MEXICO CITY — The 13th edition of Zona MACO, Latin America’s largest art fair, opened here on Wednesday night, bringing 123 galleries from all over the world to the sprawling Centro Banamex convention center. The bulk of the fair was taken up by the main section, featuring mostly well-established galleries showing mostly market-friendly work. There were a few stand-out booths here, but, as is so often the case, the majority could have been in any of the dozens of international fairs. What sets MACO apart is the inclusion of two curated sections — MACO Sur and New Proposals — that bring a thematic coherence to what is essentially a high-end art mall.
“The interesting thing about this section is that they take risks,” new fair director Daniel Garza-Usabiaga told Hyperallergic, regarding the Sur section. “There are some proposals that you can see will work in the market, but others are more experimental. They might not be quite successful in terms of the market, but they can be very successful in terms of critical reception.” Organized by Portuguese curators Luis Silva and João Mourão, the Sur section is subtitled “Case Study #2: Rhythm is a dancer,” and is loosely based on themes of “geometry, movement, the nineties, eyecandy, performance, rhythm, amongst others,” as Garza-Usabiaga told MyArtGuides last month. Galleries in this section do not apply, but are invited to participate and must have a single-artist booth.
For a section focused on performance, there were a surprising number of galleries showing painting. Los Angeles gallerist Marc Foxx was exhibiting paintings and a sculpture by Italian artist Alessandro Pessoli. His brightly-colored canvases and rough-hewn ceramics take classical source material, cut them up, and re-assemble them in a collage-like process. “There’s an overarching concept that’s not strict necessarily, so its easy for artists to respond to it in different ways,” Foxx remarked on the Sur section. “Some artists are very literal, other are pushing what those boundaries are. It gives the fair a kind of gravity that most other fairs don’t have. There’s a reason these things have been brought together and you feel it. That’s unusual.”
Wendi Norris from San Francisco had brought work by LA-based painter Helen Rebekah Garber. Her thickly-impastoed monochromatic oil on canvas works recall a range of sources from African masks to Richard Pousette-Dart’s transcendental paintings (though Norris assured me that Garber was previously unaware of his work). Newer paintings based on Middle Eastern poetry were crisp and colorful — hard-edged text-based abstractions. These resonate with the fascination with books, literature and poetry that can be seen in much contemporary Mexican art.
Mexico City-based artist Manuel Solano was showing with hometown gallery Karen Huber. This young artist produced hyper-realist oil paintings until he contracted HIV and lost his sight suddenly in 2014. He began painting with his hands, making gestural, expressionistic acrylic on paper works reminiscent of Art Brut. Slowly, he returned to realism, working with another painter to help guide his hand while he painted. “We improvised our method, and it built up into this prosthetic process,” he told Hyperallergic. “Towards the end we got a good dynamic and we didn’t even talk anymore.” Playing with gender and identity, much of Solano’s work — including a video of him recreating Sinead O’Connor’s legendary SNL performance — is focused on strong women from popular Western culture like Sigourney Weaver or Alanis Morissette.
Across the aisle, another artist who paints with his hands —albeit with very different results — was showing in Steve Turner’s booth. Argentine artist Joaquín Boz’s abstract canvases feature a rhythmic assortment of blobs, strokes, scrapes, and swipes, reflecting Kandinsky’s musicality with the physicality of Guston’s paint handling. Boz is constantly listening to music while painting, channeling the aural inspiration onto the canvas. “Music is a big part of his working method,” said Turner, “and I think the curators viewed it as a performative effort.”
One of Mexico City’s most well-known galleries Kurimanzutto, had two booths at the fair: a large multi-artist booth in the main section, and a solo booth in Sur featuring Carlos Amorales. The Mexican artist created an immersive installation with wall drawings, framed works, and sculpture. He made two sculptures of güiros — the percussive instrument common throughout Latin America — out of graphite, then used these to draw on the walls, leaving behind silver-grey marks from this semi-choreographed performance. Black and white works on the walls resemble musical scores or dance notation, bringing together themes of language, movement, and music, and drawing connections between the heard and seen.
In LA gallery ltd’s booth, the Mexican artist known as Debora Delmar Corp. presented a cheeky take on consumerism with knock-off Birkin bags made from plaster and colored with fruit juice —ubiquitous on the Mexico City streets. Drop cloths bearing the marks of the process were wrapped in plastic much like sofa cushions, offering protection but rendering these faux luxury goods inaccessible.
Another artist from Mexico City, Tania Candiani also explored color and commerce in her installation for Brazilian gallery Vermelho. Her works were made with cochineal, the tiny insect used to produce a red pigment that became a highly desirable commodity in Europe after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Her sculpture, made from cactus paddles, were covered in the small creatures that colored the wooden frame. A deep crimson hand-dyed banner leaned against the wall as a kind of protest flag, recalling the pigment’s violent and tumultuous colonial history.
Nearby, French artist Xavier Veilhan’s simple wooden sculptures reflected a different kind of connection between Mexico and Europe in Stockholm gallery Andréhn-Schiptjenko’s booth. Made with a hand saw and glue at his residency at Casa Wabi in Oaxaca, they draw on various sources of geometric modernism. “There are lots of links to suprematism and constructivism,” he told Hyperallergic. “It’s a kind of joint venture between the idea of modernity that you can find in Barragán or Mathias Goeritz, but it still has a European taste.”
If the main section is about objects and the curated sections is about statements, as ltd’s Shirley Morales opined, Mexico City upstart Parque Galería had undoubtedly the boldest and most controversial statement.
The collaboration between Yoshua Okón and Santiago Sierra featured a toilet in the shape of the Museo Soumaya — the much-maligned new institution housing the second-rate collection of billionaire Carlos Slim — onto which four workmen were affixing hexagonal panels. Okón and Sierra both have long histories of examining class and labor issues in their work, and their piece skewers the influence of obscene wealth precisely where the connection between art and commerce is most fully realized.