DIY in GDL with TLC

ACNE, OPA, Ex Convento del Carmen Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico July 6- September 21 2007

I recently returned from a long-overdue respite from my education day job, and the stuffy climate (I am not referring to the weather) in these here United Sates and most specifically my lovely Austin, Texas. I ventured to the colonial architecture, kind spirits, and throbbing creature that is Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. I've traveled extensively through the proud nation of Mexico and no matter where I've been, be it, on the Pacific coast in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Monterrey or Mexico City, I've always been welcomed with warm open arms. I've explored the artistic avenues of a country that doesn't receive enough attention for it's creative culture. I've been in awe of the government sponsored creative endeavors of it's pulsing capitol but was genuinely sucker-punched by the do-it-yourself-by-the-bootstraps-seat-of-your-pants experience I had in Guadalajara. I encountered such a charming, welcoming and ALIVE art community there that I was quite tempted to leave the stuffiness of the states and settle in for good!

I'm bound to get some flack for the characterization of the art communities in the United States that will be referenced in this writing, but I am merely acting as a mirror and I probably wouldn't even have noticed or felt the need to bring it up at all had I not had the experience of Guadalajara to make the comparison. But, I did and I do.

In seven days of devouring a city I anticipated would devour me, I ate up countless artful moments and met so many hard working artists and gallerists that, THAT, in itself was a bit of a culture shock. You see, here in the states, the art community is a bit different. How? Well, of course I'm not saying that the Art scene here is lazy--Not at all. We all work just as hard at our creative endeavors, but it seems that no matter how much we put into it, getting our work shown, seen and sold isn't a piece of big fat American cake. How can that be in this land of opportunity in which we live? That's not the American way! Or is it?

One thing that I found quite comforting and impressive was just how much everyone in the Art community in Guadalajara helps and supports each other. I didn't detect a hint of jealous resentment because someone opened up a new gallery or secured a position in a desirable group show. Everyone I met was genuinely happy for their counterparts. Mind you, I'm not saying that NO ONE is of the jealous nature and hordes information that might be beneficial to others, that would just be naive. There was just a pervading sense of community, connection and of being a part of a common struggle. Is this just an extension of the difference between the cold American handshake and the warm Mexican hug that greets you whenever you meet someone new or otherwise? I'll leave that for others to ponder. I just wanted to sit in bliss and encounter the art this nurturing environment has to offer.

Some of the first artspaces I visited were Prana (a cafe/bar boasting a large professional gallery space upstairs) and ACNE (Arte Contemporaneo No Elegante) made up of three smallish gallery spaces and a large reception/party area with seating; both of which were established in converted homes. ACNE was started by a group of friends who throw huge Rock Art parties (a la Good/Bad Art Collective) that draw hundreds of people to dance to local DJ's spins, experience the creative endeavors of the invited artists and YES, buy art as well.

The computer-drawn vinyl adhesive drawings of Memo Casillas at ACNE.

Even some of the more established and better funded artspaces I visited were alive with so much positive energy and much less snobbery than most galleries I've been to in other cities. These people were artists because they have the drive to make art, not because it's a fashionable title to wear on a business card. I even befriended a few very talented and prolific makers-of-art who shied away from even calling themselves the "A" word.

One of my favorite experiences in Guadalajara was at an OPA (Officinas para Proyectos de Arte) show. OPA is described on it's website as a "center for visual arts diffusion, documentation and production..." on the 23rd floor of a business building in middle of the city and offers up an unbeatable panoramic view of the city. One section of the floor has no roof and you are served your cocktail in the open air.

View of Guadalajara from the 23rd floor where the OPA is located

The view must have been at the forefront of the curator's mind when selecting Portuguese artist Pedro Caritas Reis' installation that was up at the time of my visit. Stacks of bricks wrapped in cord after cord of lights; wires tangled and piled all around, tempting to trip your every step. Caritas Reis' "La Ciudad de Adaptor" created a warm and inviting trap that lured the viewer into the knotted "streets" and led to the sporadic pop as people stepped on and shattered light bulbs while they teetered through the glow.

Cabrita Reis' depiction of a sprawling city

Another impressive show I was able to attend was at the Ex Convento del Carmen. The exhibition was entitled "El Espejo de la Memoria" and featured at least 20 artists whose work represented practically every art medium.

Retrato 4, Oil on Wood by Leonardo Morales

Painter Sandra Carvajal’s usual abstract style was represented on fabric by two mixed media works. I had an opportunity to get to know Carvajal when I was in Guadalajara and was quite impressed by her talent as well as her modesty and desire to help other artists' further their careers despite her busy schedule and blossoming artistic success. I also saw some portrait work of hers, which was good, but paled in comparison to what I saw at the Ex Convento del Carmen.

Carvajal's abstract work brings it back to basics.

Finally, Mercedes Bautista did some of my favorite work. Her mixed media dresses created through knitting and incorporated natural objects such as orange peels and leaves are both beautiful and vulnerable at once. They are creation and decay.

Orange you glad this artist is so talented?

Photograph of the foliage attire created by Mercedes Bautista

I know that I will be returning to the beautiful city of Guadalajara, a place typically known for it's colonial period architecture and open plazas where friends and strangers crisscross paths on their way from point a) to point b). I took lots of photos of the beautiful buildings and people in the city, but it is the contemporary art community that beckons my return.

For a city of almost 4 million, it: a) Has the heart of a small town in which everyone not only knows everyone else but they've got each other's back, as opposed to stabbing them in it. b) Is very laid back and things are taken in stride but with dedication and drive. Sounds a lot like how a certain Texas city used to be.

But, even though it has an art community that truly is a COMMUNITY, where working hard (more times than not) DOES bring about success and not just because of who you know, I am here in Austin and hopefully can bring a bit of Guadalajara to my beloved city.•

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