ArtBO, Bogotà’s international art fair ended on Monday October 28th 2013 after five intense days of private events, professional previews and the traditional three public days. The fair, which is now in its 9th edition, after a modest beginning in the early 2000s, has been slowly consolidating into one of the favorite destinations for Latin American art, competing with similar events in Brazil and the United States. With sixty-something galleries in the main pavilion, the fair remains consistent and varied, while altogether regional: Latin American art makes up the vast majority of the works on view but the presence of some strong galleries (regional and otherwise) sends vibes about the maturity of the fair and the confidence expressed by art dealers and collectors alike about the city as an art destination.
Bogotà has not been necessarily a highlight in the global art map but connoisseurs have been eyeing the city with interest for a number of years and it was included in Phaidon’s recent volume, Art Cities of the Future: 21st Century Avant-Gardes alongside Istanbul, Beirut and others, with a chapter authored by prominent Colombian curator Jose Roca. Speaking with local artists and art dealers reveals a complex panorama in which, despite the emergence of galleries with international profiles, the institutional sector is clearly in decline and artists struggle to overcome the hermetism of a contemporary art fraught with its own conceptual struggles. The fair however manages to stay fresh and lure a significant number of international collectors one often sees in other bigger fairs.
Small talk with dealers in between corridors of the venue and the different events furnished proof about the success of the fair: The majority of mid-size and established galleries were satisfied with the sales and contacts, praised the fair’s interest in bringing VIPs and collectors and one important Berlin-based dealer even expressed his desire to return next year. The events program was first-rate even when compared to other fairs and outstanding among them were the brunch and party offered by ArtNexus (an influential regional art magazine) publisher Celia Birbragher, who could be seen at the fair often, going from booth to booth, in the best of Colombian hospitality. The fair attendance was overwhelming during the public days and it wasn’t limited to art professionals and buyers.
Parallel to the main section, there was an academic forum that served as a critical platform, the highlights of which were a lecture by University of British Columbia’s Serge Guilbaut on museology and a collecting panel between Spanish collector Mercedes Vilardell and prominent regional collectors Solita Mishaan and Cesar Cervantes. Some of the best and most interesting art at the fair was however not in the main section, but in a specially curated – albeit very narrow – pavilion devoted to individual projects and that perhaps did not receive enough attention. ‘Artecamara’, another pavilion devoted to emerging Colombian artists did neither surprise nor disappoint and remained barely noticed. The city was also inundated with exhibition openings, parallel alternative fairs, performances and art prizes.
Overall, ArtBo remains on a path of continuous growth and is definitely a fair for mid-size galleries from elsewhere in the world to watch for and invest in, although one would definitely like to see a more equal balance between regional and international art (which collectors expressed a growing interest in) and organization-wise some critical issues remain: Local press received a great degree of attention from the organization while foreign-language press was either absent or minimally regarded and on the evening of the dismounting of the booths, the personnel made available by the fair was less than excellent. As Bogotà consolidates as one of the art destinations in the Americas, the fair certainly reflects this broad interest and significant progress has been made since we last saw the fair in 2009.
A number of private meetings, following the fair, with local galleries and collectors, make manifest both the interest of the galleries to be seen in more international fairs (particularly in emerging regions such as the Arabian Gulf and Asia) and of the collectors to see more international art present in Bogotà. As local and regional galleries prepare for PINTA, the Modern and Contemporary Latin American art fair in New York, the experience of ArtBo proved invaluable for many and the fact that around thirty galleries came to Bogotà for the first time this year furnished evidence of the growth and importance of the fair. With few contenders worthy of the name in the near region, ArtBo will continue establishing itself as one of Latin America’s most important fairs.
The Latin American art market remains crucially obscure for many, as the transition between modern and contemporary art isn’t particularly smooth and local tastes remain somewhat conservative in spite of a long and distinguished art history, as much a certain lack of dynamism and risk-taking on the part of many art dealers whose programs are not necessarily ready for broader international markets. Fairs such as ArtBo inject fresh blood in the stream of local art and introduce new names in an ever more globalized market, affording opportunities for critical engagement that go beyond the scope of an art fair. Upcoming shows in Art Basel Miami Beach with many of ArtBo’s galleries present, will tell whether the effect of Bogotà’s fair will have lasting value for dealers and artists alike.
A selection of the most relevant artworks present at ArtBo:
Tobias Putrih at Gregor Podnar (Individual Projects)
An important Slovenian gallery based in Ljubljana and Berlin, it is known for its extensive presence in art fairs and for having introduced a good number of artists from Eastern Europe. Podnar was a pleasant international surprise at the fair and was present with a project by Slovenian artist Tobias Putrih, Lewk, based on a project shown in the Slovenian pavilion at the Venice biennale in 2007, translated into an egg-shaped cinema pavilion. Six years later, Putrih re-staged the photographs into a digital transition and printed negatives of negatives in such a way as to create an egg-shaped iconology without losing the cinematic approach of his original work. Putrih is one of Slovenia’s most important contemporary artists with work ranging across large installations, photography and video.
Santiago Leal at LA Galeria (Individual Projects)
The young Colombian artist often engaged withwith electronic media and time-based projects, presented Made in USA 1.0, an installation that examines everyday dreams with a sociological standpoint, reflecting on the nature of capitalism. The project investigates barbed wire (with a reference to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp) as a metaphor for the process of manufacturing in industrial societies, criticizing the paradigm of freedom as a combination of different phenomena: labour exploitation, repetition and the cycles of debt/loan that resemble in many levels the societal structures of the concentration camps in which freedom is present only as an illusion mirrored on eternal cycles of production and consumption, from which flight (notice the bird-shapes) is impossible.
Santiago Roose at 80M2 Livia Benavides (Main Section)
One of Lima’s most prestigious galleries comes to the fair with a work of Santiago Roose, a versatile practitioner exploring urban memory and the ethical imperative of aesthetics, in his work Técnicas de Conservación del Presente. Roose’s material investigations, somewhere between archaeology and architecture, question memory and the past not as a body of history but rather as haunting non-descript site present all over Latin America’s spontaneous architecture. The principle of necessity and survival of the homo faber resurfaces here not as mere ethnographic material but as a vivid and libidinous monument to the unbalanced development of postcolonial societies. Roose was present in Bogotà not only at ArtBo but also with a public installation at Bogotà’s biennial, La Otra.
Tatiana Blass at Johannes Vogt (Individual Projects)
New York-based art dealer Johannes Vogt was present at the fair with one of the best and most intriguing works on show: Brazilian artist Tatiana Blass, one of Latin America’s best profiled emerging artists with a broad portfolio ranging from video to sculpture to painting and installation. On show at the fair was one of her celebrated wax sculptures that melt from within on a brass plate, before the viewer, creating an effect that oscillates between beautiful, warm and haunting. The sculpture was complemented by a number of paintings from her ‘Interviews’ series in which the artist explores contemporary spaces and situations with more apparently traditional techniques that on closer view reveal the difficult procedure of innovation in painting.
Liliana Sanchez at Casas Riegner (Main Section)
One of Colombia’s most prestigious galleries, recently on show at Frieze London with the work of Johanna Calle, had a large booth at the fair with a number of works, including a sculptural work by Colombian artist Liliana Sanchez, Beta Vulgaris, an installation based on wood, paraffin and cold porcelain. The work, conceived as a study of the colour red, rehabilitates in art the topic of object relations and thus relates aesthetic pleasure and theory to every experiences and activities. Although minimal, Sanchez’s practice remains predominantly warm and inviting, and offers the visual illusion of a ready-made, is construed as a paradigm of perception and sensibility in which familiar objects become both distant and close, depending on the viewer’s experience and interpretation.
Thomas Müller at Michael Sturm (Main Section)
A German gallery based in Stuttgart was another international surprise at the fair with several works of Thomas Müller, an established German artist, among the very few contemporary artists whose body of work is based entirely on conceptual drawing. Using ink, pen or crayon among others, his works are formal investigations of both medium and form. His work is currently on show in Bogotà through January 2014 in the context of the contemporary drawing exhibition Linie Line Línea curated by Volker Adolphs (Kunstmuseum, Bonn) hosted by Banco de la Republica and Goethe Institut, presenting twenty German artists whose work revolves around the concept of line in drawing. Müller is considered one of Germany’s most influential draftsmen and has been collected internationally.
Monika Bravo at Y Gallery (Individual Projects)
One of Colombia’s leading new media artists, based in New York, was present at the fair with Landscape of Belief, a real-time sculptural installation based on and culled from the imaginary cities of Italo Calvino, creating an uncanny time-based landscape in which sculpture, media, drawing, painting and text-installation overlap singularly. The different layers of the work use a technique similar to parsing, bringing into question the structure of visual memory, belief and knowledge in general. Architectural landscapes based on a text unfurl as composite worlds lacking in stability but yet tangibly traceable. The experience of fragility as both medium and field of representation is here articulated with a meticulous slow depth that evaporates as soon as it has been grasped.
Sebastian Fierro at La Central (Main Section)
This leading Bogotà gallery, with an interesting roster of contemporary artists, was present in the fair with perhaps the youngest painter on show: Colombian artist Sebastian Fierro, only twenty-five years old, who showed his large oil diptych Paisaje con Hercules, with a great degree of painterly seriousness, exploring the landscape through contemporary techniques of surface painting and pure color, questioning the effect of space on perception and vice versa. His landscapes, empty of characters and somewhat non-descript, are elaborate compositions influenced by his earlier studies on volcanoes, and rather than staying at the level of representation, he is questioning himself about the possibility of landscaping in a period where object relationship on the plane of the canvas are being challenged.
Iñaki Bonillas at OMR (Main Section)
One of the leading Mexican galleries was present at the fair with many works, among them, the photography series The Rain Came Last by Iñaki Bonillas, previously on show at Art Basel and OMR in 2013. The versatile Mexican artist, whose varied practice ranges from sculpture to installation and photography, presents in this series a personal archive, consisting of a selection of thousands of images from the artist’s grandfather in streaked black and white and hung as if still in the process of developing, acquiring a quality of both fading memory and temporary archive. His intervention on personal stories and narrative seems sometimes to want to fictionalize the past through the use of the material and liberate it from the constraints of an ever shifting and corrupting memory.
Alejandro Ospina at Christopher Pascall s. XXI (Main Section)
The trendy Bogotà gallery presented large paintings by one of the most innovative Colombian painters, Alejandro Ospina, among them Smiles Over Warm Cups of Coffee, from his Algorithms series. Ospina, trained in both art and engineering, explores the influence of the virtual and the digital on the visual and strictly pictorial, being often meticulously preoccupied with geometry not only as a scheme of seeing but also investigating the mental processes at work as we digest Internet culture and technology; engaged with the profound transformation of the image in the age of the digital, but without leaving his altogether bi-dimensional medium. His paintings deal with our self-representation in an age of rapidly vanishing images and the instability of memory.
William Cordova at Sikkema Jenkins & Co (Main Section)
An American gallery based in New York and with an inclination for contemporary Latin American art, was present with a recent large painting and works on paper by William Cordova, a Peruvian-American artist, formerly at the Whitney Biennial and with works on show in American museums. His work expresses a colourful world of texture and material, while altogether retaining some aesthetic formalism in a conceptual environment. The artist is often engaged in the creation of alternative perspectives that can conceptually articulate his concerns with the visual landscaping and architecture of Latino identity in the United States. Politically informed but aesthetically clean, Cordova reclaims the use of diverse materials in a multiplicity of meanings, relocating objects in broader contexts.