not come back till next year.
Elliott Burns is an independent curator, exhibition production-er, writer, ex-artist, sometimes photographer, occasional teacher, approximate art technician, able bartender, decent cook, events co-ordinator, budget organiser, spreadsheet handler, competent admin-er, and happy copy-editor.
Since graduating from MA Culture, Criticism and Curation and Central Saint Martins he has worked exhibition production on Art Night, a one night contemporary arts festival in central London, co-curated What Do You Meme?, an exhibition of meme culture and curated Practices of Enquiry, an exhibition of teaching pedagogy at UAL. He currently lives in Mexico City.