Contemporary Mexican Art Gains Momentum in Global Art Scene; Leaving Borders Behind, Mexican Galleries and Artists Have Burst onto the International Art Scene

Article excerpt

One young billionaire is helping change the world's perception of the Mexican art market.

Eugenio Lopez, heir to the family fortune behind Grupo Jumex, the primary producer of bottled juice in Mexico, has been instrumental in Mexico City's emergence as an international nexis for cutting-edge art. Lopez is not only Mexico's top collector of contemporary art; he is also a major force in the global art scene. He co-owns Chac Mool Gallery in Los Angeles and is an influential donor for that city's Museum of Contemporary Art. At home in Mexico City, Lopez has created a foundation for international contemporary art and has opened the doors to his private collection, La Coleccion Jumex, housed inside the walls of the Jumex manufacturing complex.

Don't look for Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera here, despite their exploding popularity in the United States, Europe and throughout Latin America. Lopez showcases a fresh and current under 40 generation of Mexican artists like Maurizio Cattelan, Gabriel Kuri and Gabriel Orozco alongside such white-hot contemporary artists as Doug Aitken and Nancy Rubins.

Indeed, contemporary Mexican art is a hot topic among the art cognescenti these days. Said Nina Menocal of Galeria Nina Menocal in Mexico City, "Mexican contemporary art is now very much in fashion. Interest has grown unbelievably ... There is a lot of interest by curators and critics in Europe and the United States. In Mexico, the museums and new alternative spaces are all interested in contemporary art."

At this year's debut of Art Basel Miami (postponed from last December until December 2003 as a result of Sept. 11), contemporary Mexican art will be the sponsored exhibit, Menocal noted. "This is the first time Mexico itself is taking an active role in international art. The cultural authorities will pay for an independent curator to put together an exhibit. It will be something fresh and interesting," she said. Four commercial Mexican galleries are among the scheduled exhibitors.

A Changing Art Scene

In part as a result of the art patronage of Lopez and a new generation of younger, wealthy collectors, the art scene is changing in Mexico. Traditionally, according to Menocal, who established her gallery more than a decade ago to specialize in contemporary Cuban and Latin American art, "Mexicans are very conservative collectors and prefer to invest in modern masters such as [Francisco] Toledo, [Rufino] Tamayo and Diego Rivera," along with Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueros and Jose Clemente Orozco, among other 20th-century Mexican masters. Moreover, the bent was to collect their own country--Mexicans purchasing Mexican art, South Americans leaning toward art from their own countries, and U.S. collectors ignoring both.

But now, said Esthella Provas, director of Chac Mool Gallery, "this new generation of Mexican collectors is beginning to travel more and invest more in international art. Their tastes are different." With Lopez as a trendsetter, Mexican art galleries and artists are pushing toward an "art cultura sin frontera"--an art culture without borders.

In fact, this international bent seems to be a guiding force for many gallery owners who show Mexican art. "A lot of galleries in Mexico have wisely chosen to look internationally for both their artists and collectors," noted Teresa Iturralde, co-owner of Iturralde Gallery in Los Angeles. Although Iturralde, like her contemporaries in Mexico, primarily represents Mexican and Latin American artists, she said, "I don't want to be pigeonholed into one category. We're tired of the label. I promote contemporary artists."

"Mexican art now has a very modern, urban aesthetic," agreed Rosalu Petrone of Galeria Praxis Mexico. "We don't have an ethnic statement. We do promote contemporary Latin American art internationally."

On the `It' List

Lately, the contemporary art scene in Mexico has become a must-see attraction for U. …