Down Mexico Way: Beyond Rivera, Kahlo and Co.

It is the biggest and most important contemporary art fair in its sphere of influence with over 90 international galleries, 900 represented artists and 30,000 visitors (and as such very comparable to the Melbourne Art Fair) – but you may never have heard of it.

Zona_Maco Zona Mexico Arte Contemporaneo (Zona Maco) in its 7th year showcased the thriving contemporary art and gallery scene not only in Mexico, but also Colombia, Peru and Brazil, with some excellent Spanish and US American art galleries thrown in. David Hulme and Brigitte Banziger spoke with long-established as well as new art galleries during the fair from 14 to 18 April.

No works of the legendary Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in sight here, yet their influence is still widely acknowledged. Galeria de Arte Mexicana (GAM), founded in 1935 and Mexico´s longest-running art gallery, started out with their work and have made the successful transition into modern contemporary art under the leadership of Mariana Perez Amor and Alejandra Yturbe, the doyennes of the Mexican art world and highly regarded especially by their peers. Today, they represent one of Mexico’s greatest living artists, Francisco Toledo, and many other younger successful artists, concentrating on flat art rather than the conceptual art found at many other stands.

Would the buzz of the opening night with the Mexico City elite out to play translate into sales? Alejandra Yturbe is optimistic, as the local collectors tend to come and look first, purchasing only at the end of the fair. Yturbe comments: ‘We are finding that it is not only the wealthy that are buying art in Mexico. We are seeing that today there is a larger audience.’ As Alejandra points out, the arrival of Fine Art Auction House Louis Morton in Mexico City in 1988 helped foster a collector culture, creating the opportunity of buying and selling on the secondary market.

Did the financial crisis have a noticeable impact on business? Rafael Yturbe, son of Alejandra and also involved in the running of the gallery, says: ‘It has not had that big an impact. Of course, the Damien Hirst art auction at Sothebys in London coinciding with the start of the financial problems was seen as some kind of pivotal moment and end of the art market. In reality, the art market continues unabated.´

Mauricio Galguera of Galeria Hilario Galguera, who represent Damien Hirst, supports the view that the horizon of the art buyers in Mexico has expanded in the last ten years, not only focusing on modernists such as Rivera, Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo. He added: ‘There has been a massive shift in attitude, the Mexican art collector is a relatively new species. This would not have been possible without the growing quality and innovation in the art presented – and therefore we also see more international buyers.’

OMR gallery director Patricia Ortiz Monasterio is a regular at Art Basel and another legend amongst the Mexican art gallerists and has good memories of Roslyn Oxley and remembers Ray Hughes well. Ortiz Monasterio is also confident of good sales, pointing out: ‘Often, people don’t know how to look at things, so we have to educate them. Some buyers buy to decorate, others you see at every art show – the collectors. In this regard, Maco is no different from any other art fair.’

Kurimanzutto are one of the most important galleries in Mexico, representing Mexico’s most widely acclaimed artist, Gabriel Orozco, whose work was shown in a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York just this year. Georgina Arozarena of Kurimanzutto shares the optimism: ‘We see better art than last year, and the fair has been much better organized especially for international collectors with a package program offering studio and museum visits.’ As for purchases, Arozarena thinks that the buyers are more careful and thoughtful, and are making wiser choices.

‘Also, the buyers see a greater mix of art, as in the last 6 months a lot of galleries have been opening in Mexico City’, added Arozarena. One of them is Antena Estudio, a gallery run by artists Laura Ortiz Vega and Andres Basurto who sold a work for 70,000 Pesos (AU$ 6,300) by Ortiz Vega on the opening night. Interestingly, all the newer galleries display prices, while the established ones don’t. Basurto explains: ‘We want clients to feel that our art is accessible for all. We are finding our buyers are perhaps from a different set, as there is a stronger middle class in Mexico. They are taking risks and buying art that they previously would not have. Plus there are buyers from the USA, and also from Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and some Europeans.’

Speaking of prices and economic realities, Myto gallery is in an enviable position. Founded in 2002 by an avid collector, it is not commercially oriented, but operates as an art factory, as director Belen Moro explains. She says: ‘2009 was a very difficult year for art here, as Maco was also hit very hard by the outbreak of swine flu. But since the start of 2010 things have been looking up with collectors wanting to buy again. Perhaps the prices were also getting too high, and there has now been a revision both in price and quality all around. Mexican art is in a good place right now.´

Alejandra Funtanet is a newcomer with Caja Blanca Gallery, founded in 2009. She underlines: ‘2010 is much better, with better quality and curation in the artworks. Our collectors are looking for young artists yet to make their mark.’

With prices starting from US $ 500 to US $ 500,000, Mexican contemporary art is certainly accessible to a wide audience, with a lot of quality art available. Nor is language a barrier, as English is spoken by all gallerists, and the overall atmosphere is upbeat. Perhaps there is also potential for cross-pollination with Australia’s artists and galleries…

– Article originally published in Australian Art Sales Digest

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