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SMART: San Miguel Art Festival

Artists and gallery owners from Mexico and beyond meet up in San Miguel de Allende to celebrate art, creativity and innovation

by Julie Wolfson in Culture on 14 June 2013

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The art-filled public spaces of Hotel Matilda provided the central hub for the recent SMART San Miguel Art festival. The boutique hotel and passion project of art collector Harold "Spook" Stream can be directly linked to his family’s love of art and Mexico. As a young girl, Stream’s mother Matilda often traveled to Mexico to visit her aunt’s friends Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The relationship led to Rivera painting Matilda several times, including a work that hangs in the lobby depicting her as a heroic young woman with a giant bow and arrow. The hotel offers a glimpse into Stream’s immense art collection including sculptures by Javier Marin and Bathsabe Romero, photography by Spencer Tunick and Daniela Edburg, and large-scale wall pieces by Bosco Sodi.

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SMART events and art displays were curated in a way to focus on art from Mexico, but also celebrate Latin America and beyond. Bosco Sodi shows his work around the world and is currently in the process of building the Tadao Ando designed Project Casa Wabi near Puerto Escondido that will become the home base for his residence, studio, exhibition space and observatory. This year in addition to participating in SMART, Sodi will show works in London, Berlin, Portugal and New York.

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At Hotel Matilda, Sodi’s new vibrant red ceramic volcanic rocks greeted festival-goers as they entered. Each rock is covered in layers of ceramic glaze and loaded into a kiln where some survive the heat and others break apart. "That’s a very important part of my process," shared the artist. "I always look for things that are not controllable, not predictable. I look for the organic part of the process. The people who manage the kiln say that if you put something inside the kiln and the fire does not like it, it breaks. They believe the fire has its own magic and makes the decision. I get the volcanic pieces from Socorro near Guadalajara. I always choose the rocks that are loose—I do not want to touch or chisel off of the volcano. I want it to be organic and completely decided by the passage of time."

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In addition to these large ceramic pieces, Sodi’s massive wall pieces—like the one commissioned by Stream for the Hotel Matilda lobby—are primarily works on canvas, made by mixing sawdust with pigments and fibers in buckets. "When I do big commissions, I like to do them at the place. Each type of sawdust is different. It is different to use pine than oak. When you mix them with pigment it comes out a completely different color." The vibrant cracked canvases are both primitive and reminiscent of landscapes on distant planets.

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Also on view at Hotel Matilda (in Enrique Olvera’s Moxi Restaurant) and at a cocktail party at nearby Recreo were Victor Rodriguez's striking images of female faces. Represented by Ricardo Reyes Arte gallery, the works offered a provocative pop of color. A candlelit dinner at Dos Casas featured a sneak peak of new work by Luis Rodrigo, an artist who is represented by Luis Adelantado Gallery in Mexico City. When asked about the giant red circles reminiscent of the Japanese flag, Rodrigo replied that not only was he drawn to creating the red shapes, he also once was painting in an abstract calligraphy style and was told he unintentionally drew Japanese characters.

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Other festival events took place around the town offering a tour of some of the most stylish San Miguel destinations including a rooftop brunch at L’Otel with 360-degree views of the picturesque town and a striking photograph exhibit of eerie and desolate architecture by Oscar Carrasco. Curator Pedro Alonso showed images and discussed of the work and the influence of artist Gabriel Orozco at the home of Casa Dragones. The event offered an insight into the historic place that has become the home of the smooth luxurious sipping tequila. Orozco designed a limited edition bottle with an image of a skull for Casa Dragones that took center-stage.

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Also at SMART, a peek inside the private residence of Stream revealed his true passion for art. A giant piece of furniture in the dining room displayed yet another Rivera masterpiece. Imposing head sculptures by Javier Marin live in the garden. Galleria Enrique Guerrero from Mexico City shared new works by Brazilian artists Mauro Piva and Carolina Ponte. For a collector who loves to spend time with artists and gallery owners, to discover news work and honor the past, Stream has found a way to celebrate both the charms of San Miguel and the far reaches of the art from Mexico and Latin America. The weekend served as a fast track to seeing the city and learning how their love for art has transformed a small town into a sizable arts scene.

Images courtesy of SMART San Miguel and Hotel Matilda

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