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MECA all-embracing art fair persists no amount what you bandy at it.

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The beginning abreast art fair launched aftermost June, one ages afterwards Puerto Rico declared a anatomy of bankruptcy. It alternate this month, November 16-19, 2018, in Old San Juan, fourteen months afterwards the island-wide adversity of Blow Maria. In the face of all this, what does this baby but boss fair accept to offer?

During the final day of the 2018 edition, on a airless Monday afternoon, I sat bottomward with MECA’s co-founders Danny Báez and Tony Rodríguez, in a air-conditioned air-conditioned atom aural the fair. The two unpacked the acquaint of their added go-around.

Tony Rodríguez and Daniel Báez, co-founders of MECA. Address of MECA All-embracing Art Fair. Photo address Eric Rojas.

How does MECA advance on admitting adverse the near-impossible circumstances? “Honestly, appropriate now, this is a affection project. We apperceive that in adjustment for it to appear we accept to booty chancy decisions,” Rodríguez stated. “Right now our active are on a guillotine—it’s lot of burden because you accept to acquisition the audacity to do it. This year, it was actual important to do, afterwards the hurricane. It’s not a capricho [whim]—this is serious.”

Hurricane Maria wreaked calamity on Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, abrogation the accomplished island with flooding, abridgement of ability and water, and at the benevolence of behindhand abatement efforts. Adjusting, MECA took a exhausted and absitively to acknowledgment in November instead of June, to acquiesce for bare recovery.

Atmosphere at the MECA art fair. Image address MECA.

Despite the celebrated damage, the affection post-Maria is upbeat and optimistic. As I affianced with chauffeurs, auberge staff, restaurant servers, and bounded artists during my four-day break in Condado and Old San Juan, about anybody bidding achievement for the future.

Báez and Rodríguez say that their above issues with MECA had little to do with the fallout from the hurricane, and added to do with the about arguable position of an art fair here.

Visitors accessory at assignment at Fierman gallery. Image address MECA.

“The obstacles we face are educating people: ‘What is this?’, ‘What is an art fair?’, ‘Why are galleries advancing to Puerto Rico?’,” Rodríguez asserts.

“We are creating a bazaar because it doesn’t exist. We—at atomic Tony and myself—don’t appear from privilege. Everything has appear from our pockets. We managed to accounts the fair with the admission payments from the galleries,” Báez explains.

Báez says that there has been a little bit of aid from Puerto Rico’s government, but the Tourism Department is the alone annex that has befuddled any abutment to MECA, which is currently the alone all-embracing art fair in the Caribbean.

The berth of Embajada arcade during MECA. Image address MECA.

Báez, a built-in of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Rodríguez, a built-in of Bayamón, Puerto Rico, met in 2015 at the Argentine art fair arteBA, area Rodríguez was assuming as an artisan and Báez was accessory as a Latin American communication for Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. A accord blossomed, and the berry of MECA was planted.

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The MECA art fair team. Image address MECA.

Additionally, the fair is accurate by four amazing women in the arts: Mariángel Catalina Gonzales, MECA’s chief producer; Hazel Colón, MECA’s cultural administrator and development strategist; María Frederique, administrator of business development and strategy; and Laura Rentas, MECA’s PR director. All are allotment of the fair’s controlling aggregation and admonish on key decisions.

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MECA alternate with a blast during its four-day run, with appearance ascent for the added copy to 4,500 from 3,000 in 2017. The fair has several abeyant advantages activity for it, admitting Puerto Rico’s contempo difficulties. For one, it is appointed two weeks afore Art Basel in Miami Beach, authoritative it addition close art break on the art calendar. It’s additionally anchored in Puerto Rico, confined as a aperture to the Caribbean and Latin America but still in the US, which eases logistics.

MECA additionally afflicted venues this year, abrogation the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in Santurce for the celebrated Antiguo Arsenal de la Berth Española, an old Spanish breastwork that serves as a year-round art gallery, amid in arresting Old San Juan. The area is stunning, amid on the baptize amidst by manicured gardens.

Performance by Alexandre Bavard and Trinchera Danza during MECA. Photo by Raquél Pérez Puig. Image address MECA.

“I anticipate alteration the area to Old San Juan was an asset, because of its banal streets,” Rodríguez shares. “You can leave the fair, accept a coffee, appointment El Morro [a 16th-century bastion and ancestry site]. Bodies are blessed with that, because Old San Juan is beautiful. Additionally abounding bodies had never visited this building—even locals active in Puerto Rico never alike knew it existed.”

As an added attraction, this year the countdown MECA Art Talks were captivated at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Speakers included writer/activist Kimberly Drew; Pierre Serrao, of the “culinary collective” Ghetto Gastro; adviser and curator Jae Joseph; and Dexter Wimberly, architect of the Art Apple Conference.

Inside the MECA art fair. Image address MECA.

A deluge of acclaimed New York galleries such as 47 Canal, Bridget Donahue, White Columns, and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise apparent this year at the invite-only fair, alongside bounded San Juan spaces like Embajada and National, as able-bodied as Karen Huber from Mexico City, and Casa Quien from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

At Karen Huber’s beaming booth, Puerto Rican Pop artisan Hector Madera, based in Mexico City, showed off his mutated pop-culture references, e.g. two approach copse and a Nike agitate abiding to resemble a blessed face emoji.

Installation appearance of works by artisan Hector Madera by Karen Huber gallery. Image address MECA.

LatchKey Arcade apparent the adolescent Salvadoran-American painter and SVA apprentice John Rivas, who makes bright and accessible portraits advantageous admiration to ancestors associates and his affiliated roots.

Showing the works of John Rivas at LatchKey Gallery. Image address MECA.

White Columns alternate to MECA with the affecting self-portraits of the backward self-taught Brooklyn artisan Derrick Alexis Coard, who was of Caribbean heritage. The adolescent artisan was diagnosed with schizophrenia and anesthetized abroad accidentally in 2017.

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Works by Derrick Alexis Coard at White Columns. Image address MECA.

Matthew Higgs, White Columns’s controlling director, is a fan of the new fair: “MECA’s focus on the broadcast Caribbean arena is a acute narrative, a focused belvedere that provides White Columns with an befalling to allotment aspects of our mission and programs with new audiences,” he wrote in an email.

MECA Special Projects, broadcast about the fair, featured curator/artist collaborations announcement both mid-career and accustomed Puerto Rican artists. Amid these, Bobby Cruz, a sculptor and painter with Galería Petrus, presented amusing neon sculptures of auto and baptize bead emojis layered over abstruse canvases.

Installation appearance of Bobby Cruz at Galería Petrus. Image address MECA.

Carlos Mercado’s Art is my Religion, was an ballsy accession acquaintance and an ode to divinities of all sorts. Viewers entered a baby abbey on the area of the berth to the sounds of monks chanting and the afterimage of neon-colored religious figures, including St. Francis of Assisi and the Buddha.

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Installation appearance of Carlos Mercado’s Art is my Religion. Image address MECA.

An ballast of the fair was MECANISMOS, a amplitude for adolescent artists to display projects they were developing, alleged by Carla Acevedo-Yates. These included Nyugen Smith and Alexandre Bavard, amid others.

There, a standout was assuredly FEMTRAP by artisan and muralist Sofia Maldonado, a New York- and Puerto Rico-based artisan who explores feminism aural hip-hop and reggaeton culture. FEMTRAP, which emerged from a year-long action of analysis and making, included a video projection, limited-edition merch, and baby drawings.

Installation appearance of Sofia Maldonado’s FEMTRAP. Image address MECA.

The baby works on paper, inspired by Latinx changeable allurement singers, depict bold, colorful, adventurous women, accustomed guns, captivation knives, or smoker weed. In an email, Maldonado wrote that she hoped the avant-garde accession “allows the eyewitness to accept a chat with the drawings.”

Image from Sofia Maldonado’s FEMTRAP series. Image address MECA.

But the affection and body of MECA art anniversary may not accept been the fair itself, but the accessory programming in Old San Juan and Santurce. Beyond the capital fair, grassroots spaces in these neighborhoods took advantage of MECA’s attendance and affianced new audiences.

For the accomplished bristles years, the apish adjacency of Santurce has been bubbles with another art spaces and beautiful restaurants. (Rodriguez, an artisan and above arcade owner, himself operated the above Espacio 20/20 on Calle Cerra.)

Installation appearance of the aperture of Elizabeth Barreto at Taller Malaquita. Image address Doel Vázquez Pérez.

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During the fair, the female-run branch and aggregate Taller Malaquita on Calle Condado afraid from the beam the flags of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Haiti, to appearance pan-Caribbean solidarity. Two of the women who accomplish the space, Zuania Minier and Rosenda Alvarez Faro, alien me to their appearance of Elizabeth Barreto’s feminist illustrations.

Elizabeth Barreto, Lilith. Image address Elizabeth Barreto.

Barreto, who splits her time amid San Juan and Mexico City, creates angry illustrations of Puerto Rican and Mexican women (as able-bodied as feminist icons like the animation appearance Lisa Simpson). “To present this appearance in an all coquette studio/workshop is an befalling to adjust women’s bribery and additionally to abutment bounded art assembly by women artists,” Barreto wrote via email later. “Amplifying what MECA had to offer, the bounded art association accepted what we’re able of.”

Pública, a glassy new amplitude that launched aloof as MECA art anniversary kicked-off, offered two photography-focused exhibits. One was the Natalia Viera-curated “La Ruta del Progreso,” featuring art by Christopher Gregory, Natalia Lasalle-Morillo, and Erika P. Rodríguez, centered on the Puerto Rican landscape. Alongside it was “Our Mind; A Weapon,” by Gabi Pérez Silver, a alternation on brainy health.

The aperture of “Our Mind; A Weapon” by Gabi Pérez Silver at Pública. Image address Pública.

“With these exhibitions we were able to betrayal our charge to social, political, and animal reflection,” Pública’s controlling drector Naima Rodríguez, offers over email. “I anticipate it was a acceptable representation of what the programming of the amplitude will be.”

Meanwhile, in Old San Juan, at La Casa de los Contrafuertes, which is both a pharmacy architecture and an art gallery, the Spanish hacienda-like architecture housed a affluent and abstruse exhibition alleged “Haiti Aqui,” which examines the cultural barter amid Haitians and Puerto Ricans.

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On Calle Fortaleza, the all-embracing amplitude Souvenir 154 shows both anxious art and sells chichi architecture altar by bounded creatives. Visitors can aces up limited-edition towels aggressive by the Puerto Rican run cast Don Q, by adept artisan and San Juan built-in Enoc Perez.

“I’ve never apparent so abounding spaces in Old San Juan and in Santurce activated at the aforementioned time,” Báez told me. “I will say the alliance amid MECA and the bounded art arena is starting to grow… The way that this copy of MECA has impacted the bounded arena for artists is humongous. We accept to accord with bodies angry for openings—who’s accepting what day. The alliance is abundant and now everybody wants to beddy-bye with us.”

Though all this ability assume bush with the account about Blow Maria’s appulse still lingering, on a bounded level, MECA art anniversary delivers a slight bread-and-butter addition as well. Ubers are requested, auberge apartment are booked, bodies eat at aliment trucks during the fair, or banquet in San Juan’s abounding restaurants afterwards. “Cuatro Sombras [a bounded bistro in Old San Juan] has been the busiest coffee boutique in Old San Juan in the accomplished bristles days,” Báez claimed.

Live screenprinting at the Medalla Fresh Art area of MECA art fair. Image address MECA.

“Local businesses, artists and their accessory programming—everyone notices that impact,” Rodríguez said. And it was not aloof the ultra high-end, either, he added, pointing to the appulse on anybody “from the bartender to the bakery buyer on the corner.”

The fair is aloof accepting started, but it’s off to a able start. It seems accessible that MECA will accomplish its goal, of acceptable a mecca for abreast art in the Caribbean.

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