Robin Pogrebin 2017-11-30 21:35:58
Two formerly sleepy colonial towns in Mexico slowly emerge as 2017’s capitals of contemporary art. Alexandra García Waldman’s career in the art world has taken her from Mexico City to São Paulo to Manhattan. But this past August, she decided to come back to her native Mexico, to Guadalajara, to run the gallery Páramo. “This is my return,” she says. It may seem like a surprising choice, but both Guadalajara and Mérida, in Yucatán, have emerged as new art-world epicenters, and they’re gaining increasing attention from gallerists, collectors and artists. “It’s a good moment,” says the artist Eduardo Sarabia, who moved to Guadalajara from Los Angeles about 15 years ago and helped found the art laboratory PAOS. “There is this atmosphere where artists are involved in all aspects of culture and nightlife.” To be sure, these are early days for the two cities; Mérida is perhaps still best known for being close to the Mayan ruin Chichén Itzá. But little by little, artistic activity has begun to percolate there. “We were the second [gallery],” says the artist Melva Medina, who—with her husband, Abel Vázquez, also an artist—opened Nahualli Gallery in part of their Mérida home about a dozen years ago. In 2004, Paula Sievert moved from New York to Mérida to open Galería Mérida on Calle 59, where she shows outsider art, including the photography and sculpture of her gallery partner, Ivan R. De León. Her gallery has also become a foundation, which promotes the art of Mexico and the Yucatán, and a cultural center presenting film, poetry and performances. “There was a need, so I filled it,” Sievert says. “Now the art world has really taken off down here.” Jorge Pardo, an artist whose work blurs the line between art and environmental design, first came to Mérida in 2003 for a large commission (from the now-defunct London gallery Haunch of Venison), to rework a hacienda called Tecoh in the town’s historic center. Recently, he and his girlfriend, the Mexican-born singer Milena Muzquiz of the art band Los Super Elegantes, relocated to Mérida full-time and completed a home and sprawling complex of studios to accommodate their work. In Guadalajara, artists have been particularly drawn to, and supported by, the ceramic and textile factories, which in turn have attracted other businesses, like restaurants and breweries even cigar manufacturers. Waldman, whose family is from Mérida, describes Guadalajara as a “much more sophisticated city than it used to be.” She adds, “There’s a reason why Mexico is constantly of interest: It’s such a strong artistic community. The artists are the ones who have moved our culture forward rather than the market, and I don’t know that many places I can say that about.” In 2013, the Madrid gallery Travesía Cuatro opened a Guadalajara branch, in a house designed by influential architect Luis Barragán, who was born in Guadalajara in 1902. “The city used to be where a lot of things started but they didn’t continue,” says Silvia Ortiz, who founded Travesía Cuatro with Inés López-Quesada in 2003. “This time it’s different.” Along with López-Quesada, another collaborator in establishing Travesía Cuatro’s Guadalajara branch is José Noé Suro, the owner of Cerámica Suro, which since 1993 has promoted and produced contemporary art projects. “Since then, more than 300 artists have come to produce work,” Suro says. “It slowly has become a scene.” Many of the artists represented by the city’s galleries have gained international prominence. Travesía Cuatro’s roster, for example, includes Jose Dávila, Mateo López and Milena Muzquiz. The contemporary gallery Curro, started by Guadalajara native Francisco ‘‘Curro’’ Borrego Vergara in 2008 as Curro & Poncho, has featured mixed-media artists Gabriel Rico and Cristián Silva, as well as Alejandro Almanza Pereda and Thomas Jeppe. “There is a strong tradition of handicraft, and as an artist it’s very appealing to be able to incorporate handicraft into your work,” says Dávila, who is also a co-founder and co-director of the artist-run space Oficina para Proyectos de Arte in Guadalajara. “On top of that, you have very nice studio spaces for a quarter of what they would cost in Mexico City, and a lot more time to work.” Dávila adds that the artists in Guadalajara constitute a valuable support system, compared to other, more competitive art hubs. “The artist community, I think, is the best part; it’s a community that is growing and is quite strong,” he says. “In Guadalajara, competition is practically nonexistent. There is more of a close-knit community that helps each other.” Sarabia’s PAOS hosts residencies and exhibitions in a studio that once belonged to the modernist muralist José Clemente Orozco. Having been given the space by the government (unheard of in most global art centers), Sarabia wanted to continue its tradition as a home for artists. “We invite artists to live and work in the house,” he says, adding that it also provides an educational platform, with lectures and workshops. “It helps the younger artists from wanting to leave and to feel like something is happening.” Sarabia says he was drawn to Guadalajara for the freedom it provides; he felt he “could do whatever I wanted,” due to the city’s spirit as a center of creativity and artistic production. He is a partner in a craft beer company, for example, for which he creates designs and labels. “Let’s do an artist residency, let’s do a lecture series, I want to open a restaurant… .” While Guadalajara’s local collector base is still nascent, art professionals say, it shows considerable promise, in part because there are several people of means in the city. “There is a group of collectors; there are a few galleries,” Suro says. “You can make a living in Guadalajara now.” In Mérida, many artists were drawn by the city’s art schools, as well as by La Noche Blanca (The White Night), a cultural festival involving the city’s parks, theaters, museums and galleries. “Little by little, the art community grew,” says Medina of Nahualli Gallery. “Now many young people are expressing themselves with art.” Perhaps needless to say, this artistic activity has changed the nature of the place. “When I came down here, it was this little sleepy colonial city that had siesta in the middle of the day—you’d hear the creak of the hammocks,” says Sievert of Galería Mérida. “Now so many foreigners have come in, and they want shops open during the day. So, no more siesta.” IN MÉRIDA, MANY ARTISTS WERE DRAWN BY THE CITY’S ART SCHOOLS, AS WELL AS BY LA NOCHE BLANCA (THE WHITE NIGHT), A FESTIVAL THAT INVOLVES THE CITY’S PARKS, THEATERS, MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES.
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