A dense cloud of silence veiled over the Arsenal de la Marina Española (former Spanish naval station) in Old San Juan on this Tuesday morning. Only the droplet sounds of the fountain in the main patio disrupted the silence and stillness of the old building.
The colonial fortress -overseeing the stunning San Juan Bay- reawakens in six weeks to allow the imagination to soar. How? With the opening of the MECA International Art Fair, an expo of 26 exhibitors from countries as diverse as Japan, México, Perú, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and the United States. The contemporary art fair runs from Nov. 21 through 24.
For four days next month, the former naval station will be transfigured into an open art community, a space with no physical walls dividing the exhibitors and no frontiers for the exchange of ideas and the pursuit of dreams. The initiative was born three years ago. After reading an article in The New York Times, Tony Rodríguez began dreaming about a venue to spotlight and celebrate contemporary local and Caribbean artists. Soon after, he crossed paths with Danny Báez at an exhibition. The duo talked about the art scene on the island and, shortly after the brainstorming session, the dream became a reality.
The Museum of Art and Design in Miramar opened its doors six months ago, using bold shapes and color to create a new space for artistic expression in the historic neighborhood
“MECA intends to create a marketplace, non-existent right now, both in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean region. The fair provides a platform where artists can sell their work, and a space where artists, gallerists and collectors can network and mingle,” explained Rodríguez, co-founder and artistic director of MECA.
“The idea is to connect visitors, tourists, curators, people from other realms of the art world so they can discover new talent from this region,” he added.
But MECA (short for Mercado Caribeño) is more more than just a selling point, it is also about building community, nurturing the region’s cultural scene and paving the way for the island to become an art destination. “I hope people learn more about art, become engaged and follow what we’re doing here,” Rodríguez said.
And it seems to be working. Three years ago, Rodríguez and Báez started laying the foundations of this artistic gathering at the Music Conservatory in Santurce. The following year, MECA moved to the historic quarter of Old San Juan. Since its debut in 2017, MECA has been growing at a steady pace, flourishing from 15 to 26 galleries.
“This year we have nine additional galleries like Misako & Rosen from Japan, Proyectos Ultravioleta from Guatemala, Mendes Wood DM from Brazil and Revólver from Lima and Buenos Aires,” Rodríguez pointed out.
Aside from the new exhibitors, this year the fair dabbles into the illustration world with the MECA Illustration Art Show. Held at :Pública in Santurce, the exhibit will showcase the work of 35 illustrators; among them, Omar Banuchi, Guanina Cotto, Esteban Ruiz, Natasha Laracuente, Elizabeth Barreto and Krisia Ayala.
“This is another attempt to create a platform for illustrators that -in a lot of instances- don’t have space or a gallery at which to showcase their work,” indicated Rodríguez, an artist and art gallery owner.
The exhibition, to be curated by local historian Margarita Fernández-Zavala, features an audiovisual installation composed of three projections with various scenes from 22 documentaries and films made by Fritz
Like in previous years, the galleries will display a diverse collection of sculptures, installations, photography, paintings, mixed-media works and performances, with offerings ranging from conceptualism and realism to cutting-edge and avant-garde works.
The project space named Mecanismos returns with an exhibition that gathers the work of 11 emerging artists curated by Lizania Cruz and Luis Graham Castillo, both from the Dominican Republic. For this third edition, MECA also presents three special projects: El Lobi + Taller Malaquita, Larrie and Beverly’s.
Visitors will also be able to enjoy workshops organized through a partnership with the Museum of Art and Design in Miramar and the Puerto Rico Museum of Art, and visit galleries that will join in the four-day art fest. Tickets for the entire run of the show cost $30, a single day visit is $12 (pre-sale) and, if bought at the entrance, $15. Students with ID and seniors pay $10.
“For the casual visitor, perhaps not a buyer or art collector, the fair works as a great exhibition. They can come and spend a day experiencing and enjoying art,” Rodríguez indicated of the fair’s ample range.
As part of the artistic journey, visitors will enjoy good food and music. MECA is also pet-friendly. The Tourism Company and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture are also sponsoring this edition of the fair. For more information visit www.mecartfair.com.