On the occasion of our Special Issue dedicated to Zona Maco 2017 in Mexico City, we asked independent curator and art historian Fabiola Iza to share with us her vision of the contemporary art scene of the city, selecting the most representative artists both emergent and established.
“In 1958 writer Carlos Fuentes published “Where the Air Is Clean”, novel that portrays the transformation of Mexico City after the revolutionary period underwent by the country. The book’s grim and almost pessimistic tone regarding the alleged modernization of the nation opposed the government’s triumphalist discourse; the many stories that conform it manage to show how contrasted the city was in economic, social, and cultural terms alike. In my view, whilst the growth and consolidation of certain industries or sectors is indeed remarkable, as inequality lingers on, Fuentes’ views remain poignantly current.
As for the arts system, it is no stranger to these dynamics. Even if the late 20th century witnessed a strengthening in the infrastructure of the larger museums, which have come to host world-class exhibitions, intertwined with an ever-growing contemporary art scene, both hint to healthy and fertile ground. However, as an apparatus, the arts continue to be a place where the power dynamics, along with the structures that enable them, blossom. Whilst it is tempting to rejoice in the popularity that the city has achieved within the global sphere, it could mislead us into a myopic depiction. Many issues remain at the core of the Mexican art scene and a good number of artists make of these their topics and, furthermore, engage with them in a more abstract level. My duty as a local curator is to introduce the readers, potential visitors to the city, to a more comprehensive panorama of our artistic milieu and invite them to explore, through the art scene, the complex dynamics lived in this megalopolis.
Contemporary art in Mexico spans a vast array of practices –some conceptually-driven, others deeply influenced by the tenets of social sculpture, plenty more dealing with formalism– but, as a distinctive trait, many share the interest in defying the established conventions of what producing art means. The profiles following this piece delve briefly into a handful of emergent and established artists who work in a diverse range of media but engage in a critical approach to reality. In spite of belonging to different generations, all of them have achieved recognition from different institutions yet most have suffered the market’s neglect as their projects usually opt for non-traditional outcomes: gatherings, the infiltration of messages in public circuits of information, financial transactions, literature books, pintas, and classifications of garbage are some amongst them. Due to their lack of commercial representation, they are often overshadowed by the galleries’ darlings, particularly during fair season, and their work, existing under the official radar, fails to reach larger audiences.
Rumor has it that the commercial lifespan of any artist lasts, in average, 8 years, a period of time in which only a couple of projects could be developed. 
How does this situation shape the visibility dynamics of a scene? I seek to counter this issue by addressing these artists’ work—a parallel narrative emerges then, one closer to grassroots developments than to the constraints imposed by the global market. For example, for over a decade, Mónica Castillo has developed artistic actions that are formative ones as well. She borrows methodologies from social disciplines in order to generate non-hierarchical conversations about the structures through which art is taught, produced, communicated, and consumed; in the long run, her practice has influenced the younger generations, mostly those involved within the independent scene. Unrelated to Castillo but sharing an akin sensibility, as the founder of Biquini Wax, Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba has contributed in creating a community eager to share knowledge and experiment with exhibition formats. Verónica Gerber Bicecci, on her behalf, has proven that literature is a powerful outlet for the visual arts, she has authored books which unravel their plots following visual methods such as Venn diagrams.
The quest for different, more inclusive channels rests at the core of the interests of Ilan Lieberman and Nuria Montiel, who have sidelined commercially-oriented production for the sake of pondering about the visual information flowing through the city’s public networks. In spite of operating within the artistic realm, they also contribute to troubling any passerby’s daily routine through aesthetic encounters. Similarly, Sandra Calvo and TRES engage with the city as a laboratory: their projects deal, both conceptually and physically, with its myriad problems (the sanitary and housing crisis, for instance) and strive to look for solutions, even if small-scale, utopian ones. From a bird’s eye view, the filth of the city’s atmosphere, to which Fuentes’ title ironically refers, hides the landscape below, renders it blurry. Certainly, the air still is not clean, I fear it will remain as such. However, the view becomes sharper and the scenery begins to reveal itself from deep down, side by side to those working in its trenches”.
 I am borrowing the datum from Walid Raad’s performance Walkthrough, which inquires on the Artists Pension Trust, presented within his solo exhibition at Museo Jumex in 2016
- Fabiola Iza
- Mónica Castillo
- Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba. © Alexandra Farias
- Verónica Gerber Bicecci. Photo by Adrián Duchateau/Gatopardo
- Ilan Lieberman
- Nuria Montiel
- Sandra Calvo