Mexico City and Material Art Fair: The Importance of Being There

Some highlights of the 2017 Material Art Fair, some reflections on why it matters to travel abroad right now.

SANGREE "The Grand Design." Courtesy of SANGREE and Yautepec, Mexico City

One of the best things that happened from the 2015 Biennial of the Americas was the funding for the exchange of artists between Mexico City and Denver through the 2015 Biennial Ambassadors Program that was run through Denver based ArtPlant and SOMA in Mexico City. This exchange, in the current political climate, is more relevant than ever. Mexico City is teeming with art, music and now- protests against Trump.

These connections matter. It matters that groups of Mexico City artists and arts professionals have spent time in Denver at art exhibitions over the last few years. Can we continue to have these conversations in the US where we have Trump demonizing Mexicans and disrupting travel and communication? One of the most important things made possible by an artist’s work is the ensuing conversation.

In February a contingent of Denver artists and arts professionals traveled together to Mexico City for Material Art Fair, Zona Maco, MUAC art museum, and a bevy of exhibitions. Before the trip, Jeromie Lawrence Dorrance, who runs Dateline, a project space in Denver, hosted a group of artist conversations. What would it mean if we purchased a one-way ticket?

In Mexico City, the anti-Trump protests are real. This one took place while the Material Art Fair was wrapping up in February.

We started collectively writing and exchanging our ideas about the outcome of the election and feeling solidarity with the artists and people we’d met since 2015. While we’d have liked to produce an exhibition in Mexico City it was soon clear to me that the act of collective travel was more important than an exhibit of our work.

Dorrance finalized these ideas by writing that:

I wake and I see the face of an orange devil.
Mexico was the one country that was most polarized in the election. The year is 2016. If civilization is communication, then we are near the end.
The wall hasn’t been built yet, nor may not ever be, however the ideological wall has only gotten taller. We understand that as individual’s casting votes we are only one small part of the political process yet each person has never been more important to the whole of society.
In a world where nothing is as it seems and our country is more conflicted than ever before, one thing is for certain, it is time to go.
Striving not to be part of the problem, [not] the visitor or traveler, we go to reinvigorate relationships that were started during the 2015 Biennial of the Americas Ambassador Residency.

While traveling to Mexico City, fellow artist Mario Zoots, spoke eloquently about what it might mean to call ourselves American. He pointed out that while we live within the United States of America we live on two continents called North and South America.

Since then I’ve thought quite a bit about the implication of the Trump slogan “Make America Great Again.” These chants come with a huge and false sense of ego. How do we lay claim to the term American/ America? These are false markers of identity that continue a legacy of colonialism that rolls across and lays waste to anything that gets in the way. I’ve spoken to many artists who, like me, voice the fear that we lie in a time of troubling nationalism that threatens world chaos.

It’s through and around these conversations that I felt a deep connection and understanding of the exhibition, The Grand Design, at Yautepec Gallery in Mexico City. The Grand Design was also my prelude and entrance into how I viewed and experienced Material Art Fair as both are supported and given foment by  Co-Directors and Founders Daniela Elbahara and Brett W Schultz.

SANGREE (detai)l

The collaborative duo, René Godínez Pozas and Carlos Lara who make up  SANGREE, filled Yautepec with a series of winding walls made from cement cinderblocks topped with fragile, colorful papier mâché sculptures in traditional Mēxihcah forms. On the walls large-scale hands — water cut, out of lava stone — touch, grasp, and power-bump. Strength and tenderness outlined.

Black Cube, a nomadic contemporary art museum, the brainchild of curator Cortney Lane Stell brought SANGREE to Denver in 2016 to do a site-specific installation, Unclassified Site Museum, in downtown. Denver artists have had really good access to meeting and speaking to Pozas and Lara about Mexican-U.S. politics. These are weighty issues that affect daily lives. Stell told me that some of the artists she’s working next year, such as Lauren Halsey, also have Mexico City roots.

These ties don’t happen overnight and they have to be nurtured over time. The artist and philanthropist Laurage Merage founded Black Cube in 2015. Yes, the same artist who founded Redline Denver. How, when, and where money is spent really matters and can make a difference in people’s lives.

Now to the heart of the Material Art Fair.  While it’s a young and smallish art fair, the title or theme, “FREEDOM TO ART,” is current and smart. While I agree with the criticism that the work overall was uneven in quality, the highest impact art in relation to this fair is also current, smart and well made.

Highlights from Material:

1. As I entered the fair, two artists, Michelangelo Miccolis and Fernando Estrada performed Dora García’s The Artist Without Works: A Guided Tour Around Nothing, 2008. They stood side-by-side speaking about the various ways an artist or artwork is censored. While nearly side-by-side, the white male performer is elevated on a white pedestal speaking English. Potent.


2. I love the one a day drawings above by David Leggett at Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago. Please look carefully they say so much. I’d like to think I’d have gone to Material Art Fair solely to see this group of work on paper.

3. Lauren Halsey, above, represented by Damien & The Love Guru, had a variation of her hieroglyph installation, Kingdom Splurge (, 2015, mixed media, 23 FT x 35 FT.  Halsey’s work is a positive riff off of AfroFuturism. As an upcoming Black Cube artist fellow I look forward to seeing more.


4. Mexico City gallery, Labor, brought a large installation of sculpture by Jorge Satorre ceramic clay and mud, wood shelving


5. Eitoeiko, a gallery from Japan featured a performance, Adhesive Plaster Man, by Ryohta Shimamoto. Shimamoto stripped down and was covered meticulously in stripes of pinkish and tan colored Band-Aids.


6. Paris gallery, Sultana, with mushy penis paintings by Celia Hempton. Anyone who’s been online any length of time recognizes the ubiquitous dick pick. Prince would’ve said Sign of the Times. Male ego stroking self.  Images are courtesy galerie sultana, paris © ramiro chavez



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