Mexico City’s Material Fair Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary
Zona Maco, the 20-year-old fair anchoring Mexico City’s February Art Week right now, is not the only event celebrating an anniversary this week. The other, Fería Material, which turns 10 this month, is also marking a big moment. Founded in 2014 by a group of galleries as a satellite to Zona Maco, the fair has over the past decade established itself as a place to discover some of Mexico’s most interesting gallery programs and emerging artists.
To learn more about Material’s history, ARTnews spoke with Brett W. Schultz, the cofounder and director of Material, which runs February 8–11 at Expo Reforma in the city’s Colonia Juárez neighborhood.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ARTnews: What was the the motivation to start the fair?
Brett W. Schultz: Back in that era, I was a gallerist. I ran a gallery called Yautepec, with my then partner, Daniela Elbahara. Yautepec had been doing art fairs for a few years. We did Zona Maco, I think, three years in a row. But, with the experience of doing art fairs elsewhere, like NADA or Art-o-rama in Marseille, we felt that this is something that can be done differently.
In Mexico City, there was an explosion around 2012, 2013, with all these artist-run, independent spaces. A lot of them were inspired by this one really wild space called Preteen Gallery, which was more famous on Twitter. Pretty soon, there was Bikini Wax, Lodos, Lulu—all these companies like interesting spaces with exciting programs started to emerge right around that time.
We made a lot of interesting gallerist friends doing international fairs. We had this idea of a Mexico City event that could champion a new generation, not only in Mexico, but internationally as well. It just seemed like the time to do it.
In 2013, we decided not to do Zona Maco and instead organize this collective exhibition with a few other galleries, like Proyectos Ultravioleta from Guatemala, DiabloRosso in Panama, and Sultana from Paris. We put together this pop-up show in a house in the Roma neighborhood during Art Week. The experience was so much more enjoyable than doing an art fair—the camaraderie, the collaboration, the quality time with the collectors and curators who came by. Paradoxically, after that, the idea was to start an art fair with that spirit of a more intimate, boutique event, where there’s an emphasis on context. We didn’t want to collapse contexts as art fairs often do. We wanted to make a generational statement.
What were the next steps in planning the first fair in 2014?
Zona Maco used to take place in April, but 2013 was the last year in it took place in April. Then, the dates switched to February, so we had two, two-and-a-half months less to plan our fair. We participated in NADA Miami in December 2013, and Daniela and I were still hustling, trying to get galleries to participate in the fair and sell our last booths. But the end result was amazing.
It did feel like it marked this moment that was beginning in Mexico City. It was a small event, with 38 galleries, and maybe 2,500 people came. Great collectors came through, and they bought a lot. It was an event made among friends. The question we got asked several times a day [during the fair] was, “Are you going to do another one?” Well, we had to.
So, how was the second edition in 2015?
For the second edition, we changed venues and were in the Condesa neighborhood. That one was interesting because we got really great galleries to participate because of a lot of hype after the first edition. It had a number of beautiful moments, like Puppies Puppies’s famous SpongeBob performance in the Queer Thoughts booth. But it was totally a sophomore slump moment. It became very clear to us that whatever hype we received was a very localized phenomenon, within a specific contemporary art circle. With that second edition, we realized that there was a lot of other work during the year to make these four days successful. That was the moment where we started to take it seriously. I began dedicating a lot more time to the fair and less time to the gallery.
What are some other key moments in the fair’s history?
The 2017 edition was the first time we had Immaterial, a performance program. The fifth edition in 2018 was the one that felt like things really exploded. That was the first edition that we did at the Frontón México, with three levels of scaffolding. That was an insane project. When we started in 2014 in a hotel downtown, I never would have thought that we would do something like that event. We did three fairs there: 2018, 2019, and 2020. The fair was getting better in terms of quality. And then, the pandemic came.
We had been lucky enough to do the fair [in 2020] because it was a month before lockdown. I think it was like in June of that year that we realized this wasn’t a three-week thing and we were all in this for the long haul. That brought a period of self-reflection of what we could do with Material in this new context.
What came of that period of self-reflection?
We surveyed our collectors to get a sense of whether they were already traveling, either domestically or internationally. We were trying to get a sense of the pulse of the actual possibility of trying to realize a fair in the near future. We postponed the 2021 edition to 2022. But, we started thinking about what else we could do, and we realized that a lot of the Mexican collectors were already traveling pretty extensively within Mexico. Our galleries here are having a tough time. What if we tried to do a more nationally focused fair but in other cities? That way it feels like you’re traveling for a fair and we could also highlight other interesting scenes in Mexico. That was the seed for Estación Material in Guadalajara.
We had the relationship with José Noé Suro, who invited us to do the fair and Cerámica Suro. We surveyed the exhibitors after the fair to see if they would like to stay in Guadalajara or go to another city. I think around 95 percent of them said they wanted to stay in Guadalajara.
Another initiative that sprang from the pandemic rumination was a program called Proyectos. Since the beginning, we had a section for artist-run projects at the fair. The spaces from Mexico get a lot out of this. It’s an important entryway for them to grow and be seen. That was the original impulse of the fair back in 2014: let’s highlight this scene of interesting artist-run spaces. With that same spirit, we thought, what if we treated this like a two-year program where we select a group of these independent spaces? They can participate for free in the fair, and they get assigned mentors and have professional workshops—all the stuff that I had no idea about when I started Yautepec in 2008. I had people that could steer me in the right direction, like Fernando Mesta from House of Gaga. I wanted to do that for these independent spaces.
The first edition launched at Estación Material in 2021, and there were 10 projects and 5 mentors, who were also part of the selection committee. It reinstilled my excitement for the whole project that I’ve been working on 10 years. Chérpiri from Michoacán and Salón Silicón from Mexico City are both in now in the Gallery section of the fair.
At Fería Material this week, we’re debuting the second generation of Proyectos. This configuration is a bit different. It’s six spaces with six mentors, and we have a dedicated coordinator for the program now. The cool thing is that this group of six are all from cities outside of the established art capitals in Mexico, like Planta Libre from Mexicali, Sala de Espera from Tijuana, and Azul Arena from Ciudad Juárez. That was part of the discussion with the committee for the second generation. These spaces are important to their local communities, but still kind of isolated because there’s no real contemporary art infrastructure in the cities where operating. So let’s give these projects more visibility, give them access to collectors, curators and a market that can help them sustain their programs year-round.
This year, the fair will once again be at Expo Reforma, where you staged two other editions.
For the ninth edition, we made some important decisions thinking about the 10th edition, not the ninth edition. The ninth would be a transitional year in order to make the 10th really great. That’s why we went back to Expo Reforma. It made sense to be in Juárez, two blocks away from Salón Acme. That’s borne fruit in a nice way because together, we’re doing the International Visitors Program, for which we’ve invited eight institutional curators from different parts of the world to visit. It’s a way for us to pool our resources and do something with more impact than if each fair had done their own thing.
Taking it from the bird’s-eye view, how do you think the fair has evolved with Mexico City’s scene in the past 10 years?
I think that we’re really inseparable from the scene in Mexico City. The scene has strengthened so much, with really strong young galleries, a lot of which were started by people who had worked in other galleries but had their own vision for a program. Many from this group of young galleries in Mexico City are very present on the international fair circuit and are already participating in fairs like Art Basel and Frieze. That’s been interesting because Material started in a bit of a scrappy way. But now, this generation that I grew up with has different needs. They need Material to be a stronger operation and a very professional one, working all year to make those four days successful. We take that obligation and that commitment really seriously.
We have big expectations for this week, and we know it’s going to be good, based on confirmation we’ve had from institutions and collectors. There’s a lot of excitement and hype brewing. I also think that Frieze LA moving back two weeks is also helping. It’s going to help not just us but them too, because it felt like weird, unnecessary competition between the two fair weeks before. Now, there’s a little time to breathe.
Mexico City’s Material Fair Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary