Manuel Mendoza, "La Casita Blanca," at Embajada, MECA International Art Fair

At MECA Art Fair, A Feeling of Coming Together

On its third year, the fair in San Juan, Puerto Rico, continues to explore how to bring together the international art market and the local culture.

by Sebastian Meltz-Collazo
Nov 24 2019, 10:45am

Manuel Mendoza, "La Casita Blanca," at Embajada, MECA International Art Fair

As the cool, coastal breezes of winter begin to blow through the streets of Old San Juan, an international art fair with a grassroots story celebrates its third edition on the island of Puerto Rico. MECA (short for "Mercado Caribeño," or Caribbean Market) began with hopes of creating a bridge between artists and cultural producers in the area and those in established markets in the US and Latin America. As a result, the event has offered diverse presentations of art with galleries such as 47 Canal and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York, Proyectos Ultravioleta from Guatemala City, Sagrada Mercancía in Santiago, Chile, and local galleries like Km 0.2, National, and others. It is key to point out that this still fairly new event has operated during the past three years within the context of an economic crisis, a hurricane that swept the island months after the fair’s first edition, and a series of protests by the people of Puerto Rico during this past summer. As artists, curators, and gallerists native to the island have had to adjust their lives in different ways, MECA has also created a bridge with the community directly around the fair and with those who’s practices are elsewhere amidst these circumstances.

Nolan Simon's 2019 "Spagliati," showing at 47 Canal's booth at MECA.

From the start, MECA has included satellite projects as part of their overall programming. With galleries across the San Juan metro area running shows and installations in parallel with the fair, this opens a broad window into the contemporary, cultural production occurring in the island’s capital. In addition to this, an educational program, and art talks with professional across specialized fields, the fair announced its first ever Illustration Art Show for 2019. This addition to the fair’s programming comes as a response to the need for a space to present the works of talented artists without gallery representation, as well as a market towards accessible art collecting.

Within one of the two main exhibitor spaces, Embajada’s (Spanish for embassy) proposal for this year includes over 30 different artists, with a majority of them being Puerto Ricans living in and outside of the island. With its salon-style presentation, the Hato Rey-based gallery gathered numerous works from different disciplines, styles, and background— a daring feat, as many of these pieces often do not co-exhibit in the same room. Directors Christopher and Manuela Paz-Rivera took this as an opportunity to showcase pieces by artists they represent as well as past collaborators and emerging talents on one wall under one common thread to encompass the theme: black & white.

Mecanismos”, curated by Lizania Cruz and Luis Graham Castillo, is a platform within the fair where emerging spaces and curators can show works by up-and-coming artists, Sofía Reeser del Río presents the third iteration of her series “Localidad Alterna” (Alternate Location). The show invites fair-goers to reflect on their relationships to land in Puerto Rico and its current conflicts of use through different points of view from which we can connect to the Earth. Working from above the surface, Frances Gallardo intervenes on satellite images of rivers and valleys. She extrapolates embedded codes from the lines and patterns in these in order to reinterpret their logic as visual language. While on the ground, Zaida Goveo works with the natural materials surrounding her. Using traditional weaving techniques and repetition as means towards production, Goveo meditates with the leaves and stems she collects- realizing all the potential these elements have and the importance of these processes as reflections on oneself.

By offering spaces for projects like this to shine, MECA makes it possible for a Puerto Rican curator working in Madrid, such as Reeser, to exhibit the works of two Puerto Rican women based in Ithaca, NY and Bayamón, PR respectively. Along with the other galleries and projects, the fair provides a platform to converse about the situations at hand with regards to art in the Caribbean, finding equilibrium with general markets, etc. And with these dynamics, it’s become a place to reconvene after events occurring in the country. Whether through the work presented or over long conversations under Caribbean rain, participants with ties to Puerto Rico in some form shared their current experiences and thoughts on how to approach their connections to the island through their practices. While everyone works on their own endeavors during the year, wherever that entails, MECA at times can feel as if gathering together for Sunday dinner after having not seen each other for a long time (which is actually the case at times). And although there are difficulties with producing an art fair under such circumstances, in the end, isn't art supposed to be what brings people together? At MECA, it is.

MECA International Art Fair