Art and Anonymity

With her pioneering Mexico City-based platform Anónimo, Alejandra Martínez is expertly subverting the art-world status quo by concealing authorship until a work of art is sold. 

Text: Karen Orton
Videography: Eldon van Aswegen
Photography: Arnaud Montagard
What factors led to you launching Anónimo?

Anónimo really did start as this experiment where we were trying to give value to the artwork on its own, and not necessarily the labels that come once an artist is successful. But I think more than that, my whole trajectory started when I started doing this very tiny festival on the Pacific coast in in a place called Careyes. Careyes is a very tight international community, and I'd been going there since I was four years old. It's a very special, remote place. It's similar to Marfa, in terms of how tight its community is. I wanted to bring contemporary Mexican culture to the Careyes community and just see what happened. My biggest satisfaction was that this whole collecting culture started and it was more like the beginnings of these tiny little Medicis. At that time, the contemporary art industry in Mexico was really in its toddler beginning stages. Then this web of beautiful community connection and support grew, way beyond my effort. That was the most valuable thing. So when Anónimo started getting traction ,I thought I need to build something that isn't just about this one piece that you bought. But I wanted it to be more about taking people out of their comfort zone and coming for three or four days to a different place. And if they take a piece home, fantastic. But the value of the experience is calling me more.

How much is Anónimo about protecting artists and giving their work a chance, even if they don't have a name or they're not established?

Definitely from an artist's point of view, it’s a very democratic way of presenting them. It doesn't matter what their career looks like, or their market value. It really is about the ones that were selected to be part of that edition and how that speaks to the people that we're calling in, who are making the effort to be there.

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“Anónimo really did start as this experiment where we were trying to give value to the artwork on its own, and not necessarily the labels that come once an artist is successful.”

How did you develop the concept for the Further Marfa edition?

Marfa has obviously always been in my radar for many reasons, not just the whole art world scene. I think it's because my soul belongs to this little community in Careyes, and I found all these similarities. When I did get the invitation, my first reaction was “I need to go.” I first wanted to really understand the soul of the place before making any decision. Doing an auction here felt very vulgar, because there's something very sacred about this place. And that's the second thing I understood is that although the place itself is wildly valuable, beautiful and completely surprising in so many ways—and also freeing, weird and perfect—it’s the act of coming here that makes you understand all of these things. So I found it a little bit of a pilgrimage to get here and that once you're here, it's an even bigger commitment to be here in your absolute presence. I wanted to create something that was about the experience of getting here. I wanted it to be zero about sales. And then if we do sell something, how wonderfully surprising—bravo. I didn't want to have that energy of selling work at all—not between us, not with our guests, not with the community, not with anything. With 30% of the sales we generate, we're supporting immigration, legal aid and then also a few local foundations as well. It just felt like the right fit. The themes were based on what it feels like to be in a context like the desert. So it really boils down to the core values.

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How did you select the artists?

The themes started circulating, and we started inviting artists to send us proposals. It was hard to choose. We received so many amazing proposals. But I'm not only happy with what came about; I'm actually quite surprised. The final work is much, much higher quality than what I’d ever imagined. But again, I think the process is the most valuable part. The process of selecting the art is super exciting, and then starting to produce, coming here, discovering it, getting nervous and then that easing off, and then being free and comfortable. That whole process is what we're here for.

The cultures and economies of the United States and Mexico are very intertwined—how does that function in the arts? Where are the potentials for exchange and collaboration?

I think the border towns, regardless of what decisions are made in Mexico City and Washington politically, the relationship between these two countries will forever continue in a very tight way. Regardless of these big calls and big decisions—it’s unstoppable. Every industry in Mexico and the US has its own very tight relationship. 

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There’s this very well-known narrative about Marfa, that Donald Judd came here and turned it into this art mecca, but the reality is so much more interesting—specifically the deep history of the place. Can you speak to that?

It depends on how far back you want to go. If you go way back, this used to be Mexico. Then more recently, it all started with the NASA space base that they opened during the Cold War. And then there's this whole conspiracy theory around the Marfa Lights. Then the psychedelic movement came, and that is when Judd came. He wasn't Donald Judd then; he was a very well established, mid-career artist. And his other minimalist colleagues were also mid-career. It’s very bold what he did, but more than bold, I love the fact that being in the middle of nowhere, there is that level of quality in the art, which is taken to a precision and scale that goes way beyond. That's what blew my mind. That’s one of the aspects that made me fall in love with this place the most. Afterwards came the recognition, the followers and the career, and the industry. But at the time, they were in the middle of nowhere. They had just bought these military bases that were abandoned with the DIA foundation money, and they just took it to the limits and then afterwards everything else came. But that alone is just wildly inspiring.

Where do you want to take Anónimo in the future?

Well, we have planned the next four to six editions. With this edition we kind of broke out of the art auction rule book and made an edition of its own, and I'm so happy with it. 

“I love the fact that being in the middle of nowhere, there is that level of quality in the art, which is taken to a precision and scale that goes way beyond.”

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