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Art Cologne 2008: Talk with Hilario Galguera

Hilario Galguera with a work by Carmen Brucic

In the last couple of years, wherever I go, I have heard about the Hilario Galguera Gallery, and I have seen it lately in the fairs I visited. I have always wondered about the history of this gallery with works by Damien Hirst, what will be the history of its director?

The career path of the Hilario Galguera Gallery is astonishing. From 1990, this Mexican architect was one of the curators at the prestigious Ace Gallery. Later on, in 1997, he opened his own local office of the Ace company, which closed three years after. In February 2006, he opened a new art space under his own brand (his name), his gallery was opened with an exhibition by none other than Damien Hirst, at the first individual show of Turner Prize in Latin America. Since then, the gallery's speedy rise and the acknowledgement received throughout the last years made it a world reference gallery. We talk about all that happened in this short period of time to the man, whose name and personality is clearly a synonym of success, Hilario Galguera.

AfN: You have worked for the Ace Gallery and have been in charge of its local office in Mexico from 1997 to 2000. How did you come to Ace?

Hilario Galguera: I came to Ace in 1990 and started to suggest projects, the most outstanding was in 1993 at the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Mexico City: a large exhibition by Jörg Immendorf. Based on that, other plans were carried out: in Los Angeles and New York. The New York's central office was opened in 1994 and Mexico's in 1997, which lasted for about three years, until 2001.

AfN: What happened throughout those three years of the Ace Gallery in Mexico? Who supported you and who closed you the door?

Hilario Galguera: I must say I did not find any support in Mexico apart from my friends and artists. Although Mexico's gallery was always regarded as a second-hand receptacle of LA and NY, it was actually thought to carry out its own original ideas that would be later on transferred to the other two cities. In that sense, I wanted to bring in foreign ideas, create a scene in Mexico, so that we can position at the top, where we are now. And from then on, I wanted to promote those artists I was most interesting in, who at that moment were working in Mexico. My aim was not understood or was misunderstood, and there was opposition, since it was said that I was not interested in the Mexican scene, but rather in bringing in things from abroad. Before the gallery closed, I met Santiago Sierra, who was about to throw in the towel because he could not find a way to show his work in Mexico. I brought him to Los Angeles and New York, where he would later on exhibit at the PS1 (a MoMA's section devoted to young artists)… from then on, Santiago was catapulted into the limelight and internationally acknowledged.

AfN: At least, as for Santiago Sierra, it did work the idea of using the gallery as a starting point for original ideas that would be later on transferred to the USA.

Hilario Galguera: Yes, but I insist that I was not particularly interested in the US, but in creating a network among institutions, galleries, gallery owners and artists, as in Europe and the US. In any case, I was right: since New York, Santiago's work was very well acknowledged, he showcased in Berlin, and became a top-level figure in the art world. Unfortunately, shortly after, my project in Mexico was cancelled.

AfN: And from then on?

Hilario Galguera: From then on, I focused in other things in Mexico. I was invited to continue my projects in LA, but personally I did not find appealing to move there with my family. I thought Mexico City was a more powerful and stronger city that Los Angeles, which although being a city with potential, a rich city, cannot be compared to Mexico City, that is why I stayed.

AfN: And that's how we get to 2004, when you met Damient Hirst. How was that?

Hilario Galguera: Some people introduced me to him, but it was just a social event. At that time, I could not offer him anything. I had been working in the art world since 1985, I knew the status of Damien Hirst and it was nonsense to do anything. Even more since I knew he worked with the most outstanding, complete and powerful galleries in the world -Gagosian Gallery, White Cube-...
So, our encounter was just social and we became good friends. I was his guide, as Virgilio did with Dante, through the hell that is Mexico City. We talked about many things, not only about him and the contemporary art world, although we did talk about Mexico's art and archaeology. Shortly after, he found out I was involved in the art world, and was surprised I did not say anything. But then I said "You never asked me!"

AfN: Especially because such an important figure as Hirst will be used to all kind of people in the art world trying to sell themselves after their first meeting…

Hilario Galguera: Exactly! I do not know if it is good or bad, but he meets many people who just want to get something from him. He has a Midas touch, everything he touches becomes gold, and many people want to have their shares. Our relationship grew very naturally, we are almost the same age and have a very similar view of the world. Damien loves Mexico and spends quite a lot of time there throughout the year. I think from then on we could set up some ideas that we both shared, and at some point he suggested me to open a gallery.

Manuel P. Caballero and Hilario Galguera

AfN: So you got down to business and the new gallery was opened in 2006.

Hilario Galguera: Yes, that is something I did not expect to do. Everybody knows how hard to open a gallery is, he had been visiting Mexico quite a lot and I guess he knew the scene very well. So, he thought I was the right person to manage and integrate a programme like the one we have.
The gallery was opened with the great exhibition by Damien La Muerte de Dios, in 2006, which was a surprise since everybody expected a small exhibition which would include several of his works. However, what they found was a big project specifically designed for my space in Mexico City.

AfN: How long did it take to get everything ready?

Hilario Galguera: We agreed to hold the exhibition at the end of July 2005, and he wanted to hold it before Christmas. As we were working in the project, we realised we had to postpone it until February 2006. It was a big and interesting production, it was a challenge for me not just to organize the exhibition, but also the gallery's whole infrastructure. The result was amazing.

AfN: It was an extremely large project... to set up a gallery and do the opening with such an exhibition.

Hilario Galguera: No doubt, but it was the result of many years of hard work. Damien Hirst is a great professional, no matter what people say, and I think I also had the ability to gather people and organize it.

AfN: Please, tell me about the other artists you work with.

Hilario Galguera: Many artists came to the gallery, and since the end of 2006 I have been searching for new scenes and trying to create an international gallery programme within my own concept of art. I work with a small group or artists from several countries: Oliver Mardsen, English; Athina Ioannou, German, student of Jannis Kounellis and Daniel Buren. I have worked in some projects with the Swiss Peter Wüthrich, the Austrian Carmen Brucic that I present at this fair's booth and some outstanding Mexican artists such as Daniel Lezama, Benjamín Torres, Sebastián Romo

AfN: Then, the fairs. Arco was the first fair where you took part, in 2007, when the gallery was just opened. From then on, which fairs have you been in and which memories do you have?

Hilario Galguera: All of them worked out well in some way or another. I was in Arco, last year I was invited to take part in Cologne, then we went to Majorca (Art Cologne Palma de Mallorca), now we are here again, and next week we will participate in FEMACO (Mexican Fair of Contemporary Art). We are applying for other fairs we are interested in, such as Brussels, so that we can access other places, such as Basel. But we know it takes time, it is not just about the gallery's programme, but on how much experience you have.

AfN: But you seem to go at a good pace, it is not easy to take part in such important fairs as ARCO or Art Cologne after just two years of work. By the way, what do you think about Art Cologne?

Hilario Galguera: I wish I could give you a more accurate answer, but we have only been in four fairs held in very different locations. This is the second year we are here and we see this is a local fair due to different circumstances, although it is the oldest fair in the world. Last year, a friend of mine, Gerard Goodrow (now former director of Art Cologne) invited us. We had a parallel project, where we showed a work by Damien Hirst at the Herz Jesus Church (Jesus' Heart Church), which was OK. It is said it has been given a boost, there will be more audience… I believe other circumstances will also help, for example it will not be held at the same time as the Düsseldorf's fair, which has been cancelled. Although Brussels opens on Thursday. We just have to participate, the organization is in charge of the rest, bringing in curators, collectors, etc.

AfN: What about collecting in Mexico and what's your opinion about FEMACO?

Hilario Galguera: Collecting in Mexico, as we see it today, it is something new. The generation of collectors that purchased modern art and was able to afford much more important works was left behind together with the Mexico of fifteen or twenty years ago, when collecting was of personal use, a very local market. The new generation of collectors is visiting fairs, grows along with this new phenomena. We have collectors from Mexico, but most of them come from Europe and Asia. We still have to see how our new projects, devoted to great artists such as Daniel Burne o Jannis Kounellis, will influence the Mexican collecting. As for FEMACO, this the first time we take part; it is essential to be there, because of what I said before, the new collectors, and because being from Mexico, we must be there.

AfN: And do you collect Art?

Hilario Galguera: Yes, but at a modest level compared to the real collectors.

AfN: I am curious, do you know Carlos Slim (Mexican businessman, supposed to be the richest man in the world)?

Hilario Galguera: Yes.

AfN: And did he buy anything from you?

Hilario Galguera: Not so far, they have an interesting museum, they have been buying great impressionist works from the 19th century. Well, I hope he will feel like it at some point.

AfN: One last question: I see you still wear the rings that Damien Hirst gave you. I know there is a story behind. Could you tell me?

Hilario Galguera: One is the image of a skull, the other is an amethyst, that he gave me in our visit to the jewellery Bentley & Skinner in London, where his well known piece of art "For the Love of God" was on display, a skull made of diamonds that was showcased at the White Cube Gallery. While we were waiting for the work so that Damien could see how it had developed, he saw a ring with an amethyst in the glass case, he asked to see it, and put it in my finger. I was surprised, I normally do not wear jewels. But he told me:

"[…] you have to wear it; the amethyst is the clergy's stone par excellence. After your hard relationship with the Mexican clergy because of the exhibition La muerte de Dios and all we are doing, I hope whenever you meet a chief clergyman, he can beforehand interpret the symbols, and things work out in a different way […]" very typical of Damien Hirst.

Interview: Manuel P. Caballero

Translation: Sara Sánchez Alonso
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