Mexico’s Emerging Art Market Is On The Rise: Everything You Need To Know
How many Mexican artists can you name? When I mention to people that I am Mexican, their response is, “Oh, I love tacos and Frida Kahlo.” It is one of those comments that makes me happy and sad at the same time. I’m delighted that people positively associate with Mexico due to its gastronomy and Kahlo; I mean, she’s iconic, but sad because there are so many talented artists besides Kahlo that I wish everyone got the opportunity to know. In this article, I will discuss the current state of Mexico’s contemporary art market to expand everyone's knowledge on the artists of this region and to help art collectors navigate this booming art scene.
An article in the Art Newspaper from 2018 covered how leading auction houses were beginning to incorporate Latin American artists into their 20th century and contemporary auctions rather than having them in a dedicated Latin American auction as a way to attract a global audience. The change in the auction houses resulted from art collectors’ hunger for art from underrepresented regions. You may be asking, why do international art collectors all of a sudden have a change of appetite? Well, for starters, money will go a lot further in this part of the world, and most importantly, countries in Latin America, such as Mexico, have a long and rich history of art. For example, did you know that Mexico and its artists were a significant source of influence to the Surrealist movement in Paris? And did you know that Jackson Pollock’s famous drip- technique and overall art was influenced by the Mexican muralists? It’s true. Google it!
Important Facts About Mexico
Mexico is a country in North America with the world's largest population of Spanish speakers and the third-largest country in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina, with a square footage of over 1.9 million. Its vast geographical land is divided into 31 socially and physically diverse states, including the Federal District, suggesting the nation's official name, Estados Unidos Mexicanos (United Mexican States). Extremes of wealth and poverty characterize the nation's society. This dichotomy is often missed in the media, which tends to fixate exclusively on portraying Mexico's poverty and cartel-related violence through a sepia filter. The dark side of Mexico has everything to do with the corruption in government that is more prominent in developing nations. But despite its challenges, this is a country rich in natural resources, a dynamic industrial base, and a wide-ranging service sector, making it possible to have one of the largest economies in Latin America and Spanish-speaking countries. Mexico's gross domestic product (GDP) reached an estimated value of 1.08 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020, ranking among the fifteen largest economies in the world. So what does all this data mean? It means that Mexico has positioned itself to become a leading world economy, with a growing number of regional and international art collectors helping the art infrastructures to become stronger, which is needed for artists to have successful careers.
Mexico is not the same as it was during the booming art scene of the 90s when everything exciting only happened in the nation's capital, Mexico City. With the rise of the internet making everything and everyone accessible from anywhere globally, it comes as no surprise that artists don't desperately require to migrate to Mexico City to have successful careers. In this section, I will focus on the two most important art centers currently impacting Mexico's contemporary art scene: Mexico City and Guadalajara.
Mexico City has become the art capital in Latin America in recent years. Its easy accessibility for international travel, world-class museums, contemporary art galleries, and leading art fairs are some of the main reasons art collectors and artists are flocking to this region.
Zona Maco is the leading art fair in Latin America. This art fair is the primary event art collectors looking to diversify their collections should visit because it showcases the top leading galleries from all over Latin America, the US, and Europe. It takes place in Mexico City in February. During this time of year, Mexico City also has its Gallery Week, in which mega galleries such as OMR and Kurimanzutto have major exhibitions and parties for collectors to attend. If you are looking for alternative art fairs that focus more on emerging artists, you don’t need to worry as many satellite fairs occur during the same time as Zona Maco. One of these satellite fairs that has had a lot of success is Material Art Fair which champions emerging artists from Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Art institutions to visit in Mexico City:
MUAC, Museo Jumex, OMR Gallery, Kurimanzutto Gallery, Salon Acme, Proyectos Monclova, Lulu’s, and Museo Tamayo.
If large events are not your thing, may I suggest Pre Maco, a more intimate event held in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest city? Pre Maco, as the name suggests, takes place the weekend before Zona Maco. Pre Maco is a four-day event filled with a big party at Cerámica Suro, followed by private tours of artists’ studios, galleries, and museums. José Noé Suro is an entrepreneur, art collector, and factory owner of Cerámica Suro. This ceramic factory has reshaped the Guadalajara contemporary art scene by supporting emerging Mexican artists, such as Eduardo Sarabia and Renata Petersen, through residencies and by collaborating with international artists from abroad. One of the most famous Mexican artists at the moment to have come out of the Guadalajara art scene is Gabriel Rico, who has held exhibitions worldwide in leading galleries and at the 2019 Venice Biennale. If this is the first time you are hearing about him, then you really should start following his career because he is positioned to become one of Mexico’s blue-chip contemporary artists. With Suro’s art patronage and Rico’s international success, Guadalajara is beginning to be visible among the international art community. People are becoming aware of Mexico’s vast art community that extends beyond the nation’s capital.
Art institutions to visit in Guadalajara:
Museo de Zapopan, Curro Gallery, Travesía Cuatro, Páramo Gallery, Cerámica Suro
Auction Sales Record
It is essential to know the state of the Mexican art market to other emerging markets in the region (i.e., Latin America) as well as its relation to the dominant developed markets such as the US and Western Europe. In my previous article, What is An Emerging Art Market? I discussed how Mexico and other emerging art markets only accounted for a mere seven percent value of the global sales in 2020. But when we compare Mexico with other Latin American art markets, we see that in 2019 Mexico accounted for 35.8% of the market share, making it the region with the highest auction sales.
However, the sales at auction depend on a few artists, and they are primarily from the modern era. With that said, let’s take a look at the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction by a Latin American artist. Below I’ve listed the three most expensive works, and I would like to point out that they are all by Mexican artists. The most sought-after works by Latin American artists are by the Mexican artists Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Rufino Tamayo.
Top Three Auction Records by Latin American Artists:
#1. Diego Rivera, The Rivals, 1931, Oil on canvas. Sold for $9,762,500 on May 9, 2018 at Christie’s, New York.
#2. Frida Kahlo, Dos Desnudos en el Bosque, 1939, oil on metal. Sold for $8,005,000 on May 12, 2016 at Christie’s, New York.
#3. Diego Rivera, Retrato de Columba Domínguez de Fernández, 1950, oil on canvas. Sold for $7,445,250 on May 13, 2021 at Sotheby’s, New York.
Even though Mexican artists hold the highest auction records within the Latin American region, young living artists are not selling anywhere near the prices shown above. Unlike the contemporary artists in the USA and Western Europe, where living artists are breaking auction records with multi-million dollar artworks, Mexican living artists remain in the periphery with relatively low sales. For example, the most expensive contemporary artwork ever sold to date is Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1982), at $110.5 Million. Jeff Koon’s Rabbit (1986) is the most expensive artwork sold at auction by a living artist at $91,075,000. Mexican living artists still have a long way to go before reaching astronomical digits at auctions. The most expensive artwork sold at auction by a Mexican contemporary living artist is Gabriel Orozco’s Dandelion (2008), at $795,000. Below are the top three auction records by living Mexican artists.
Top Three Auction Records by Living Mexican Artists:
#1. Gabriel Orozco, Dandelion, 2008, tempera and gold leaf on canvas. Sold for $795,000 on May 17, 2018 at Sotheby’s, New York.
#2. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Synaptic Caguamas, 2004, Glass Bottles On Motorized Wooden Table, Computer And Custom Software. Sold for $118,750 on November 18, 2015 at Phillips, New York.
#3. Damián Ortega, Auto construcción, caja de velocidades, 2005, 32 cast concrete elements in the shape of automobile parts. Sold for $100,000 on May 23, 2013 at Phillips, New York.
The Mexican art market is highly undervalued due to economic and political turmoil in the country, which results in a lack of support for cultural institutions to create a strong international brand. The auction prices are currently low compared to artists from the US and Western Europe, which is an excellent opportunity for collectors who want to buy quality works for affordable prices. You can afford a masterpiece with one million dollars where is unheard of in developed art markets. And suppose you are looking to start a collection with emerging and established contemporary artists. In that case, your money will take you far, allowing you to create a fantastic art collection all for less than one Basquiat painting. However, with art collectors from the US, Europe, and China now interested in previously overlooked geographical regions, I cannot promise that affordable prices will last forever.
I hope you visit the country soon to personally witness the booming art scene and experience everything this beautiful country has to offer. You’ll see for yourself that the Hollywood image of Mexico with its sepia filter is not a realistic interpretation of this vibrant and colorful country. If you visit Mexico, you will be rewarded with world-class museums, art fairs, mega-galleries, and rich gastronomy that dates back to pre-hispanic times and some of the best architecture found in all of the American continents. Mexico is the ultimate destination for art enthusiasts looking to activate all their senses.
In the upcoming articles, I will be discussing the hot Mexican artists to follow, and I will go into further detail about the various Mexican art centers within Mexico. So stay tuned for that and reach out to me if you need help navigating this art market.