There is a curious cubicle in Zona Maco, the largest contemporary art fair in Latin America that has just opened its doors, in which not a single work of art is exhibited. There’s just a table, banners, and a young clerk patiently waiting for collectors to come by. For now, very few do. She is there for anyone who wants to buy $ARTE, a new cryptocurrency that the fair has decided to launch in its 2022 edition for those who want to collect works in the form of NFTs: Non-Fungible Tokens, artistic pieces in the form of digital code. “The truth has not yet attracted much attention,” confesses the young woman on the first day of the fair. “I think it has to do with the fact that people came back here to see the works, well, from the front. To see these, if you want, you can open an account on the page Rally.io and see it here with a QR code”.
After two years of the pandemic, the art market is tired of the QR code. Zona Maco, open to the public from Wednesday, February 9 to Sunday, February 13 in Mexico City, is a fair that since 2002 has attracted dozens of galleries around the world and that last year had to cancel its face-to-face event where it usually convenes: the giant Centro Citibanamex, which was transformed into a health center during the worst months of the pandemic. The directors of Zona Maco decided in 2021 to make a more modest and more local version, only with the galleries that already have a presence in Mexico, but this year they returned with everything they longed for: hundreds of works of art from 25 countries, with gallery owners from Istanbul, New York, Zurich, London, Madrid, Paris, and a huge group of Latin Americans. More presence and much less Zoom.
They have been open for less than 24 hours, but of the 10 gallery owners that EL PAÍS consulted, all are optimistic that the fair will reopen and that it will do so with improvements, when compared to its pre-pandemic version. One of these is Roberto Escobar Molina, who presents himself as an alias Rem, a gallery owner from Puerto Rico who won in February 2020 the prize in Zona Maco for the best proposal for a new gallery at the fair. This year he traveled to Mexico for the second time with artists from Puerto Rico, El Salvador and Zimbabwe.
“You can see the improvement in the organization this year: they changed the corridors from horizontal to diagonal, and there are spaces for new and emerging galleries like ours,” says Rem while exposing some aluminum and iron snakes, with stick heads golf balls, loose on the floor of his cubicle. It is about Zvinyoka Muvhu, a work by artist Terrence Musekiwa from Zimbabwe that associates the elitist sport of golf in former African colonies with the dangerous bites of reptiles.
Rem is right: the organization of the space improved this year. The fair decided to hire an architect from the Netherlands to reimagine the space with wide corridors, more space between galleries, and special places for other sections that the fair launched in recent editions: Zona Maco Diseño, Zona Maco Foto and Zona Maco Libros. In addition, to prevent contagion, all those who enter must present their vaccination certificate and wear their mask.
At the head of all this the show is the Spanish Juan Canela, artistic director of the fair, who says that this edition sought to reinforce the Latin American stamp of the event for which they are known around the world. “There are large and international galleries, such as Gagosian or Galería Continua, or the [mexicana] Kurimanzutto; but there are also medium-sized or younger galleries from different parts of the world, and a large Latin American presence: that is something that we have wanted to promote,” says Canela. “Invite Latin American galleries and international ones to also show Latin American artists so that this important sign of the fair continues to be consolidated.”
Among the artists from Latin America that the international ones brought, there are several conventional ones, safe sales: at least three of them have between four or five paintings by the Colombian Fernando Botero. But the most interesting area is the one called the South Zone, where there are more daring installations or more explicitly political art. The Bogotá gallery Espacio Continuo, for example, has an installation titled offerers of water, by the artist Juliana Góngora, in which small glass containers in the shape of breasts and hung on the wall feed the flowers in vases on the floor. “She always works with living bodies,” explains gallery owner Katy Hernández about the artist who also has a huge mobile with corn husks and other works in which she weaves threads of dry milk.
Not far from there, almost laughing at the art market, the Madrid gallery Fernando Pradilla exhibits a huge Pop Art-style vignette by Álvaro Barrios from Cartagena, Untitled (Looking for an Utrillo), in which two elegant characters have the kind of conversations between collectors that border on the absurd. “One of my clients is looking for an Utrillo that looks like a Mondrian. Does he have any?” asks a woman in the vignette. “I only have a Duchamp that looks like a Jeff Koons, are you interested, Francesca?”, a man replies. Impossible to see this work and not speculate that the collectors of Zona Maco ask themselves similar questions.
Mexican art, or inspired by Mexico, also has a special place in the fair with at least 21 galleries from the country located in central areas of the event. Canela, the artistic director, says that if the pandemic could bring something good to the art market, it is that, given the scarcity in the market, the galleries of Mexico managed to unite in the face of the crisis and especially after the modest edition of Zona Maco in 2021 dedicated solely to the country. “We wanted to value what the Mexican art community means, and that idea of community is still very present today,” says Canela.
One of those Mexican galleries is Maia Contemporary, located in the capital, which exhibits, among several works, a kind of toy that seems to have come out of toy story. But this doll has a violet color and in the form of a Zapotec deity: Pitao Cocijo. The work, one of eight pieces with the same figure, is made by the Oaxacan artist Sabino Guisu. “Looks like a Darth Vader”, he says that an observer told the gallery owner Liliana Carpinteyro, she laughing about the reference to the Star Wars but also proud of the curiosity that Guisu’s work has generated. “There is something very innovative in this fair compared to others”, says Carpinteyro about Zona Maco. “Anglo-Saxon fairs have become a bit safevery repetitive, and I think that the galleries here are bringing something really new from Latin American art”, he adds.
One of the cubicles with the most visits on the first day of the fair is the North American RoFa Projects, directed by the Venezuelan Gabriela Rosso, and which has opted to give visibility to several artists concerned about gender violence. This year he arrives with works where the written language is as important as the color or the stroke of the pencil. “For me it is easy to know who is an abuser or a rapist,” Costa Rican artist Priscilla Monge writes in an installation of paper and drawing. “The rebellion consists of looking at a rose until your eyes are pulverized,” says another work with red neon lights by the Spaniard Avelino Sala, quoting the Argentine writer Alejandra Pizarnik.
Sala’s most striking work there is a library, hung on one of the walls, where there are twelve fake books, but all with headlines that resonate in the marches for women’s rights: “Neither crazy, nor holy”; “We are not all”; “Historical not hysterical”. The cover of each book has a different range of violet, the color against gender violence. In contrast, on the floor of the cubicle, there are some six mats made by the same artist and the Spaniard Eugenio Merino and each one with sexist messages from six well-known men: Schopenhauer (‘Women are beasts with long hair and short ideas’ ) to Nietzsche (“Do you go with women? Don’t forget the whip”). “The messages are there to wipe your feet with them, to trample on them,” explains director Rosso, who admits to being an admirer of Aristotle. Another of the rugs, unfortunately, has a misogynist quote from that thinker: “A correct wife must be as obedient as a slave.”
Interestingly, one of the most striking feminist works in this edition of Zona Maco is not in the space for art galleries but rather in the small area for designers, the place where lamps, tables or plates are exposed for the home, but they could well be in a museum collection. A gallery in the city of Puebla, Galería Talavera de la Reyna, has decorated one of the three walls of its cubicle with dozens of ceramic plates with a special detail: each one has the shape of a vagina in the center, also made with the same material.
It consists of more than thirty plates of different sizes made by the artist Angélica Moreno. “Are these…?” asks a curious observer upon seeing them. “Yes, yes, that’s what they are,” replies a woman in the cubicle offering her works. In the 1970s, the American artist Judy Chicago made a similar work, titled Dinner Party, with 39 porcelain plates of different colors but all shaped like vaginas. It is now part of the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum. Moreno’s work looks like an homage to this one from Chicago, only in this case, visitors can decide if they want to buy a small or large plate instead of traveling to a New York museum. Or, if they want, they could take all the dishes.
subscribe here to newsletter of EL PAÍS Mexico and receive all the informative keys of the news of this country