Zélika García Looks Back on Twenty Years of ZONAMACO

The art fair founder has a lot to say about the evolution of Mexico City’s cultural scene and the platform’s future.

A woman with red hair walks through a busy art fair
Zélika García. Courtesy of ZONAMACO

“In the beginning, I was just trying to do a fair,” recalled Zélika García, the founder of Latin America’s leading arts platform, ZONAMACO. “Nobody understood why we were trying to make a fair in Mexico City.”

Twenty years later, the capital city is a powerful barometer of contemporary art and a place where serious business is done. García’s impact is central to the story of Mexico City’s thriving cultural landscape.

With no formal business training, she launched Muestra (what would later become ZONAMACO) in earnest, after working on and off in galleries. “I studied art to be an artist, so zero business background. I learned that on the way,” she said.

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The first two iterations of Muestra featured roughly forty galleries and focused solely on contemporary art. As the industry’s curiosity in Mexico City and their willingness to participate grew, García renamed the fair ZONAMACO in 2004 to reflect its expansion.

“Now we had a selection committee, a VIP program, applications—a more serious way of doing a professional art fair,” said García.

The 2024 edition of ZONAMACO, which opens on February 7, will boast over 200 galleries across its various sections. While contemporary art remains the largest offering, ZONAMACO is now a series of fairs with photography, antiques and design on view. García purposefully built an ecosystem that offers a one-stop-shop, where collectors can see the best of everything or focus on categories of specific interest with equal ease.

An overhead view of a busy art fair.
ZONAMACO in 2022. Courtesy of ZONAMACO

“We have four fairs simultaneously in the same space, but they’re totally separate to respect the visitor,” she explains. “If you don’t want to go into one of the sections, you don’t have to go into one of the sections. If you want to see everything, it is right there.”

A big factor in García’s success is her ability to attract supporters. With an affable spirit and clear passion for her work, she’s the kind of person you can sip cocktails with until the early morning while getting an education on a shifting contemporary art market. Visiting other fairs in the early days, she would go booth-by-booth to convince galleries to come on board.

It was at Art Chicago—the first fair she ever visited—where she met Esthella Provas and Eugenio López Alonso, who at the time were running Chac Mool Gallery in Los Angeles. They agreed to show with her, which gave her the confidence and credibility to secure a fair’s worth of exhibitors.

“That gave me a little hope and then I could say, ‘Oh, Chac Mool is coming.’ All of it started to happen organically,” García said.

She makes it a point to credit the myriad early advocates who helped shape ZONAMACO’s trajectory. The curators especially, many of whom were also at early stages in their careers and have gone onto major institutional positions, seem to hold a place of pride for García. Names like Humberto Moro, Juan Andrés Gaitán and Adriano Pedrosa are dropped in quick succession.

A man and a woman talking at a busy art fair
ZONAMACO attracts galleries from around the world. Courtesy of ZONAMACO

“All of these people we worked with also grew and became very successful in the art world. This helped the fair, the artists and the galleries and helped people take us seriously,” García remarked.

As for her personal wins, the founder says it comes down to perseverance and the unwillingness to back down. That tenacity is evident in the fair’s programming this year and the line-up of curators she’s tapped.

New on the roster are Artistic Director Direlia Lazo; Bernardo Mosqueira, curator of the ZONAMACO EJES section; and Luis Graham Castillo, curator of ZONAMACO FOTO. They’ll join a dynamic group of section curators including Esteban King, Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, Alfonso Miranda, Cecilia León de la Barra, Joel Escalona and Jorge Diego Etienne.

The four fairs taking place simultaneously at the expansive Centro Citibanamex are MÉXICO ARTE CONTEMPORÁNEO, highlighting contemporary and modern art from around the globe; ZONAMACO DISEÑO, the design fair focusing on furniture, jewelry and decorative objects; ZONAMACO SALÓN DEL ANTICUARIO, “a space created for the exhibition, dissemination and sale of the exclusive symbolic universe of so-called antiques, in dialogue with visual arts, decorative and design goods produced before 1960,” according to a release; and ZONAMACO FOTO, the section dedicated to photography.

García said she’s particularly excited about the panel and conversation programming. She will join some of her past collaborators for a special anniversary conversation moderated by Lazo discussing how contemporary art and the fair have transformed over the past two decades.

To keep things lively and engage the broader Mexico City community, García and her team will produce a 10-hour ticketed anniversary party called Artsy Nights, complete with DJ sets, live entertainment and artist installations.

“We’re doing this so that all of Mexico can celebrate with us,” she said. “We’re trying to make this Saturday night inclusive and for everyone to be able to come, even if they’re not a VIP.”

If this all sounds like a massive undertaking, you’re right. While she maintains a full-time staff of sixteen, García says it takes up to 500 contractors working across logistics, production and design to mount the massive fair.

As for the next twenty years, she’s not interested in expanding the fair but ever-improving its quality. “I want ZONAMACO to become more and more and more important, showing better and better and better art.”

ZONAMACO runs from February 7 through February 11 at Centro Citibanamex, Mexico City. See more February art fairs.

Zélika García Looks Back on Twenty Years of ZONAMACO