For more than three decades Mexico City’s blue chip powerhouse Galería OMR, founded by husband and wife dealers Patricia Ortiz Monasterio and Jaime Riestra, has served as the cultural anchor of Colonia Roma’s Plaza Rio de Janeiro (and a diplomat for many top contemporary Mexican artists at fairs across the globe). The gallery's corner building just across from the park served as the House of Spain and the College of Mexico, and played home to Octavio Paz and Antonio Alatorre before the Riestras took over in 1983.
But as the power couple takes a step back from the action, their forward-thinking director son, Cristobal, is moving the gallery into its next phase inside a brutalist 1960s building that previously housed the popular Sala Margolin record store, which they leased from a neighbour who bought the space so it wouldn’t be turned into a nightclub.
‘What we did is we basically made the space a little bit smaller,’ says Cristobal, whose architect brother Mateo Riestra revamped the space with José Arnaud-Bello and Max Von Werz. Adding massive doors, and reinforced walls and floors, the trio (who came together just for the project) transformed it into a soaring space that retains the original concrete columns and ceiling.
The renovations also included a newly built second storey, which houses a multipurpose space, a library, Cristobal’s office, a bar, and leads to a rooftop area on the third floor. To accommodate for this the architects had to cover the ground floor’s skylight and replace the natural illumination with electric lighting – but the Tiffany blue glow it emits is still quite striking.
Meanwhile, the architects incorporated new windows on the front and back of the skylit second floor with a deep aubergine trim that nods to a Paul Rudolph townhouse in Manhattan. ‘It would have been so stiff if it was just greys, whites and blacks like every other gallery,’ says Mateo, who is also the designer behind the popular Lupe Toys. ‘When we inherited the space it was under-structured, there wasn’t enough steel in the columns, so we wanted to maintain structural and functional aspects of the building.’
‘The record shop had all these different levels, wooden floors, and these volumes of acrylic falling down from the center, so we opened it up,’ says Cristobal, leading me through the space during the opening. The newly revamped space, he says, inspired Jorge Méndez Blake to make his first large-scale paintings, which consist of 10-foot tall acrylic on linen canvases (in yellow, red, green, blue, purple, and black) featuring cut-outs that recreate all of the hyphens in all six volumes of the American poet Emily Dickinson’s oeuvre.
Cristobal adds, ‘She wrote nearly 1800 poems and published [less than a dozen] during her life, so she was a pioneer beyond being a woman and feminist, but she also used these dashes to interpret a pause and the moment of creation before you write down your verse. [Méndez Bake] went back to every single poem and wrote the verses only leaving the dashes, so it's only the moment of creation.’
To reinforce this concept, Méndez Blake also assembled a pile of marble stones to invoke writerly contemplation by the ocean, exhibited an overturned book (to re-emphasise the moment of creation) and installed an oil lamp that will continue to leave smoke residue on the gallery walls for the duration of the show. He also created a concrete replica of Dickinson’s desk from memory (there are no photos allowed in her house) but a visitor at the opening knocked it over and destroyed it while trying to snap a photo of the artist’s massive paintings. 'He must have been trying to Instagram or something,' Cristobal jokes.
Elsewhere, a range of earlier works on paper and a neon sculpture in the library are on display upstairs. ‘For me,’ says Mateo. ‘The best thing is that you can’t tell what is old and what is new.’