Something eggstra in intoxicating Mexico

I'm too lazy to put this on the main page and anyway the rigours of the FT paywall means there is nothing to see. This is the result of a stimulating whiz around some of the many terrific galleries that are making Mexico City buzz. And what about Guadalajara? Just as creative without the traffic jams.


How better to launch a show than with an egg throwing party? All that yolk streaking down a pristine white wall. Like a Monet, murmured the hostess.

    Add the frolicsome British artist Sarah Lucas, clutching a glass of mezcal and sporting a woolly penis, several men in beards and frocks, and that was the scene last month (April) at the Kurimanzutto Gallery in Mexcio City. Not at all like Monet. 

    Twenty years ago Kurimanzutto was run from a flat with a telephone. Now it is housed in a glamorous space in a placid Mexico City suburb - all flowers and light - and is not just one of the best known galleries in the country but a player in the global market. Hence Sarah Lucas with her show, “Dame Zero” which ends next week (ie May 5). (Star exhibit: a mangled car picked out with her trademark cigarettes). 

    “There has been an increase interest in art from Mexico, South and Latin America over the past decade” says London gallerist Sadie Coles, who represents Lucas and was at the opening. Fundamentally this is because the deep history of modernism in Mexico has engendered the current generation of outstanding contemporary artists. 

    “Serious galleries like Kurimanzutto, OMR,  Proyectos Monclova, House of Gaga and many others have given a platform to these artists that extends beyond their immediate geographical location, through a presence at some of the major international fairs. 

    “The current generation in Mexico are very active internationally, and have aided their careers by not seeing themselves as ‘local’ artists, just as their galleries have never functioned merely as ‘local’ galleries. The endeavour is more sophisticated and ambitious than that - there is commitment and authenticity and a generous desire to educate.”

    As evidence of that in the next few months Mexican artists and galleries will be showing in Buenos Aires, in Dallas, in Saskatoon and Singapore, they will feature at Art Basel and São Paulo but none of the city’s galleries will be gracing Frieze New York.

    As one gallerist put it: “It’s too cramped, too crowded and too much like hard work having to dash around the city to catch up with outside events.”

    Kurimanzutto, for example, is going its own way by setting up a small project space on New York’s East 65th Street with Abraham Cruzvillegas, whose grid of soil-filled wooden triangles won the Hyundai Commission for the Tate’s Turbine Hall in 2015. In New York he will present an installation “Autoconstruccion,” which draws on the random and inventive way people build their homes. 

    “It’s the way we have always done things,” says as Mónica Manzutto, half of an elegant double act with her husband José Kuri who own Kurimanzutto. “The space recreates the spirit we had in the 90s when Mexico was very different from today. There were almost no galleries, almost no museums showing contemporary art and a very small group of collectors, two or three, no more than that.

    “Our gallery was nowhere and everywhere. We would rent a market stall for one day or a cinema where we’d show video programmes. There was no money at stake, we had no children so we were free to travel a lot and bring the work of the artists to curators and collectors.”

    The gallery was born out an ‘incredible synergy’. The couple were in New York studying for their masters when they were approached by an old friend, the artist Gabriel Orozco. Fresh from a successful show at The Armory, he suggested they got together to open a space back home.

    They teamed up with Damián Ortega, José’s brother Gabriel Kuri, Abraham Cruzvillegas and Jerónimo López Ramírez, better known as tattoo artist Dr Lakra.

    They are still together, still a family, maintaining the original spirit of collaboration and careful anarchy but significant names such as Daniel Guzman and the highly political Minerva Cuevas have been added. Oversea recruits include the Vietnamese Danh Vô and Korea’s Haegue Yang, who is currently showing at the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany. And of course, Sarah Lucas. 

    Now they meet in the gallery, an old timber yard acquired nine years ago, which radiates professional élan - there is a bar and even rings for sale in the swirls and curves of Orozco’s Samurai Trees series.

    “There has been a boom since the early 2000s,” says Manzutto. “We continued surfing beyond this wave and we have succeeded in building up our market here and internationally.”

    Some commentators judged sales at the annual art fair Zona Maco this February, as ‘subdued,’ blaming the Mexico’s tricky economic relations with the United States while others point to the shadow of the drug cartels and more than 29,000 murders in 2017, including several journalists. 

    “It is a moment which demands artists to be involved,” admits Kuri. “In the six years of this president (Enrique Nieto) the drugs war has worsened. Our social fabric has been changed. 

    “But that did not affect us at Zona Maco. It was great for us.” He laughs, embarrassed. “I feel bad about it. Guilty.”

    Another major player is Galeria OMR, and they too had “one of the best fairs in our history” says the gallery’s director Kerstin Erdman. 

    “We have to be patient but many collectors and some galleries have been around for maybe only ten years and it takes time to build up a reputation. The collector scene is strong with about 70 per cent international, many from the US, London, Belgium and Paris.”

    She says prices ranged from $15,000 to $50,000. A solo show by Sol Lewitt saw works selling for between $300,000 to $600,000 while one of their roster of talent, James Turrell of the Light and Space Movement, can fetch a million.

    “But,” she admits. “That’s not happening every day.”

    OMR, once a record store and now a space of natural light with a terrace overlooking the busy Roma district, is currently showing the intriguingly engineered sculptures of Jose Dávila. Popular among their roll call of artists, are sculptor and painter Pia Camil, with her bold textiles and sculptures and Julieta Aranda, the first female Mexican artist to appear at the Guggenheim, New York, with “e-flux Video Rental” an archive of artists’ videos.

    Erdman has seen a dramatic change since she arrived from her home in Germany in 2003.

    “There are many more artist-run spaces, five times the galleries and more art fairs, Before Zona Maco we have Material which is an experimental space for young artists with some daring programming.”

    The boom is not contained to the capital. The city of Guadalajara is the home to several galleries, including Travesia Cuatro which is going to Frieze, and many successful artists.

    Alexandra Garcia Waldman relaunched Páramo Gallery in the city five years ago and has recently opened a branch in New York. 

    “I want to recreate the intimacy of Mexico City in the 90s when things were done with no real reason, just because people wanted it to be done, and have the freedom to produce projects that are not solely intended for commercial use.

    “New York is completely different from Mexico City. It is very market driven but the art world in Mexico is based very strongly on relationships. People and the artists love coming to Guadalajara for the pre-Maco fair because of the lunches, the dinners and the museums.” 

    Her next show which will be held in her home on the East Side to coincide with Frieze will feature Naama Tsabar, an Israeli musician, painter and sculptor whose act involves playing eight guitars until each one is broken.

    Perhaps it is the lunches and dinners that make Guadalajara popular with artists such as Jorge Méndez-Blake, fresh from an ambitious project in Hong Kong in which he created a steel pavilion decorated with his characteristic random lettering and set around a centre piece by James Turrell and a contribution by Jose Dávila

    Lesser known perhaps but every bit as talented is another Guadalajara-based artist Gonzalo Lebrija. 

    A cricket admirer - he went to school in England - he is a sculptor, painter and musician. This May in a splendid flight of fancy at the Soluna Festival, Dallas, he will present a 16-strong, all-female Mariachi band performing, improbably, Richard Wagner.

    He also takes striking photographs such as “Brief History of Time,” in which he captured a car at the precise moment before it plunged into a lake - a witty illustration of an upsurge of interest in photography which had slumped since a boom in the 80s and 90s. 

    It was given a boost by the revival of the Zona Maco photo fair in 2015 and by galleries such as Almanaque. In a first for the gallery and for Photo London (From May 17) the gallery will present the work of three generations of Mexican artists including a new documentary-style work by Pablo Ortiz Monasterio entitled “Border's Walls, Tijuana” which captures the precariousness of life in a city where 1,744 were killed last year. In contrasting style, Jesús León, depicts the often dark side of  Mexico sub culture with “Domestic Fine Arts.”

    “Mexico is an intoxicating place for artists,” says Sadie Coles says: “It is clear that Mexico is regarded – both in terms of its modern artistic heritage and dynamic contemporary scene – as one of the epicentres of the Latin American art world.”  


Lebrija's diving car

Lebrija's diving car

Gabriel Orozco

Gabriel Orozco

Pia Camil

Pia Camil