'Golden Age thinking is a denial of the present, the idea that another time was better than now,' said Jenny, an art consultant in jeans quoting from Midnight in Paris. We had in our hands mezcal margaritas, dusted only slightly by ash fallen from the sky. Acid jazz played throughout the modernist house and into the sunbaked garden, where guests mingled amid flowering jacarandas. In the distance: haze, volcanic smoke from Popocatépetl. Suddenly I remembered another scene from that Woody Allen movie, where the protagonist travels back through time to Paris in the 1920s, meets Henri Matisse, and buys a painting from him for $20. Astounded by his good fortune our hero exclaims cannily, 'That sounds fair!'
Jenny noticed a brown banana skin next to a mop and bucket. 'Someone could slip on that,' she said. So she picked it up and dropped it in the bucket. Minutes later, a maid in uniform approached, holding the yellow skin of a newly peeled banana. She arranged it, peel splayed open, across the floor, then toddled off. The sculpture looming on a pedestal nearby, of a skull bricollaged with myriad tiny mirrors, was an artwork. The volcanic boulder crushing a car in front of the house, that was art too. So, evidently, was the banana peel. In fact just about every object in the home of the taco magnate who had opened his doors to visitors to the Zona Maco art fair was made by an artist. As I came to learn during my stay, Mexico City has gone art mad.
In the last two years, four new art museums have opened here. Already boasting the greatest anthropological museum in the world, the city also has more than 30 significant commercial galleries, and if one includes alternative and temporary spaces that number exceeds 100. It now plays host to the dominant art fair in Latin America, snapping at the heels of Miami's Art Basel. At this year's Zona Maco, local hedge fund partners fought for the Anish Kapoors brought over by London's Lisson Gallery. One in-the-know curator remarked, Gagosian-like, that if they'd only brought one more Kapoor they probably could have sold it to the third partner in that firm. Last winter, sensing a stampede mentality, Marilyn Manson, the metal rocker, presented his paintings of decaying figures at a gala exhibition at San Ildefonso. (San Ildefonso is where, in the 1920s, a schoolgirl Frida Kahlo first set eyes on Diego Rivera as he worked on one of his murals depicting class and racial struggles.)
Mexico City has long had an art market. Museo Nacional de Antropología holds pottery shards traded from North and South America and found in excavations of the former Aztec capital. The Spanish made the Aztec Empire's artistic legacy their own treasure. And mid-20th century, Hollywood princes — film-makers such as John Huston — descended buccaneer-like to buy the best of Meso-American art when there was yet no market for it. (Huston, much later, during a divorce settlement, flipped his wife for the lot, lost, and left her with a fortune equal to what he'd made during his directing career.)