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Arturo Rodriguez, who runs the upscale Caja Gallery on a winding residential street about two miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, confirms this. Even with pieces by respected border artists like Irma Sofia Poeter and Pablo Llana in his collection, Rodriguez has a tough time attracting buyers.
“It’s difficult because there’s a lot of money here but the people usually …” his voice trailed off as he searched for a diplomatic way to explain the city’s lack of local art buyers. As for San Diego collectors, Tijuana’s security reputation keeps them away.
“There’s no art market,” affirmed Stefan Falke, a German photographer who has spent much of the last six years shooting portraits of artists all along the U.S.-Mexico border, including Barragán and Ruanova. (The photos will be exhibited at New York’s Photoville exhibit in September.)
But for Falke, what’s bad for the artists’ pockets is good for their process.
“Art there is made for the art,” he said.
In 2013, Barragán and Ruanova started to lobby the Cultural Committee of the Mexican Congress to fund their cross-cultural space. They received 700,000 pesos (about $53,000) and a stipulation: The funds must be spent in Mexico.
TJ in China opened in February in an abandoned curio shop on Tijuana’s famed Avenida Revolución. The space showcases mostly local artists and has a residency program for artists from Beijing. The current exhibit, “The Layered Process as Self Documentaton,” runs through mid-September.
On a Thursday afternoon in July, Barragán and Ruanova sat on red chairs in the middle of the gallery as a parade of flies zipped about, having taken a wrong turn from the taco stand next door.
“We had way more fun in China than we do here,” said Ruanova, lighting a cigarette to chase out the flies. “But we are here with a purpose.”
The two want to plant a seed in a city where they believe it has a lot of room to grow. They also want to bring something home.
“There was something we admired in the art districts in Beijing — that they worked for the people of Beijing. Not for the foreigner who wants to go. And in my case, I can’t hide the fact from myself that I think my work would be more important here than in another place,” Ruanova said.