At Mexico Design Fair, the Promise of Something New

Launched by architect Carlos Torre Hütt in an idyllic Oaxacan surfing community, the recently wrapped Mexico Design Fair spotlights under-the-radar talents both local and global—and offers a satisfying escape from corporatized design weeks.

Pieces by Leonardo Garza, Clara Porset, and Edgar Orlaineta at Casa Naila. All photography by Jaime Navarro

It’s easy (appropriate, even) to feel disdain for the design fair circuit: too many fairs, too bloated in budget, too meager in individuality. To escape my cynicism, I accepted an invitation to get lost—during New York’s biggest art fair weekend. Of course, Puerto Escondido, the idyllic surfing community and home of Bosco Sodi’s Casa Wabi art foundation on Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast, is hardly some hinterland. But it’s also home to the Mexico Design Fair launched in 2021 by architect Carlos Torre Hütt and sited in two locations that couldn’t be further from the usual corporate event spaces, including those, like Zona Maco, which have led to Mexico City’s increasing prominence in the design community. 

After a car ride down a long series of meandering dirt roads, I arrived at a thoughtful set of oceanfront houses comprising BAAQ architects’ Casa Naila, each discreetly transformed into cozy showcases for select objects by both local and global designers. Mexico City’s Leonardo Garza showed his Ambient Modular System, four stainless steel side tables both hulking and vaporous. Beneath them, Brazilian tattoo artist Aka Pasqual’s Tangled Up rug elevated the hearts and snakes found on biceps worldwide into a captivating floor piece.

(FROM LEFT) Ceramics at Albergue Transitorio. Table by Pedro Friedeberg.

Brooklyn’s Prime Projects debuted their Tress chair, designed exclusively for the fair; its leather cushion sags temptingly atop a rigorous frame of engineered plywood and Italian laminate. Outside again, a Rainfall console by Miami’s Studio Line Between, with its massive, reflective top, intriguingly mirrored BAAQ’s structures, within which I also found satisfyingly restrained chairs by Mexico City–based sustainability researcher Daniel Romero Valencia. 

Later, I met Hütt on the beach. We sat within a kaleidoscopic three-story tower, just big enough for two integrated chairs secreted behind festive curtains striped in pink and purple. León-based Casa Blanca designed the installation, called Shade, in collaboration with the significant Fábrica de San Pedro in Uruapan. Hütt says showcasing work made outside Mexico City is a big part of his plan. “Mexico is a big country, with heritages and cultures,” he says. “It’s sad when all you see is the scene of Roma, Condesa, and Polanco.”

(FROM LEFT) Console by Studio Line Between. Screen by Carlos Torre Hütt.

Mexico Design Fair seeks to broaden understanding of the country’s regions. Fittingly, it starts in Oaxaca. On a pedestal at the end of a live-edge plank bridging a wading pool between the houses, Liliana Ovalle and Colectivo 1050°’s Mitades collection of clay pieces glow in the golden-hour sun.

Ovalle worked with Mujeres de la Tierra, a Tlapazola artisan family, to riff on Oaxacan ceramics, firing them twice to imbue a haunting, blackened patina. It’s not unlike the delectable crackling surface of the roasted pineapple tacos we’re eating as the sun goes down, their heat complimented by a few too many mezcals mixed with Jarritos. After dark, incendiary devices delight our group courtesy of a bright fireworks performance by artist Brendan Fernandes, in which geometric forms blaze in the sky like queer magic. 

“Shade” by Casa Blanca

I experienced a quieter smolder Saturday, as conceptual artist Kimsooja Kimsooja lit a small ceremonial fire to activate Puerto Escondido’s new Meridiano gallery, designed with massed elegance by Tatsuro Miki and Axel Vervoordt. A short, scorching walk then took our troupe of designers, collectors, and journalists to Casa Malandra, architect Alberto Calleja’s string of interior modules connected by open-air pools, where the fair named a very deserving Valencia its Designer of the Year.

Down the beach, the Hotel Escondido arranged a magical seated dinner. This, the most bustling moment of the entire fair, was a chance to talk at length to designers—the kind of connection impossible at larger fairs. During the dinner, a turtle arrived to lay eggs in the sand under the watchful protection of the hotel staff. Maybe it was the mezcal again, but it did feel like the birth of something new. Hütt further elaborated on his vision: “A better opportunity for the individuals who are part of the discipline,” he said. “We’re interested in selling pieces, but also in changing its perception for the next generation.” It’s a global project, accomplished locally one-on-one. “Perhaps I’m too romantic,” he laughed. But as another design fair season drags on, we need more of this romance.

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