An Elephant In… Mexico City

It’s not just the sunny weather and two major art fairs that have people flocking to Mexico City in spring. Devon Van Houten-Maldonado explores the jam-packed art (and restaurant) scene.

Kevin Simón Mancera, Es Tarde Ya, 2017 with Michael Sturm
Kevin Simón Mancera, Es Tarde Ya, 2017 with Michael Sturm at Zona Maco

To escape frigid winter temperatures in the north, the art world flocks to Mexico City once a year to buy and schmooze at two major art fairs, Zona Maco and Material Art Fair, but that’s barely the beginning of this labyrinthine megalopolis filled with satellite art events and afterparties. Of course, it’s important to stay fed and slightly buzzed for the adventure, luckily the capital is awash in mezcal and world-famous kitchens.

The week kicked off before the fairs even began, with a performance at Labor gallery where artist Pedro Reyes created a series of percussion instruments from solid blocks of marble. Three performers hit the sculptural lithophones with various types of drumsticks sending arpeggios echoing off the gallery walls. They stretched rubber bands and tin foil over the pieces to change their vibration, smearing their hands across the stone to produce droning psychedelic waves of ambiance. The artist’s show, Música Para Litófonos runs until the end of March and is well worth a visit. Nearby, Fuego, a new space created by artists Matías Solar, Andrew Birk and Allan Villavicencio, is showcasing contemporary painting from Mexico City.

Pedro Reyes, Música Para Litófonos at Labor

If you’re feeling thirsty after a bit of show hopping, from Fuego you can walk about fifteen minutes to the famous cabaret bar, Barba Azul, where it can often get weird but never boring. The live salsa band keeps it burning until the wee hours. For your recovery needs the next day, there is no better place than the brunch buffet at Cine Tonala, where you can slurp down vegan—or not vegan, if you so desire—pozole along with a healthy spread of fruits, salads and egg dishes.

“If you’re trying to discover unknown artists or to start a collection, this is the place.”

It’s physically impossible to see all the shows that that have opened in line with the fair, so best to hone in on a few. At BWSMX is Vessels by Tomás Díaz Cedeño, where the artist explores organic and synthetic containers. Next, kill two birds with one stone with a visit to the Humboldt Building in the historic city centre. Inside, Lodos gallery presents a show by the Oa4s collective called Spirit Butterfly X, which makes you question pretty much everything, with paintings on the ceiling and pseudo-scientific contraptions cooking up heady conceptualism. On the roof, Berlin’s Future Gallery has inaugurated their brand new Mexico City space with works by Rubén Grilo, Spiros Hadjidjanos, Femke Herregraven and Nicolas Pelzer.

Oa4s, Spirit butterfly X at BWSMX

From the Humboldt, it’s a few blocks to Bosforo, one of the city’s best mezcal bars with a huge selection, a stylish international crowd and great music. Next door, you can eat escamoles (ant larva) garnished with burnt avocado dust aside other indigenous inspired dishes. But if you’re looking for something a little less exotic and fancy, head to the legendary street side Los Cocuyos and order a few campechano tacos—a wonderfully greasy mix of chorizo and suadero.

Next take a stroll around the Roma neighborhood, where artist Gabriel de la Morra’s solo show at Proyectos Monclova, Entropías, will have you believing in magic. Somehow the artist burned entire sheets of paper without them disintegrating into ash, making sculptures from the carbonized sheets. Not far away, Galeria Mascota has inaugurated a new space with work by Anuaar Maauad and Jean-Baptiste Bernadet. The space is a big step up from the one-room San Rafael location and the paintings by Bernadet jump of the wall.

Gabriel de la Mora, Entropías, 2017, Proyectosmonclova, Mexico City
Gabriel de la Mora, Entropías, 2017, Proyectosmonclova, Mexico City

In the middle of this week, Zona Maco opened, Latin America’s biggest fair. You can catch the last day of the fair today. The enormous convention centre is filled with blue-chip gallery booths and blockbuster artists, only compounding the sensation that there’s an overwhelming amount to see and not enough time to see it all. Strolling through the fair is like scrolling through a social media feed—everything blurs together and you finish exhausted.

“Art fairs are more or less the same everywhere, but Mexico City makes everything so much more fun and wild.”

Material Art Fair is where the cool kids hang out. If you’re trying to discover unknown artists or to start a collection, this is the place. The fair hit a stride with its fifth edition. There’s a tremendous amount of unknown and fresh work available from galleries up and down the Americas and Europe. This is where you see art that looks like it’s made for the future: robots, euphoric dance performances, 3D printed works and lenticular prints. Material has been instrumental in the rise of alternative (sometimes called satellite) fairs, which are younger and more stylish.

A brand new club called Yu Yu just opened in the Juarez neighborhood—exactly what Mexico City was missing. The club is built around good music and the speakers sound wonderful. It’s loud enough to dance, but not so loud you can’t have a conversation. Yu Yu is exciting especially because they’re showcasing local artists, like the fountain of talent that is the NAAFI crew. I don’t know any other group of culture makers who have done more to take the Mexico City scene global through music and fashion.

Nicolas Pelzer, Collider Body — Flint 4#, 2017, Future Gallery
Nicolas Pelzer, Collider Body — Flint 4#, 2017, Future Gallery

Mexico City’s up-and-coming artist community has also taken advantage of the influx of collectors, curators and dealers. A few dozen independent projects have been organized to begin around the fair, including Trapos Sucios, a project comprised of all women artists sprawling across a dozen venues in San Rafael. The three curators Sira Piza, Nika Simone Chilewich and Antonella Rava are smart names to watch. The ambitious project challenges the male dominant and patriarchal structure of the major fairs by creating visibility for these women at the street level.

Art fairs are more or less the same everywhere, but Mexico City makes everything so much more fun and wild. There are a million other amazing things worth seeing in the city. Flights are cheap and springtime has already arrived in Mexico.

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