Seven Year Itch

BY Katrina Kufer / May 30 2017 / 14:00 PM

Puerto Rico rejoins the art fair fray with the inaugural Mercado Caribeño International Art Fair (MECA), the nation’s first significant art move in seven years

Seven Year Itch
Photography by Mariángel Gonzales for Remezcla
MECA Founders Danny Báez and Tony Rodriguez

MECA, founded by gallery director Tony Rodríguez and art dealer Daniel Báez, is setting up the Caribbean island as a meeting point and platform for local and international talent. But they are quick to remind audiences that while there may have been no heavy-hitting art players in recent years, in addition to the nosedive of the Puerto Rican economic situation, the art scene has been kept buoyant by DIY and grass root work independent of external investors and collectors.

In efforts to reinvigorate the Caribbean art market, which last saw the five-edition run of CIRCA contemporary art fair take place in 2010, MECA aims to foster a more collector friendly environment with accessible local art. Part motivational, part educational and part market strategy, Rodríguez admits that at first the notion of gathering, representing and supporting young talent was, “a crazy, closeted idea.”

Not letting preconceptions or governmental support deter their new venture or their solid beliefs, Rodríguez stated, “[…] there is so much crazy and negative news about the island’s economic level that people thought, ‘Why would I go to Puerto Rico to try to sell art?’ In that sense it was difficult. But at the same time, people were clueless about what Puerto Rico is or they saw it is a tropical getaway.” Maximising on the lack of cultural awareness, the duo found a niche in which to explore and experiment, with the advantage that they would be the only players on the scene.

The inaugural edition will feature over 30 exhibitors from 11 international galleries, 4 local spaces, 3 special projects and 13 emerging artist and curator proposals as part of the MECANISMOS section, positioning Santurce (central San Juan) as a new, if local, contemporary culture hub. The roster of galleries – a mix of select local spaces alongside US galleries and international names such as Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (New York/Rome) and Marlborough Contemporary (New York/London) – is part of MECA’s intent to show what it believes are the “most aggressive risk takers” currently in the arts and it will be seen as of 1 June, whether their own risk to shed light on an overlooked region will yield big results. Reinforcing the move are the 25-plus satellite projects and public interventions that will run alongside the fair to help keep the anticipated influx of curious visitors stimulated.

“A lot of what you see today has been created with less than nothing. We are talking about a group that has a lot of resilience, a group that has been characterised for surviving contexts of political, economic, and humanitarian unrest,” explained Rodíguez to Artspace. “Therefore, if we look at it from that point of view, our artistic class has always operated under an imminent crisis. We have nothing to lose. On the contrary, we have much to gain if the project successfully achieves what has been missing: an established art market.”

MECA runs 1-4 June at the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music in San Juan, Puerto Rico. For more information visit