Material, one of Mexico City’s most closely watched art fairs, has returned for its 10th anniversary edition this year, opening to VIPs on Thursday morning. With booths spread across two floors of the Expo Reforma convention center in Colonia Juárez, the offerings here are strong. There’s great art to behold, many artists to learn about, and wonderful conversations to be had.
One of Material’s newest initiatives is the relaunch of its Proyectos section. At this edition of the fair, six spaces are chosen to participate for free in the fair, where they partnered with a curator to serve as a mentor and are given access to various services to help them grow their programs. All the galleries in this cohort are from beyond Mexico City. Though they are younger, emerging spaces, they have quickly established themselves as important to their communities. Three come from border cities: Tijuana, Mexicali, and Ciudad Juárez. The robust showings here prove how a fair can help a newer generation of dealers in a meaningful way.
Below, a look at the best booths at Material, which runs through February 11.
Salvador de la Torre at Azul Arena
One of the standouts from the Proyectos section is the booth of the Ciudad Juárez–based Azul Arena, whose stated intention is to combat negative imagery and stereotypes that pervade conversations of the US-Mexico border in popular media. To fulfill that goal, the gallery presents work by artists with lived experiences along the borderlands.
All four artists showing 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 societal expectations of men as chambelanes in quinceañeras; Mariana Ajo looks at 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, tackles similar themes in rough-hewn ceramics in white, black, and various shades of brown. Half are differently shaped nipples—they allude to the process of top surgery, before which a doctor asks a patient how they would like their nipples to appear. The other half documents a trans man’s transition of his clitoris into an enlarged shape that resembles a penis after beginning hormone therapy. Accompanying these works is The Weight of Balls, a short video showing de la Torre walking along a Juárez street. He drags a pair of ceramic testicles that measure around three feet. De la Torre thought the ceramic balls would break when he staged the performance; they didn’t, and he plans to continue to reenact this performance until they do.
José Luis Arroyo-Robles at Aberrante
In his contribution to this four-person booth, also in the Proyectos section, Aberrante cofounder José Luis Arroyo-Robles traces the transformation of the tree. Inset within wood boxes are raw wood, short ticks, pencils and rulers, decorative objects, and finally its imitation a plastic chair. Layered on each are minimal paintings (in blue and green) of the wood at each stage, as well as found silver gelatin photographs of a canal being built in order to transport wood. The cutting down of trees is significant in the state of Michoacán, 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 habitats of the monarch butterfly.
Romeo Gómez López at Salón Silicón
Romeo Gómez López is in top form here, showing with Salón Silicón, which is quickly becoming one of Mexico City’s most beloved enterprises. At the center of the gallery is a trapezoid-shaped wooden sculpture, onto which Gómez López has painted four versions of the actor Zac Efron, shirtless and in orange hot pants as he readjusts his crotch. The work is also Efron’s exact height of 5’8”. To its right is an animatronic sculpture, protruding from the wall, of a limp wrist—a reference to a popular meme about gay men—holding an iced coffee. To its left is a sculpture of six legs of soccer players.
While the first two works are playful, the latter piece has a more sinister underpinning. According to curator Olga Rodríguez Montemayor, soccer is one of the most patriarchal structures in Mexico, with the matches counting among the most dangerous ones for women in Mexico. Whether a given team wins or loses, the incidents of domestic violence against women and rape are dramatically higher on the days of games.
Adriana Lara and Newton at Lodos
One of the most talked-about gallery shows this week is Newton’s solo at Lodos, the artist’s first in 20 years. For its booth at Material, Lodos has paired a historical work, a sculpture from 1987, with a 2007 video work by Adriana Lara. In the video, shown on a TV leaned against the plinth that hold Newton’s sculpture, we see a woman laughing so maniacally that she brings herself to tears. It’s infectious. The mysterious performer is none other than Rosa Gurrola, who shows her art under the nom-de-plume Newton.
Tania Ximena at Llano
A stunning, abstracted landscape at the fair comes courtesy Tania Ximena. This diptych features beautifully arranged beans and maiz (corn) of different varieties and colors. All of them come from the areas near volcanoes, including the two closest to Mexico City (Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl). Ximena works closely with the Indigenous communities who have grown these staples since pre-Hispanic times and who have preserved sacred rituals related to their harvest. Much like colonization, climate change represents yet 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 at Murmurs
For the booth of LA-based gallery Murmurs, Mexico City–based artist Ruben Ulises Rodriguez Montoya presents a suite of beguiling sculptures that mix elements seen widely throughout the city: bristles from brooms (sweeping the entryways to one’s home or business is almost a ritualistic practice in CDMX); the ultra-masculine sombrero, which Rodriguez Montoya has queered by adding sequins; and leather. These are all mixed into distorted creatures meant to represent naguales, shapeshifters associated with Mesoamerican religions. Their disfigured shapes also recall Rodriguez’s own personal history. He grew up in Sunland Park, New Mexico, not far El Paso and adjacent to the Camino Real Landfill, known for toxic waste and lethal fumes.
Gonzalo Hernández at Vigil Gonzalez
What defines success and failure for an artist? That’s 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 famed 1968 installation, titled Corbata (Neck tie), by Peruvian artist Gloria Gómez-Sánchez. Frustrated by the hold that fellow artist Fernando de Szyszlo had over Lima’s art scene during the 1960s, Gómez-Sánchez, whose avant-garde art that engaged with conceptual practices that were not favored, presented her final exhibition in 1970. It acted as a manifesto of sorts, with a now famous line: “Is art over?” She never made another artwork and few pieces by her survive today. Though she is now taught in art history courses in Peru, where Hernández first learned of her, she is not as well-known outside her home country. Her appearance in the Hammer Museum’s groundbreaking 2017 “Radical Women” exhibition, a survey of Latin American artists of the era, remains one of her only showings in the US.
Displayed on the floor is a folding screen showing, 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 belive that one / Is my true heart”).