If you’re an American who’s read anything about the Mexico City art scene in recent years, chances are good you’ve come across the name Lulu. Started by the independent curator (and self-described “gringo from San Francisco”) Chris Sharp and the Mexico City-based artist Martin Soto Climent in 2013, the alternative project space named after a local juice vendor has staked out a small piece of this historic city as a hub for Mexican art enthusiasts to see cutting-edge, intergenerational, and international artists. It’s a real passion project—both men maintain their own careers when not working on the gallery, though Sharp, speaking to Artspace at NADA Miami Beach, notes that it’s more or less a full-time gig.
Eschewing the traditional gallery model in favor of a more flexible, hybrid approach, the pair pride themselves on always looking to mix things up while staying true to their goals of promoting—not representing—the artists they admire. It helps, of course, that they happen to like some very cool artists; they’ve shown works by Michael E. Smith, Allison Katz, Jîrî Kovanda and more art world hotshots, both as curated solo presentations and in 2015’s three-part “Luluennial,” their bold “biennial” project conducted in a space of only 100 square feet. (They’ve since expanded their operation to include another space, this one a whopping 140 square feet.)
They’re also active participants in art fairs like NADA and Material, where their goals revolve more around exposure than profits. Sharp cites the fate of Aliza Nisenbaum, a figurative painter and Mexico City native who was still unrepresented (and little-known) when Lulu first put up a solo show of her work in their main space and dedicated their NADA Miami Beach booth to her in 2014. Now, following her project with Lulu and a White Columns exhibition the same year, the painter is being included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. There’s a similar success story for Daniel Rios Rodriguez, the Mexican-American painter and Yale MFA graduate based in San Antonio whose works are currently on view in Lulu’s booth—he’s recently been picked up by the New York gallery Nicelle Beauchene.
Sharp is intimately, perhaps painfully cognizant of his position as a foreigner in Mexico City, with all the colonialist history of violence and displacement that entails. Far from claiming the city as his own, Sharp sees the diverse programming at Lulu as a method of carving out a new niche within the city’s vibrant cultural scene, one designed to provide the context for introducing new artists to the Mexican art ecosystem. (He’s also dismissive of attempts to claim the metropolis as the next art world hotspot a la Berlin, citing its rich history as a creative capital and the number of endemic and established artists and galleries in the city.)
To ensure the works at Lulu will both appeal to and challenge their Latin American audience, Sharp and Climent have strict guidelines for selecting who they show; Sharp says they look for international (not just Mexican) artists who “think with their materials,” putting a premium on idiosyncratic and handmade approaches to art making. They’re leery, however, of exhibiting overly cerebral work, preferring to give space to the socio-political conceptualism that characterizes much of the most popular Latin American art in recent years. The aim is to add to—rather than feed on—the city’s wealth of energy, an important distinction for other would-be gallerists looking to set up shop beyond the pull of overcrowded art world capitals.