MEXICO CITY -- Amid the hyper-visual stimulation of Latin America's largest contemporary art fair could be the heard sound of the "Star-Spangled Banner" being played on beer bottles.
The video installation belonged to Diablo Rosso, a Panamanian gallery at Mexico City's ZonaMaco art fair. In the piece, two artists – Jonathan Harker and Donna Conlon – play the American anthem on Panamanian brews with nationalistic names like "Sovereignty" and "Balboa" (the name of a conquistador and also Panama's currency).
It's the kind of work that doesn’t sell well in Panama, said Gallery owner Analida Galindr. But there is a growing market in Mexico, where collectors are said to be more open to alternative art forms and more adventurous in taste.
"Panamanian collectors are extremely conservative," Galindr said. "For that reason we need to go to fairs because our niche is art on the vanguard. We need to open outside markets."
In its ninth edition, ZonaMaco attracted nearly 100 galleries from 21 countries for five days of art wheeling and dealing this past weekend. The fair has gained an international reputation as the best in the region, a must-visit for galleries representing Latin American artists or hoping to reach the region's emerging collectors.
"This is the first time we’re at MACO," said Diana Geisler, who represented the Viennese gallery Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art, which tends to focus on large sculptures and alternative installations. "That was our motivation: We had heard that people here are more adventurous and they’re looking for new things."
A ZonaMaco spokeswoman said participating galleries did not reveal sales figures, nor artwork prices. The fair did, however, specially promote artworks under 30,000 pesos, or about $2,275, in an effort to seduce younger or newcomer collectors.
Mexico City rushed onto the world contemporary art scene in the 1990s, when artists like Chilean painter Francisco Sales and Spain's Santiago Sierra began to flock to the metropolis. That caught the attention of gallery owners worldwide. At the same time, Mexican artists were becoming better known abroad.
Mexico City became a place to discover blossoming artists.
So what makes Mexican collectors so audacious?
"Mexico is a very surrealist country," said Enrique Guerrero, who has run a gallery bearing his name in Mexico City for 15 years. "I think (Mexican collectors) like shocking people and showing off. It's nicer to buy a bigger installation than a little drawing. It makes more of a statement."
Photo (top): Lauren Villagran
Photo (bottom): Carlos Aires' "Love Is In the Air" courtesy Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art