Nov. 5 2014 02:24 PM

Tijuana gallery's interesting booth and installation, plus more must-see exhibitions at this year's contemporary art fair

Claudia Ramirez Martinez (left) and Cesar Vazquez prepare for Art San Diego.
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

In the basement of a former maternity hospital that's now a spacious live/ work studio situated in a Tijuana hillside neighborhood, artists César Vázquez and Claudia Ramírez Martínez carefully scrape away excess clay.

"The Return" by César Vázquez and Claudia
Ramírez Martínez was installed at the Museum of
Popular Art in Mexico City last year.

Just a few days are left to finish the dozens of small, detailed ceramic figurines that'll soon be seen flying through the air inside Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair—happening at the Balboa Park Activity Center from Thursday, Nov. 6, through Sunday, Nov. 9. But the duo isn't worried about time. Just the opposite: They're excited to figure out last-minute details (should they paint the people or leave them raw?), and they can't wait to see how the audience responds to their offbeat, conceptual installation.

Their piece, which will be installed in two locations inside the art fair, is based on the idea of an invisible border; when the ceramic figures, suspended from the ceiling, cross through an imaginary line in the air, they transform from male to female (or female to male, depending on the direction they're flying). Several figures are stuck somewhere in the middle of the border, however, and exhibit characteristics of both genders.

"For us, we always want something interesting to do and show," Vázquez says. "We're always trying to do new things to keep us interested in our work and also to communicate something new with everything we do."

Vázquez is one of the founders of Nodo Galería, a fine-art gallery that emerged in 2009 during a festival that activated abandoned stores as temporary, pop-up exhibition spaces along downtown Tijuana's Avenida Revolución. Ramírez, too, was among a group of artists who Nov. 6-9 took up temporary residency in Balboa Park Activity Center Pasaje Rodríguez, an alleyway off Revolución filled with storefronts left vacant due to the dramatic drop in tourism caused by the well-publicized drug-war violence.

Ramírez was one of a handful of artists who, after the festival, encouraged participants to consider permanent residency in the alleyway. Vázquez and his friend, artist Jonathan Ruiz de la Peña, accepted the challenge.

"We felt good about being there," Vázquez says. "In the beginning, the landlords offered artists reduced rents, so it worked."

Since then, however, rents have increased in Pasaje Rodríguez and the similar Pasaje Gómez across the street. While outsiders still cite the once-vibrant alleyways as prime examples of Tijuana's exciting, growing art scene, the reality now is quite different. Most of the artists and galleries are gone.

"Before the violence, everything on Revolución was curios for American people," Ramírez explains. "We thought maybe that changed and we were there offering what we make, and the Americans that still came to Tijuana were supposed to be the ones interested in that. We thought it changed, but not necessarily. It's difficult. Maybe it needs more time."

Nodo is one of the last remaining art spaces in Pasaje Rodríguez but it, too, is considering leaving.

This is the third year the gallery has participated in Art San Diego, and the enthusiastic responses from fairgoers in the past have inspired its members to look into getting involved with other contemporary art fairs. They're also considering becoming a pop-up gallery that would rent out spaces around Tijuana for short periods of time in between art-fair appearances.

Art San DiegoNov. 6-9, Balboa Park Activity Center

Nodo's next move partly depends on how things go this year at Art San Diego, where, alongside Vázquez and Ramírez's installation, Nodo will rent out booth No. 322 inside ArtSpot International, a section of the fair with a Latin-American focus.

"It's really hard to run a gallery in Tijuana," Vázquez says, etching out the tiny details of one of the flying figurines. "There aren't a lot of collectors here. Not a lot of people have the money to buy an original piece of art…. But being an artist from Tijuana is generally a good thing outside the city. Collectors are interested in the mystery."

More must-sees at Art San Diego:

The cube: Inside the "Rhodopsin" art installation, people will be consumed in darkness. A rich soundscape will help keep folks entertained and informed as their eyes adapt. A few minutes into the experience, they'll be ushered from a tunnel into a darker cube, where their retinas will become further sensitized. A bright flash of light inside the cube will produce the ultimate, intended effect—a stereoscopic, three-dimensional image that doesn't actually exist but certainly looks convincing.

The reality-bending installation is a collaboration between the experimental-art space A Ship in the Woods, Salk neurobiologist John Reynolds, sound artist Greg Smaller, a design team from New School of Architecture + Design and researcher Daw-An Wu. Based on the work of Patrick Cavanagh, who studies visual phenomena, the piece aims to encourage people to think about the process of perception and consider the brain's role in actively constructing, rather than simply relaying, reality.

Simply put, the artists and scientists want people to experience something they've never experienced before. Find "Rhodopsin" outside, near the front entrance of the Balboa Park Activity Center.

"Trenzando el Tiempo" by Luis Enrique Toledo del Rio

Welcoming Little Havana: One common misconception about Cuban art, says Florida gallerist Stacy Conde, is that it often depicts struggling and suffering. But things are changing in Cuba, Conde says, and the newer art emerging from the country is starting to reflect the improving conditions.

For Art San Diego—the first-ever art fair for Conde's gallery, which is located in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood— the curator purposely chose to exhibit contemporary Cuban artists whose figurative works are noticeably positive and uplifting. Featured artists include Ernesto Capdevila, Andres Conde, Darian Rodriquez Mederos, Aurora Molina and Luis Enrique Toledo del Rio, all firstgeneration immigrants from Cuba, many of whom specialize in diverse, distinctive styles of portraiture. Conde Contemporary will exhibit in booth No. 227, inside ArtSpot International.

"Simone" by Jim Salvati

San Diego's newbie: Little Italy will soon be home to a new contemporary-art space. Adelman Fine Art will open its 1,000-square-foot gallery inside the new mixed-used building Broadstone Little Italy (1980 Kettner Blvd., Suite 40) in early 2015. In the meantime, the family-run art space will use booth No. 403 at Art San Diego to debut some of its artists, including Jim Salvati, Ellen Dieter, Erica Hopper, Jennifer Hannaford and Iris Scott, a New York-based finger painter.

Clad in her signature purple rubber gloves, Scott will be demonstrating her peculiar oil-painting technique inside the booth at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8.

Get to work: Collective Magpie doesn't exhibit finished art installations. Instead, it brings the idea and materials and invites the public to help. For its largescale, participatory piece at Art San Diego, Collective Magpie's MR Barnadas and Tae Hwang have teamed up with local architect Steven Lombardi to create a lounge area comprising more than 4,000 striped plastic bags.

While some fairgoers may choose to simply sip cocktails as they relax on the handmade, inflatable furniture, the more adventurous patrons will join what Magpie's calling a "fair-factory assembly line" and get hands-on with things like an industrial heat sealer, a zip-tie station and a grommet press. The crew hopes those who participate will gain a better appreciation of the time, labor and materials that go into making art.

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