Zélika García (Monterrey, Mexico) is the Director and Founder of Zona Maco Art Fairs in Mexico City. She began Zona Maco Arte Contemporáneo in 2003, Salón del Anticuario in 2014 and Zona Maco Foto in 2015. During her career, Zélika has received honors and awards such as Forbes Magazine’s World’s Most Creative Mexicans and 50 Most Powerful Women in Mexico.
We spoke on August 24 at the Zona Maco Foto fair in Mexico City.
Paula: Tell me about the origin of Zona Maco.
Zelika: Zona Maco began in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico. The first edition was called Muestra. There had been an art fair in the '90s in Guadalajara with really good international participating galleries. It became an important fair but it ended in 1998. I had loved visiting that fair as a student, so around 2000 I started asking around about bringing a fair back to Mexico. I talked to a lot of people and visited a lot of other fairs and finally got 20 galleries together. We spent two years in Monterrey and then moved to Mexico City and changed the name to Zona Maco in 2004. We became more professional, with a selection committee, a collectors program, some new sections dedicated to young artists, and it’s just grown since then.
We added modern art because a lot of more traditional Mexican collectors wanted it, and international collectors were looking for Mexican or Latin American masters. We also added a section dedicated to design so that we could promote design in Mexico. Our focus is international but we try to feature Latin America and bring in Latin American galleries so that they will have exposure in the international market. When you come you will see the established galleries but also discover things that you don’t see everywhere.
Five years ago, we decided there was a need for an antiques fair in Mexico. Contemporary art is based in antiquity after all. We now call it Salon and include a broad range of antiques, from art, ceramics, vinyl records, cars, jewelry. Then we decided to add photography to the mix and started Zona Maco Foto. The contemporary art fair is in February each year, and Salon and Foto are in August/September. The young people that come to see contemporary photography learn about what we have in antiques, and some very traditional antique buyers learn about the new photographers. It has become a really interesting audience.
Paula: Zona Maco is definitely on the map. People tell me that they love to come to the fair and they have a great time being in Mexico City. Last year the New York Times named Mexico City as their number one place to visit. People want to come here. They love the art scene, the restaurant scene. What do you think is driving that?
Zelika: I think it's a combination of many things. The economy in Mexico is good, so more galleries have opened. There's a lot of promotion for the fairs, so more people come, galleries sell more, then there is more art represented and new galleries open. Several photography galleries have opened in the past five years. With more buyers artists can produce more and do bigger projects because they have money, so it’s created an economic cycle.
We are in the center of the world geographically, and we have flights from everywhere, so it's very easy to get here. It’s one of the cities with the most museums in the world. Everybody loves the food. Tequila is very important. Everybody has fun here. They relax. They have fun and they do business, and sometimes when they're having fun, they're doing business. It’s a nice combination, and I think that's why more and more people come every year to Mexico. We are not as expensive as a place like London or Japan because the exchange rate is very favorable for Europeans and Americans. Then of course we have so many amazing beaches, so people come here and then they go to rest. We have a little bit of everything.
Paula: Is there something about the artistic production of Latin America that is unique?
Zelika: I think artists are influenced by the culture where they are. When Gauguin went to Tahiti he produced totally different work. They have something different. I don't know what it is. The colors, the subjects….a lot of Latin American work has to do with religion or politics or traditions. Not in all art, but many artists deal with those types of things. I don't know if that's on purpose or not, but I see it. It’s just what they have around them and where they get their ideas or their inspiration.
Paula: Last year Mexico City had a major earthquake on the opening day of the fair.
Zelika: Yes. It was terrible, first of all, because of all the people that died.
Zelika: It was difficult for us, because so many galleries had traveled here at some expense and they had their booths ready. So we decided not to close the fair. The national period of mourning lasted for three days, and by the weekend, some people who hadn’t experienced loss or damage came and the galleries made sales. There were fewer visitors than usual, but with fewer people they have more time to talk, and in the end the galleries did well. You have to keep on working.
We were, at the same time, sending help to all the damaged areas. Our sponsors helped a lot. We had a water sponsor, so we could send water. People brought things to donate here and we collected cleaning materials. We work with a lot of foundations for different purposes, and all of them were focusing on the earthquake. We tried to do as much as we could.
Paula: What are some of your biggest challenges in running a big art fair?
Zelika: I’ve now done more than 25 fairs, so I have a lot of experience and many other people to help. We’ve been doing this for a while, so working with the galleries is something we know how to do. We have a committee and curators and have good systems. There are always last minute things that happen but you just solve them. We try to do everything as best as we can. One of the biggest challenges is just taking care of everybody. We have a good staff to handle things, but there is always someone that needs more special attention or wants me to take them around the fair personally. That's the complicated part for me. It’s not because I can’t do it or don’t want to, I just don’t have the time, because there is only one of me.
Paula: What's your background? Did you go to art school? Did you want to be an artist yourself?
Zelika: Yes, I wanted to be an artist. I thought I wanted to be an architect and then I found out there was an artist degree program in Monterrey. So I said, "Wow, you can study art." I never thought I could study art. Since I was young, I’ve loved to paint and invent things, so I decided to go to art school to be an artist. All my classes were in making ceramics, marble sculptures, wood sculptures, drawing, everything. So I didn't learn anything else, and when I started the fair, I had to learn. I didn't know anything. I only knew how to paint and sculpt. I was a good artist, I think.
Paula: Do you still make things?
Zelika: No, no. I had really good colleagues in college and I learned a lot from them. I had three or four exhibitions, exhibited here and there, and won a prize in Monterrey, but then when I started the fair I decided I didn't want to be an artist. It's very hard.
Paula: Do you have any advice for someone who might come to an art fair for the first time about how to approach it?
Zelika: I think the easiest way is to just look at what you like. Everybody tries to advise everybody else on what to buy. If you are buying art as an investment you still have to like it if you are going to own it. Maybe it won’t go the way you thought it would and you cannot sell it when you want to. In the end, you have to buy an artwork that you really enjoy. If one day you want to sell it that's fine, but if you don't, you'll still be happy to have it. If you only buy what you think you can sell then you choose the wrong thing. Also before buying, I learn something about the artist. Investigate what galleries represent him or her, what shows they have done, whether there is a catalog printed. It’s different for a young artist just starting out, but because of the money that you’re spending you need to be informed. Even if you love a work and can afford it, I think you need to do a little research before buying.
Paula: I think it's a myth that you can just sell your art collection whenever you want.
Zelika: Right. It’s not real. In the end, for me, personally, if you are making a collection, it's because you want to have it. I don't want to sell it, because I really love it. Art fairs are a great place to learn because many artists are there in the same place for several days. You may have galleries from 25 different countries and artists from 100 different countries. Sometimes they are even in the booth. You will never get to see so much art in so little time. If you're in a gallery, you only see that one artist. If you're in a fair you can compare. If you visit the fair several times you start to really get a sense of what you like. First you love ten, then you love five, and then ultimately you like two.
Paula: That's true. Certain ones will stick. You have such a distinct logo for Zona Maco. How did you come up with it?
Zelika: A designer called Ignacio Cadena created it. We have worked together since he started his design firm when I was starting Muestra. When we became Zona Maco he came up with this design and we have never changed it, though we have done many variations. It’s very Mexican.
Paula: Is there anything else you want people to know?
Zelika: Just that we really would like them to come to our fairs!