Sometimes the simplest gesture can change the world. For example, believing in magic. Or when an international team of art professionals comes together to nurture beauty, joy, empathy, and community. Or how selling art without revealing the artist’s name forces people to consider only what they feel and not what they think they know, what they love instead of what they’ve heard, in their decision to collect. Or when textiles, ceramics, and even living plants become the muses and materials for contemporary art expansions that transcend limits and upend expectations. In the case of the Anónimo Collective auction series, it’s all of the above.
Anónimo is a peripatetic, periodic, and completely chic curated art-collecting experience; a non-profit contemporary art auction and collaborative cultural amplifier in which collectors bid and buy Mexican and Latin American art, sealing the deals before any names are revealed. Since Anónimo started six editions ago, its refreshing game-change has been expanding to new horizons both geographically -- from Miami to Mexico City, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles -- and conceptually. Anónimo’s March 2019 edition was not only the first in the splendid city of Oaxaca, but also the first to focus thematically on materials; it featured eclectic textile-based works of art from around 25 local, national, and international artists, many of whom were inspired to create new work specially for the occasion.
The Anónimo auctions are always known for unconventional settings and immersive, festive, fashion-forward environments, and this was no exception. It took place at La Calera, a converted limestone factory in the middle of the city. Its mid-century ranch style flair and archetypal post-industrial rusticity, with hangar-high ceilings, outdoor courtyards, and the remnants of insane machinery, concrete, rust, and rafters were augmented with flowers, candles, strange and symbolism-rich sculptural art installations, and fine decorative murals. There was an assertive conjuring of magic and romantic surrealism, like walking into a poem that was turned into a movie. There were DJs and dinner and a veritable army of constant waiters offering never-ending cocktail situations organized by the auction’s newest cultural partners at Mezcal Amores. It was stunning and soulful and exciting even before the bidding and cheering and suspense of the main event got underway.
“Oaxaca is the soul of Mexico, a sacred place that swallows the bad, and feels free.” Anónimo founder Alejandra Martinez is greeting the crowd; she’s getting emotional and so is everyone. “Whatever you love, whether you know about art or not, I want you to feel cherished, you are a part of something bigger, something beautiful. Thank you for being part of this tribe.” Martinez, along with staff helmed by Selene Rojas and Miriam Villaseñor, pursue each edition with a purpose tied to its place. In Oaxaca, it’s Don Remigio Mestas, an activist and entrepreneur whose mission is to support the traditional textile artisans of the region. He brings trade business to family milliners, guaranteeing work and income and creating a global exchange, fostering market value, cultural awareness, and curatorial appreciation for their work to ensure the endurance of their traditions. “If we don’t do this today,” says Martinez, “our children won’t know what this craftsmanship is.”
So how did any of this even happen? Miami, New York, even Mexico City, those are major cultural exchanges where even a novel idea like this will surely attract support and attention. But Oaxaca and textiles, that seems a bit eccentric. Martinez says it’s a largely intuitive process. “We don’t even really choose,” she says. “It chooses us.” In this case, the Senator from Oaxaca attended the Mexico City edition which took places at the Museo Rufino Tamayo last year, and he said “We have to do this in Oaxaca!” and Martinez said, “Well if we do, it’s a dream of mine to do textiles, so it could be perfect.” And as far as Don Remigio, she says “it closes the circle in such a powerful way, because he’s already here. he’s already doing it! For 22 very successful years already.”
The auction featured a combination of artists who already work in textiles and those who “tried” it for the first time for the occasion, including Marco Querin, Orly Anan, Gerardo Ruíz Musi, Andreas Díaz Anderson, Julieta Aranda, Aldo Chaparro, Claudia Fernández, and Olivia Steele. Steele was a favorite at January’s L.A. Art Show, and also claimed the most instagrammable moment at the Oaxaca weekend’s Mezcal Amores Experience, a dinner and dance party in a working agave field an hour south of the city, which happened two days after the auction. But that night at La Calera, some 95% of the work sold, totalling $90,000 raised. Maybe it was all that free mezcal, but there was real magic in the air that had nothing to do with fancy cocktails.
The range of work offered was compelling and diverse, from the flat-out gorgeous to the subtle, edgy, conceptual, and architecturally engaged, from the abstract to the narrative, traditional to unconventional, but Martinez admits to having a few favorites. “Of course, the monumental lamb by Sabino Guisu, it’s so unique! And the six-panel caning tableau by Mario Navarro; that artist doesn’t do textile at all but we had a beautiful back and forth about how caning material is a kind of textile. He was nervous and excited; that dialog between us was very beautiful,” she says.
“Also Olivia Steele is a metal and neon sculptor, totally new to using textile. But I actually told her after the auction that I think she grew as an artist from this experience. This piece said so much that I hadn’t seen from her before, it was a new level. But one of my biggest learning moments of this edition is how ideas flow. You can’t think at all that you are the owner or the generator of an idea, I think creativity flows openly, and you download information, and so many people download it at the same time -- because all of a sudden, everyone is so excited about textile art! It’s so crazy!”
Despite the global art world’s current appreciation for textile-based art, “Honestly, the biggest surprise,” she says, “was every single sale. I assumed low sales but felt it was worth it for the curatorial standpoint -- but then wow! My soul needed something to remind me of why we even do this; it has to be completely independent of sales. And I realized that all my team were really longing for an experience like that. We had zero expectations of sales, but we were like, let’s just do it. We’re fine, let’s just do it. It’s hard enough to sell even one textile, but 25? In Oaxaca? We’re like, we’re fine. Just risk it! And that’s also when they said, whoever is going to be the auctioneer is going to have a hard time and I said, I’ll just do it!” And Martinez’s infectious personal enthusiasm definitely helped boost sales from the podium, along with the mezcal on the concourse. In fact, she broke not only records, but the actual podium with banging her auction hammer, which was a real hammer for some perfect reason.
Anónimo is already planning its next editions, and will soon arrive in Paris, New York, Merida, Mexico City, and will make its first Los Angeles edition in February 2020, in association with the Desert X Biennial. During Desert X’s off-year and coinciding with Frieze Week LA, the Los Angeles edition will flip the script a bit, as its curated roster of Mexico-based artists will reveal to bidders their identities, but not the work for sale. The next Mexico City edition features botanical editions, displayed in the orchid greenhouse in a botanical garden, happening during the day at a grand luncheon and then afterwards the auction, activating secret beautiful place in the middle of a bustling city.
“Our souls are so interconnected at such a profound level,” says Martinez. “I think also we are so tired of phony shit. We went to the very ends of the earth with conceptual art and I think we like Icarus flew too close to the sun and we got burnt in the process, and I think all of our souls are yearning for something soulful and real.” Textiles, ceramics, plants -- these are genres that really foreground the hand of the artist, craft, and experience. The edition in Merida, itself a center of ceramic production just as Oaxaca is known for its textiles, will happen in one of the region’s famously beautiful haciendas. A New York City edition will take place at Museo el Barrio, for all the reasons. “The risk we take,” Martinez says, “is that this energy is more valuable than money, more valuable than anything. And so things just happen, it all makes sense. Stars align.” In other words, they believe in magic, and with good reason.
Photos courtesy of Shana Nys Dambrot and Anonimo