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Curatorial Practices
Conversations: Gonzalo Lebrija, artist and co-director of OPA
by Magali Arriola

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MA: There is a new generation of artists beginning to organize itself and opening their own independent spaces. What is the situation of young artists working nowadays in Guadalajara?

GL: What youí­re mentioning has been the course of action for several generations. The first was that of Jalarte, a group that opened a small space called NAP, which invited local and national artists to exhibit. Afterwards came the group Incidental —to which I belonged- the majority of whom were architects searching for spaces such as abandoned houses or squash courts in which to hold exhibitions. Afterwards came La Automovilí­stica, opened by José Pérez in a former used car lot with very unique architectural qualities. Now there are two new spaces due to the activities of the new generation of artists: Clemente Jacks, which was opened by the former members of the C.A.C.A. and LIPO collectives (among them Maria Elena Larios, Lorena Peña, Emanuel Tovar, Ruben Mendez and Cynthia Gutierrez); and Sector Reforma, which was mostly put together by ex-students of ITESO, including Alfonso Hernández, Santino Escatel, Rocio Becerra, Javier Cárdenas, Cecilia Hurtado, Paula Silva and Alejandro Fournier, who is the present director. These spaces have been promoted energetically, despite having very limited resources.

Two government institutions have recently joined this movement, the Casa Museo José Clemente Orozco under the directorship of Alicia Lozano and Elena Matute, and the Museo Raúl Anguiano, both of which appear to be interested in contemporary art. I believe that this in itself has brought about an improvement in the situation of young local artists, since there is more information available to them and a larger platform for diffusion.

MA: It seems that each generation of artists in Guadalajara needs to first establish itself as a group, as a type of "branding", in order to later split up into singular personalities. What do you attribute this to?

GL: Ií­ll attribute this to the fact that it is an easy and efficient way to begin, to share information, ideas and resources in a city so isolated from the art circuit. There are no good art schools in Guadalajara, the artists have had to look for other resources. Perhaps collectives also appear for this reason, due to a typical ghettoized isolation.

MA: Who does the OPA public consist of? Is there really a captive audience for contemporary art in Guadalajara?

GL: The OPA public ranges from 20 and 40 years of age, and is composed mainly of studentsómany of them architecture studentsóand the younger artists in the area. There are also artists from other disciplines, such as musicians and writers, and a few collectors and specialists in contemporary art. The contemporary art audience is very small, although it has grown surprisingly in the past couple of years.

MA: There are a group of people who have been very important to the development of the artistic scene in this city, and who have supported different generations of artists, not only in Guadalajara but in other parts of the country by collecting and promoting art, such as the López Rocha family. Others include Patrick Charpenel, who has acted as a curator, and the Suro family with their ceramic workshop, helping establish networks of contacts with the outside. Can you tell us about this?

GL: These three families have, effectively, been essential to the development of the local scene, and all three have also been great OPA collaborators. Another two great promoters of contemporary art in Guadalajara have been Carlos Ashida and Guillermo Santamarina, who were the first curators to support and work with local and national artists, some of whom are now internationally recognized.

MA: There are various initiatives at the present time that seem to affect the local scene. There is the initiative to open a Guggenheim Museum; the University of Guadalajara (UDG) plans to open various spaces dedicated to contemporary art; Jorge Vergara is fostering the creation of his own cultural center; the López Rocha family opened the Art Center in the WTC a little over a year ago. Do you think this could be a symptom of possible changes, that is, that the audience is diversifying, that the artistic community is expanding, that the enthusiasm for collecting is growing?

GL: Yes, the scene is changing. Of course the artistic community has grown, although there are very few collectors. It is also clear that the public is diversifying, but all of these efforts run the risk of dissipating and even of being lost if these new proposals are not careful and adjust to a specific and real demand.

MA: The plan to open a branch of the Guggenheim is an especially thorny subject. What is your position on the matter? How do you think it would affect independent initiatives such as OPA, and the network of existing institutions?

GL: I believe that the desire to open a Guggenheim in Guadalajara is shameful. There are many more important things that need to be done. How about fostering a good art school or directing more attention to, for example, institutions such as the Hospicio Cabañas which, in addition to being the only Patrimony of Humanity in Jalisco, has enormous potential yet is under funded? Before thinking of a Guggenheim one has to think of the more specific needs of the "tapatí­o" cultural reality.

Of course, while the establishment of a Guggenheim in Guadalajara would place it on the world map, the presence of OPA in the city would probably be far less noticeable, at least to the general public. Knowing how "tapatí­os" workówith individual agendas, very little planning or understanding, and in a pretentious manner, to say the leastóthere lies a certain danger in the resulting ridicule that would discredit the scene.

MA: How do you see the future of Guadalajara?

GL: Being an optimist, I see it is doing very well, providing, of course, thereí­s continual and increasing interest within the artistic community, the local entrepreneurial sector, and support from the government.

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About the Author
Magali Arriola is an art critic and curator currently living in Los Angeles.

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