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Art fair in Mexico City, April 2008. Photo tour and interview with Zélika García and Pablo del Val.By Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt | May 2008
FEMACO (Feria México Arte Contemporáneo), the Mexican fair of contemporary art, was held from April 23 to 27, 2008, in its fifth edition. The organizers point out that after several years of consolidation, FEMACO has become the most international fair in Latin America. From the eighty-six participating galleries, twenty were from Mexico, thirty-nine from Europe, twenty from the US and Canada, and only six from other four Latin American countries, evidencing a surprisingly low turnout from the rest of Latin America. This year, for the first time, a gallery from Asia (Japan) took part in the fair.
During FEMACO 2008, we conducted an interview with Zélika García, co-director of the fair, and Pablo del Val, director of the collectors’ program.
Universes in Universe (UiU): Zélika, how did the idea of organizing an art fair come about?
Zélika García (Z.G.): In 1996, when I was studying art at the University of Monterey, I attended the ExpoArte fair, in Guadalajara. After graduation, I wanted to go back there, but the fair no longer existed. And then I said to myself, why don’t I try to start a fair in Monterey? For which I asked Gabriela López Rocha, the former owner of ExpoArte, for advice. So, in 2002, I organized, together with a partner, the first fair, which was called Muestra and featured some thirty galleries.
The next year (2003), we moved with the fair to Mexico City, to the World Trade Center. In those years, I really learnt what it takes to organize a fair; I split up with my partner and got together with Enrique Rubio [a lawyer, and owner of the Spot magazine]. From then on, I knew I had to put Pablo in charge of the collectors’ program and appoint a selection committee – in the first years, all the applying galleries took part in the fair.
In 2004, we changed the name of the fair from Muestra to MACO, and held it for several years in the Expo-Reforma building, where it grew, taking up more space and also growing in audience, from 6,000 people in the first year to 30,000 last year. Unfortunately, two years ago, the leasing contract with Expo-Reforma was terminated because they rented the premises to a university. That’s why we had to hold the fair in a building still under construction last year, which was problematic. But as from this year, and for the next five years, we’re holding it here, at the Banamex Center.
UiU: Does FEMACO work as a private enterprise?
Z.G.: Yes. We rent the place and assume the financial risk; we are responsible for the premises, the press, and so on. We have nothing to do with the government and don’t have any institutional support.
UiU: How many galleries applied this year and how does the selection process work?
Z.G.: This year, about one hundred and eighty galleries applied, from which eighty-seven were selected, including the ones in the New Proposals section. The selection committee changes every year. The galleries that made up the committee this year were Travesía Cuatro (Spain), Nara Roesler (Brazil), Blow de la Barra (UK), OMR (Mexico), and Krinzinger (Austria). OMR has always been in the committee because a Mexican gallery must always be present.
UiU: Surely the gallery selection is based on the character you want to impart to FEMACO. How would you summarize it?
Z.G.: Mexico is not a country were you can sell works as expensive as in Basel or Miami, so we focus on galleries presenting established artists, but not with exorbitant prices.
Pablo del Val (P.V.): It’s obvious that every art fair wants to look for a niche, otherwise they end up with mimetic projects. FEMACO could be described then as a mixture between what could be an Armory Show and a Scope. We have, for instance, ten or fifteen galleries that could be called mainstream, like Laurent Gaudin, with a Wang Du worth 300,000 Euros, and at the same time, other more emerging galleries for a different kind of collector. The great Mexican collections are based on more emerging works, on young artists, even the really big collections – the difference being that they bought them ten years ago, when they weren’t worth a cent. I don’t think there is a market in Mexico for those 300,000 Euros contemporary art works yet.
UiU: So the fair develops conjointly with contemporary art collecting in Mexico?
Z.G.: Yes. We have many young collectors here, between 35 and 45 years of age. There are even younger ones too, who buy perhaps one small piece a year in FEMACO.
P.V.: It’s not like a fair in the US or in Europe, where there’s an opening day fever and everybody rushes to buy what the want. It’s completely different here. They couldn’t care less whether anyone else takes their piece or not, if so they buy another one. The relationship of the collector with the work is more heartfelt here – if they like it, they take it, whether the artist is well known or otherwise.
UiU: So art is not treated as an investment yet?
P.V.: No. And they take their time making up their minds too. Most operations take part on Sunday, the last day. People were not used to going to galleries so some of them panicked when they came to the fair for the first time, not knowing how it worked or how to ask for a price. In this sense, there has been a learning process and people are more confident now.
Z.G.: At first there were even people asking: "Are they for sale?"
UiU: How do you explain the strong presence of galleries from Europe? This year, there are like thirty-nine of them, that is, 45 percent of the exhibitors.
Z.G.: For most of them, it probably means opening a market in Latin America. Here they can make contacts with many clients who seldom travel to the big fairs in Europe and the US. When they know a gallery from abroad firsthand, they’re likely to buy from them directly in the future. Many collectors come to FEMACO for the special program we offer.
UiU: How could the fair reach this level so fast?
Z.G.: It’s not as fast as it seems. In fact, this is the continuation of a longer process and of previous events, such as, for instance, ExpoArte in Guadalajara, which took place from 1991 to 1998.
UiU: In the Global Art Forum during the art fair in Dubai in March of this year, reflections arose as if nowadays some of the fairs fulfill a cultural function previously ascribed to biennales, for instance. In many cases, fairs are not merely gatherings of galleries for the purpose of selling works of art as they generate a varied cultural program around them – parallel activities, non-commercial exhibitions, etc. – which wouldn’t have taken place without it. Obviously, Dubai is very different from Mexico, where there is an established and very much diversified cultural infrastructure, and where artistic life is very rich and active all year round. But, do you see a specific cultural energy generated by FEMACO?
P.V.: I think that when there’s a cultural deficit in a city, a fair can fulfill that function. But in Mexico it’s a complement because, in fact, there are many things going on all year round. Mexico has got something that almost doesn’t exist in Europe any more, which is the underground artist, a whole culture and energy of people who get together and work outside the mainstream. Artists here don’t depend on galleries or institutions to create; due to the lack of support, they have to fend for themselves. That’s why the city is so captivating, because there’s a breeding ground outside the mainstream that other cities simply do not have, and that is also very attractive for the people coming from abroad.
UiU: A bit like Berlin after the fall of the wall…
P.V.: Exactly. But the case of ARCO is completely opposite. The fair in Madrid is a big cultural event, but during the rest of the year, nobody goes to a museum or a gallery. Here in Mexico, things happen all year round, there are always events going on, you’re constantly invited, 18 or 20-year-old lads, for instance, who get together and organize their own collective exhibitions. And lately, a lot of new galleries have emerged.
Z.G.: Yes. During the past two or three years, lots of galleries have been established, many of which have been exhibiting at FEMACO. They first enter in the New Proposals program, with smaller spaces, of 20 square meters, reserved for galleries less than five years old which present emerging artists. They can only stay here for two years. Then they have to apply for the general section. The Kurimazutto gallery started in this way, for instance, which is now a great success.
UiU: The comparatively few galleries from other Latin American countries is striking, only six from four countries. Did more apply that didn’t get in the fair?
P.V.: This is a problem concerning other fairs too. It’s an economic problem. Many galleries can’t possibly afford the expenses. Moreover, most galleries, for instance, in Costa Rica, Peru, and other countries, have no choice but to follow a commercial line oriented towards their clients’ tastes in order to survive, and therefore deal with a less radical and experimental art, which is what we are interested in.
But definitely, FEMACO has to become THE contemporary art fair in Latin America, and in order to do that, one of our top priorities for the next three years has to be to attract the Latin American market to a greater extent and manage to bring the representative galleries.
UiU: And how do you intend to do that?
P.V.: Increasing promotion and with a lot of persuasion…
Z.G.: For example, from Argentina and Brazil, more galleries applied, but the more commercial ones, which in fact are the ones that don’t get accepted to other fairs either. Unfortunately, the most interesting galleries don’t have the means, which is also the case with the most exciting ones from Colombia and Peru.
P.V.: It’s a problem that spans the continent. Maybe the Organization of American States should have a program designed in such a way that the galleries supporting emerging art in Latin America would have the possibility to take part in international fairs.
Z.G.: Although the more commercial galleries would probably sell more than these in Mexico…
P.V.: But the management of FEMACO has a commitment with the art exhibited here. That’s why we rather keep it small. Bringing to Mexico City a blatantly commercial aesthetics would end up confusing the public. The fair has to go for conceptual and aesthetic strictness because part of its responsibility lies in education, and what makes future collectors get used to the formats, the aesthetics and the concepts of a committed art.
UiU: The bicentennial in 2010 plays, in Mexico and other American countries, a special role, and it’s very likely that it will draw heightened international attention towards Latin America. Have you planned a strategy for FEMACO to take advantage of this?
P.V.: We mustn’t forget that this is a private fair, put together through the efforts of a very small team with no government support whatsoever. If we were to get subsidies, we could multiply our efforts, offering more parallel programs, better promotion, a larger collectors’ program, and so on. Actually, it’s not fair that a project like this one doesn’t have institutional support. This would allow us to have a much more ambitious plan for 2010, with a Latin American contemporary art section, for instance, in which the square meter would be more affordable for committed galleries lacking the necessary means.
UiU: It’s a real shame that the state won’t see the cultural function of a fair of this kind and at least support a parallel educational program or symposium. The directly commercial activities shouldn’t be the ones subsidized.
P.V.: Yes. They should finally understand that collecting enriches a country’s cultural heritage, and that the collector greatly contributes to the survival of the artist and the perpetuation of their creative activity.
Albion Gallery (United Kingdom)
Luis Adelantado (Spain, USA)
Arroniz Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico)
Galería de Arte Méxicano (Mexico)
Ramis Barquet (USA)
Blow de la Barra (United Kingdom)
Galería Antonio de Bartola (Spain)
Galería Elba Benítez (Spain)
Josée Bienvenu Gallery (USA)
Bonelli Arte Contemporanea (Italy)
La Caja Negra (Spain)
Galleria Massimo de Carlo (Italy)
Galería Casado Santapau (Spain)
Charro Negro (Mexico)
Dabbah Torrejón (Argentina)
Dean Project (USA)
Diaz Contemporary (Canada)
EDS Galería (Mexico)
La Estación Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico)
Ferenbalm-Gurbrü Station (Germany)
Galleria Enrico Fornello (Italy)
Gaga, House of / Casa de (Mexico)
Galería 13 (Mexico)
Galería Hilario Galguera (Mexico)
Garash Galería (Mexico)
Galerie Laurent Godin (France)
Caren Golden Fine Art (USA)
Groeflin Maag Galerie AG (Switzerland)
Enrique Guerrero (Mexico)
Habres + Partner (Austria)
The Happy Lion (USA)
Moti Hasson Gallery (USA)
Gallery Caprice Horn (Germany)
I-20 Gallery (USA)
In situ Fabienne Lecrerc (France)
Galerie Grita Insam (Austria)
Jacob Karpio Galería (Costa Rica)
KBK Arte Contemporáneo (Mexico)
Peter Kilchmann (Switzerland)
Galerie Krinzinger (Austria)
Galerie Krobath Wimmer (Austria)
Kunsthaus Miami (USA)
LMAK projects (USA)
Galería López Quiroga (Mexico)
Daneyal Mahmood Gallery (USA)
Mendes Bahia Arte Contemporánea (Brasilien)
Nina Menocal (Mexico)
Galería Emma Molina (Mexico)
Galería Moro (Chile)
Magnus Müller (Germany)
Nusser & Baumgart Contemporary (Germany)
Galería OMR (Mexico)
p|m Gallery (Canada)
Peres Projects (Germany, USA)
Galería Moises Pérez de Albéniz (Spain)
Perugi Artecontemporaneo (Italy)
Prometeogallery di Ida Pisani (Italy)
Proyectos Monclava (Mexico)
Pyner Contreras (United Kingdom)
Quint Contemporary Art (USA)
La Refaccionaria (Mexico)
Rhys Gallery (USA)
Galeria Nara Roesler (Brazil)
Alejandro Sales (Spain)
Galerie Schübbe Project (Germany)
Nils Staerk Contemporary Art (Denmark)
Samson Projects (USA)
Galería Alberto Sendros (Argentina)
Sicardi Gallery (USA)
Skestos Gabriele Gallery (USA)
Galerie Suzanne Tarasiéve (France)
Travesia Cuatro (Spain)
Upstairs Berlin (Germany)
Galería Valle Ortí (Spain)
Galería Visor-Espaivisor (Spain)
Voges + Partner Gallery (Germany)
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art. Based in Berlin, Germany.
FEMACO, 5th edition
Mexico Contemporary Art Fair
23 - 27 April 2008
Av. Conscripto 311
Lomas de Sotelo