Mexico City Art Week: Day One

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Mexico City Art Week: Day Two

We’re in Mexico City for Latin America’s biggest week of art fairs. Zona MACO, Material, and a handful of other satellite fairs open later in the week, but I’m here early to check out what’s on in the city’s brick-and-mortar gallery spaces, pop-ups, and institutions.

A lot of people who have never been to the Mexican fairs ask me to compare this week to Art Basel Miami Beach and the hubbub surrounding it. Here’s some background: Both fairs launched in 2002 to capitalize on Latin America’s appetite for contemporary art, and usually host an international array of galleries, representing between 25 and 30 countries. Last year, Zona MACO brought in over 62,000 visitors compared to ABMB’s 81,000. Although they’re similar on paper, MACO is a smaller fair in a much larger city—which is really what makes this week feel different.

To put things in perspective, my delegación (one of 16 just in Mexico City proper, and by far not the biggest) has a larger population than all of Miami. While Basel completely overwhelms Miami Beach and dominates basically every aspect of the city’s cultural life for a week, the Mexican art fairs kinda just feel like a drop in the enormous bucket that is Mexico City. There are actually several “art weeks” here, but this one tends to draw the most international visitors. That being said, I’ve noticed that for the past few years Zona MACO has felt a little eclipsed by all of the satellite events in its orbit

This city has so many galleries, museums, and various other cultural venues that it’s quite literally impossible to see everything. That overwhelming feeling of FOMO can be intensified in weeks like this, when Mexico City’s vibrant gallery scene offers countless competing openings, performances, and pop-ups around town. With this in mind, I’m trying to see as much as I can and report back—hopefully helping visitors who are in town for just a few days triage what they really want to see.

Monday night, I hit up half a dozen openings of shows that will be up throughout the week, mostly clustered around Centro and San Rafael—two neighborhoods walkable from Material Art Fair, which opens Thursday.

Néstor Quiñones: El rito invisible

Néstor Quiñones: El rito invisible
Venustiano Carranza #49, Centro Histórico
Feb. 4-9, 6-8 p.m. daily

Just arriving to El rito invisible, a site-specific solo exhibition from Néstor Quiñones, feels like a spooky theatrical experience that’s part of the work. Visitors enter through an inconspicuous wooden door on a street of historic government office buildings, walk through a loading dock full of cardboard boxes and tubes, and climb a dark stairwell to the block’s hidden central patio. There, giant monochrome canvases with delicate crop-circle-like tracings of symbols—radiation, skull and crossbones, the ouroboros, etc—are hung like sinister banisters from the railings. They’re joined by strange totems assembled from sawhorses, upon which tiny kitschy figurines rest.

The lights might go out without warning, revealing abstract, Milky-Way-like, glow-in-the-dark underpaintings behind the symbols. The whole experience feels alternately ritualistic and cinematographic, like the sets for a low-budget film about a doomsday cult. If you find yourself in the area (close to tourist “must-sees” Zócalo and Palacio de Bellas Artes) during gallery hours, I’d say it’s worth a visit.


Miguel Fernández de Castro: Involuntary Archives. On the Theatre of Surveillance

Artículo 123 #116, Centro
On view until March 28th
Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-6:00 p.m.

If you’re trying to cram as much art into an afternoon as possible, Edificio Humboldt is a no-brainer stop on your itinerary. The renovated art deco building always seems to host a rotating cast of galleries, pop-ups, and cultural organizations. The excellent bilingual art magazine Terremoto is one of them (if you wanna get down and dirty with some art critics, be sure to check out their Thursday night party).

Their office/project space is currently hosting a project from Miguel Fernández de Castro that investigates the ambiguous mythology of the US/Mexico border. Apparently, in the 1940s, the US government re-staged the arrest of Mexican smugglers for the camera, creating postcards to disseminate as propaganda in support of the newly formed Border Patrol. Fernández de Castro has reprinted these, as well as other documents hackers liberated from the Arizona State Police and Border Patrol in 2011. It’s a fascinating collection of files, from PowerPoints about interrogation to PDFs, spam chain emails, and random JPGs. The installation features hundreds of postcards with the propaganda images as well as screens and shelves with a rotating selection of other findings in the archive.

Diego Salvador Rios: Vistas del Arkivo Altavista

Artículo 123 #116, Centro
On view until March 28
Tuesday–Friday: noon–6 p.m., Saturday: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. 

Lodos is another Mexico City artist-run initiative that I think of as a curatorial powerhouse. Here, they’re also exploring the concept of the archive with a project from Diego Salvador Rios. The artist visited Altavista, a cooperative, utopian high school established in the 1960s with a colorful history tied to decades of Mexican political turbulence.

The exhibition comprises large digital prints of both the artist’s own photographs of the school as well as archival material. Rather than present any straightforward historical document, the images and text suggest a poetic narrative based loosely on reality. It’s a nice bookend to the exhibition at Terremoto one floor away: How can we mine politically motivated institutional archives from divergent ideologies (Arizonan fascism and Mexican communism) to highlight the subjectivity rather than some mythical absolute truth? Both shows feel a bit like ongoing, work-in-progress projects that invite interrogation.

Iian Ball: Pathology Loop

Future Gallery
Artículo 123 #116, Centro
On view until March 7
Tuesday–Friday: noon–6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday: noon–4 p.m.

If there’s a kinda cyberpunk current running through all the shows in Edificio Humboldt, Pathology Loop in the building’s quirky little penthouse unit makes sense as a capstone for the gallery crawl. That being said, the rooftop views of Mexico’s retro-futuristic cityscape rival the show itself.  

Pathology Loop, comprising five digital prints leaning against the wall, feels like something we’ve seen before (namely, some B-sides from The Jogging about a decade ago) but maybe that’s okay. Think collages with Monster Energy Drinks, anime characters, and fake news headlines from the culture wars such as  “Global Warming is a Hoax.” If you’re already coming to Edificio Humboldt to see the other shows, it’s worth the extra few stairs to the rooftop.


Geografía Relativa Installation View

Geografía Relativa
guadalajara90210 pop-up
Edison 137, col. San Rafael
Feb. 7–12, noon–6 p.m.
Featuring Francheska Alcántara, Ian Gerson, agustine zegers, Nicole Levaque, Jordan Loeppky-Kolesnik, Kathryn Lien, C. Klockner, Wyley Duffey, McKeever Donovan, Evan Galbicka, Sandy Williams IV, Raul De Lara

This pop-up collaboration between Mexican curatorial practice guadalajara90210 and VCU Sculpture alumni has been one of the week’s highlights so far. Look out for erstwhile Baltimorean C. Klockner’s two pieces that position the body as a potentially hostile landscape—a pleated skirt-like piece of fabric studded with thorns on the floor and a bas relief of an abdomen, in which a penis is also surrounded by thorns. The thorns evoke pimples or body hair but convey a vaguely sinister, alien body horror.

In the same room, Jordan Loeppky-Kolesnik’s video work unsettlingly mashes up found footage from California wildfires and the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game. After watching the hillsides where they hiked as a child burn on the news, Loeppky-Kolesnik “visited” the digital simulacra of the landscapes in the game—perhaps the most complete record of these places that no longer exist. The virtual and the real at times flow seamlessly between each other. It’s unsettling and profoundly sad—the idyll is the “fake” and the far more surreal scenes of the world in flames are our reality. My companions and I tried to find that word that doesn’t exist in English but captures the profound sadness/nostalgia our generation increasingly experiences relating to the loss of place due to conflict, gentrification, and climate change. Is it the German “sehnsucht” or Portuguese “saudade” or Welsh “hiraeth”? No one was sure, but one of those is bound to enter more common usage as more of the world burns/drowns/blows up. It’s a vibe that fits with so much of the work in Geografía Relativa, an excellent survey of artists working with a bittersweet eye turned to the landscape.

Flickering Dreams

Flickering Dreams
Projet Pangée pop-up
Edison 137, col. San Rafael
On view until Feb. 9. Noon–6 p.m.

Upstairs in the same building, Canadian gallery Projet Pangée has another pop-up group show that’s also fantastic. A friend and I played a game in which we imagined we were collectors who could only pick one piece out of the show, and neither of us could. Trevor Baird’s lumpy but hyper-detailed ceramics are beyond endearing (especially against the patterned tile floor!). Gabriel Rosas Alemán’s hand-painted translucent abstract tapestries felt simultaneously cerebral and homey, and basically all of Claire Milbrath’s oil paintings feel like they’re giving your eyes a much-needed hug.

Milbrath’s handling of paint dances between illustration-like control and loose fluidity and renders inviting, lovably awkward compositions. Highlights include pink-clad androgynous figures horseback riding across pastel landscapes or lounging in tiled bathrooms. In one, a fluffy white dog leans against a crate of clementines in an orchard. If this sounds like saccharine escapism, it’s done with self-awareness. In one blissful domestic interior, a dog and human are seated around a kitchen table and all seems well. But the headlines on the upside-down newspaper subtly read “WOMAN DRIVEN INSANE” and “FIRES RAVAGE HOMES.” It’s a fitting complement to the anxieties alluded to in the show downstairs.

CHITO: Notes to…

CHITO: Notes to…
Laguna de Tamiahua 3, Colonia Anáhuac I Sección
Thursday–Saturday 11 a.m.–8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

We ended our first night at Lagos, an artist residency and studio space, to see CHITO’s installation Notes to… which wrapped the gallery space in a grid of works on paper folded into envelope-like shapes. It’s such a big space it can sometimes feel a little empty, so I’m impressed CHITO managed to fill it.

If you have to triage your time in Mexico City, Lagos can seem a bit out of the way (although there are more and more galleries popping up in the neighborhood). But I always like making time for Lagos because its artist-centric ethos and industrial setting remind me of Baltimore’s potential. The space is what so many warehouse venues and live/work spaces in Baltimore could be like with a little investment and light-handed renovation.

Header image: Trevor Baird in Flickering Dreams at the Projet Pangée pop-up

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