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“Spirit Dance" (Conflict Resolution)
Grafito sobre papel
It’s no secret the art world is changing. The professional field and market are growing new spaces and initiatives that dynamize and transform the ways of consuming information and content related to the art scene. We had a conversation with Mateo Pizarro, founding partner of Casa Pixán, one of the most outstanding projects this last season’s Art Fairs in Mexico City.
Catalina:Mateo, tell us a little about how Casa Pixán started.
Mateo: My partner Fernanda Carri and I were invited to participate in an exhibition. We were promised heaven and earth, and two months later, one of the organizers stopped answering our calls. Carri and I were very disappointed. I asked her and we decided that we would continue with the project, we considered the possibility of inviting more artists to exhibit; The fundamental criteria being who we’d like to exhibit with. And so it was born.
For the curatorial process we asked artists for a list of available work to identify thematic or common interest lines. There’s always one or two present in most of the works, regardless of the variety of countries and approaches.
We hosted the first Casa Pixan in an 1880 house on Bucareli Street in Mexico City. There we realized we’d like to explore spaces different from the typical white cube. We found it interesting to explore architectures loaded with a spirit, a history.
In this second edition, the house is from 1930, abandoned, (not quite but let's say, in a semi-dilapidated state). Half of the house is going to be demolished, but that’s what makes it interesting, because it creates a tone, a texture, it offers certain things that would be damaged in a gallery. For example, the space gives artists working with installation infinite possibilities.
Cata: You share El Consultorio -another very interesting artist studio project-, with someone we love very much: Horacio Quiróz and others who I think have exhibited at Casa Pixan as well. Do you consider this project its predecessor?
Horacio Quiroz / “Paleta 02”, 2020
Óleo sobre tela
Mateo: Yes, I think what I’m trying to do is find projects that I can assemble into an architecture of related ventures that can rely on each other.
Having El Consultorio allows me to be in closer and permanent contact with the artists and their processes; it has helped me think about how to use exhibition spaces not commonly used to display works of art; And in strictly practical terms, once the exhibition is disassembled, I bring some of the pieces here for our showroom, which works really well.
In the case of Horacio, the first time we mostly exhibited his classic work, which is well known, in which characters are transformed into something else, and have realistic elements, let’s say. In this second edition we decided to display his more experimental pieces, some really good abstracts, faster painting, different explorations of the forms we’re used to. He’s so talented, every time he tries something new, it works perfectly.
Francisco Esnayra / “Cápsula de Mamey(I)”, 2018
Resina de Poliester
Cata: Artist Run Spaces have been instrumental in consolidating artists’ careers; They’re kind of an exhaust valve allowing for a place to explore proposals that aren’t necessarily mainstream. However, they represent a search for legitimation rather than market. Is it possible today’s artists are organizing and creating these kinds of spaces to take control of their own market, now that technology and social media facilitate it?
Mateo: I think so. I think there’s a hybridization about the functions of Artist Run Spaces that serve us. Digital tools have allowed us to be in contact with people who are interested in buying.
I think we have one foot on one side and one foot on the other; because exploring one's creativity regardless of whether it sells or not is fundamental to us. Each artist experiments; But I do believe that today the market is taking another form that’s very interesting.
One of the advantages a space like Pixan offers is that it gives the public a very authentic experience, which can make spaces like this viable on a commercial level, which allows the artist to appropriate their own market.
It’s still difficult, though. You have to generate strategies to access collectors and ultimately, I still believe gallery owners find it beneficial to partner up with these kind of spaces. Of course, it has to be a particular gallery owner profile; one who doesn’t live in the old method of handling things, but is open to the artist having freedom. We actually are looking to collaborate with gallery owners. We could maybe help our artists exhibit in other countries with those galleries and bring their artists here to exhibit. We’re actually looking at what kind of business model we can develop with the directors of my gallery in Monterrey.
The previous model went into a necessary crisis and has to be renewed. I don't know if everyone is interested figuring out what that renewal is, there are people still fixed in the past; but we’re at least interested in figuring out how we can invite the market to participate and carry out all kinds of projects; whether they’re commercial or not.
“Sumergido 2” / “Procedimiento I” / “Procedimiento II”, 2019
Color pencil on paper
Cata: That point you mention about the galleries is so important. In the past, galleries had exclusive access to collectors, public relations, they owned the spaces, everything. And for artists, it was very difficult to negotiate and they had no choice but to accept unworthy practices. Don’t you think? For example, artists would compromise their exclusivity, sacrifice 50% (and sometimes even up to 60%) of the price as the gallery’s commission, payments would sometimes be delayed, cover the costs of production, packaging, assembly, etc. We’ve heard so many horror stories. So many harmful and unfair practices.
Today is different, Instagram allows artists to be in a position to negotiate; in many cases, they’ll expect more than sales from a gallery since they already have this issue resolved. And that’s why gallery owners have had to raise their offer, bring other things to the table to keep the artist’s exclusivity, especially for those doing very well. What do you think about this?
Mateo: Yes! I completely agree. Instagram has modified the market. It happened to me, too. I’ve had periods in which I don’t need a gallery for sales and that gives me the option to choose who I want to work with. I don’t have to work with anyone out of necessity.
Floria Gonzalez / “Planet Earth” (Superimpose series), 2017
Cata: Instagram has influenced the way in which art is consumed and sold, but do you think it’s also influenced style? I mean, artists are modifying their production in order to be instagrammable: you know, so that it looks good particularly on Instagram?
Mateo: Yes, I think so, and that’s important. However, I don't think it's only happening to artists, it’s happening to the art world in general. Museums are looking for instagrammable shows; It’s a phenomenon that’s transformed the way we see and consume art and images at all levels.
I definitely feel there’s artists who’ve modified themselves to fit into Instagram’s visibility algorithm. I can relate because it’s difficult to resist doing so, but it seems dangerous to me. I think it’s a double-edged sword. I find it interesting what social media can generate in terms of new trends, it allows us to see things we hadn’t seen before. But at the same time, it seems the criteria for how visible a piece becomes is exclusive to how instagrammable it is. In that sense, there’s some loss of honesty in the work, because it modifies an artist’s presentation.
It’s overwhelming! If we play the algorithm game, we’ll all end up looking like the rest and that is shit!
Cata: Sometimes I think it’s obviously bad and you have to be critical of social media; but at the same time, I think it’s a reflection of our own historical moment; so it’d be absurd for an artist to not express him or herself in response to what we’re living right now.
Mateo: Of course, you can use the algorithm to your advantage. Create an aesthetic experience that may, precisely, be making a comment or meta-comment about the use of the algorithm.
For example, in our current exhibition,there’s a super instagrammable piece and everyone wants to take pictures with it. It’s a forest built inside a room with a small lagoon in the middle with a mirror. The piece is called Narcissus.
Whitney Lewis Smith /Narcisus, 2020
The artist Whitney Lewis-Smith talks about how we are participants of environmental decisions. Some people do realize the act of going to a place in nature to take a picture is what actually destroys the place, which we’d like to preserve in an image. The act raises consciousness by pointing out how our gaze is not neutral.
In Colombia, for example, there’s a colorful river called Caño Cristales, it’s spectacular. When it became safe to go, it got riddled with Land Rover’s 4x4 adventure tours, which are, of course, destroying the place.
It’s important to be attentive in our time. At the same time, being too critical of the elements it offers us leads us along the wrong path. Technological tools must be used intelligently; they can help us raise awareness about certain problems.
Gonzalo García / “La mujer ofrenda III”, 2020
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Cata: You're right, it is interesting. Coming back to the subject of Casa Pixan and the market, how are you doing in terms of sales?
Mateo: We did very well in the first edition. We exhibited during Gallery Weekend CDMX and it went better than many established galleries’ exhibitions. In the second edition, it’s been a bit more difficult. Yes, we’ve sold some work, there are pieces being negotiated slowly, but we should take into account the fact that we held the event during the fair season, when the cultural offer is vast. For this reason, we scheduled it to last the whole month, instead of just this week, for those who haven’t had a chance to come see the show.
Floria González / (Lost in Strata Series), 2018
Cata: Do you plan to explore online selling?
Mateo: We’re working on the website, which we launched a few days before the opening. We’re seeing how those tools can facilitate sales.
Cata: There are many advantages to social media today; integrations that allow Storytelling such as blog, podcast, videos, live streaming, etc. You, Horacio, Floria and other artists at Casa Pixan do very well on Instagram. How do your personal experiences contribute to this new project?
Mateo: We’re developing in communication strategies and social media. In that sense Carri, my partner, is very smart. However, we know a personal profile is different from a project one. They don’t work the same. Personal profiles have to be spontaneous; Casa Pixan requires premeditated forms of communication so that the story is understandable when transmitted, rather than a blast of images.
It’s an aspect we’ve been slowly tuning and a learning process that we’re still working on, and until now, has been fundamental in reaching interested people, so they can come and get to our the project. Our main goal is connect the work of our artists with the public.. That's what interests us most.
Tatiana Camacho / “Wayana” *marco de terrazo negro , 2019
Cata: How often will you have exhibitions? How many do you plan to hold per year?
Mateo: It depends a lot on the spaces we can get, but I think we’re going to host two or three editions per year. I trust that they’ll be lent to us (because It has been easy to find spaces, thanks to Apex, who are our partners in this edition), we’re not interested in just delivering-on-schedule, we’re interested in bringing artists together and that aspect is more complex.
Cata: How long will the exhibition last?
Mateo: The exhibition will be up until the 5th of March. We have guided tours during weekdays in which we talk about the thematic lines and explain everything, and of course people can also walk at their own pace otherwise.
On weekends it’s open from 11am to 6pm and on weekdays by appointment.
Translated by Ivonne Ballí