Tony Rodríguez and Daniel Báez, co-founders of MECA.
A report by Kiki Olmedo for Art World.
I met Daniel Baez, co-founder of the MECA International Art Fair, on a warm Wednesday afternoon to talk about his ambitious endeavor. Baez is a spirited character: incredibly energetic and always thinking about his next new project. Together with artist and gallerist Tony Rodriguez, they are the driving force behind Puerto Rico’s latest art extravaganza.
MECA—shorthand for Mercado Caribeño (Caribbean Market)—comes at a time when art fairs are a staple of any big city. In 2014, Baez and Rodriguez met through mutual friends and discovered a year later, during arteBA in Buenos Aires, that they had a common dream: creating a contemporary art fair that would round up the top players in the Caribbean art scene.
The goal is to bring attention to what’s going on in places like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. After the demise of CIRCA, the former leading Caribbean art fair, there was a huge void that needed to be filled. Baez and Rodriguez took advantage of this and turned their vision into a reality.
The idea of starting an art fair in Puerto Rico at this time has raised some eyebrows and questions due to the island’s current economic state (the government has a massive debt of $70 billion). But as its founders have pointed out, this is also an opportunity: “It was impulsive at first,” Baez mentioned during our conversation, “and our first thought was Puerto Rico because we know people in the arts there, and since Puerto Rico is a US territory, there’s the facility of using [that] currency—plus, its proximity to New York, and the many great collectors from Latin America are from Puerto Rico.”
MECA will take place in Puerto Rico’s Conservatory of Music in San Juan’s Santurce district on June 1–4. The organizers aim to make an impact with bold choices, inviting who they believe to be “the most aggressive risk takers” of the art world right now. They also invited heavy hitters like White Columns and Marlborough Gallery to participate. And although the local selection is a bit narrow, the duo has made up for this weakness by including some of the younger and more up-and-coming artists in the region.
Each exhibitor is invited to bring up to two participating artists to showcase. The fair’s organizers are certain that the event will bring “the most politically-charged art,” with gallerists having free reign to do whatever they want. Having secured 16 exhibitors, Baez’s objective is to reach 21 galleries as a sort of lucky number, and also to pay tribute to Puerto Rico’s baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who passed away on his way to bringing aid to Nicaragua’s earthquake victims in 1972.
The infant fair has not been without obstacles, facing challenges including lack of government support and financial backing from other organizations. But as Baez makes clear, “MECA is about taking risks,” which entails bringing new investments to the island and helping the economy grow in new ways.
Baez’s goals are modest. “What we’re trying to do is shine a light on this region, bringing international collectors and galleries here so they can also see what’s going on within the arts,” he says.
We have yet to see what this first edition of MECA will look like, but, as they say, where there’s a will there’s a way. The modest team bringing the fair to life is comprised of only eight very determined members, from designers to producers, all of whom I’m certain are in no short supply of will.