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Touring Oaxaca's Art Galleries

an article by Alvin Starkman of Casa Machaya. May 2007
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Many travelers to Oaxaca simply don't have the time, patience or inclination to seriously tour the city's multitude of small storefront art galleries replete with wonderfully unique and provocative offerings. It's understandable, given the number of culturally rich and diverse sites to be taken in over the course of a brief vacation.
Certainly the larger establishments should not be missed by anyone. There's the Museo de Pintores Oaxaqueños, for example. Another "must" is Arte de Oaxaca, featuring works of artists who have "made it" and enabling the casual observer to get a good sampling of uniquely Oaxacan metaphors in various mediums--evidence the permanent gallery dedicated to the works of Grand Master Rodolfo Morales.
But a well-planned walking tour of some of the galleries listed below, perhaps beginning with the open air craft and art market known as Jardín Labastida, pretty well guarantees that you'll go home with at least one piece to grace that barren wall that's been crying out for creative forces. More importantly, you'll leave Oaxaca with an enhanced appreciation of the history and culture of Oaxacan and more generally Mexican art.
The metamorphosis of members of the art community in Oaxaca is at times a microcosm of the means by which young professionals in the Western World establish themselves--starting out pounding the pavement in search of that first job, eventually catching one or two breaks along the arduous way, and then a decade or two later reaping the rewards of a successful career. But for some 5,000 artists in Oaxaca, be they from abroad or Mexican born, having studied at Benito Juarez University’s School of Fine Arts or in one of several workshops in the City, they can ascend the rungs of the ladder much quicker, yet with much less in material rewards. The blunt implication of this for tourists and Oaxacan art aficionados alike is that one day you can purchase a quality piece from an artist on the street or in his co-op style gallery, ranging from obtuse imagery to much more simplistic yet equally entrancing, and then a year or two later encounter his works or obras in high end galleries fetching tenfold what you paid; alternatively his work may no longer be locally available as a result of having been "found" by a New York patron or commissioned by government for a special project.
A few pointers, each of which has made me wiser and aesthetically wealthier:
  1. If you hesitate, it may be gone tomorrow;
  2. You aren't buying a rug or carved wooden animal--go easy on practicing your negotiation skills when buying from the artist--it may backfire, or you may make the purchase, but with a diminished sense of self;
  3. When something catches your eye, or better yet if both of you are drawn to it, buy at all cost--you'll never regret it;
  4. If a piece seems absolutely enchanting but is curiously inexpensive, don't shy away for fear you won't be purchasing quality--remember that next year you may not be able to afford it;
  5. Never buy for investment first--if you're really lucky the piece will appreciate substantially, but remember two things:
    1. you have to live with it;
    2. when the time comes, your children will probably give it away for a song;
  6. Compare what you see in terms of quality, imagery and price, to what you already have--in my case, all I have to do is recall my two pieces by R.C. Gorman, the reknown Arizona-born recently-deceased artist influenced by Mexican masters such as Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros--the buying decisions come faster and easier;
  7. Most of today's promising artists who are represented in the following galleries have been influenced by the foregoing legends, as well as the likes of Oaxacan greats including Rodolfo Morales and Francisco Toledo, so if a piece that draws you appears to have a special quality, it probably does.
  8. Resist the snobbery in which we at times get caught up. A serigraph or grabado is an original, albeit one of a limited number. Even posters of exhibition openings, festivals and the like constitute an artform onto itself. As with other mediums, they often evoke interesting images. They are affordable for the most budget conscious--and framing tends to be modest. They provide at least some of what we seek when selecting our artwork--color and coverage.
We are listing only those galleries which carry a significant offering of "paintings" or "wall art" such as oils, watercolors, acrylics and serigraphs, including a couple of talleres which produce obras, and excluding restaurants and other retailers which offer art for sale, and galleries containing predominantly more traditional folk art and crafts. The enumeration is subject to additions and corrections, and is a work in progress. If you happen by or are otherwise aware of other retail art establishments, or closures, email me (oaxacadream@hotmail.com) with names and addresses so that can they can be included in or omitted from a subsequent edition.
Any tourist map of the Centro Histórico may assist you in designing your own tour of the galleries. However, the order in which these locales are presented provides a loosely organized tour, to the extent possible. Many outlets are closed Mondays, and frequently between the approximate hours of 2 – 4. Others open and close when they feel like it, subject to the anticipated level of tourism at the time.
  • Jardín Labastida (between M. Alcala and 5 de Mayo) - outdoors craft and art market
  • Labastida 115 - Plaza las Vírgenes - series of small stores rented by artists, many of whom began in the Jardín above
  • Plazuela Labastida corner of 5 de Mayo - N. Mayée;s Galería - her work and that of her children
  • 5 de Mayo 409 - Sala Raffarte Arte Público - mixed media, run by artists, with impressive bronzes
  • 5 de Mayo 407 - DM Arte Contemporáneo - work of Mayée;s', et al.
  • 5 de Mayo corner of Constitución - Café Gecko y Galería
  • 5 de Mayo 412 – Galería d'Arte Axis
  • Constitución 103 - Galería Quetzalli - mixed media with wonderful ambience
  • Calle de Gurrión 104-1 (across from Sta. Domingo) - Galería Linda Fernández
  • M. Alcalá 407 (Plaza Sta. Domingo) - Arte Mexicano - mixed media includes sculptures
  • M. Alcalá 407 (Plaza Sta. Domingo) - Arte Popular
  • Allende 104 - Galería Índigo – large offering of high end mixed media
  • M. Alcalá 507 - Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca
  • García Vigil 613 - Taller de Juan Alcázar - workshop featuring his art
  • García Vigil NE corner of M. Bravo – Centro Fotográfico Á. Bravo (rotating photographic exhibitions)
  • Murguía 105 - Arte de Oaxaca - extensive offerings as well as permanent Morales display
  • Murguía 102 - DM Arte Contemporáneo - work of Didier Mayée;s et al.
  • M. Alcalá 203 - La Mano Mágica - includes broad range of crafts
  • M. Alcalá 305 (upstairs) - Galería 910 Arte Contemporáneo
  • M. Alcalá 202 - Museo del Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca – extraordinary setting with changing exhibits and store
  • M. Alcalá 102 – Galería de Rolando Rojas
  • M. Alcalá and Morelos (NW corner) – Galería Guraieb
  • Independencia 607 - Museo de Los Pintores Oaxaqueños
  • Zócalo #110 (2nd floor) - Manuel García Galería – many quality larger pieces
  • Reforma and M. Abasolo (NE corner) – gallery housed in one of the Rodolfo Morales Foundation buildings
  • Murguía 400 - Quetzalli Bodega
  • B. Juarez 300 - Galería Epicentro
  • B. Juarez 514 – Taller de Artes Plásticas (Rufino Tamayo Galería) – workshop with periodic exhibitions
  • 5 de Mayo in Jalatlaco, east portion of downtown (same street as La Toscaza) La Curtiduría at #307 (gallery and taller) and another along the same cobblestone street).
  1. Each of the city's antique stores often carries art, so a brief enumeration of their locations is in order: Abasolo 107, Constitución 108, 5 de Mayo 409A, Independencia 300, Benito Juarez 204-B, Guerrero 506, García Vigil 304 (moving in June 2007 to Independencia across from Church of La Soledad).
  2. Remember that in the outlying towns and villages you can find galleries and workshops such as at the Rodolfo Morales Foundation in Ocotlán, and the Center for The Arts in San Agustín Etla, housed in a magnificent 19th century building and providing an exquisite medium in which to view art.

Alvin Starkman together with wife Arlene operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast. Alvin received his masters in social anthropology in 1978, and his law degree in 1984. Thereafter he was a litigator in Toronto until taking early retirement. He and his family were frequent visitors to Oaxaca between 1991 and when they became permanent residents in 2004. Alvin reviews restaurants, writes about life and cultural traditions in Oaxaca, and tours couples and families to the villages. While residing in Toronto Arlene sold Oaxacan art through invitation-only wine and cheese art exhibitions.

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