The Mexico-Canada Art Connection: What's Going on Here?!

The Mexico-Canada Art Connection: What's Going on Here?!
(Jason de Haan, "I know all the songs that the cowboys know ‘cause I heard them on the radio")

While “North America” often sees the second of those two words given greater emphasis than the first, here in Canada, we tend  to favor the former, naturally. But lately our focus, culturally, is slipping a little further south than the 49th parallel: to Mexico. As an increasing number of Canadian artists and curators are exhibiting down south and exchanges from there to here also pick-up in frequency, something is indisputably happening.

While culturally, we struggle with similar issues of autonomy (against a larger, more influential neighbor) and provinciality (in the art world), seldom do we take the time to compare notes. In recent years, however, the number of Canadian artists exhibiting in Mexico demands our attention. ARTINFO Canada has been keeping tabs, and is ready to report.

There has long been interest in what’s going on in one another's countries. Toronto-based curator and artist Xenia Benivolski says that after assembling an exhibition of Canadian art in Queretaro, Mexico, “It quickly became apparent that the people in Queretaro had an interest and curiosity in Canadian culture.” The 2011 exhibition was appropriately titled “Mística canadiense” (Canadian Mystic).

“Mexico is quite open and interested in seeing what’s going on in Canada,” concurs multi-disciplinary artist, Alberto Guedea Zamora, who lives in Toronto and works between Canada and Mexico. Zamora has been exhibited often in Mexico, and is preparing for a show this month at the Museo Fernando del Paso in Colima. “On the other hand,” Zamora hedges, “very little is known [of Canadian artists] -- two or three names at the most. Artists who we take for granted in Canada, contemporary or otherwise, most people have never heard of -- unlike artists from the US or Europe.”

But this is beginning to change, as Canadian and Mexican curators look to other centers of art, and forge connections at the increasing number of biennials, residencies, and forums cropping up internationally. Benivolski describes the phenomenon as “a sort of informal exchange,” and by way of example, points to a recent Banff residency where artists Matt Crookshank, Jason de Haan, and Miruna Dragan met representatives of the Museo de la Ciudad Queretaro. Not coincidentally, Crookshank appeared in “Mística canadiense” (alongside such artists as Ulysses CastellanosTerrance Houle, and Tyler Clark Burke), while De Haan and Dragan exhibited in Queretaro this July, as well.

What is different and what is shared, in terms of our art production? Performance and video artist Castellanos reports on media: "Graphic arts are as huge down there as video art is up here," he says. "The graphic artists are considered contemporary artists, period. There's also a huge conceptual and performance scene down there, and a ton of collectives." Of their perception of Canadians, "we're seen to be exotic, down there, honestly."

Art fairs, especially those in Basel and Miami, have propelled Canadian artists into representation in Mexico City. Galeria OMR is an especially hot spot, representing new media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, painter Graham Gillmore, and exhibiting installation artists and collaborators Jennifer Marman & Daniel Borins. The West Coast's Geoffrey Farmer also made an appearance in Mexico City in 2012, and Adad Hannah is currently exhibiting at Cenart in Mexico City, as well as a new commission featured in late August at the Museo Tamayo.

Our Canadian artists seem to be keeping good international company. Gillmore is represented by OMR alongside such international heavyweights as Candida Höfer, and Hannah says he’s particularly “excited about the Museo Tamayo show, as it groups me with Tacita Dean, Ceal Floyer, Thomas Demand, Douglas Gordon, Lucia Fontana, Wifredo Prieto, Superflex, and Andrea Fraser.”

While in English Canada there have been few official Mexican-Canadian collaborations, in Quebec there are some long-standing relationships and programs between Mexican and Quebecois institutions. Claude Bélanger, founder and artistic director of Manifestation internationale d’art de Québec (MIAQ), the Quebec City biennial, indicates that such collaborations have been occurring since at least 2001. Cultural exchanges are now receiving support from both Quebec and Mexican state governments, the fruit of which was most recently “Candide/Candido,” organized this year by Bélanger and MIAQ at Festival Cultural de Mayo in Guadalajara. Other institutionalized exchanges have included Concordia University students exhibiting at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and a residency program operated by the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) and Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (FONCA), which saw Aaron Pollard and Stephen Lawson of in Mexico City this year.

Why hasn’t this level of collaboration happened elsewhere in Canada? Says Benivolski, “The majority of the difficulty [in establishing a formal exchange] comes from the discrepancy between Canadian and Mexican funding bodies. But there are definitely attempts at establishing a program.”

There’s a lot to be gained by the continued presence of Canadian art and artists in Mexico, not least being increased international exposure. Canadians have a lot to learn from Mexican art lovers. “At the opening of ‘Mística canadiense,’ the crowd that showed up for the reception was varied-- families, children, neighbors, artists and others.” Borins has the reason why: “Mexican art openings are really fun.”