Wednesday, December 8

Mexico gives the art market a break amid the pandemic

Art Basel in Miami, the international art fair that Latin American galleries and artists eagerly await each year, will be like so many other events in life during the pandemic, one more walk in virtuality. Except for one place: Mexico City. In one of the most important capitals of the art market on the continent, 10 galleries in the country decided to organize themselves for a physical and collective version of the long-awaited meeting to be held from December 2 to 6.

“I refuse to think that distance and virtuality are the only way to exist,” says Mónica Manzutto, co-founder of the Kurimanzutto gallery, who proposed to her colleagues in Mexico to make a smaller and face-to-face version of Art Basel when the directors of the fair in the United States said that the Miami event was canceled. Manzutto summoned nine other galleries in the hope that they would share the same desire to re-present the works of his artists live and not just with a PDF on the web. “We needed to take a kind of pause and create a space to see the art again and to have the conversations that both collectors and curators miss so much,” he says.

The result of this new alliance between Mexican gallery owners is an exhibition organized in the Casa Versalles in Mexico City, a huge mansion from 1906. The gallery owners were distributed in 11 rooms and corridors in the hope of giving a respite to the stifled art market. Latin American. They risk doing so, however, when the country is the fourth with the most deaths caused by covid-19. The cases of contagion continue to increase in a worrying way and there is speculation that they will return to a stricter confinement where the museums and galleries, recently reopened, would have to close again.

The end of the fair as a means to survive

The international Art Basel fair has been held since 2002 in Miami. Hundreds of galleries from around the world meet there, but above all it is fundamental for the Latin American market, which has been strengthening in recent decades. “For Latin America this is the most important fair: it is the fair in which there is the greatest representation of Latin American galleries,” Amanda Echeverría, representative in Mexico of the Swiss fair, tells El PAÍS. “Many collectors from Latin America go to Miami, from the United States market, Latin Americans who live in Miami, many Mexicans or Brazilians. It is a fundamental space because there are many crosses. Collectors from Asia and Europe also arrive there ”, he adds.

Due to the numbers of patients with coronavirus in the United States, since the Miami Beach convention center is dedicated to treating patients, the Art Basel management He decided in September cancel the in-person event and do it virtually with Online Viewing Rooms (Online visiting rooms). The cancellation was catastrophic for the market. The other international Art Basel fairs in Hong Kong (in March) and in Switzerland (in September) were also not held. Other options, like the huge fairs Frieze in London and New York, they canceled midyear. A survey made by Art Basel in July, with more than 3,000 galleries, reveals that almost 50% of the profits that each one made in 2019 were obtained in these meetings. In 2020, galleries barely reach 16% in profits with virtual fairs.

“A good fair gives you six months to live,” says Pamela Echeverría from the Labor gallery, one of those that has joined the in-person event at Casa Versalles. Echeverría describes the effort of the 10 galleries in Mexico as “an experiment” for now because they do not expect to obtain the same profits or visibility that Miami provides. “We did it because we also wanted to have fun,” says Echeverría. “And because there is a great chain of people who make a living from this: the artists, the transporter, the carpenter who makes the base for the sculptures, the one who assembles the video. So we invest less than what one invests in going to a fair, and the money may not be recovered, but it does not matter.

The Art Basel version in Mexico

Following the security protocols of the museums in Mexico City – mask, temperature measurement, limited capacity – both collectors and citizens can make an appointment to walk in the Casa Versalles until Sunday, December 6. “We present paintings that have thousands of layers of oil that you cannot see on a computer screen. The art is seen live, period, ”says Echeverría about Labor’s work, the first gallery visible upon entering the site.

In its room, the two-meter-long and wide oil painting of the Argentine Irene Kopelman appears first on display, near the spectacular paper-caged jaguar by Mexican Pablo Vargas Lugo and inspired by Borges’s story God’s writing (A narrator locked up in a jail, like many human beings feel in a pandemic, remembers “that the jaguar was one of the attributes of the god”).

Several of the artists on display worked on their works during the pandemic. This is the case of the small paintings by Cuban Wilfredo Prieto that can be seen in detail in the exhibition at the Kurimanzutto gallery. Since the health crisis began, Prieto began to draw his abstract paintings with acrylic every morning, inspired by the news he heard in the morning from Havana. Among the titles of his works are The complicated situation worldwide, Neighbors insult nurses or children, It amounts to 5,100 and exceeds 215,000.

“It is a series of works based on the news that I read in different international media and I transformed them into painting,” explains Prieto, who lives in the Cuban capital and did not travel for the opening of the exhibition. The paintings offered by Kurimanzutto de Prieto are part of the exhibition Fake News, whose idea is to transform virtual news into something material and reflect on the interpretation of reality made by the journalist, the reader or an artist. “It’s like a translation ritual,” he says.

“There are many people who do need to see the piece live to cheer up [a comprar]”Says Ana Paula de Haro from the OMR gallery. Although his gallery is one of the most committed to exhibiting on the Art Basel website – it has an option to measure the size of each painting on a virtual white wall – de Haro explains that older collectors are more reluctant to buy. a work if they can only see it on the web. “There is a whole generation that needs to be in front of the gallery owner,” he says.

And there is an abysmal difference between the web version of some works and the version presented at the Versalles house. Wasteland, The Reunion II, a painting by the Mexican Gabriel Rico, is a work made with fine cotton threads and beeswax (used by Huichol groups in San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco), which in the web version looks like a drawing made with some oil, but in the live version, each thread of this meticulous fabric shines differently.

To go to the exhibition at Casa Versalles is to enter the realm of the lover of details. Like Rico’s beeswax, there are the delicate turkey feathers that Gabriel de la Mora works with, or the reflection of Claudia Peña-Salinas’s emerald-colored glass, or Héctor Zamora’s cut and reconstructed bricks. There is also the possibility of abandoning the light of the computer screen for the natural light of the afternoons in Mexico City, a light that highlights the explosive colors in the huge paintings of the Argentinean Ad Minoliti, a work with geometric shapes to represent a ” non-binary speculative fiction ”. His four paintings in a small room at Casa Versalles –Lesbian, Drags NB Y Ace— from the Agustina Ferreyra gallery is a translation of gender theories trying to transform these concepts into a completely alternative pictorial universe.

One of the jewels of the Casa Versalles exhibition is, paradoxically, perhaps one of the least visible and least abstract. Although most of the galleries are on the second floor of the mansion, on the first floor there is a kind of basement in which the MAIA Contemporary gallery presents the Salvadoran Simón Vega and the Greek, who lives in Mexico City, Theo Michael . “Space archaeological fictions” is called the small exhibition, an entrance to a post-apocalyptic world in which Michel worked stones with graffiti that could represent the ruins of the world that we will leave if we destroy the planet; and a spaceship and astronaut suits designed by Simón Vega with which perhaps we could escape, and leave this sad planet in ruins.

The opportunity to return to the local

10% of the profits made by the galleries in these few days at the Casa Versalles will go to two public museums in the city, the Carrillo Gil Art Museum and the Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art. “This is a very generous initiative to support museums, because we have all been affected by the pandemic, and this is an effort to close ranks at the local level,” Magali Arriola, who directs the Tamayo Museum, tells El PAÍS. “Our hope is that it works and that it helps to activate the art scene a lot, because we are like an organism: gallery owners, collectors and institutions. Initiatives like these strengthen interdependence and strengthen the entire ecosystem ”.

“This collaborative effort is quite unique,” ​​Noah Horowitz, director of Miami Basel for the Americas, tells El PAÍS about Casa Versalles’s effort in Mexico. Although some galleries in Rio de Janeiro or Miami have tried to show their works to collectors on the beach or in the streets, this is the first time that several galleries have taken the initiative to work together in an alternative space to support public museums.

Arriola, from the Tamayo Museum, explains that despite all the difficulties that the pandemic has brought to the art market, it has also forced museum and gallery curators to work more with local artists than with international stars with a platform consolidated globally.

This is not a phenomenon only in Mexico but in other galleries in Latin America: the Brazilian gallery Bergamin & Gomide, for example, decided to work this year with younger artists from Rio de Janeiro instead of focusing on the more institutional artists with whom they had worked. worked before. “We already have four new artists but we want to reach 10 by 2021,” Thiago Gomide, who exhibited for the first time in 2019 in Miami, tells El PAÍS. “I am a bit uncomfortable with that somewhat extractive aspect of the fairs, and I wanted to be more in contact with my generation, with the local scene, so it has been pleasant to work closer with the artists from here.”

“This partnership that has emerged is very important,” Inés López-Quesada of the Travesía Cuatro gallery tells El PAÍS, which is also part of the exhibition at Casa Versalles. Like most of his colleagues interviewed, López-Quesada missed the possibility of experiencing art live, but acknowledges that virtuality has brought changes that can be positive in the art market: transparency in prices —Art Basel requires set the price or a range for each work—, the need to make videos with the artists that give more context about their work, and above all, the return to the local not only in terms of artists but also of collectors who can visit the gallery in Mexico City without taking a plane. “It is our experiment, because it seems to us that the Tamayo Museum and the Carrillo Gil Museum go through very delicate moments, and because we want to reactivate the scene, and reactivate local collectors so that they approach these spaces.”

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