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press: How the Art World Finally Caught Up With a Mexican Artist

Roberto Gil de Montes has painted for decades, but it wasn’t until 2020 that the global spotlight found him. His work will appear at Paris+ by Art Basel.

By Ray Mark Rinaldi

Reporting from La Peñita de Jaltemba, Mexico

Oct. 17, 2023

Roberto Gil de Montes is not sure how, in his early 70s, he became the art world’s next big thing. He has made the same work for half a century, he insists, painting seven days a week, producing surreal, stylized portraits of ordinary people that he encounters in his daily life.

But an email arrived, not quite three years ago, at his home in the small fishing town of La Peñita de Jaltemba on Mexico’s Pacific coast, where he has lived for more than two decades. It was from a friend who had a friend who worked at a gallery in Mexico City called Kurimanzutto. Would Mr. Gil de Montes be interested in a chat about showing some work there? The artist had never heard of Kurimanzutto.

He did a quick call with one of its sales directors, Malik Al-Mahrouky, and then an interview with a co-founder, José Kuri. An invitation to hang some paintings at the gallery followed.

It would be a small showing, just a handful of works in a walled-off section of the space, and the audience would be limited because of pandemic-related restrictions. “There was not going to be an opening,” Mr. Gil de Montes said, explaining why he kept his expectations low. “The gallery would be by appointment only.”