We Followed Bertha González Nieves, the World’s First ‘Maestra Tequilera,’ Through an Art-Packed Week in Mexico City
The Casa Dragones founder and figurehead has intertwined her fervent passions for tequila, art, and her hometown.
While there is certainly no dearth of humdrum museum galas in the calendar year, Museo Tamayo’s glamorous crescendo to Mexico City’s art week is actually fun. On February 9, enormous cones of red and yellow heliconia canopied the ceiling of the museum’s grand outdoor terrace, while uniformed waiters expertly ladled out sopa de quintoniles y chochoyotes from silver tureens and over the shoulders of the well-dressed guests without spilling a single drop on their designer gowns. Bottles of Casa Dragones adorned every table. Attendees sipped the tequila in stemmed glasses. Meanwhile, the brand’s co-founder and chief executive Bertha González Nieves presided over two tables.
González Nieves was resplendent in an ochre Dries van Noten dress—an apropos choice. Like the Belgian designer, González Nieves had created an indie luxury product with a key tenet of art adjacency. The spirit-maker is focused on a rarefied customer.
Throughout the week, Casa Dragones sponsored openings and previews at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Masa, OMR, and Kurimanzutto, as well as the blowout party at Lago/Algo (a formerly-dilapidated modernist remnant envisioned for the 1968 Olympics that’s been revamped into a hip contemporary arts hub and eatery). González Nieves also squeezed in lunch with the US ambassador. “Tomorrow I’m going to the beach,” she said and disappeared into the bustling dancefloor. The next week she’d have a similarly chocked Frieze LA schedule with events at Pace, Regan Projects, and other galleries.
One would be hard-pressed to find a brand that didn’t wield art extensions for marketing purposes (oftentimes, the result is a random screensaver adjacent NFT collaboration). But Casa Dragones specializes in an elevated, genuine curation, with ongoing alignments with White Cube, OMR, and Sean Kelly Gallery. It’s also the official tequila sponsor of Art Basel Miami Beach. González Nieves is also on the board of directors at the Judd Foundation. “It’s all Bertha’s vision,” said Monica Manzutto, co-founder of Mexico City’s Kurimanzutto. Casa Dragones is sponsoring an upcoming artist talks series, Future Dialogue, at the gallery’s recently opened Chelsea outpost in Manhattan. The debut guest will be Minerva Cuevas on April 1.
“She goes beyond just being a sponsor,” Manzutto continues. “Yes, we’ve made some amazing, memorable parties. But what is precious about Bertha is her commitment to playing a more intellectual role. It’s a genuine interest in art and an understanding of the ecosystem and the constellation of people that belong to it. What makes her so special is that she does it herself. She’s making all these decisions.”
González Nieves’s art world affinity could spring from the fact that she is something of an artist herself. Besides being an entrepreneur, she is Mexico’s first maestra tequilera (or female tequila distiller). “I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to fall in love with a craft I’ve been able to shape into my livelihood,” she said. “Like art, it’s all about passion. People don’t go into art. Art calls to them and artists dedicate their life to it.”
She divides her time between New York and her native Mexico City and is an ardent supporter and cheerleader of her hometown. “It’s a city founded by the Aztecs and conquered by Spaniards,” she said. “You have the magic of all of that heritage together in modern Mexico today. Whether you’re into art, architecture, design, or history. This is a city that can satisfy every area of curiosity.” She’s also well aware that CDMX is in a fascinating transition period and at the center of the crosshairs of the art and fashion realms. She’s made it her mission to espouse the country’s magic and mystique.
A ZONA MACO Excursion
Accompanying González Nieves through the aisles of the Zona Maco art fair is akin to a downtown excursion with a small-town mayor. She knows everyone manning each Mexico City gallery booth. All smiles in a herringbone blazer and sensible Prada loafers, she stopped to chat and then explained the history and vibe of each gallery we came to.
González Nieves’s private collection is predominantly Mexican artists, such as Abraham Cruz Villegas, Carlos Amorales, Pedro Reyes, and Gabriel Orozco (the latter two have designed limited-edition Casa Dragones bottles). “There’s an emotional connection to Mexican art that really calls my attention,” she said. “There’s also something warm about hanging art on your walls that is by people that you actually know. I love knowing the artist.”
Popping by Travesia Cuatro’s booth, González Nieves was struck by Teresa Solar Abboud’s Tunnel Boring Machine sculpture. “Oh my god that color,” she marveled at the gleaming robin’s egg ceramic creation. “Is it for inside only?”
At the JO-HS booth, American artist Neil Hamamoto was on-hand explaining his vivid abstracts composed of price stickers. “They’re called the Bodega Paintings,” he said. “I used bodegas as my gallery. I didn’t have representation, and seven bodega owners let me install in their stores. The works are about consumption and consumerism.”
Next up was Gaga, founded by Fernando Mesta. “His agenda is completely different from everyone’s,” Gonzalez Nieves said. “He’s progressive and courageous. He started with a little tiny little spot and now he has an international presence.”
“Bertha! Good to see you,” Mesta popped over from the temporary desk in his eclectic booth. Vivian Suter’s entrancing large-scale paintings on unstretched, tarp-like canvases hung from the wall. “She’s 73 and in the 80s’ moved from Switzerland to Guatemala and started painting in the middle of the jungle and no one saw her work for 30-something years.” Gonzalez Nieves looked enraptured and one could see the wheels begin to turn as she studied the vivid abstractions. The collector impulse had been triggered.
“This is not gonna stop here,” she said. “I’m gonna follow up. There’s a certain happiness of color that I appreciate, and then learning more about her story. This is someone that painted for the joy of painting. A woman who followed a different path.”
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