Inside Mexico City’s Meteoric Rise to Art World Capital

Art Market

Paul Laster

Feb 6, 2024 3:45PM

Exterior view of Salón ACME, Mexico City, 2023. Courtesy of Salón ACME.

In recent years, Mexico City has emerged as among the liveliest and most exciting scenes in the art world. This week, four art and design fairs open—Zona Maco, Material Art Fair, Salón ACME, and Unique Design X Mexico City—highlighting the artistic strength and depth of the Mexican capital.

“Artists have been moving to Mexico City from around the world because it’s a great place to live and work, and they can find big studios at a good price,” said the artistic director Jérôme Sans. “It’s a super vibrant city for art, design, cinema, and food.…There are good places to produce work and a rich history for appreciating it. It has all the components to make it a happening place.”

Sans first visited the city two decades ago when he was the director of Palais de Tokyo in Paris at the invitation of Eugenio López, one of Mexico’s leading art patrons and collectors. This year, he curated the show “Capítulo V: Heat,” which features artists including Julian Charrière, Ebecho Muslimova, and Ana Montiel, at LagoAlgo, a space for sharing art, music, architecture, gastronomy, cinema, and wellness that opened in 2022. Sans is the creative director of the exhibition space, located in an iconic modernist building in Chapultepec Park and funded by stalwart gallery Galería OMR.

Exterior view of KÖNIG MEXICO CITY. Photo by Santiago Grieve Torres. Courtesy of KÖNIG MEXICO CITY.


Like New York in the 1980s, London in the 1990s, Berlin in the 2000s, Hong Kong in the 2010s, and Paris, Los Angeles, and Seoul now, Mexico City is experiencing a growing network of galleries representing local and international artists undergirded by a base of institutions and collectors. This has only accelerated since the start of the pandemic, resulting in more artists and international galleries moving to the city.

“It’s such a great scene,” said Corina Krawinkel, a German art collector who is opening the new gallery KÖNIG MEXICO CITY, in partnership with KÖNIG GALERIE. “There are so many painters. And such an energy. My husband and I fell in love with the city and bought a house in the heart of Condesa. We thought we would do a pop-up gallery in the house and Johann asked me to show some of his artists. From there, we thought why not make it a real gallery, and that was how it started.”

Recent years have seen several international galleries set up shop in the Mexican capital. Galerie Nordenhake, based in Stockholm and Berlin, opened a space in the Roma neighborhood in 2018 and moved to a larger space in Roma Norte at the end of 2019. Los Angeles gallery Morán Morán opened a space in Polanco, another popular art hotspot of the city, in 2021. In 2023, Mariane Ibrahim, who has galleries in Chicago and Paris, opened her third space in Cuauhtémoc (one of the gallery’s star artists, Clotilde Jiménez, lives and works in the city). New York’s Deli Gallery, which has participated in Feria Material for the past five years, opened a second space in Roma Norte.

Bosco Sodi, installation view of Casi Wabi Sabino, Mexico City. Photo by Alejandro Ramirez Orozco. Courtesy of Casi Wabi Sabino.

Along with international names, a broad range of homegrown galleries are popping up, too. These include LLANO, which opened in the Doctores neighborhood in 2022; Campeche, which opened in a historic art deco building in Roma Sur in 2020; and General Expenses, which opened in Centro in 2022 and promotes multidisciplinary practices linked with current local and global issues.

“The gallery scene is buzzing with energy, reminiscent of Berlin two decades ago,” said the Mexican artist Bosco Sodi, who launched Casa Wabi, an artist residency and exhibition space, in Oaxaca 10 years ago. Last February, he debuted Casa Wabi Sabino, a five-floor studio and communal exhibition space in Mexico City’s Juarez neighborhood. “More and more people, especially the younger ones, are becoming interested in collecting contemporary art,” he observed.

Sodi credits the collector Eugenio López for sparking this trend. López, the heir to the Jumex fruit juice fortune and board member of multiple international museums, had a gallery in Los Angeles before founding the Museo Jumex in Mexico City in 2013. Other major Mexican art collectors include Carlos Slim, the country’s wealthiest business magnate and founder of the city’s encyclopedic Museo Soumaya, and Antonio del Valle Ruiz, a wealthy businessman who opened the Museo Kaluz for his collection of Mexican modern art in 2020. Some of the notable younger collectors include Bernardo Saenger, a financial planner–turned–art dealer who opened Saenger Galería in the Tacubaya neighborhood in 2019, and the film producer Moisés Cosío.

Exterior view of kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Photo by Omar Luis Olguín. Courtesy of kurimanzutto.

Thirty years ago, however, galleries exhibiting new art were much harder to come by. Key spaces included Galería de Arte Mexicano, which showed mostly Mexican modernist art, and Galería OMR, which opened in 1983 exhibiting Mexican artists who had studied abroad and returned to live and work in the city. Several influential artist-run spaces also opened in the 1990s. These included Temistocles 44 (1993–95) and La Panadería (1994–2002), and more nomadic pop-up shows. La Panadería, which was founded in a former bakery in Condesa by the Mexican artists Miguel Calderón and Yoshua Okón became an influential spot for exhibitions and the exchange of ideas, exhibiting several international artists which helped to start a cross-cultural dialogue that continues today.

Leading the trend for nomadic, experimental, pop-up exhibitions was artist Gabriel Orozco, who was already becoming one of Mexico’s most internationally recognized contemporary artists, and his soon-to-be gallerists, José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto, who opened kurimanzutto in Roma in 2006 and moved to its current location in San Miguel Chapultepec in 2008. In 1999, the three friends (Kuri had known Orozco since he was 12) organized a dozen pop-up exhibitions in such diverse DIY spaces as a rented market booth, a bumper car park at a local fair, a supermarket parking lot, and a semi-trailer truck. Artists primarily made work on demand for the shows and it was mostly conceptual work, conceived with objects, materials, and ideas.

“At that time there were two or three active galleries. You could probably count the collectors on one hand, and not all of them were in Mexico City,” recalled Kuri. “The institutional scene was a desert, with no link to what they would show and what was happening on the street. But we had the most important component, which was artists. There was an amazing group of artists, but no market.

“They were experimenting, doing shows in their studios, and finding places to present work with very little money. We started curating shows because the artists had a vision and we had a passion. We never thought it could become a business.”

Installation view of “Made in Mexico,” at Hammer Museum, 2004. Photo by Joshua White. Courtesy of Hammer Museum.

In the early 2000s, the artists that these gallerists were championing began to reach worldwide recognition. In the summer of 2002, Klaus Beisenbach organized the seminal group show “Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values” at MoMA PS1 (touring to Kunst-Werke Berlin and the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico) with artists that Galeria OMR, La Panadería, Temistocles 44, and Orozco, Kuri, and Manzutto had been championing. Then, at the beginning of 2004, Gilbert Vicario curated “Made in Mexico,” at the ICA Boston, which featured a more international group of artists working in Mexico. The show traveled to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in the summer of that year.

“Mexico had been defined by modernist artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, but artists like Gabriel Orozco, Carlos Amorales, and others from their generation recentered the conversation to contemporary art,” said Vicario, who is now chief curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. “Before the 1990s, Mexican art was being produced inside of a bubble. It always referred back to itself. It was always a reflection of different pre-Columbian art themes and colonial connections. What changed was that a lot of the artists of that generation started going to art schools primarily in Europe. I think that’s really the seed, when the connection to the world outside of Mexico began to take shape. And that’s what has led to this incredible contemporary art scene that’s continuing to evolve today.”

Installation view of Zona Maco, 2023. Courtesy of Zona Maco.

At the time, Zelika Garcia, the founder of Zona Maco, was studying art at the University of Monterrey when she visited her first art fair in Guadalajara. Planning to return after graduating, she discovered that the fair had shuttered and saw an opportunity to create one in Monterrey. Her initial fair, Muestra, in 2002 had 21 exhibitors. She moved the fair to Mexico City and renamed it Zona Maco, and in the fair’s 2004 edition, there were 42 galleries. After moving to Mexico City, the fair became “more professional,” Garcia noted, instating a selection committee, collector and public programming, and a new section dedicated to emerging artists.

In the following years, as Mexican contemporary artists’ reputation grew with Mexico City’s art scene, the fair organically evolved, with a mix of local and international galleries attracting a similar combination of collectors. “Last year we had over 60 museum groups and are on track to repeat that number this year,” said Garcia. “And visitors who were college students in the early years of the fair are now buying art from it.”

Zona Maco celebrates its 20th edition this year with 140 exhibitors in the art section—ranging from international powerhouses like Pace Gallery and Galeria Continua to Mexico City’s popular Galería Hilario Galguera, Galería Enrique Guerrero, Maia Contemporary, and Galería RGR in the Main section; and such galleries as 12.26, Furiosa, Magenta Plains, and Rolf Art in the Emerging area. Many more exhibitors are to be found in the photo, design, and antiques parts of the sprawling fair.

Sebastian Silva, “My Party,” at Galería OMR, Mexico City, 2023. Courtesy of Galería OMR.

The fair will also revisit the idea of having sculptural installations throughout the art section to honor the galleries that have supported the fair since the start. Support is one of the prevalent themes of Mexico City: When talking about the artists that they represent, gallerists often refer to them as longtime friends or family.

“Even with a smaller stable it takes a lot of time and requires a lot of attention,” Galería OMR director Ana Paula de Haro shared. “I speak a lot with our artists. I think a lot about our artists and what we can do for them. We’re growing, but I can’t foresee a day when there will be 50 artists on the roster. We also exhibit emerging artists that we don’t represent and the projects that we present at LagoAlgo are often collaborations with other galleries and their artists. The first show there was a collaboration with a gallery that had closed, joségarcía. He decided to pursue other projects so we invited his whole roster, along with our artists, for a show about time, energy, and form. The space is an experimental space, where new things can happen.”

Between its exciting art and design fairs, gallery openings, and sprawling institutional presence, this year’s Mexico City Art Week is taking place amid an art scene that continues to soar.

Paul Laster

This post was originally published on this site