The Best Contemporary Art Galleries In Valparaiso, Chile
Valparaiso is Chile’s art capital, as a walk through the city’s cultured streets will demonstrate. What distinguishes Valparaiso’s contemporary art scene from elsewhere, however, is its strong political undercurrent. Valpo’s artists are fiery, engaged, and articulate, and the walls of its various exhibition spaces bear witness to their nature. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a thriving and opinionated art underworld.
Casa E promotes contemporary art throughout Valparaiso as one of the most dedicated gallery spaces in Chile. Set in a beautiful building from 1881, Casa E shares its space with several galleries, cafés and a branch of the Santiago-based Metales Pesados bookshop. Ready to open for business in 2010, the February earthquake damaged the building, calling for more works to be done. The result is impressive: over 100 square-meters of exhibition-space, with ceilings reaching four meters high. Managed by Emilio Lamarca, former head of cultural affairs in Santiago, the gallery encourages young artists through competitions, such as the Pan Batido, through which 11 selected artists exhibited their work. Casa E aims to be a center for the production of art and also welcomes artists in residence. Matilde Perez, Paz Errazuriz, Tomas Rivas have all exhibited here.
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If you’re in the mood for something less sleek and more subversive, Worm is the place to go. Set in a rough and ready part of town, it prides itself on being an independent platform, far from the commercial art world. The gallery considers applications from artists who have not necessarily received academic training, but articulate clear, and usually dissident views on the world through an artistic medium. Much of the work that you’ll see here will have a political message, but in a very refreshing, well-thought out and surprisingly poetic way. This is one place in which form and content really do mirror each other.
Housed in a touristy part of town, Wenteche is ideally located to attract attention to local Chilean and Latin American art. Composed of a collective of about 30 independent artists specializing in fine arts, Wenteche continually overflows with new projects. Originally set up as a workshop by the founding artist Patricio Pena Oltra, the gallery moved from Vina del Mar to Valparaiso four years later to offer a platform and meeting place for artists from the region. One of its most popular ventures is the Supermercado de Arte Contemporaneo de Valparaiso, which has been taking place every year since 2006.
Galeria Andreo is an exhibition space and workshop open to the public. Go there to see artists working live, and get the rare chance to talk to them about their creative process. As well as being probably one of the most colorful and lively spots in Valparaiso – which is certainly an achievement in itself – Andreo boasts a relaxing café. Radoslav Rakela, Claudio Miranda, Fabian Zamorano, Omar Piñol are some of the young artists who exhibit here.
The name of this gallery is inspired by Clarissa Pinkola Estes‘ book, Women who Run with Wolves. Galeria y Tienda Loba is run by Maria Jose Puga with a focus on illustration, cartoon strips, and photography. As well as organizing exhibitions, Loba also offers workshops and has a boutique where artists’ works can be bought. Every full moon is celebrated with extended opening hours and other activities. One of the most recent exhibitions, Aborto, invited 17 illustrators to tackle the theme of abortion, a thorny issue in Chile, where abortion is still illegal. Exhibitions at Loba regularly involve live music.
Located on Cerro Carcel, the site now occupied by Valparaiso’s cultural center contained a series of buildings, such as a gunpowder warehouse, where ammunition was kept in order to repel the British fleet in the context of the Napoleonic wars. In 1840, a prison was built on the grounds, and it remained active until 1999. The space went from bearing witness to the unspeakably brutal detentions which took place during the dictatorship, to acting as a stage for local artistic initiatives as early as 2000, and up to 2010 when a highly controversial public competition was set up for the conversion of the space into a cultural center. High profile architects such as Oscar Niemeyer submitted proposals, but an enthusiastic group of young architects from the local Catholic university were awarded the privilege. Entrance to the parque is free of charge. Exhibition halls, dance and theater studios share 30,000 square-meters of space between them.
In 1969 Francisco Mendez, an art professor from the Catholic University of Valparaiso, started the trend of painting on the walls of Cerro Bellavista with his students. Inspired by murals, which had begun in 1920s post revolution Mexico with artists such as Diego Rivera at its forefront, the idea was to share art with the citizens of Valparaiso. Quite predictably, given their political and social undertones, the military government got rid of many of the murals after the 1973 coup. But in the early 90s, 18 well known Chilean artists such as Nemesio Antúnez, Matilde Pérez, José Balmes and RobertoMatta got together to design a collection of 20 murals, which the students of the Catholic University then realized.
Renzo Pecchenino, born in Italy in 1934, moved to Valparaiso at the age of one. He studied architecture for four years but was forced to give it up when his father passed away. He started working as a lyricist, cartoonist, and window decorator, before becoming famous for his caricatures of Chilean society which appeared in the biggest publications of his day, both in Chile and throughout Latin America, and which he published under the name Lukas. His work is interesting not only because of his exquisite draftsmanship, but also because of his keen, subtle sense of humor through which he managed to describe Chilean idiosyncrasies. His drawings provide a quirky shortcut to understanding the Chilean psyche, and they are on show at Museo Lukas.
It is impossible to write about art in Chile and leave out Pablo Neruda. One of Chile’s most famous artists, his life and personality were as fascinating as his poetry. Neruda starting looking for a house away from the hustle of Santiago in 1959. He settled on La Sebastiana, an eccentric mansion built by Sebastian Collao. Neruda liked the crazy way the house had been woven together. The whole third floor had originally been designed as a giant bird cage. He decorated his house with eclectic pieces of art, including a portrait of Walt Whitman. The view of the port from the tower alone is worth a visit. The house was looted after the military coup in 1973, restored in 1991. A cultural center housing exhibitions, conferences, courses and poetry workshops was added in 1996. There is also a library with contemporary poetry by authors such as Raúl Zurita, Oscar Hahn, Rafael Rubio, Hector Hernandez and Manuel Silva Acevedo.
Galeria Bahia Utopica is a must visit if you’re interested in contemporary art in Valparaiso. It represents artists from Valparaiso, Chile, and abroad. Some of its most notable artists are Gonzalo Ilabaca, Eduardo Mena, Salvador Amenabar, and the illustrious Loro Coiron. This French-born artist produces hugely popular black and white wood engravings, in a style which is perhaps best described as Magritte-meets-Picasso-meets-Munch.