How Guadalajara’s Craft Art History and Close-Knit Community Fosters Collaboration
BY MAXIMILÍANO DURÓN
June 29, 2021 11:20am
For a survey of what lies ahead as the art world looks forward to the future, ARTnews devoted part of the June-July 2021 issue of the magazine to 10 cities to watch: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Vancouver, Guadalajara, Bogotá, Oslo, Tallinn, Casablanca, Abu Dhabi, and Taipei. Stay tuned as each city joins related reports from Seoul and Paris online in the weeks to come.
One hour by plane from Mexico City and 200 miles from Puerto Vallarta on the West Coast, Guadalajara—Mexico’s seventh-largest city—has long held a special place in the country’s art scene as a center for traditional crafts (ceramics, textiles, etc.) and the hometown of vaunted artists like José Clemente Orozco, Luis Barragán, María Izquierdo, and Chucho Reyes. Now, thanks to its inviting weather, a growing food scene, and a surge of tech development, Guadalajara is even more a hotspot with a close-knit artist community drawn by an affordable cost of living and opportunities for collaboration with other artists and workshops around town.
Artists in Charge
With a developing but still small commercial market and the absence of institutional infrastructure of the kind that might be expected in a city of its size (1.4 million), artists effectively run Guadalajara’s art scene. “Art production is at the core of Guadalajara,” said Jose Dávila, an artist who was born in the city and chose to make it his home after spending time in Berlin. “Guadalajara is not controlled by institutions, collectors, or curators, as many art capitals are. [It’s] controlled by artists and production ateliers—a completely different balance.”
It was not always so. “Some of the most important and relevant artists in Mexico of the last 150 years are from Guadalajara, but the city was not good to artists,” said José Noé Suro, who runs a decades-old family ceramics workshop called Cerámica Suro. “Everybody left as soon as they could.” But the city’s openness to different ways of working has become an asset. “It’s a city where you can afford to make a mistake,” Suro said. “You can try something and it’s not going to be crazy expensive. In Mexico City or New York, it’s too expensive for artists to make a mistake, so there’s less opportunity to experiment. Guadalajara is a small scene—if someone needs something, we call each other to try to solve the problem. There’s a spirit of collaboration at all levels.”
The nature of that collaboration has evolved. Artist Claudia Cisneros noted a shift in the “very strong male energy” that she traditionally associated with painters and sculptors in the city. “It was always a fight to produce here, but I feel like it’s changing,” she said of a scene seeing more and more work by women supported by curators like Paulina Ascencio Fuentes, an independent curator who recently finished studies at Bard College in Upstate New York, and Lorena Peña Brito, a curator at the well-regarded institution PAOS GDL.
Guadalajara’s connection to artesanías, or handmade crafts, is inextricable from its artistic identity, and informs the ways in which many artists in the city think and create work—with little division among the artist community between so-called fine art and traditional crafts. Founded in the 1950s and still integral today, Cerámica Suro is among the city’s most important institutions as a world-renowned ceramics factory that also works with artists. José Noé Suro, at the helm, originally studied to be a lawyer before feeling the pull back to his family’s workshop, where he had spent his free time as a kid. He told his father (the company founder) that he would like to join the business officially, on the condition that he could begin collaborating with artists. Suro started small: one artist would tell another, he said, and soon after, the word-of-mouth spread. “It was very organic, and 100 percent enthusiasm,” he said.
Now, 25 years later, Cerámica Suro has a long list of collaborations to tout with major artists including Jose Dávila, Jorge Pardo, Marcel Dzama, Pae White, Sarah Morris, Beatriz Milhazes, and the late Jason Rhoades, whom the workshop has assisted in fabricating large-scale mosaic and ceramic commissions. Cerámica Suro recently helped create work for the lobby of a new building in New York: in a design for Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, architect David Adjaye reached out to Suro to translate a trove of historic photos from the union’s archive into floor-to-ceiling ceramic murals, which involved digitizing old black-and-white images and transferring them to thousands of two-inch tiles.
The influence of traditional crafts is also apparent in the work of current Guadalajaran artists. Cynthia Gutiérrez has embedded textiles in large volcanic rocks for a series titled “Todos los siglos son un solo instante” (All centuries are a single moment), 2019, and she created sculptures with woven textiles using centuries-old techniques that were mounted on pedestals for the series “Cántico del descenso” (Canticle of the descent), 2014, which was exhibited in the 2017 Venice Biennale.
Isa Carrillo, another artist connected to artesanías through her parents, expressed a connection to craft. “My work is unconsciously related,” she said, “because I like to work with my hands.” Carrillo has been incorporating embroidery into her work over the last several years: For a 2019 series titled “Numerology. Portraits of the Psyche,” Carrillo—who is also an expert in numerology and palm reading—maps the number charts of people separated by time who share the same numbers and, by extension, personality traits. (Past connections she’s made include Josefa Tolrá with Hilma af Klint, and Simone Weil with Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.) Carrillo said the process allows her to create joint portraits of notable figures while seeing “beyond the faces they have.”
Seeds of an Ecosystem
An important catalyst for today’s Guadalajara scene was Oficina para Proyectos de Arte (OPA),an artist-run space opened by Gonzalo Lebrija, Fernando Palomar, and Jose Dávila that proved influential during its 2002–11 run. It brought artists like Anri Sala, Dora García, and Carlos Bunga to Guadalajara to create work, and hosted talks on contemporary art practice. “We were very aware that in order to stay in the city and be able to fulfill everything that Guadalajara offers, we needed to generate an ecosystem,” Dávila said.
“For me it was very important to go to OPA’s openings because it allowed us to see how other artists worked,” said Cynthia Gutiérrez, who learned formative lessons there and cofounded her own (since-shuttered) artist-run space.
The spirit of artist-run spaces continues to thrive today. Since 2015, PAOS GDL—a self-described nonprofit “civil association that promotes different contemporary artistic manifestations, cultural research, and production”—has drawn artists to spend time in a residency program and to mount exhibitions in the late José Clemente Orozco’s home and studio. It now counts among the city’s most exciting venues for viewing new art, with recent shows by the likes of Henry Taylor, Carmen Argote, Eamon Ore-Giron, Guadalupe Rosales, and affiliates of the art publication Terremoto.
This spring, taking inspiration from the erstwhile Oficina para Proyectos de Arte (OPA), artists Gabriel Rico and Javier M. Rodriguez opened a nonprofit space called Ayer with an exhibition by Mexico City–based artist Melanie Smith. Set in a former Coca-Cola storage warehouse, the new space will be dedicated to moving image, video, and installation projects, with a mind toward promoting a medium that has not always been front and center in Guadalajara. “I want to give something of myself to the city,” Rodriguez said. “Here, our circumstances make us more connected—it’s a very organic way of trying to make community out of a common purpose.”
Another important aspect of Guadalajara’s history is that it was the site of Mexico’s first art fair, Expo Arte, which started in the early 1990s, and influenced a generation of young artists who were living in the city at the time. Each iteration of Expo Arte was accompanied by a symposium on contemporary art, and Cynthia Gutiérrez, who attended the final two versions while a student at the University of Guadalajara, described the gatherings as “a shock and a turning point for the way I thought about art at that moment.”
Though the fair was short-lived, Guadalajara started the still-going annual tradition of festivities staged under the umbrella name PreMaco after Mexico City’s Zona Maco fair launched in 2002. The week before each year’s Zona Maco, Guadalajara’s small group of commercial galleries (Galería Curro, Gamma Galería, Páramo, and Travesía Cuatro among them) join artist-run spaces, craft ateliers, and artists’ studios in opening up to visitors to showcase the best of what the city has on offer.
A version of this article appears in the June/July 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “The Artist Haven: Guadalajara.”