Mexico City’s Galería OMR Gears Up for the Future
Earlier this month, Galería OMR entered a moment of milestones. Over 30 years since opening, the gallery relocated to a new space—a pristine white cube embedded in a 1960s Brutalist building nestled in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood. But even more pivotal for the gallery is a change in leadership: OMR founders Patricia Ortiz Monasterio and Jaime Riestra have passed the gallery on to one of their sons, Cristobal Riestra. Despite being armed with three decades of art-world experience, the Riestras were keenly aware that the statistics were against them—the majority of family-owned businesses fail as they transition to the next generation. So, as a powerful Jorge Méndez Blake show inaugurated the new space, it also incited a new era for Galería OMR, in which a fresh, young team will revamp the gallery model itself, from its internal operations to its social responsibilities.
The new gallery is located some four blocks away from the original location, which opened in a large, colonial home in 1983 (while Ortiz Monasterio was pregnant with Cristobal) in the Colonia Roma neighborhood. “They were very pioneering,” Riestra says of his parents choice to settle in the area, which was rough at the time, and only worsened after the historic 1985 earthquake. “It was edgy, a bit dangerous, and they had this magnificent house at a very low rent…Now, the Roma district has become the cultural district of Mexico City” Proyectos Monclova and José García are among a cluster of other galleries nearby, as well as a flurry of cafes, bars, restaurants, and parks. “It kind of exists in a bubble, and it is far more Europeanized than other parts of the city; you ride your bike and walk everywhere,” Riestra explains. “Everything has become almost intolerably hip.” And given the gallery’s location within this landscape, he feels even more of a responsibility to engage his community through its program.
“It is really a space that we’ve designed to echo the practices of the artists that we represent,” Riestra explains. Working with the architects Mateo Riestra (Cristobal’s brother), José Arnaud-Bello (an artist represented by the gallery), and Max von Werz, they converted the space to meet the needs of their artists, who work with a broad range of mediums. While the overall footprint of the former space was larger, the new gallery’s open floor plan will allow for more striking exhibitions, large-scale works, video, and site-specific installations. “We’ve designed a space that is meant to function as a gallery from the get-go,” Riestra explains. “It will allow for greater impact with less works.” And the management of the gallery, which he describes as “far more horizontal, more democratic,” in contrast to the pyramid structure that most galleries employ, will also complement the way that artists work in their studios.
Riestra and his brother grew up in with the gallery; he recalls running around the space, lunching with artists, and begging his parents not to take them to museums during vacations. It wasn’t until college, when he began working the art fair circuit on school breaks, that he decided to pursue the family business. (He recalls Art Basel in Miami Beach in 2004, when, he says, “the party scene was nonexistent, there were two parties.”) He continued his art education at New York’s Sotheby’s Institute, then returned home to run OMR’s project space, which proved successful and eventually merged with the gallery’s main program. Riestra is drawn to the freedom and opportunities that the gallery offers—“The possibilities of how you want to run your gallery are really limitless,” he notes. “The gallery, as a central place, has an opportunity to unite very special minds, and I don’t think many other professions allow for these collaborative practices to happen so easily.”
For the past five years, Riestra and his parents have charted the gallery’s succession. “We’ve been working with business consultants for the past year, in combination with sessions on psychology and business acumen; maximizing efficiency on one side but taking into account the human side of the art world, which is about relationships.” Armed with this training, they built a team of wide-ranging expertise, from curatorial and sales, to research and writing, to engaging the community and showing art in public spaces. “We were looking to find a way to work and grow in a collaborative way that functions more as a studio, where we can be empathetic with the production of the artists,” Riestra explains. “We’re challenging how a gallery usually works, what sorts of projects we’re involved in; some of them are commercial, some are not for profit, and some are for profit with a social agenda.”
Riestra emphasizes that the gallery’s primary function will still be to promote the careers of the artists they represent, but also in “producing more culture, instead of just exhibiting it.” The gallery program will alternate between represented artists and new talents who are more emerging or focused on social practice. “Art has the capacity to change, to have social impact,” he explains. “Great artists can move so easily from politics to comedy to sculpture and painting, to make connections between two seemingly opposite things.”
Méndez Blake’s current show at the gallery features a cycle of large-scale paintings—a new medium for the artist—which are inspired by Emily Dickinson. After visiting Dickinson’s home, the artist was struck by the small, simple studio in which she wrote. Riestra explains that the artist was interested in “the physicality of space,” and how it “allows for the mind to grow.” The works themselves, large monochromes sprinkled with dashes, respond directly to Dickinson’s poetry, examining the rhythm within her works by visualizing it through her signature use of hyphens. The show was scheduled two years ago, before plans for OMR’s gallery were finalized, and as a result, Méndez Blake’s new body of work grew along with the new space . “The confluence of Jorge’s practice with the new exhibition space that allows for larger works has put him outside of his area of comfort to explore something new,” Riestra explains.
“The new space creates a challenge for the artist, to look outside their practice and breach their barriers,” Riestra notes. The same, it seems, can be said of Galería OMR as a whole. With strong physical and strategic foundations in place, Riestra and his team have ample room breach barriers of their own.
“Jorge Méndez Blake: Southwest Window” is on view at Galería OMR, Mexico City, Feb. 2–Mar. 6, 2016.
Follow Galería OMR on Artsy.