While certainly not courting the sensationalism, or the price tags, of their British counterparts, a generation of young Argentine artists are making ripple effects on the local and international arts scene. The YAAs’ conceptual range precludes any broad categorisation but sculpture – in its various piquant guises – does seem to be the prevalent mode. Each of the scintillating, sought-after names below bring their own edgy brilliance to bear on our contemporary mores, filtering them through their illuminating visual force fields.
In the absence of the funding bodies, art institutions or critical tradition conducive to establishing cultural paradigms and disseminating the work of the young and talented, the Buenos Aires art scene is driven largely by the improvisational spirit of communal ‘close door’ projects. Recoleta’s eclectic arts emporium, Patio del Liceo, serves as a talent pool for rapaciously curious, quirky young designers and artists. Whilst alternative gallery spaces like the iconic Collective Rosa Chancho have become commonplace fixtures on the cultural scene, fostering a collaborative spirit which spurs artists to experiment in formally experimental ways.
“Ten years ago, art was a hermetic profession in Argentina,” says installation artist Eduardo Navarro. “Now it’s become fashionable – and communal in turn.” Navarro is a graduate of the prestigious Guillermo Kuitca grant which was, until recently, one of the few programmes in place to mentor young artists. The launch of the University Torcuato di Tella’s innovative arts department and the increasingly international scope of Argentina’s annual art fair, ArteBA, have been crucial additions in recent years, legitimising and galvanising current trends and sponsoring dialogue between artists.
Navarro is one of the promising young artists responsible for the increasing visibility of Argentine art on the international circuit. Remarkably versatile, his creations range from transnational projects that explore border territory to whimsical comic strip drawings. From imaginative job applications to philosophical ‘studies on time’ which filter a linear temporality through his own arcane, experiential logic. His graphic series depends on the wry interplay between image and caption, exhibiting their own delightful surface naiveté. Above the caption ‘Best Friends’, two lightbulbs perch atop electricity pylons, curving affectionately into one another, like sunflowers seeking out the sun.
Navarro places himself in the tradition of Duchamp’s readymade and describes his ambitious installational projects as analogous to a water cycle system in which reality and simulated reality are drawn into one seamless continuity. From the simulation of an ‘art chapel’ in Frankfurt to therapy sessions in Maine, to a black market ‘copy’ factory in Once, for Navarro, once a scene is displaced from its immediate context, it acquires its own aesthetic value, subtly disrupting the pre-existing structure on which it is predicated.
Eduardo Basualdo’s visually confounding creations have caught the attention of the German art world. His sculptures and installations betray a fascination with the secret life of things, their intriguing, unknowable otherness. Influenced by Jorge Macchi’s synthetic, poetic meditations, Basualdo casts his own prismatic, psychologically-charged gaze on everyday objects, which act as visual correlatives for the ever-recoiling, hermetic nature of the mind. In his visually striking Cyclops, a concentrated beam seeps out of a dense cocoon-like iron structure, exploring the fine line between the repressive and liberating strains of rationality. In his latest work ‘Shortcut’, exhibited at Berlin’s PSM gallery, a beehive-like mound hangs suspended emitting sounds intermittently, prompting the spectator to fathom its dark, impenetrable depths.
Anthony Caro’s claim that sculpture has become the language of our time certainly holds water, in its elastic guise, in Argentina. Diego Bianchi’s sculptures span feather-light, bronze carvings to anthropomorphic figures, which wallow in the materiality of their contorted body parts. Both his sculptures and performance-installations are driven by a desire to implicate the spectator in the artwork, stimulating and disarming their senses.
“You should be able to touch, break, and remake a work of art,” says Bianchi. “It shouldn’t be a self-contained object;” rather something that shifts with perspectives, that flirts with its own abstract and figurative forms. Bianchi’s work constantly wrestles between the pure, closed logic of conceptual art and an expressive, psychologically-charged gaze. A lecturer of the ‘Anti-Project’ course at Di Tella University, Bianchi places art within the contingent confines of everyday reality, subverting any engrained perceptions.
Bianchi’s at once beautiful and sordid, mutant creations are fashioned from the accumulated detritus of daily life – boxes, bags, bottle caps – whose semiotic brand language is placed in sharp tension with the visceral materiality of its waste products. For Bianchi, working with ‘found’ and created material results in a spontaneous form of art imbricated in what it displays, transforming the everyday into something luminous and enduring.
Sofía Bohtlingk’s shimmering cornflower blue canvases set off Bianchi’s curvaceous bronze forms at Alberto Sendrós gallery. The fragile, undulating furls and pellucid sheen of her oil painting, ‘Rutger’, are sustained by a subtle shift in tone and geometric form. Moving away from the chromatic theatricality of her neo-romantic visionary style, Bohtlingk has focused on a more “automated” series of background images that seem to dissolve before the viewer’s eyes. Like Bianchi’s open forms, her frameless oil paintings are vibrant, living creations which problematise any simple distinction between figurative and abstract art.
Luciana Lamothe’s airy, steel-edged assemblages follow the modern principle of “form which emerges from its function.” In her autonomous, imposing constructions, each beam, tube and backboard depends on, and creates the context for, the other. In ‘Perspective’, part of Lamothe’s series of “actions,” the excessive exposure of the photographs, surreptitiously snapped without their subject’s permission, are eerily evocative of surveillance images.
For anyone looking for Argentina’s answer to Damien Hirst, Carlos Herrera offers his own dose of inert, epigrammatic spectacle. ‘Self-portrait of my death’, which won the Petrobras prize last year, consists of a live video clip of a plastic bag containing a shirt, socks and a pair of shoes filled with rotting squid. According to Herrera, the conceptual image of his mortality is “more participatory, less controlled” than Hirst’s philosophical proposition of “death in the mind of someone living.” His equally provocative photomontage ‘Comfort and Protection’ features a series of 1970s pornographic images with the genitalia cut-out: inserting the subject back into the frame has the effect of nullifying any erotic appeal.
Shedding its European carapace, the nascent Argentine art scene has firmly carved out its own visually eclectic, finely-tuned tradition. With a host of exhibitions and biennales lined up for the coming year, the future certainly looks bright and international for this conceptually diverse, relentlessly innovative talent pool.