Material, one of the most attended art fairs in Mexico City, is back for its 10th anniversary edition this year, opening to VIPs on Thursday morning. With booths spread over two floors of the Expo Reforma convention center in Colonia Juárez, the offerings here are strong. There is great art to see, many artists to learn about, and great conversations to be had.
One of Material’s newest initiatives is the relaunch of its Proyectos section. In this edition of the fair, six spaces are chosen to participate in the fair for free, where they collaborate with a gallery of mentors and are given access to various services to help them develop their programs. All galleries in this group are from beyond Mexico City. Although they are newer and developing spaces, they have quickly established themselves as important to their communities. Three come from border cities: Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juárez. The powerful performances here prove how a fair can help a new generation of marketers in a meaningful way.
Below, a look at the best booths at Material, which runs until February 11.
Salvador de la Torre at Azul Arena
One of the standouts from the Proyectos section is the Ciudad Juárez-based Azul Arena booth, whose stated goal is to combat the negative images and stereotypes that pervade US-Mexico border talk in the popular media. To fulfill this goal, the gallery presents the work of artists with lived experiences along the borderlands.
All four artists featured here are exhibiting work that deals with gender. Alejandra Aragón studies the history of the color pink; Alonso Robles explores how young men learn about the social expectations of men as chambelanes at quinceañeras; Mariana She watches how women perform in front of the camera.
Salvador de la Torre, who grew up in Laredo, Texas, and is now based in Los Angeles, deals with similar themes in ceramics rendered in white, black and various shades of brown. The halves are nipples of different shapes—they allude to the high-end surgical process before which a doctor asks a patient how they would like their nipples to appear. The other half documents the transition of a trans man’s clitoris into an enlarged penis-like shape after starting hormone therapy. Accompanying these works is Ball weight, a short video showing de la Torre walking along a Juárez street. He drags around a pair of ceramic testicles that are about three feet long. De la Torre thought the ceramic balls would break when he staged the play; they didn’t, and he plans to keep recreating this show until they do.
José Luis Arroyo-Robles in Aberrante
In his contribution to this four-person booth, also in the Proyectos section, Aberrante co-founder José Luis Arroyo-Robles traces the transformation of the tree. Raw wood, short ticks, pencils and rulers, decorative objects and finally its imitation of a plastic chair are inserted into the wooden boxes. Layered in each are minimal paintings (in blue and green) of wood at each stage, as well as found gelatin silver photographs of a canal being built to transport wood. Logging is important in the state of Michoacan, where Aberrante was founded. Michoacán is the largest producer of avocados, and much of its arable land has been cleared to expand the avocado industry, leading to the destruction of monarch butterfly habitats.
Romeo Gómez López at Salón Silicón
Romeo Gómez López is in top form here, showing off Salón Silicón, which is quickly becoming one of Mexico City’s most beloved establishments. At the center of the gallery is a trapezoidal wooden sculpture on which Gómez López has painted four versions of the actor Zac Efron, shirtless and in hot orange pants as he adjusts his skull. Also working is Efron’s exact height of 5’8”. To her right is an animatronic sculpture, protruding from the wall, of a limp hand — a reference to a popular meme about gay men — holding an iced coffee. To her left is a six foot sculpture of football players.
While the first two works are playful, the last part has a more sinister underpinning. According to curator Olga Rodríguez Montemayor, soccer is one of the most patriarchal structures in Mexico, with matches being among the most dangerous for women in Mexico. Regardless of whether a particular team wins or loses, incidents of domestic violence against women and rape are dramatically higher on game days.
Adriana Lara and Newton in Mud
One of the gallery’s most talked-about shows this week is Newton’s solo in Lodos, the artist’s first in 20 years. For her stand at Material, Lodos has paired a historical work, a sculpture from 1987, with a video work from 2007 by Adriana Lara. In the video, shown on a television propped up against the plinth holding Newton’s sculpture, we see a woman laughing so maniacally she’s in tears. It’s contagious. The mysterious performer is none other than Rosa Gurrola, who performs her art under the moniker of Newton.
Tania Ximena to Llano
A stunning, abstract landscape at the fair comes from Tania Ximena. This diptych features beautifully arranged beans and corn (maize) of different varieties and colors. All of them come from areas near volcanoes, including the two closest to Mexico City (Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl). Ximena works closely with the indigenous communities who have grown these products since pre-Hispanic times and who have preserved the sacred rituals associated with their harvest. Like colonization, climate change represents another real threat to these communities and their ability to sustain themselves with the food that has been key to their survival for generations.
Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya in Murmurs
For LA-based gallery Murmurs’ booth, Mexico City-based artist Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya presents a group of fascinating sculptures that mix elements widely seen throughout the city: broom bristles (sweeping home or business entrances is almost a ritual practice in CDMX); the ultra-masculine sombrero, which Rodriguez Montoya surprisingly has adding themes; and skin. All of these are blended into the distorted creatures they are meant to represent naguals, shapeshifters associated with Mesoamerican religions. Their disfigured forms also recall Rodriguez’s personal history. He grew up in Sunland Park, New Mexico, not far from El Paso and adjacent to the Camino Real Landfill, known for its toxic waste and deadly fumes.
Gonzalo Hernandez in Vigil Gonzalez
What defines success and failure for an artist? This is a recurring theme in the work of Miami-based artist Gonzalo Hernández, who is showing three woven works at the fair. Hanging on the wall are two other woven works by Hernández that show an abstract interpretation of a famous 1968 installation, titled tie (Neck Tie), by Peruvian artist Gloria Gómez-Sánchez. Frustrated by the control that fellow artist Fernando de Szyszlo had over Lima’s art scene during the 1960s, Gómez-Sánchez, whose avant-garde art engaged with disfavored conceptual practices, presented her final exhibition in 1970. She acted as a manifesto of sorts, with a now-famous line: “Is art over?” She never produced another work of art, and few of her pieces survive today. Although it is now taught in art history courses in Peru, where Hernández first learned about it, it is not as well known outside of her country. Her appearance in the Hammer Museum’s groundbreaking 2017 exhibition Radical Women, a survey of Latin American artists of the era, remains one of her only US shows.
Displayed on the floor is a folding screen that shows, on one side, a self-portrait of the artist sleeping on a mattress in his studio, shortly after he moved to Miami from Peru. On the other side is a quote from the Peruvian poet Luis Hernandez: “Dentro de mi corazón / Hay otro corazón / Que sueña / Creo que ése / Es mi verdadero corazón” (“Inside my heart / There is another heart / that dreams / I believe that one / is my true heart”).