Laying Plans for Independence: The New Art Scene in Mexico CitySeptember 20, 2016
The contemporary art scene in Mexico has experienced a golden age over the past two decades, projecting its artists and galleries at an international level and managing to capture the attention of foreign curators who find in Mexico a territory where they can approach Latin American art without departing geographically from North America and its neoliberal economic interests.
Historically, Mexico City has held the centralized powers of the entire nation and has acted as the main muscle for the country’s cultural scene. In 2009, however, the generation of artists born between 1980 and 1995 faced a hostile landscape: museums with packed agendas, contests for artists with short or medium trajectories, priority given to shows by established artists, and zero growth in the number of galleries. The chance of accessing space to exhibit depended on one’s connections to some circle of legitimization, whatever it might be. In this context, emerging artists modified their use of social networks, which changed from being spaces for idle time to channels of exhibition and self-promotion. Thus, an interest in forging paths of self-management began to manifest itself.
In 2012, these artists, displaying a symptom of their generation in a generalized and spontaneous reaction of self-critique, began to question the market-oriented artistic education that had excluded the possibility of experimentation and future options. Demanding a liberty that had been promised and not found, they passed from critique to proposal and opened independent spaces that would permit them to self-manage their education, and would lead them to find interlocutors from every generation, forming work groups or collectives that could respond to or participate in questions about art, society, the state, and the economy. As a generation accustomed to the Internet, they turned to social networks to link themselves and make visible all that was happening: who did what, with whom, what was exhibited, who attended, who backed what, and who made up the groups close to these spaces.
The socialization that began on the Internet brought about an interdependent relationship between these spaces and institutions, which has complicated the study of independent practice. These spaces have been labeled as simply places of visibility and networking, which dismisses all the political, cultural, and cognitive work that is collectively developed and constructed for a shared future. An example of this is how, after participating in platforms with a wide spectrum of visibility, as the Kurimanzutto gallery did with the Venice Biennial, the self-managed artists still continued directing their energy towards collaborative work, such as an active critique of the inherited crisis in all areas, signaling that they did not solely seek institutional legitimacy.
Reviewing the discourses and actions proposed during their early years of activity, one finds that these artists were moving towards the figure of the critical artist they enunciated when they opened their spaces. In other words, they have worked arduously to make of themselves the artists that the spaces deserve, which can be read as something romantic, but in the beginning seemed a pretentious statement. Today the spaces are a perfect fit for those who work within them.
After four years of continuous work and the constant opening of new independent spaces, the scene that has emerged works prolifically, with a range of 30 to 60 events every week in Mexico City, surpassing institutional offerings and making room for intergenerational voices. The level of legitimacy achieved and the recognition given by the artistic community and institutions has confirmed the consolidation of a scene that is here to stay longer than expected.
Independent spaces in Mexico City, though they share forms similar to self-management (collaborative work, horizontal structure, and economic solidarity) have defined their profiles via activities that make visible their different points of social and artistic focus. Of course, the majority of the spaces offer two or three of these activities to sustain their principal activity:
- Educational programs
- Actions for dissident communities
- Neighborhood actions
- Performing arts
- Residencies for artists
Even with the diversity of proposals they support, spaces dedicated to exhibition have received the most attention from the media and curators. This may be attributed to two factors: their generation of products that can be analyzed exclusively by the art world, or their practices that directly intersect with the interests of the market. Nevertheless, artists participate equally in each of the different independent spaces, demonstrating that interest is not subject to what the market establishes, and thus affirming the autonomy of the independent scene.
In 2016 these projects have exhibited a need to finance and strengthen their networks of friends and partners, which allows for greater mobility of artists and projects among cities and countries. This necessity for expansion, driven by the maturity of their projects, is visible in their digital platforms that have acquired the complexity needed to share their contents, leaving somewhat aside the artistic objective to concentrate on the discourse and the questions of the present. Still, it seems inevitable that in coming years they will return to the artistic objective, as the interest of this generation of self-managed artists is to continue producing work, even when they direct spaces.
The interdependent and united relationship among artists, independent spaces, and public and private institutions demonstrates the need for change and updating of the arts scene. The possibility emerges that the voices of these young artists may hold sway in the cultural decisions to be made in the short and medium term.
Let us surf with flares burning in our hands, let us seek the independence that may or may not arrive, but in this moment, it is the light that guides our way.
*A dinner for artistic-culinary projects: La Olla Común (Adolfo Torres Frías), San Pascual Bailongo (Raúl Góngora) and Obrera Centro (Mauro Giaconi), at Obrera Centro, an independent space interested in community building through friendship. Image courtesy of Mauro Giaconi
 Regarding interdependence: This is a mechanism of adaptation of Human Ecology in which different groups come together temporarily to collaborate and accentuate the specialization of both groups. It also applies to the cooperation of similar groups to strengthen themselves.