Now in its 25th year, ArteBA is one of the region’s premier art gatherings. Ben Miller headed along to the opening to see what the four-day fair had to offer.
Yesterday marked the official opening of the 25th installment of ArteBA, one of Latin America’s premier gatherings for artists and collectors alike. As in previous years, the event kicked off with a private ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday night, and thereby opened the carefully curated madness of the fair to all. While plenty of art-loving Argentines crowded into the main pavilion of La Rural on Thursday, throngs of foreigners also made the pilgrimage to witness the gathering of over 50 Latin American galleries showing works from hundreds of artists. The fair’s geographic diversity is evident in the range of the works on display, and several galleries emphatically place focus on their emerging artists.
Encounters with art happen mostly at random given the labyrinthine layout of the fair’s stands and sections, creating a casual—if somewhat overwhelming—atmosphere in the cavernous hall. Despite the clear commercial bent of the show, exemplified best by sleek clusters of posturing attendees, it is more than possible to enjoy the impressive aesthetics of every corner in the fair’s partitioned floor plan. Navigating through larger sections may help organise your visit, but there is a certain joy to stumbling between distinctive spaces like the Chandon-sponsored Barrio Joven, Espacio Dixit, or the U-Turn Project Rooms set up by Mercedes-Benz.
In the fair’s 25th year, the celebration is as expansive and enthusiastic as ever. Many long-time participants and attendees have remained in awe of the fair’s accomplishments, contradicting their jaded art world stereotypes. Even after more than a decade showing, schmoozing, and viewing at ArteBA, gallery owner and collector Henrique Faria appreciates moments of serendipity. “I always think going to the fair is so great, because you get to see works you wouldn’t see anywhere else. New stuff and old stuff, which people don’t think about,” he said during a laid back discussion with Tunca Foundation founder Camila Sol.
Their chat took place on a stack of pillows just outside the venue itself, beside the vintage Airstream ‘Raquel’—the only one in all of Argentina—housing the works of several artists who together underwent a two week nomadic residency in southern Patagonia. The project Escape Route showcases the works of these artists in a markedly different space than the majority of stands at ArteBA. Faria celebrated this deliberate departure from the constraints of gallery-style booths, proclaiming, “if this is the trailer, then I would certainly be trailer trash!”
Inside the iconic mobile home, mixed media and unorthodox placements fit not only the confined space, but also the the curatorial spirit of the larger fair. Pencil drawings of Andean landscapes, fantastical imagined maps, looping montage videos, and berries in stone basins fill the trailer with ample material to capture the two-week experience of artists in the wild. “The trailer is a good shock, like jumping into a lake in Patagonia,” said artist Gregory Thielker of his work being displayed non-traditionally at the fair. As a first-time participant in ArteBA, he also cited the “human content” of many works on display, along with a refreshing “un-business approach” from many of the art dealers present.
The pavilion’s huge interior houses plenty of highlights, featuring an exciting mix of painting, photography, sculpture, and installations organised into gallery sections and single-artist “cabinets”. Strong examples of Latin American modernism abound, with particularly eye-catching appearances from established names like Pablo Suárez (Roldán Moderno) and Leandro Katz (Henrique Faria), as well as contemporary flare with works like Fabian Bercic’s deco-evoking resin wall sculptures (Ignacio Liprandi), and the neon-bound anatomies imagined by Nicanor Araoz (Barro Arte Contemporaneo).
Espacio Dixit provides a frenetic and colourful space without walls, using floor space for large elemental installations (read: dirt and metal). Barrio Joven, on the other hand, showcases emerging artists in a horseshoe of walled stands, allowing works like Andrés Brück’s (Urgente) rugged felted cloth creations to stand out for their avant-garde materiality.
The vastness of the space and volume of works on display within are what make ArteBA a great way to spend one, if not two, whole days getting lost and finding new ideas in art. The thorough sponsorship and transactional social aspects of the fair are certainly present undercurrents, but they do little to create any sense of stuffiness or inaccessibility for the uninitiated visitor. Spaces like Isla de Editoriales allow all attendees an opportunity to deepen their background knowledge with access to essential publications and theoretical texts from the Latin American art scene. A quarter of a century on, ArteBA has grown to attract a wider audience by showcasing a wider range of works, highlighting new artists, and welcoming conceptually rigorous ideas. The results are thrilling to witness first hand, making the fair a must-see cultural event for art enthusiasts and dilettantes alike.
ArteBA runs until 22nd May at the Blue and Green Pavilions in La Rural, Av. Sarmiento, Palermo. General entrance: $160. For more information visit www.arteba.org.
All images by Ben Miller.