In its 21st year, ArteBA’s snapshot of the contemporary arts scene is as discerning and dynamic as ever. Providing a platform for more than 81 international galleries, it has maintained its unimpeachable reputation as one of the most revered art fairs in Latin America. Its increasingly global turn in recent years has been a successful move, fuelling art networks and singling out up-and-coming artists. In the process, it has raised the profile of Latin American art, carving out a niche for it on the international market.
Unlike government-sponsored or commercially-orientated fairs, ArteBA is a non-profit foundation. As such, rather than serving the demands of the market, generating sales and fostering strategic networks, art is still its driving forces. Pulling in an annual crowd of 120,000, it is clearly doing something right.
The selection of art is considered, independent and broad-minded. Veteran artists are placed indiscriminately alongside emergent talent. And whilst there are broad patterns within the galleries’s self-contained exhibition space, the art fair is by no means plugging any central themes or trends.
Gallery Alberto Sendros – both in the main exhibition space and the U-Turn room – continues to excel itself. Juan Becú’s ‘Abstraction from the Series Lexius’ is a dazzling composition of intersecting, self-contained images that foreground the materiality of paint. Rust-terracotta undulating furls coax the eye along trails which spin off into icy spirals, a meditation on the art of looking.
Still in painting, Juan Ranieri’s topographic series, which includes ‘Premonitory Postcard of the Porteño Skyline’, reveals the city in the process of coming into being. In the foreground is the old cityscape: a scattering of cupolas holds its patch-worked, crumbling variousness together. Further in the distance, the stiffness of pearl-grey skyscrapers loom over; an aeroplane skims two pearly-grey skyscraping peaks.
Jorge Macchi’s visually confounding works dominate Ruth Benzacar’s collection. His photographic installation ‘Marienbad’ features a geometric landscaped garden, after the iconic still from the 1961 surrealist film ‘Last Year at Marienbad’, juxtaposed against a modern day, derelict industrial Czech town.
Beyond the central exhibition, three separate sections are concentrated on more specific contemporary styles. Now in its second year, the U-Turn projection rooms, curated by Abaseh Mirvali, has a fair amount of striking, conceptual pieces with a distinct hint of the Berlin’s gallery district. Sculpture and multimedia installations, which explore the fine line between illusion and reality in material objects, are the room’s signature.
A black bee-hive like sculpture, suspended in the midst of the PSM gallery, moves intermittently, producing metallic sounds from somewhere deep inside its hollow. Eduardo Basualdo’s sculptures all betray this fascination with the secret life of things, their intriguing, unknowable otherness.
Across the room, Diego Bianchi’s featherlight bronze sculptures, homages to elementary and spiritual processes, are set off by Sofía Bohtlingk’s translucent blue-silver canvases.
Colombian artist Johanna Calle has made an evocative black-and-white tree print, which, as in a slowed film reel, has the air of gradual blossoming before the spectator’s eyes. While Eduardo Hoffman’s sensuous, Chinese-ink glazed textures are mesmerizing hymns to the art of contemplation.
Barrio Joven, subsidised by the foundation, is an all together more experimental affair, brimming with bold, cartoonish statements, in the vein of Buenos Aires’s buoyant street art scene. Detached from the main exhibition space, it forms its own enclave nestled away in its hipster spirit of rebellion. And like a teenager’s haphazard bedroom, its walls and floors are tacked with sketches and crammed full to breaking point. Dedicated to representing young, unknown, contemporary artists, primarily from Argentina, it serves as a communal space, prompting artists from different parts of the country to feed off one other’s work and, in turn, foment their own artistic identity.
The Solo Show of Latin American Painting, under the direction of Mexican curator Pablo León de la Barra, is focused more specifically on Latin American art. Peruvian artist Iosu Aramburu’s neon-framed painting of an Incan ruin allows for simultaneous time frames to coexist, so that our flourescent modernity comes to inform our understanding of the past.
The notoriously contentious Petrobras prize has sponsored dialogue between artists this year. The result is a series of experimental performances resulting in creations like ‘Pop Up Cartoon’, a bizarre medley of abstract theatre, cardboard sculpture and sound experimentation.
Swiss photographer Liliane Erbele’s dark triptych focuses on the disconcerting subject of self-destruction and loneliness, resensitising a ‘culture of spectatorship’ to the searing pain of others.
Marcos López is still, in his iridescent glare, the Argentine photographer de rigeur. His gaudy, garrulous, parodic portraits are amply displayed in Banco Ciudad’s stand. It seems only fitting that his deeply ironic critiques of contemporary Argentine society should feature bank members as their subjects, with a catalogue introduction from Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri. Thoroughly immersed in the surface language of the ‘image’, his unashamedly brash, polychrome portraits cast a disconcerting, supernatural gaze on contemporary society.
Beyond the champagne-fuelled sensationalism of the opening night, ArteBA’s collection is testament to the inroads that Argentina has made in the art world in recent years. The art is not all of the highest calibre, and for all the fresh, scintillating experimentalism there is an equally heavy dose of blandness and belatedness. But nestled within the fair’s dynamic are the signs of a finely-carved tradition in the making.
The Argentine art market is, according to foreign gallery owners, still difficult to crack. But the fair’s appeal is, as ever, in the aisles, where wandering gazes are distracted by the equally appealing talent on display – a flamboyant, sartorially impeccable crowd.