As ZsONA MAC
O came to a close Sunday evening, tens of thousands of Mexican citizens were expected to rally in Mexico City’s streets to protest portions of U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda that they believe will negatively impact their country. The fair’s 14th edition took place following months of global political and economic uncertainty—led in North America by the U.S. presidential election—and within a particularly fraught and tumultuous moment for Mexico, Latin America’s second-largest economy.
Fuel prices have risen 14 to 24 percent and gasoline shortages have proliferated since the turn of the year, following cuts to government subsidies on oil. Violent protests have broken out across the country in response. And some commentators have argued that oil poses the greatest immediate threat to the Mexican economy.
Meanwhile, uncertainty over U.S.-Mexico trade continues to grow. Shortly after the U.S. election, Citibanamex, the Mexican arm of Citibank, cut its 2017 foreign direct investment projections by a third
. And in the less than three weeks since he took office, Trump has taken initial steps to renegotiate or end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A number of U.S. firms have rolled back plans to open factories or move further jobs to Mexico, in part due to threats and negotiations initiated by the Trump administration. And the peso, in decline since the election, dropped to a historic low at 22.06 per U.S. dollar on January 11th before recovering slightly to 20.34.
With policy proposals continually in flux, it’s impossible yet to know what, if any, further impact they will ultimately have on the Mexican economy. But many at ZsONA MACO said trade restrictions proposed in the form of a border tax to pay for Trump’s border wall, don’t bode well for the arts. Traditional economic theory suggests that these kinds of tax measures generally see their burden passed on to consumers—in this case, U.S. citizens—by way of a price increase, resulting in decreased demand and a further uptick in value of the dollar, relative to the peso.
Among the critics was Miami collector, real estate developer, and Perez Art Museum Miami
namesake Jorge Pérez. Beyond issues like poverty, unemployment, and the growth of the middle class in Mexico, which are foremost concerns for Pérez, he has no doubt that art, too, would suffer.
The proposed border tax “affects the flow of capital into Mexico. It will affect business between the countries and of course that affects art,” said Perez. According to the collector, Latin American artists are undervalued because they lack international exposure. He says an import tax would further exacerbate this situation, with Mexican art (along with other products) becoming less affordable in the U.S.
“It’s important for us to have solidarity with Mexico, with artists,” said Perez. Among other purchases at ZsONA MACO, he’d picked up two paintings by
(who will represent Mexico at the 2017 Venice Biennale) and a timely work by Mexican artist Minerva Cuevas, which sees a landscape dipped in chapopote
or tar. Both artists were shown by Mexico City gallery Kurimanzutto
Dealers across the fair echoed Perez’s sentiment. “We had committed to come and then the whole bloody balloon went up with Trump,” said first-time exhibitor Sean Kelly
, the New York dealer whose presence nearly every Mexican gallery cited as a major vote of confidence for the fair’s momentum. This year saw Lévy Gorvy
and Tina Kim also participate at ZsONA MACO for the first time, with Kim selling a work by Kim Yong-Ik on the range of $60,000–70,000, and a work by Davide Balliano for $10,000–15,000 during the VIP preview.
With the peso plummeting in value, Kelly recalls many worrying that 2017 was the worst possible year to come to ZsONA MACO. He was undeterred. “I said you know what, it’s the perfect time to go. Us going now will send a very clear message to our clients and friends in Mexico, the artists we work with in Latin America, that we’re not intimidated and we’re going to support culture in the broadest possible sense.”
Kelly added, “You don’t turn around and go away when something like that happens. Americans should be supporting Mexicans, not trying to build a wall to keep them out.”
The outing was successful early on for Kelly. He placed two works by Jose Dávila—Untitled (Femme d’Alger) VI
(2016) and Untitled
(2016)—with institutions in Mexico for $45,000–50,000 on the fair’s first day. Pieces by Hugo McCloud
, and Los Carpinteros
also sold by Thursday afternoon.