At Zona MACO, the International Art World Caters to a Mexican Aesthetic

  • Installation image of the DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM and Alexander Levy booth at Zona MACO courtesy of the galleries.

At first glance, the carpeted hall of the Centro Banamex—a colossal conference center named for the equally giant Mexican bank, located in a charmless business district about 30 minutes from the Mexico City center—could be anywhere. The Nike showroom and crowded Starbucks on the far side of the sala provide no helpful indication. But a quick walk around the room, where the 12th edition of Zona MACO is being held this week, brings unmistakable signs of Mexican personality into focus. Cases of 1800 Tequila in crystal bottles hang from the ceiling; carts stocked with cups of the national liquor circulate on the ground. (Tala Madani, whose paintings at Pilar Corrias are among the most striking at the fair, sips on a shot as we chat about her work.) On the patio, people line up for tacos and fresh juice from El Farolito—a delicious but unassuming chain restaurant that generally features fluorescent lights and lunch counters but here has been set up in a corrugated metal stall in international farm-to-table fashion. 

More importantly, galleries from around the world are selling art that caters to a Mexican sensibility. In the center of the room, the neighboring booths of Victoria Miro and David Zwirner—heavyweight gallerists from London and New York, respectively—are both brimming with the paintings and sculptures of the famous Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, an extremely well-attended retrospective of whose work just closed at the Museo Tamayo (a local contemporary art museum that hosted a lovely candlelit cocktail for Zona MACO this week). A Miro representative confirms that it’s a good time to be showing Kusama in Mexico City: “People are flipping out,” she says. “It’s wild.” At one point during the preview, I notice a security guard in a neon vest taking a photo of two fairgoers, one on either side of a large, spotted Kusama pumpkin.

Los Angeles-based Charlie James Gallery is presenting the highly collectible works of Ramiro Gomez and William Powhida. The former is a young artist whose parents emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. as teenagers, taking up blue-collar jobs. Gomez draws attention to the (often Latino) workers in the American service industry, using David Hockney’s paintings of California luxury and advertisements from high-end magazines as scenes in which to insert images of the domestic workers who make opulence possible. (In La Limpieza, 2014, he paints a custodial worker on an ad for Art Basel in Miami Beach.) 

Powhida’s works are the product of a five-week residency he did here in the “Distrito Federal.” In one drawing, titled Some Fucked Up Thoughts about Mexico City, 2014, he writes, “The best way in to the art world is from the outside”; beside this musing, he sketches a small, cyclical diagram of three place names—L.A., Berlin, Mexico—with arrows between each one. The fair would seem to give credence to Powhida’s theory: one gallerist relays an encounter with a German curator who moved to D.F. to escape Berlin, only to find himself surrounded by Berliners at Zona MACO.

  • Installation image of the Other Criteria booth at Zona MACO courtesy of the gallery.

The butterfly, skull, cross, and pill motifs that abound at Damien Hirst’s Other Criteria gallery; the bright pink, yellow, and orange wall sculptures of Manuel Merida at RGR+ART; the hanging, patterned masks of Tobias Rehberger at Galería Heinrich Ehrhardt; these are only a few examples of foreign galleries showing works by foreign artists that resonate in the particular aesthetic landscape of this country. There is also a high concentration of Mexican galleries presenting Mexican artists at Zona MACO, from power-players like kurimanzutto—showing, among other pieces, the elegant abstract paperworks of Carlos Amorales—to smaller ventures like Gaga Arte Contemporáneo. The latter booth was a rare one manned by a dealer in a white t-shirt and sneakers, and featured a number of tongue-in-cheek works, like one compilation of polaroids of Club Med buffet items by Juan José Gurrola.

One of the most interesting pieces at the fair is by another Mexican artist, Débora Delmar, at DUVE Berlin. Delmar (who shows under the name Debora Delmar Corp) makes work about branding, so naturally she has a personal logo based on her initials; last year, supermodels Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn got matching tattoos of the artist’s double-D emblem on their hips. Now, those who request to see a price list at DUVE’s booth will learn that Delmar, currently ink-free, is offering to share the same tattoo with a collector. She’ll also photograph the piece, which, inspired by a coupon for a tattoo parlor, is called Branded for Life. Artist and collector will share the experience and the rights. “MACO is an institution in Mexico,” Rachel Walker of DUVE explains. “For [Delmar] to be in her city at MACO was something she was really happy about, so she wanted to make an impactful work.”

  • Installation image of the DUVE Berlin booth at Zona MACO courtesy of the gallery.

Walker observes that many in the crowd on the second day of the fair are young and inquisitive, probably here more out of curiosity than out of serious desire to purchase. With a number of art events happening in D.F. this week—from the Material Art Fair to the Salón ACME to the opening of the first “Lulennial,” the latter, a biennial held at the Lulu project space featuring works by Gabriel Orozco, Tania Pérez Córdova, and a mix of local and international emerging artists—there’s no doubt that lots of people are here to look and participate in the festivities. 

It’s hard to get a good grasp on where exactly the actual collectors are coming from. One gallerist says that they’re about half foreign, half Mexican; another says that they’re mostly American and European; a third says that they’re international, with many based in Mexico. When I ask Bree Zucker of kurimanzutto how things are going, she replies, “Fast,” noting that many of her sales interactions are happening over email. I overhear one dealer tell a potential buyer eyeing a painting, “Carlos has one in his collection,” and I can’t help but wonder if he means Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican business magnate who’s been cited as the richest man in the world and whose massive private art collection is open to the public at the Museo Soumaya.


The shared booth of German gallery DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM and Berlin gallery Alexander Levy is an eye-catching installation; the floor is covered in stones that surround a sculpture by Julian Charrière & Julius von Bismarck: a tall, potted cactus whose branches are etched with graffiti. “This is a nice work to show in Mexico,” I say to Andre Schlechtriem, one of the dealers. “Yes,” he replies. “We hope it stays here.” 

Emily Rappaport

Explore Zona MACO 2015 on Artsy.

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