All Eyes Are Now on Guadalajara's Vibrant Art Scene
In recent years it appears Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city and the capital of the west-central state of Jalisco, has been gaining popularity among the international art world elite. However, this is not a city with a vibrant contemporary art scene that came into existence overnight. This region is one of Mexico's most important cultural centers known for being the home to tequila, mariachi, charreadas (rodeos), and influential Mexican figures, such as muralists Jose Clemente Orozco, modernist architect Luis Barragán, and Oscar-winning film director Guillermo del Toro, to name a few. As much as it is the guardian of traditions, Guadalajara is also a vanguard of the new. Despite being an emerging art market when compared to the art world capitals of New York and London, Guadalajara does have a developed cultural infrastructure that has helped to retain local artists and gain the attention of the outside world. Let's take a look at Guadalajara's rich cultural past and present.
But before we go any further, let’s get the pronunciation of the city correctly. It should sound as follows:
You are welcome!
Guadalajara was officially established in 1542 by Cristóbal de Oñate, a Basque conquistador, as the capital of the Kingdom of Nueva Galicia, part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. To put things into perspective, Guadalajara was built 82 years before New York City and 234 years before San Francisco...in order words, this city is OLD and one of the oldest colonial cities of the Americas. Due to its years of maturity, it allowed for a cultural infrastructure to exist and strengthen throughout history. Home to one of the oldest universities in the American continent, this city has become a cradle for distinguished poets, writers, painters, actors, film directors and representatives of the arts throughout its history.
The museums in Guadalajara belong to the cultural framework of the city, among which are in all its genres exhibiting history, paleontology, archeology, ethnography, paintings, crafts, photography, sculpture, etc. There are more than 189 forums of art exhibition among cultural centers, museums, private galleries, and cultural spaces of the town hall, several of them with centuries of existence. One of the most important cultural institutions in Guadalajara is Instituto Cultural Cabañas, a former orphanage and hospital, and now a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to the magnificent murals of Jose Clemente Orozco painted in 1939. The architecture of the building with its immense nave, arched panels and semi-circular ceilings offered a dramatic space for Orozco’s fifty-seven frescoes that explored how indigenous and European communities affected each other in postcolonial Mexico. Orozco’s “Man of Fire” fresco which takes center stage in the nave of the building, sixty meters above the floor, creates the illusion of a man ascending into a small dome in flames has become known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas.”
Guadalajara’s reputation as a cultural hub in Latin America is backed by the fact that this city is the host to numerous notable events, such as the Guadalajara International Film Festival, the most important film festival in Latin America; and the Guadalajara International Book Fair, the largest book fair in the Americas and the most important literary event in the Spanish-speaking world. In 2005 it was named an American Capital of Culture. And of course, all of this wouldn't be possible without the city's strong economy. Traditional industries like tequila, textiles, footwear, sugar, mining, among others, blend with electronics form a leading business district with a productive economy that embraces innovation. It is ranked in the top ten in Latin America in gross domestic product and the third-highest ranking in Mexico. Due to its strong economy, rich cultural infrastructure, mild year-round climate, location, and innovation, Guadalajara continues to cultivate a vibrant contemporary art scene, one which grows stronger every day.
Contemporary Art Scene
Now that you have a better idea of the cultural infrastructure of the city of Guadalajara, let’s take a look at the contemporary art scene which has been growing strong since the mid-90s. We are witnessing the traditional art centers in developed nations no longer being as magnetic as before. In the past, aspiring artists would head to New York as soon as they could. However, artists are now opting for emerging art centers like Guadalajara, where life is affordable and they have more artistic freedom.
Below you can find some of the people and places you need to know from the Guadalajara contemporary art community.
José Noé Suro
Suro is is the major art patron in Guadalajara. He is an entrepreneur, factory owner of Cerámica Suro, arguably Mexico’s most recognized ceramic factory and a major art collector. Suro has turned his family’s ceramic factory that manufactured dinnerware and decorative objects into an incubator for global artists, working with such recognized names as Eduardo Sarabia, Renata Morales, the Haas Brothers, and Sarah Crowner to name a few. Suro is also the founder of PreMaco and the host of the new traveling art fair, Estación Material.
Curator/ Art Critic
Lorena Peña Brito
Brito has been a strong figure in promoting critical thinking within the Guadalajara art scene. She has degrees in Critic of Art, Curatorial Management and has a master in Critical Theory for the 17 Institute of Critical Studies. She was a member of Colectivo de Acción y Creación Artística (C.A.C.A.) and co-founder of the alternative project of contemporary art Clemente Jacqs Laboratorio. She coordinated the curatorship area at the Cabañas Cultural Institute, as well as several projects from the Planning Department of the General Directorate of Culture of Guadalajara. Her work has been published in various Mexican magazines and exhibition catalogues. She currently is co-director to PAOS GLD, a non-profit organization that host exhibitions and artist residencies while promoting public education, critical thinking, and the creative process.
Jose Dávila (b.1974, Guadalajara, Mexico)
Dávila is a blue-chip artist known for his assemblages which are spatial investigations and hybrids of painted wood, found objects, and plastics that resemble maquettes or quasi-functional structures. Dávila studied architecture at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (Guadalajara, MX). His work has been exhibited globally and forms part of international public and private collections such as Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, US; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FR; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, to name a few.
Dávila has been awarded the 2017 Baltic Artists’ Award in the UK and is a 2016 Honoree of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, USA. Dávila has received scholarships and funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Sistema Nacional de Creadores del Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Mexico. He is currently represented by Travesía Cuatro and Perrotin. Dávila’s auction record is $47,880 for his Untitled (2007) sculpture of found cardboard boxes and soda bottle caps which sold through Phillips in 2020.
Gabriel Rico (b.1980, Lagos de Moreno, Mexico)
With a degree in Architecture from the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO), Mexico, Rico’s geometric sculptures and installations reflect his interest in the composition of objects and their relation to nature. He frequently uses neon, taxidermy, ceramics, branches, among other ready-made material and it is uses to juxtapose natural and unnatural objects to deconstruct and reexamine the role of contemporary humans on earth.
He has had a very successful career and is considered to be one of Mexico’s blue-chip contemporary artists. His success is visible by looking at the plethora of art residencies, fellowships and awards he has received. Some of the international residencies he has participated include ASU Art Museum & CALA Alliance in Arizona, USA; CAMAC Center of Art, Science & Technology in France; The Seoul Art Space Gaumcheong in South Korea; Frans Meserel Centrum in Belgium among others. The artist’s work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group shows held all over the world, including OMR, Mexico City, Mexico; Perrotin, Paris, France; Perrotin, Seoul, South Korea; Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, USA; at the 58th Venice Biennale, and many more. His artwork has been collected by local and international foundations from South Korea, Spain, the USA, and Belgium. He is currently represented by OMR and Perrotin.
Jorge Méndez Blake (b. 1974; Guadalajara, Mexico)
Blake draws connections between literature and the visual arts through assemblage, drawing, and environmental interventions. His work refers to the literature of great writers, such as William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges, among many others.
Blake has a degree in Architecture from the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO), Guadalajara, Mexico. His work has been exhibited globally and has been collected by local and international foundations, such as Deutsche Bank Collection; PAMM, Perez Art Museum Miami, USA; Colección Jumex, Mexico City; to name a few. Blake’s auction record is $20,000 for his work on paper Monumento William Morris IV which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014.
Eduardo Sarabia (b. 1976; Los Angeles, USA)
Sarabia was born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents and moved to Guadalajara because he found better opportunities there than in the USA. His work explores Mexican cultural stereotypes, his own identity as a Mexican-American and the difficult situation a lot of immigrants face when crossing the US-Mexican border. He works with sculpture, painting, and installations, and references traditional Mexican folklore that influences him, as well as to such headline-grabbing issues as drug violence, contraband, and other illegal activities plaguing the border region. He is most notably known for his ceramics decorated with hand-painted pin-up girls, guns, and drug-trade iconography.
Sarabia received a BFA from Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited globally in numerous museums such as Tamayo Museum in Mexico City in 2016; 2014 at Centro Cultural Cabañas in Guadalajara and Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Oaxaca, Mexico, in the same year at ASU Art Museum, Arizona; in 2013 he had a solo show for his paintings at Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; and venues such as Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2008 at the Whitney Biennial, and New Museum in New York. He has received 2 grants for the Durfee Grant Foundation (2004 and 2008) and has been invited to be an artist in residence at Tokyo Wonder Site in Tokyo, Japan were he completed a large public ceramic mural. His work has also been part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial and the 51st Venice Biennale. Since 2013 the record price for this Sarabia at auction is $11,079 USD for 18 with a bullet, sold at Piasa in 2020.
Fain Fair: This is an art fair championing emerging artists from all of Mexico with locations in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mexico City as well as online. In each city, people who attend the fair are invited to visit artists' studios to know about their art practice. Prices of artwork for this fair range from $250 to $3,000.
Pre-Maco: An intimate four-day event filled with a big party at Cerámica Suro, followed by private tours of artists’ studios, galleries, and museums. This is, as the name suggests, the pre-party to Mexico City’s Zona Maco, the most important contemporary art fair in Latin America.
Estación Material - Estación Material is Mexico’s traveling contemporary art fair. Similar to Pre-Maco, this fair is also an extension of a much larger art fair located in Mexico City which is named Material and is a satellite fair to Zona Maco. This is the first year for the traveling fair and is set to take place at the end of October.
Contemporary Art Institutions
Museo de Zapopan
Founded in 2002, the museum includes several large exhibition spaces that house temporary shows by leading contemporary artists.
Opened by a Guadalajara native, CURRO is a contemporary art gallery showcasing edgy, conceptual work by national and international artists with a very ambitious year-round program. The gallery is located in the Santa Tere neighborhood.
A Madrid-based gallery that showcases some of Guadalajara’s best artists, Travesía Cuatro serves as a bridge between the European and Latin American art scenes.
Along with regular exhibitions by local artists, this contemporary art gallery hosts events, screenings, and talks. The team recently opened a second location in New York, as well as an artist residency program in Mexico City.
A nonprofit art incubator directed by Los Angeles artist Eduardo Sarabio and Lorena Peña Brito. Here, Sarabia and his fellow artists host exhibitions and artist residencies while promoting public education, critical thinking, and the creative process. PAOS resides in a building once owned by Modernist muralist José Clemente Orozco.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about the art scene in Guadalajara. As previously mentioned, this city has a rich cultural history that for the purpose of this article it has been extremely condensed. I encourage anyone interested in exploring an emerging art market to head over to Guadalajara where its climate is perfect to visit anytime of the year.