How Tequila Entrepreneur Bertha González Nieves Built a Collection of Innovative Mexican Art That Keeps Her Inspired at Home

The world's first maestra tequilera also has an eye for art.

Bertha González Nieves, founder of Casa Dragones, in the agave fields. Photo courtesy of Casa Dragones.
Bertha González Nieves, founder of Casa Dragones, in the agave fields. Photo courtesy of Casa Dragones.

Since co-founding Casa Dragones, her small-batch tequila company, in 2009, Mexican entrepreneur Bertha González Nieves has imbued the business with her love of art, starting with the traditional Mexican art of “pepita” hand engraving used to produce each signed and numbered crystal bottle.

In addition to being certified as the first female maestra tequilera by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila, Nieves is also a collector and patron. She is on the board of the Judd Foundation and the executive council at the Museum of Food and Drink, and was previously part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s Latin American Art Initiative.

Nieves’s Mexico City home is filled with a growing collection with a focus on Mexican art. Artists in her holdings include Carlos AmoralesPedro FriedebergGardar Eide Einarsson, Sam Moyer, and Oaxaca-based artist and tattooist Dr. Lakra.

Artnet News recently spoke with Nieves about what inspires her acquisitions, and how her home is an extension of her philosophy on art and style.

Pablo Vargas Lugo, <em>Lluvia de Estrellas (Rain of Stars)</em>. Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

Pablo Vargas Lugo, Lluvia de Estrellas (Rain of Stars). Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

My first purchase was through OMR gallery in Mexico City.  The work is called Lluvia de Estrellas by Pablo Vargas Lugo. It is a large collage of mixed media on paper, and it’s one of the centerpieces in our home. I paid around $16,000.

What was your most recent purchase?

I recently bought an ink drawing on paper by Abraham Cruzvillegas from Kurimanzutto [in Mexico City and New York]. Monica Manzutto personally selected the piece for me. I got the chance to meet him when we served Casa Dragones at his opening at Tate Modern, and I am thrilled to own a piece by him.

Abraham Cruz Villegas, <em>Nuestra imagen actual, 31</em> (2019). Collection of Bertha González Nieves. Courtesy of Kurimanzutto, Mexico City and New York.

Abraham Cruzvillegas, Nuestra imagen actual, 31 (2019). Collection of Bertha González Nieves. Courtesy of Kurimanzutto, Mexico City and New York.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

I’d love to buy a work by Rirkrit Tiravanija. I love his work, and he’s become a great friend. Last year, Casa Dragones became an official partner at Art Basel Miami Beach, and we built a tasting room in the collectors lounge. Rikrit served as one of our “art-tenders,” creating a communal bar art experience.

He created a recipe with a powdered silver luster dust rim. All of the participants ended up with silver lips, which was the name of the cocktail. It was brilliant. I love his conceptual work based on sharing food and meals, but I’d also love to have a piece I can display at home.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Bertha González Nieves, and Hector Esrawe at the Casa Dragones Tasting Room in the Collectors Lounge at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021. Photo courtesy of Casa Dragones.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

Probably Gabriel Orozco—I own one of his “Obituaries.” I don’t just think about prices, though—when I think about art, it’s about people. I’ve known Gabriel for a long time now. We became friends when he requested that we serve Casa Dragones during his retrospective that traveled through New York, France, London, and Switzerland [from 2009 to 2011].

A piece from Gabriel Orozco's "Obituaries" series. Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

A piece from Gabriel Orozco’s “Obituaries” series. Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

I’m lucky to have good friends in the art world, so I sometimes rely on them for recommendations. I usually purchase through their galleries, like Cristobal Riestra from OMR, Alissa Friedman from Salon 94 [in New York], Casey Kaplan from his gallery [in New York], and Pamela Echeverría from Labor [in Mexico City].

Recently, I purchased an up-and-coming artist, Jonathan Miralda Fuksman, through a friend, Marco Rountree, at Guadalajara90210.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

Never. I have learned that the best part of buying art is that it always fills you with life.

Melanie Smith, <em>Skywalker No. 3</em> (2000). Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

Melanie Smith, Skywalker No. 3 (2000). Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa? What about in your bathroom?

At my home in the Springs, I’ve placed a work by Melanie Smith above the sofa. I met Melanie through OMR; she is a British artist who moved to Mexico. It is large abstract painting that is very bright pink, and it completely lights up the room with great energy… I love it.

In my bathroom, I have a work by Hadley Hudson, an American photographer based in Los Angeles and Berlin. It is a black and white photograph that is a little bit risqué.

Elisa Sighicelli, <em>Iceland: Kitchen</em> (2001). Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

Elisa Sighicelli, Iceland: Kitchen (2001). Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

That would probably be a work by Elisa Sighicelli that I purchased through Gagosian. It is a C-print mounted on a lightbox called Iceland: Kitchen, 2001. I really love the work, but it is currently wired for the E.U. I need to get it rewired this year—it’s on my to-do list!

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

Well, that would be a very long list. For me, it’s all about collecting stories, and those stories come from the experiences I’ve had in my life, with family, friends, and at work. Over the years, I have become friends with Danh Vo, Pedro Reyes, and Gabriel Orozco, all of whom designed Artist Edition bottles with Casa Dragones Joven. The collaborations were born out of friendship and mutual respect. I sometimes wish I had met them 20 years ago, so I could have started collecting their work then.

Ed Atkins, <em>Ribbons (fuck my life)</em>, 2014. Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

Ed Atkins, Ribbons (fuck my life), 2014. Collection of Bertha González Nieves.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Of course, I could never imagine stealing anything since I prefer my collection to be based on truly knowing the artist. In that respect, it would have been incredible to have known Frida Kahlo. As the most important female Latin American artist in our history, as a feminist icon, and as a fellow tequila lover, it would be a dream to own a piece by her.

What does art mean to you?

For me, art is about storytelling. Every piece in my home has a special story to it, either from the artist, the gallery or from my own connection to the piece. That’s one of the reasons I love to collect art from artists and galleries I have a relationship with; it makes it meaningful to me.

What does style mean to you? How do you define the relationship between art and style?

Style is inherently personal. Everyone has their own individual taste, in both fashion and in art. My personal style is my own interpretation of fashion, not what everyone else is wearing. The same is true with art that I love—my taste is defined by the story that attracts me, rather than the forces of the market.


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