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  • Design: Art Week - Latin American Style
  • Ralf Würth
Design: Art Week - Latin American Style

Last week Mexico City was bombarded with unseasonable rains, flowering jacarandas, the eruption of Mount Popocatépetl some 50 miles away and a considerable horde of art people in town for Zona Maco, the largest art fair in Latin America – if your definition of Latin America is strictly geographic – which opened its ninth edition on Wednesday.

The Centro Banamex, located between the outskirts of the ritzy Polanco and Lomas neighborhoods, is so massive that on the opening day it hosted not only the fair on its upper level but also a petroleum engineering conference. Here`s a visual: one briskly stepping professional with a White Columns tote passing another whose bag said Halliburton. Many more such memorable moments were to occur all week as galleries, museums and collections around the city opened their doors and broke out the tequila in celebration.

With bankable guests from the north like Sadie Coles, Friedrich Petzel and Lisson Gallery returning for another year, Zona Maco had one legitimizing set of bases covered. The half of the other 50-odd galleries in the main section representing Latin America satisfied the fair`s more distinctive quota. Local galleries like Kurimanzutto, which has one of the most interesting rosters of well-established artists in the world (including the national treasure Gabriel Orozco), and the upstart Labor, are familiar on the art-fair circuit and anchored the hometown presence with booths surveying their respective programs.

South American galleries included AFA Gallery from Santiago, with a project by Cristian Salineros in which the Chilean artist assembled typical objects found on the streets of Mexico City into a hulking mass and wrapped in masking tape; and Bogota`s La Central, with works by Manuela Viera-Gallo, Ana Roldan and the Mexico City-based Pia Camil, whose piece on view consisted of fabric dyed, sewn and stretched onto a canvas. For New Proposals, an international selection of young spaces commingled with those from DF, Guadalajara and more far-flung regions of the country, like La Estación from Chihuahua, which showed sculptures by Arin, Dylan, an artist whose charming if straightforward process is to apply a traditional Oaxacan weaving method to dismantle and reconstruct cardboard consumer packaging; or the Zacatecas artist-run project Muno, which commissions the works they exhibit and sell, like a series of diptychs by Pablo Helguera that pair snarky definitions of art terms like “Appropriation,” “Referentiality” and “Globalization” with New Yorker-style cartoons. While art fairs are an unequivocal symptom of globalization, the specifics of place and culture served as more than decorative backdrops here.

Mexico`s largest private collection is Colección Jumex, owned by Eugenio Lopez and situated on the grounds of the Jumex juice factory, far northeast of the city center. The collection presented a sprawling group exhibition on Thursday and hosted the week`s biggest party downtown at the Museo de la Ciudad de México later that same night. As Jumex-infused tequila shots flowed in the courtyard, upstairs, guests toured a retrospective of Minerva Cuevas`s politically charged work, ranging from documentation of filmed and Net-based anarchist instigations to stacked mounds of bootleg Evian bottles rebranded “Egalité” and Del Monte tomato sauce cans promising “Pure Murder” inside.

On Friday the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, near the early suburb of Coyoacán in the south, opened an exhibition of Sarah Lucas sculptures set among its permanent collection of nearly 60,000 pieces of pre-Columbian art collected by Rivera over his lifetime. Construction on the monolithic, pyramid-inspired museum began in 1941, and today it still dwarfs everything it surrounds. Lucas‚Äôs fleshy, figurative manipulations of stuffed stockings twisted into various poses – classical, primitive or modern by way of yoga – played off of the sanctity of the surrounding volcanic stone chambers in a way that brought to mind Jeff Koons at Versailles, only with sepulchral Mayan and Aztec ornamentation in place of the Baroque.

SOMA, an artist-run school, residency and hub for the city`s young contemporary art scene, nestled in the quiet residential neighborhood of San Pedro De Los Pinos, hosted an open house on Saturday.

So did galleries off Chapultepec Park, including a new space imported from Brussels, Galerie Jan Mot, with a show by the Argentine post-minimalist David Lamelas. Mot, a dealer known for a rigorous program of artists like Tino Sehgal and Dominique Gonzalez-Forrester, whose work is not so easy to sell, did not plan to open a satellite space in Mexico City. However, working with an artist here he developed a fondness for the city, and when someone offered him the chance to go in on an old vecindad – a 19th-century style of housing project – with a big garden, to be shared with a local architect and cultural agency, he couldn`t say no.

Throughout the week, conversations often turned to Mexico City`s extremely art-friendly real estate – affordable for galleries and artists alike, and rich in architectural history and inspiration. This refrain has built over recent years, inviting prognostications that perhaps DF could find itself “the new Berlin” in the not so distant future. That is, an internationally robust haven for artists where the slackness of markets is not an impeding factor but one that shelters creative enterprise. Although maybe Mexico City is bound for something altogether newer, bigger and more American.

ATHENS – “It`s difficult,” says Marina Legaki, summing up the current climate in Athens where she and her partner, Tasos Gaintatzis, run Ommu, a bookstore and arts space. Established in 2009 as a temporary shop in the corner of the Athens gallery AMP, Ommu now operates out of a newly renovated 1950s-era building all its own, specializing in hard-to-find (in Athens) international magazines like Kaleidoscope and Apartamento; monographs on artists like Dan Colen, Esther Tielemans and Fia Backstrom; and lesser-known publications like “Movie List,” a black and white facsimile of an original maquette by the late artist Dash Snow, released in zine form by Snow`s estate. Legaki, who studied psychology before moving into publishing, and Gaintitzis, a former photographer, first worked together in 2002, on the now-defunct Dynasty zine. Ommu also trades in limited-edition artworks and contemporary furniture – surrounding piles of books are psychedelic sculptures by the Greek artist Antonis Vathis and clever, modular benches by the German designer Manuel Raeder, all of which are for sale. Quick-fire exhibitions, the most recent of which featured works by the London design office Zak Group, take over any remaining white space on the walls.

Legaki and Gaintatzis like to think of Ommu as “an interdisciplinary open house” – a cultural meeting point they hope will help stimulate not just book sales but in-depth discussion around contemporary Greek art practice and production. “It`s an attempt to motivate,” Legaki explains. “By bringing to Greece the works of artists and designers we ourselves very much admire, we hope to prompt artists and gallerists into re-evaluating the way they work, and the things they produce.” The pertinent question, to be asked of any cultural initiative hoping to maintain its activity within a country struggling beneath such a colossal debt load, is how they plan to keep their operation going. “We`re actually used to having no money,” Legaki says. “When funds are cut in richer countries, like in the Netherlands for example, everybody becomes very stressed. But here in Greece we`ve never been offered those opportunities, so we`re used to finding different ways to do what we want. Maybe that`s been for the best.”

  • Ralf Würth