OMGDL | Guadalajara's PreMaco Brings Powerful Art and Installations to Patrons

by Shana Nys Dambrot

Orozco Murals at the Governors Palace | photo by Shana Nys Dambrot

Orozco Murals at the Governors Palace | photo by Shana Nys Dambrot

Guadalajara is at heart a maker’s city. It speaks to the souls of designers and architects with the rich brocade of its cultural palimpsest spanning centuries of sublime built environments. It is the once and current home to layer upon layer of works and sites made by its indigenous civilizations, the invaders who came to colonize and displace them, and the latter-day revolutionaries who sought to transform it all into a vision for the future that also reclaimed the past. At every stage, the region’s cultural and political upheavals were enshrined in its religious and civic architecture, monuments, museums, ceremonial public spaces, epic murals, wide plazas, checkerboard sidewalks, lush and plentiful parks, wrought iron gates, imposing political headquarters; and also in neighborhoods, on leafy side streets, in commercial zones, rambling causeways, makeshift craft factories, and lavish deprivatized villas. More and more, the city’s contemporary visual art scene is making its presence felt across this wild aesthetic wonderland. But its cultural foundations, so to speak, of architecture, craft, and design are as impeccable as they are inescapable; the smart money is embracing this hybrid gestalt and we are happy to just go with it.


That’s where the new annual tradition of the PreMaco initiative deserves some love. PreMaco (as in, happening the week previous to the behemoth Zsona Maco art fair in Mexico City) is a sweeping and sanguinely decentralized arts festival (so laid-back it’s still only a hashtag), in which a panoply of foundations, cultural organizations, brand partners, and the city itself team up to organize slates of studio and museum visits, luncheons, dinners, gallery openings, after-parties, architectural tours, and all the 1800 tequila anyone could ever want.

PreMaco’s mellow juggernaut is spiritually and temporally anchored by Indocumentados, a homegrown avant-garde art and makers fair co-founded by Miriam Villasenor, hosting a range of Mexican and Latin American indie visual artist and functional designers, as well as architecture, fashion, cuisine, and live demonstrations and some very fine performance art. Guadalajara’s is a late-dinner, endless cocktail, personal style kind of society, whose greatest strength lies not in a flawed comparison to its flashier big-sister city, but rather in the quirky brilliance of its own uniqueness. If CDMX is a mash-up of Manhattan and LA, then GDL is more like Brooklyn melded with San Francisco, with a kick.

Fabrica Morelo photo by Sombrilla

Indocumentados 2018 (its third edition) happened at Fabrica Morelos, a disused though still brightly painted warren of spaces once home to a shoe factory that’s about to be part of a residential development in the bohemian enclave of the Americano district. The organizing partners (Alejandro Serratos—everyone calls him Alex—along with Selene Rojas from Colectivo México, and the installation designer, architect Juan Pablo Ochoa) used whatever materials and random artifacts they found on site to improvisationally create a street-style, shabby chic utopia whose gestalt was as much a part of the experience as the contents of its chambers and the local cuisine that greeted audiences. Its two days of edgy exuberance, packed parties, and enthusiastic buying offered a useful microcosm of the city’s hipster side, and in some ways a wider metaphor for the whole place, acting as a gateway to accessing the rest of the scene, makers to markets to masters, as well as an aesthetic context for what all came next.

Architectural activation was directly enacted at Indocumentados in a series of performative installations that engaged the footprint of the factory, as well as its historical function and the meaning of all of this for the new face of the city. In one converted brick-walled room off the bustling, gold-tinseled courtyard, tattoo artist Rodrigo Roji of Mexico City’s Not a Gallery art and ink studio enacted Permanente, in which he created about 20 unique, small-scale images touching on ideas about national borders and malleable identity.

He did them for free on the spot, and each one could be claimed only once. In the end, every one of them was taken. Nearby, artist and designer Rocca Luis Cesar (who also designed the winningest pattern for the de rigueur fair tote bag) inhabited a two-part space in which he live-painted amid an array of his quirky, expressive, anthropological and Picasso-inflected line drawings, along with a sort of post-industrial sculptural altarpiece installation with a colorful, decidedly surrealist bent.

Arrogante Albino performance at Indocumentados | photo by Shana Nys Dambrot

The most impactful and self-evidently avant-garde presentation of Indocumentados had to be the site-specific performance piece by the Arrogante Albino collective, called De cómo alejar la culpa de tu casa (How to take the blame away from your home). The cast of about a dozen performed a tightly ritualistic, site-responsive, aromatic, visceral, durational, physically dirty, conceptually spotless, utterly contextual experience. With automated, athletic, and organic passages of movement, emotionally fraught group and solo vignettes, the generation of breeze and sound by the wielding of drenched clothing against cement walls and in pools of melted ice-water, and the deployment of props like balloons and fresh lavender, the piece unfurled in fits and starts, with frenzies and calms, over the course of hours. Like a symphony played on the space, the building’s bones were the instruments, its space was one more dancer among many to be choreographed. The mostly dark room partially opened onto the courtyard below, where gold-fringed chandeliers, disco lights, and a non-stop DJ were the perfect anomalous backdrop to this post-industrial fever dream, like a party at the end of the world.

As we went on to observe in myriad expressions throughout the city, adaptive reuse and creative re-purposing of both space and materials is as common as a garden gate in Guadalajara’s built environment. Everything from twisted metal to ancient stones and extant walls are (re)used in the never-ending construction of this ancient living city. There is not one single unremarkable edifice in the entire place. This context is key when it’s time to leave Indocumentados and venture out into the rest of the PreMaco universe. Nearby, the inaugural edition of the Campamento Design Fair held sway at the site of sumptuous old city mansions, whose lavish wood-paneled, finely marbled, and ivy-covered stone walls combined a sprawling artisanal picnic with an array of sleek, inventive furniture and appliance prototypes by emerging and regionally beloved designers.

Jose Davila | photos by Vianey Velarde

Sculptor Jose Davila  (a figure familiar to LA audiences, whose work can currently be experienced in a peripatetic public sculpture installation at various locations, facilitated by LAND) opened his studio for PreMaco attendees. Nestled along an unassuming industrial stretch, a small door opens into a rustic palace, with two work ad display galleries, a broad and sunny office, a lush interior courtyard, and a charming, well-stocked art library and meeting room all hidden from the street. Given the incorporation of extant walls and innovative interlocking chambers, it is not surprising to learn that Davila, who envisioned its transformation, trained as an architect himself. This is more than apparent also in his chosen mediums, startling recombinations of raw stone, glass, steel beams, chains, and other materials overtly culled from the realm of industry and construction. In fact, this penchant for reimaging the material and functional realm of architecture in fine art sculpture is quite prevalent among Latin American artists -- for what is rapidly becoming obvious reasons. Davila makes further reference to this trend as he describes one main benefit of living and working in Guadalajara, over and above the increasing connectedness of the international art world -- no matter what kind of craft or construction contracting he needs, in GDL it’s always just down the street; it’s everywhere, a source of support and of inspiration.

Jorge Pardo Ceramica Suro exterior | photoby Shana Nys Dambrot

Jorge Pardo Ceramica Suro exterior | photoby Shana Nys Dambrot

At several concurrent gallery shows these ideas proliferated through the local ethos: Emanuel Tovar’s video and sculpture performing the hoeing of cement trench at Paramo; Juan Lopez’s deftly rendered cement interventions at Tira el Blanco; Jorge Pardo’s lively geometrical handmade tile mural at Ceramica Suro; and Mateo Lopez’s suffuse, architecturally engaged minimalism at Travesia Cuatro.

Historic Luis Barragan home | photo by Shana Nys Dambrot

Historic Luis Barragan home | photo by Shana Nys Dambrot

Travesia Cuatro is located in an historic Luis Barragan house; and in fact Barragan is basically the patron saint of the city. Its breezy, bumpy, checkerboard inlaid, tree-lined streets are peppered with a notable density of examples of his Regionalist period, even as the skyline is punctuated by mammoth Brutalist bunkers of stolid beauty and surreal proportions. As glorious as Mexico City is, especially during Zsona Maco season, the appeal of GDL and the new tradition of PreMaco is its laid back elegance and contagious life-is-sweet, beauty-is-everywhere appreciation for the smallest detail, wrapped up in a knack for easy glamour and a taste for indelible history.

written by Shana Nys Dambrot