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Beyond Zona MACO: What We Saw During Mexico City Art Week 

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Remember that short-lived (2005-2006) MTV parody children’s show Wonder Showzen? I vaguely recall a running gag on the politically-incorrect (unimaginably so by today’s standards) black comedy wherein the word “Mexico” was usually whispered in a tone that was equal parts sinister and seductive. That pretty much sums up my cognitive functions every February, when the art world descends on the Valle de México like a plague of locusts in search of tempting “authenticity” to frenetically consume until all the chinampas are stripped bare of their crops. 

Mexico” is the art world’s tempestuous darling du jour: the country, the city, the week of art fairs and related events that no longer represents just seven days but an amorphous, borderless stretch of time, FOMO-rattled mindset, and obligations. Mexico City in artspeak linguistics has sprawled like its geographical namesake.

Mexico City is Zona MACO. Mexico City is Material. Mexico City is thirty conflicting RSVPs to VIP brunches happening at galleries and private collections on opposite sides of the metropolis on the same Thursday morning. Mexico City is an acquaintance’s last-minute change of plans involving some kind of “mindfulness” performance residency in Tulum at some insufferable “eco resort” probably built on land that was either virgin jungle or an indigenous community six months prior. Mexico City is a bottomless chain of WhatsApp messages from a friend-of-a-friend I’ve never met, quitting their assistant curator job in LA and inexplicably asking me for advice about how to permanently move into the Condesa AirBnB in which they have spent a total of 72 hours during their first-ever trip to the country, from which a middle class family was likely violently evicted during COVID lockdowns. (Read Zoe Mendelson’s very on-point thoughts about that last one, among other complicated CDMX observations here.

There is no other “must-see” event on the ever-more-esoteric Aztec calendar of art world “can’t miss” events that fills me with as much eager anticipation and simultaneous, profound dread.  But the art here makes it all worth it. 

For every kilometer of gridlocked freeway winding to a soulless convention center, there is an equivalent length of canvas rolled up in a painter’s studio, waiting to be unfurled for the truly curious visitor. For every hour a hapless tourist spends in a blockbuster line at the wrong Frida Kahlo museum, a thousand hours have been spent mastering a craft, from weaving to ceramics by a dedicated chilango. For every casual professional acquaintance from London who shows up three hours late to a party they insisted you must attend—because they were convinced they simply had to dine at Pujol just before rush hour by the Instagram story depicting a plate of aguachile their cousin posted during their honeymoon two years ago—there are hundreds of decidedly un-flaky artist blazing their own, wonderfully meandering trails. 

So here are my Mexico City highlights—sifted from the chaff of overload, logistical/ethical headaches, disappointments, and detours.

(Cover image: Cristina Umaña Durán at Salón ACME)

Maggie Petroni
Maggie Petroni
Maggie Petroni

We started off our “Material Monday” (the night in which various local galleries participating in Material Art Fair host openings and events in their brick-and-mortar digs ahead of the fair’s opening) at General Expenses, a relatively new addition to the art scene, just a few blocks from my partner’s apartment in Centro. The artist Maggie Petroni has totally transformed the space into something resembling an existential haunted house for her solo show Traumacore, on view through March 23, with labyrinthine walls leading to dead-end desks and over-the-top monstrous details.

The real show-stopper (literally) is tucked away in the rear of the gallery, where two mechanized taxidermy roosters riding Roombas are locked in a sisyphean battle. Ironically, I had just walked through the micro-district of smelly storefronts selling thousands of recently-killed chickens as food and not really batted an eye, but here their reanimated cousins elicited an unexpected pathos.

There’s something tragic about their endless collisions with their carpeted enclosure and each other. I watched their randomized choreography for a good half hour, the way a sociopath might watch an actual cockfight—waiting for one instinct/algorithm driven clash to result in some serious injury. Even in death, poultry knows no peace.

Sofía Hinojosa
Sofía Hinojosa

Next we headed to Sofía Hinojosa’s solo show Hotel Fatiga (on view through March 18) at the artist-run space Salón Silicón. The artist utilizes a variety of media (broken and repaired hotel dishes, archival photos, mosaic, and pool lounge chairs with their straps replaced with glass strips) to question the fraught relationship between ideas of “labor” and “rest.”

It’s a particularly poignant exhibition for art week in Roma, where tourism is both the major economic engine and basically gutting the neighborhood. I particularly love Hinojosa’s depiction of service uniforms in weighty architectural mosaic made mobile/commodifiable—both evocative of the mid-century veneziano detailing adorning the area’s housing stock-turned-AirBnBs, and representing a heavy burden to be borne by the roughly 4.5 million Mexicans working in tourism to afford ever-rising living costs.

Romeo Gómez López
Romeo Gómez López

Meanwhile at Material—my favorite art fair—Salón Silicón was also showing Romeo Gómez López’s The Horrors Persist, fully on-brand with the gallery’s trademark mischievous queer criticality/camp. The booth featured objects of homoerotic desire/queer-coded symbolism: a motorized “limp wrist” swishing an iced coffee (LOL) installed next to a pair of grey sweatpants with the infamous “dick print” (double LOL).

Back in 2018, I declared “Pants are the New Plants” in reference to the then-nascent zeitgeist of pants popping up everywhere at art fairs, the way monsteras or ferns were ubiquitous in mixed-media works a decade ago. Since then, pants have been a trend I’ve gleefully noticed and documented at probably dozens of shows. At Material 2019, I speculated that pants (or shoes/prosthetics/leg-adjacent forms) might be a way to sculpturally reference the body without the classical art historical associations of the torso or bust.

In Sala de Espera‘s Material booth, I was delighted to find the below upcycled garment sculpture by Marisa Raygoza that speaks to that thesis—implying a sort of terrifying/cute pieta of absent bodies comprising interlocking limbs that got weirder the longer I looked at it. The whole Sala de Espera show was great. The art collective occupies a former 1950s hospital in Tijuana, and wallpapered their booth with business cards printed to look like the vintage tiles in their shared kitchen back home.

Marisa Raygoza
Motero Tranquilo
Erik Tlaseca
Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya

There was a similar strategy of found-object-abstraction on display in Los Angeles gallery MURMURS‘ booth, dedicated to a solo show by Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya. Their gothic assemblages near-seamlessly combine fragments of garments, industrial objects, taxidermied animal parts, and even a sombrero into vaguely sinister mobiles. The result was a cognitive experience akin to looking at those “Name One Thing in this Photo” memes, wherein my brain began to see a plastic comb and identify it as the other half of a nearby mandible.

But Erik Tlaseca’s assortment of medical models and other representations of anatomy on the floor of LLANO‘s booth might just take the cake for “best body horror at Material 2024.” I saw this piece with Baltimore/CDMX painter Erin Fitzpatrick, who was reminded of the absolutely creepy collection of historical wax anatomical figures and preserved specimens at UNAM’s nearby Palacio de la Escuela de Medicina. She took me there a few days later, and I am not sure my nightmares will ever be the same.

Joan Cox

Speaking of Baltimore figurative painters in CDMX, we were happy to run into Joan Cox at CLAVO Movimiento, where her work was being shown in the group show The Bureau of Queer Art. A companion exhibition will be on view through March 2 around the corner from the fair at Art Gallery Studios, another new-ish space which publishes very lovely catalogues (obviously dear to our hearts at BmoreArt!). It’s a cool exhibition with a refreshingly optimistic representation of queerness—all too often characterized by the art world as victimhood or alienation.

Leo Wang

This year CLAVO took over a dilapidated former school for electricians, and I enjoyed curatorial strategies that embraced the idiosyncratic location. Leo Wang’s ceramic confetti streamers, for example, were installed in a dark and dingy storage space, tucked-away just off The Bureau of Queer Art’s main gallery. Flashing disco lights beckoned viewers in, and the whole setup had the vibe of the aftermath of a clandestine “closeted” party—fun but precarious, like so much queer nightlife in the rapidly-disappearing vestigial spaces of the world’s great cities.

A hallway at CLAVO with artifacts from the electrical school.
Antoine Granier Nino and Odette Garcia in Trabalenguas Colectivo's equally queer-festive booth at CLAVO
Edgar Silva on the Culto Colecta bus
Beth Frey, Nahum B Zenil, and Mónica Figueroa on the Culto Colecta bus

Culto Colecta had what might just be the week’s coolest strategy for a pop-up exhibition. They parked a 1970s bus in front of CLAVO, and filled it with dozens of portraits in different media. The effect was a bit like walking through crowded public transportation and making eye contact with eccentric strangers, mirroring one of the small cotidian joys of people-watching in the city.

Bruno Grupalli (painting) and Rodrigo Cacho at Salón ACME
Camila Lamarca (L), Henna Aho, Ileana Moreno (foreground), and Autumn Ahn (R) at Salón ACME

If there’s one art fair in CDMX that might have a context that’s too hip for its own good, it’s Salón ACME.

Since 2017, the show has been staged in a complex of grand ruined buildings in the heart of Colonia Juárez. It’s become so popular with the selfie-stick crowd—largely more interested in a photogenic backdrop than the actual art—that lines for both the box office and Uber drop-off stretch for blocks. And it seems like every year more and more of the site is given over to commerce, bars, food vendors, etc…, shrinking the exhibition footprint.

This year, for example, an entire gallery simply housed a model Tesla. That’s a shame, because this was actually one of the best-curated editions I’ve seen, despite its smaller size. There was a publications and conversation room from the Spanglish art and culture magazine Terremoto, and I think the anecdote that best sums up my ACME experience this year was trying in vain to listen to a reading while a gaggle of drunk girls shouted instructions to each other for photo poses across the patio outside.

The artist Enrique Argote, for his part, seemed to have had this complicated intersection of art, commerce, ruin, spectacle, and the “experience economy” in mind when he conceptualized his installation “Vending Machine.” The device held fragile replica prehispanic tchotchkes like one might buy in a souvenir shop. When someone bought one, they usually fell and shattered into shards—a sequence of events that only incentivized viewers to put more money in the machine for priceless TikTok content. Brilliant.

 

Enrique Argote
Terremoto's pop-up publications shop/conversation lounge
Miguel Centeno, "Masculinitea" at SS Galerie
Miguel Centeno, "Masculinitea" at SS Galerie

I wish I had bought one of Miguel Centeno‘s tea sets for John Waters, who introduced the world to the concept of “teabagging”.  They consist of a perforated scrotum to hold loose-leaf tea, and a teacup in the shape of an open mouth to receive it. Both come in every conceivable skin tone, so there’s a mix-and-match combination for every couple with at least one set of testicles between them. I think I stood in this room during the opening of FRAGILE (on view until April 10) at SS Galerie for a good five minutes, just laughing.

It was my first time at the gallery—which is one of those impossibly glamorous Mexico City art deco houses whose patio could’ve been a stand-in for the home from Cuarón’s Roma—and the people-watching was fantastic.

The first thing I saw entering the reception was Centeno’s husband getting a makeover in the driveway from Mitshell Campos, the stylist queen of androgynous mullets, hot pink fades, and party makeup for CDMX’s in-the-know cool kids. It was all part of an exhibition about gender and vulnerability, and a great deal of fun.

Leah Dixon at Local1

Speaking of fun, how good of an idea is this?!? Local1 is an artist residency and exhibition space funded by a mezcal and wine bar on a busy corner in Roma Norte. For art week, they hosted Leah Dixon’s SATURNO, a solo show referencing the pagan origins of the very mischievous festival that would eventually evolve into Christmas. In my humble opinion, Saturno sounds like it was a better holiday, with drunkenness and masks, alluded to in Dixon’s deceptively minimal compositions.

Lucrezia de Fazio at N.A.S.A.L.
Lucrezia de Fazio at N.A.S.A.L.

I was also excited to check out Proyectos N.A.S.A.L., who recently opened a gorgeous second location in Roma Norte following their success in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The lightly-renovated space is currently showing Lucrezia de Fazio’s Madres, Monstruos y Máquinas Acto II: Nudos.

The solo show (on view until March 30) is very much in the uncanny body genre of sculpture that’s sweeping CDMX at the moment. Brass casts of braided hair, teeth, and nipples hang from the ceiling and protrude from the walls. I met the artist—who was expecting a baby—at the opening, and she talked about how pregnancy changes ones perception of the body. She was so pregnant, in fact, that she’s probably already had the baby! Talk about hectic art week plans!

El Colegio de la Desextinción at Biquini Wax
Iga Śśćk's studio at Biquini Wax

When I walked into DIY space Biquini Wax’s open studio night, the first thing I spotted were these pink cowboy boots poking out from beneath a hammock. I think that’s a pretty good synecdoche to explain why I love this place so much. There are surprisingly few art spaces in Mexico City that are casual enough that people feel comfortable laying on the floor.

It was a projection of the collective  El Colegio de la Desextinción‘s absurdist apocalyptic film CRÁTER (which will be screened again on March 15 at 7 pm).

I didn’t get a chance to watch the whole thing, but it touches on a lot of the mixed feelings here about the sudden influx of people from the USA. There’s even a whole scene debating the semantics of the demonyms “American” v.s. “Estadounidense,” and how technically people from The United States of Mexico—located on the continent of America—are both, and how there’s really no accurate way to exclusively address people from North of the Border. I laughed because this is the exact same conversation I have been dragged into countless times.

Juan Pablo Cardona
Juan Pablo Cardona

But maybe even if most of my Mexican neighbors don’t know whether to call me “United-States-er” or “American” or “Pinche Gringo Gentrificador de Mierda” I can rest easy knowing I have a slight bit of chilango legitimacy. For the past few months I’ve been getting messages from people excitedly saying there’s a photo of me in a show at the Museo Archivo de la Fotografía, a museum dedicated to a visual archive of Mexico. I finally found time to check it out.

I’m not bringing up this show out of vanity. I’m mentioning it because it is so, so good. Lagunilla: Los escenarios del gran regateo, from the photographer Juan Pablo Cardona, is one of the best exhibitions I saw all week—reminding me why I love this town, and how much I hope against hope that the influx of global capital that usually chases art fairs doesn’t completely erase its weirdness and public life. Cardona documented scenes from La Lagunilla, one of the world’s biggest and oldest and most chaotic flea markets.

It’s somewhat of a weekly tradition for untold tens of thousands of Mexico City residents—a place to buy and sell overpriced junk and overlooked treasures, see and be seen, and drink some truly disgusting cocktails from street vendors with names like “Esperma de Pitufo” (Smurf Sperm) out of a straw shaped like a dick while gossiping with your girlfriends.

I remember the day Cardona must’ve snapped my picture, back in 2018. I was there shopping to costume the play La Otra Orilla/The Other Shore (appropriately enough, a story about immigrants searching for belonging in a climate-change-ravaged Mexico City). I tried on a vintage qipao, and ended up getting it for the production. I’m flattered this moment was photogenic/ memorable/ noteworthy/ Mexico City enough to both catch a photographer’s eye and be included in an archive of the city’s legendary people watching—alongside a woman dragging her wedding dress through the filthy street, a man getting a tattoo in a market stall, and so many almost-certainly extremely haunted dolls.

In just the six years since that day, the city has changed to the point it’s almost unrecognizable. But Lagunilla endures, and come what may, I’m grateful we have artists reminding us of what we need to fight to preserve.

Juan Pablo Cardona
Juan Pablo Cardona
Juan Pablo Cardona
Juan Pablo Cardona
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