Why Mexico City is the ‘next Berlin’

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Frida aside, the contemporary art scene in the Mexican capital is exploding

 

Mention Mexican art and someone is bound to bring up Frida Kahlo. Each day, throngs line up for Casa Azul, the blue house in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighbourhood that Kahlo shared with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

It’s still decorated in brightly coloured pottery, hand-woven textiles and cartonería — a regional take on papier-mâché. Kahlo and Rivera’s works are essential, and the objects within their home communicate volumes about their influences and Mexican folk art. But Kahlo died in 1954; Rivera passed away only three years later.

In the six decades since, Mexican art was shaped by the forces of government repression following the Tlatelolco student massacre in 1968, before undergoing its own renaissance in the late 1980s. Now Mexico’s capital vibrates with creative energy, much of which is expressed through a flourishing contemporary art scene.

With more than 150 museums, CDMX threatens to overwhelm all but the most focused appreciators. Still, in a city some have characterised as the “next Berlin” based on its youth culture and creative energy, it’s not only possible but advisable to seek out what’s on offer.

“The contemporary art scene in Mexico City has always been exciting,” says Leslie Moody Castro, co-founder of AtravesARTE, a contemporary art travel experiences company. “It has always been an incredibly international place where artists travelled from all over the world to work, research and seek inspiration.

“What has changed is social media. Information travels faster. This has affected Mexico City and the international art world as a whole.”

According to Moody Castro, online channels have been instrumental in engaging contemporary artists, who keep the art scene fresh. “Young artists always have a platform to show their work in some capacity outside of the bigger, more blue-chip galleries.”

(EPA)

A good starting point is one of the contemporary art fairs that take place annually in Mexico City.

With exhibits by more than 150 international galleries displayed in the 13,000sq m at Centro Citibanamex, Zona Maco, from February 6-10, 2019, is the place to rub shoulders with art dealers and collectors while perusing hundreds of pieces. Scheduled for February 7-10, the younger upstart Material Art Fair will be celebrating its sixth iteration in 2019. If past years are any indication, visitors can expect edgier artists who don’t shy away from political topics.

Outside the fair circuit, the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo has “awareness and creation of new artistic expressions and for Mexico’s visual culture” as a core value. The national and international contemporary art galleries are open year-round.

Those interested in media projects such as interactive web or video should visit Laboratorio Arte Alameda, housed in a former convent dating from 1591.

One of the most popular forms of contemporary art, photography, is also one of the most accessible. Centro de la Imagen offers not only an exhibition space but also opportunities for research and education on the topic, and is one block from La Ciudadela, a partly covered artisan’s market assembled for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

It’s still the place to find work by craftspeople from all over Mexico. Indeed, it’s here that you’ll find the pottery and flattened tin, the textiles and cartonería so beautifully showcased in Casa Azul.

Art-lovers should acquaint themselves with these crafts, too — it’s good to know that Mexico’s art scene didn’t end when Kahlo rinsed her last brush.