When many of us fly back north after Art Basel Miami Beach, I fly south to Mexico City. For the past week I’ve been immersed in the culturally fueled and loaded city—lots of studio visits, meetings, friends, and little sleep.
Tuesday afternoon between meetings and an intense performance art appointment, I met Mariana Magdaleno Lopez at her studio. Miguel Calderón initially introduced us, and since then she has donated watercolor and ink works on paper to the non-profit Project Paz, which I co-curate with Amanda Alvarez. Lopez’s beautiful, sweet, light-hearted illustrations relate back to the situation in Juarez, Mexico, the focus of Project Paz’s annual benefit.
Mariana’s studio is in San Pedro de los Pinos—small streets, traditional flavor, little shops, but this is central Mexico City, so also crowds, traffic, street vendors, construction, fruit, seafood, and police. She is one of eleven artists who took over an abandoned building infamous for its underground ragers (eventually shut down by officials). The party background remains in the urban art everywhere—the facades, the rooms, the toilets. Alongside the tags, murals, wheatpastes, and stencils are the remains of large motion picture advertisements—think Disney, 20th Century Fox—that the last inhabitant took from the billboard on the roof and wheatpasted on the walls.
The current residents are part of Neter (meaning: “God” or “Divinity”), which is an initiative promoting emerging Mexican artists locally and internationally. Mariana introduces me to Axel Velázquez, who guides me through the building. The artists’ influences are diverse, including nature, popular culture, and mass media from the ’70s through the ’90s. In addition to exhibiting in international fairs and galleries, the artists established a program that teaches art to autistic students, displaying these works on the main wall in the space.
Some artists share studios and some have their own, depending on the nature of their work. I could write for days on each one, but here is a snapshot: Mariana shows me “the life and myth of a Mexican amphibian,” her illustrations of the Axolotiada, which only exists in Mexico. Axel’s studio is in what must have been a child’s room at some point, painted with pastel pinks, blues, and teddy bears. However, true to form, there are still drill holes and tags—the predominant feature is a red Egyptian evil eye. The juxtaposition is intense and quirky, and Axel plays with Mexican themes in ironic ways through sculptures of bears with beads and nails, earthy, complex vortex drawings, mescal bottles, and tarot cards. Carlos Olvera has his own studio, and his works range from circular, psychedelic-neon pieces on found wood board to works on paper, photographs, and composites. He currently has a national grant to investigate and develop three-dimensional tattoos. Mariana shows me Carlos’ tattoo work on her arms—I’m excited to see the 3D version on my next visit. Carlos is a renaissance man unconventionally fusing low and high.
Neter is open to the public, and in April 2012, the complete pavilion will display the artists’ process in all it’s glory in conjunction with the Zona Maco art fair.