Collecting special: Flying time

The Latin American art fair Pinta launches its second London edition on June 6, kicking off the art fair season here. Pinta London, an offshoot of New York’s Pinta fair, got off to a shaky start last year with a number of exhibitors complaining about low footfall. Big names such as White Cube and Haunch of Venison are not coming back this year, and there are only four London exhibitors, including returnee Maddox Arts. Mario Palencia of Maddox says that last year he saw many “good collectors”: “It inevitably takes time to establish a fair like this,” he notes. On the other hand, Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese galleries said they were delighted with their first outing and are present again this year.

There is little doubt that interest in Latin American art is growing; Tate’s Latin American acquisitions committee is very active and Paris’ Pompidou Centre has started buying art from the region. The University of Essex also has a collection, and is organising a series of lectures and debates on the subject during the fair. And collectors, particularly from Brazil and Mexico, are making an impact on the art world far beyond their frontiers. Bernardo Paz, who founded the sculpture park/museum Inhotim in the Brazilian jungle, and the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim Helú, who recently opened a huge museum in Mexico City, are both noted collectors.

So spirits are high among the 60 exhibitors at Pinta, and there is some intriguing work promised. In the Solo Projects section, Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander’s interactive piece “Prosopopéia” is like a game with various organic materials (oranges, eggs, soap) which can be arranged to make words. The young London gallery Edel Assanti is showing “Iglesia de los Últimos Días” by the Guatamalan artist Stefan Benchoam, in the form of a neon-adorned, skewed cross; Madrid’s Bianca Berlin is showing colourful photos by Cássio Vasconcellos. And there will be more historic works, such as Botéro’s “Man with the Guitar” (1989), on show with Botota’s LGM Arte Internacional. According to Mario Herlitzka, one of the fair’s directors, offerings will span the 1960s to the present, with prices from £1,000 to £50,000 or more.

Pinta London runs June 6-9

Eugenio López Alonso

The trailblazer for Mexican collectors is certainly Eugenio López, the only heir to the Mexican Jumex fruit juice conglomerate. He was destined to take over the firm, which has made the family billionaires, but his interests were elsewhere and he gradually overcame his father’s initial reticence towards collecting art. “When I showed him that the art I was buying was also a good investment, he came around a little,” says López. His father gave him a building in one of his juice factories, which he converted into a museum; over the last 20 years he has spent some $80m on art. The 2,450-strong holdings – which range from the 1960s minimalism of Ryman, Judd and Flavin, to Californians McCarthy and Kelly and Mexican artists Orozco, Guzman and Amorales – are held in a collection/foundation at the factory in an industrial suburb an hour from Mexico City. But at the end of next year López will open a new museum in a 4,000 sq m, $20m David Chipperfield-designed building in the centre of Mexico City.

“I was inspired by seeing the Saatchi collection in the 1990s,” says López. “At the time there was nothing similar in the Latin American field. I wanted to show what was going on in this world.”

With the help of the French-born, US-based advisor, Patricia Marshall, López not only collects but commissions works. “Thanks to Eugenio, there has been a monumental change in Mexico: it’s no longer a third-world country in the art world,” says Marshall.

César Cervantes

Outside César Cervantes’ home in a leafy residential district in Mexico City stands a car crushed by an eight-ton boulder – Jimmie Durham’s “Still Life with Spirit and Xitle” (2007). It is a fitting introduction to a house in which art definitely takes first place. The dining room table is topped with a crazed-looking “Uncle Sam” in a glass dome, a mechanised insect buzzing around it (Danny McDonald); an axe with a floppy handle is embedded in a wall (Daniel Ortega): on the roof is a commissioned mirrored cube by the Polish artist Monika Sosnowska. In the kitchen, to the bemusement of the help, chunky black dildos sit in the dishwasher, a work by the conceptual French artist Claire Fontaine.

Cervantes – who owns the Taco Inn chain – says that his interest in contemporary art was fired in 2000 when he visited the Paris FIAC, encouraged by Eugenio López. “I met On Kawara there,” he says. “Until then I was interested in modern Mexican artists – after that I came home and took down everything I had bought before,” he says.

Now his taste runs to the highly conceptual, and it is gradually taking over his home. One room has been converted into a projection room for Anri Sala’s 2003 film “Give me the Colours” shot in Albania; even the garden is inhabited with art, with a Guzman orange tent and a Miranda Cuevas tree and fluttering white flag.

Boris Hirmas

Boris Hirmas, 48, comes from a family of entrepreneurs and grew up surrounded by traditional art, with the result that when he started collecting it was in the traditional, decorative art field. But in 2003 he shifted into contemporary art. “I became so interested in these works and how they made me reflect on our everyday issues, that I started seeing them as knowledge tools to explore the way society evolves,” he says.

Part of his 200-strong collection is housed in the offices from which he runs the family financial services company in Mexico City. Entering, you have to almost step over the art, starting with Carlos Amorales’ “Dark Mirror” (2008), a floor piece in the form of a shattered bird: on the wall hangs a windscreen cracked with gunshots, a found object from 2005 by Teresa Margolles. One room of the offices is set aside for contemplation, darkened and with a backlit photograph of a permafrosted cave by Etienne Chambaud: “On Hospitality (The Hors-Champ. Landscape)” (2010). In the room is a bench by Teresa Margolles, a foremost Mexican artist whose work involves death and its rituals. The simple-looking piece is in fact made with cement and the water used for washing corpses in a morgue. Hirmas is a member of Tate’s Latin American acquisitions committee, but collects internationally – across from his desk is a vast, expressionistic work by the Austrian Hermann Nitsch. “I am so happy Mexico has a stronger art scene today,” he says.

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