Bogotá, considered one of the most exciting global cities for contemporary art, is awash with contemporary art galleries and has its own influential annual arts fair: ArtBo. Yet it’s not only Bogotá that’s culturally buzzing. The Cartagena Biennial also promotes Colombia’s contemporary art, and the country as a whole is experiencing a cultural renaissance. Here, Culture Trip picks the ten must-know Colombian artists and where to see their work.
Fernando Botero at Museo Botero
Fernando Botero is arguably one of the most important contemporary artists in Latin America today. Since winning the First Prize in Painting at Salon Nacional de Artisas at the age of 24, his career trajectory has not stopped rising. As an intuitive figurative artist in painting and sculpture, his works are renowned for depicting curvaceous and sinuous forms. His art is extremely sensuous, as even inanimate objects are transformed into the most vivacious and voluptuous of creations. The admirable quality to Botero is that despite creating artworks that exhibit traditional techniques and Rubenesque qualities – one can still recognize them as undeniably ‘Boterismo’ in style. The Botero Museum was founded after the artist donated over 208 pieces from his private collection, including 123 of his own artworks, to Banco de la República.
Oscar Murillo’s cachet is extremely high in the contemporary art scene at the moment. He is currently represented by two prestigious galleries, Carlos/Ishikawa and David Zwirner, and he is continually pushing the boundaries of visual art while at the same time exploring his Colombian roots. This is most evident in A Mercantile Novel, an exhibition that illustrates the globalization of the manufacturing process by re-creating a factory production line that makes chocolate-covered marshmallows. It is made by one of Colombia’s biggest sweet manufacturers, Colombina, which used to employ members of Murillo’s family. He was also included in the international group exhibition at Saatchi Gallery calledPangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America, which also includes fellow countrymen Fredy Alzate and Rafael Gómezbarros.
Installation view of Oscar Murillo’s 2014 solo show, A Mercantile Novel, at David Zwirner, New York. Photo by Scott Rudd | Courtesy David Zwirner Gallery and the artist
Antonio Caro at Galeria Casas Riegner
Antonio Caro, who received the famous Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998, is a seminal conceptual artist in Colombia. Described by artist and critic Luis Camnitizer as a ‘visual guerrilla’, Caro creates pop-art that is politically potent in relation to Colombia’s recent history. His Warhol-esque Colombia (see below), which reworks the red Coca-Cola logo on a metal sheet,is arguably the most iconic piece of work in Colombian art today. The artwork is still extremely relevant as it questions the identity of Colombia and its relationship with USA‘s consumerist ideology. Another pertinent artwork of his is Why is everything so expensive, which also poses criticism towards the social and political circumstances in Colombia.
Gabriel Sierra is an exciting and young multi-disciplinary artist, living and working in Bogotá. His practice is found between the intersection of art, design and architecture, and has been showcased at numerous biennials, including Istanbul, Shanghai, Lyon, Sao Paulo and St. Etienne. Sierra‘s fascinating conceptual approach towards architecture means that his work is not merely passive, rather the exploration of abstraction and space lends itself to grander philosophical questions.
Pedro Ruiz, Herbario, 2013, oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm | Image courtesy of Esguerra Art
Pedro Ruiz is a conceptual artist who examines the socio-political context of his native Colombia. Educated at the Ecole Nationale de Beaux Arts in Paris, he then got a job at the famous Printmakers: Atelier 17 studios. This experience helped equip him with the tools to articulate a narrative of Colombian life. His surrealist oil painting Gold, Spirit and Nature of a Territory was greeted with acclaim when exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Bogotá, with its emotional examination of rural life and the fragility of biodiversity in Colombia. Love in the Air is another striking painting of beautiful poppies that are tinged with war and violence. in 2010, his influence was confirmed as he was Knighted into the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government. Beatriz Esguerra Art opened in 2000, and has since established a reputation for not only exhibiting the best in Colombia but also broadening their reach, with increased participation in arts fairs in the USA. Conscious of its duty towards the public, the gallery also hosts open weekly lectures on modern and contemporary art.
Born in In 1964 in Bogotá, Monika Bravo is an internationally renowned multi-disciplinary artist based in New York. As a conceptual artist, she emphasises the process of her work as she grapples with her relationship between physical and emotional space. She recently had a hypnotic exhibition at NC-arte in Colombia called Weaving Time, curated by Beatriz Lopez. This was followed by a group exhibition at BGC Gallery, which involved Bravo, called Waterweavers: The River in Contemporary Colombian Visual and Material Culture. Curated by influential Colombian José Roca, the rivers of Colombia are used as a starting point – a conceptual device – to intricately weave through the intersection in Colombian culture and nature.
Adriana Salazar really does reinterpret what constitutes visual art. Her work examines the relationship between artifice and nature, though primarily she is interested in exploring the nature of human emotions. This is best exemplified by her installation Doing it Myself, a project whereby she had machines re-enacting various human actions. For example, there was the smoking machine performing the action of smoking, which by reducing human behavior was able to question the dynamics of social intercourse. Then there was the Crying and Consoling machine, namely a machine that ‘cries’ while the other moves to ‘console’ it. Her kinetic objects and installations have been showcased in biennials, and she has received fellowships from international artistic residencies, including Nordik Artists’ Center in Norway and Akiyoshidai International Art Village in Japan.
Although represented by Galerie Casas Riegner, you can see Miguel Angel Rojas’ work at Galeria MÜ. It is worth visiting this relatively new gallery, for it has filled a vacuum in Bogotá by providing a space that is solely committed to the exhibiting and selling of the finest contemporary Colombian photographers. Rojas is certainly highly regarded, forging an impressive career with public collections at Tate Modern, Museum of Modern Art in New York and is also part of the Daros Latin America Collection in Zurich. He is best known for his photography series in the 1970s called Faenza, which documents the anonymous meetings of gay men at a theatre.
Doris Salcedo still lives and works in Bogotá despite her international success. It is clear that she has a strong bond with Colombia and it is her experience here that informs her work. Salcedo’s installations and sculptures can be abstract in form yet nevertheless it is clear what her main themes are: marginalization, displacement and oppression. Her most famous work is the installation Shibboleth, shown in the Turbine Room of the Tate in 2007. At the time, Richard Dorment, art critic for the Daily Telegraph, wrote: ‘over the years, we’ve seen some electrifying works of art in the Unilever series of commissions for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, but none has been stranger or more profound than the work that was unveiled yesterday’. This certainly caused a stir in the contemporary art scene – literally shaking the foundations of the Tate Modern.
Born in Cali, Danilo Duenas is an influential artist who usually creates site specific installations, using materials from everyday life and placing them in a controlled manner in exhibition spaces, thereby giving them new meaning. He is notable in this list for being a teacher: Professor at the Art Department of Los Andes University and at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University since 1990. He has been exhibited in Berlin, Guggenheim Gallery in Miami and all over Colombia. He also has a public collection in Museum of Modern Art at Bogotá. He is represented by Galeria Jenny Vilà, which was founded in 1987. Based in Cali, it promotes significant contemporary Colombian artists as well as encouraging art collecting.