Immerse yourself this weekend inside Buenos Aires’ annual fair for modern and contemporary art.
ArteBA is more than a fair. It is an eclectic showcase of art, with performances, an editorial section and talks from key figures.
But most important are the art works themselves, which not only give an insight into what’s available on the market, but also reveal what is happening in the art world at large.
Instead of going to one or two galleries in an afternoon, inside the La Rural exhibition centre you have galleries from San Telmo and Villa Crespo together, exhibitions from Rosario and Córdoba, from São Paulo, Bogotá, Lima, Mexico City, even Los Angeles and Paris are present. It all builds to a fascinating mix spread across 20,000 m2, where collectors, artists, gallerists and the curious visitor wander together, becoming enchanted and perhaps even buying pieces.
For some, the experience can be almost overwhelming. At Gallery La Arte at the Barrio Joven, a section reserved for new spaces who can't yet afford a stand in the fair's main section, there seems to be some tension in the air as the event begins.
But artist Soledad Sánchez Goldar believes everything will be alright. She sits at a table inside the gallery's stand and writes these words on a piece of paper: “Todo va a estar bien” (“Everything will be all right”). Done. She writes it again on a fresh page. “Todo va a estar bien.” And again. Like it’s her homework.
She sits as quietly as a monk, amid the arteBA buzz, writing these sentences 100 times. The day after she will write the same phrase, this time in Portuguese and thereafter in Wichi, an indigenous language from Salta, which only needs one word to capture the entire sentence: “Isala.” The result of Goldar’s work is to be sold as an enclosed book. The promise of “everything going to be all right” behind glass.
The tension of our modern-day society is visibly translated into several artworks at arteBA dispersed across the fair. At the always impressively curated stand from the Baró gallery from São Paulo, exciting balancing acts between metal and glass by the Brazilian artist Túlio Pinto are shown, alongside Argentine bank notes embroidered with swear-words by his fellow countryman Lourival Cuquinha and ironic designs by Pablo Reinoso.
At Isla Flotante, hanging canvases by Mariela Scafati pose dilemmas, questioning the conventional use of the form, and, more profoundly, paintings as such or even art itself. She also questions the exhibition space we are in – look carefully for her second installation, hidden between two walls.
Fragility can be found everywhere – in a glass diamond about to break, a creation by Miguel Rothschild, an Argentine artist represented by Parisian Bendana I Pinel Art Contemporain. In hard-boiled eggs bound with rubber bands on wooden poles, adapting their shape. This work is by Jimena Croceri and it is called Agape. Gasping at the bold use of eggs, these artworks make you wonder about how we are moulded and how we maintain a fragile equilibrium in a country where, more than anything, one curses its currency. And we are being invited to invest in art that has left its origins of painting.
Everything will be all right, though. Especially if one follows the path to the modernist section, this year more clearly separated from the contemporary art areas. There are rare Antonio Berni craetions to be found at Gallery Sur from Montevideo, works by masters of kinetic art, such as Julio le Parc at Del Infinito and Gyula Kosice at MCMC. Paintings by the artist who brought cubism from Europe in the early 20th century, Emilio Pettoruti, can be admired at Roldan Moderno, where one can also rejoice over masterly, near tongue-in-cheek works by Luis Fernando Benedit.
It is a treat to be able to see these works of art before they end up in different collections. Most are likely to find homes in museums throughout the world.
Representatives of the Reina Sofia, the Tate and the MALBA are scouting art at the fair and the latter has already acquired photographs by Leandro Katz from the Henrique Faria Gallery. These form part of Katz’s Catherwood project, where he traced the footsteps of the 19th-century explorer Frederick Catherwood who (re)discovered the temples of the Mayas. With the explorer’s drawings in his hand, in the mid-1980s, Katz photographed the exact same locations uncovering not only the skill of the earlier drawings, but also the way the constructions had endured the ravages of time.
Time is an equally crucial element in performance. It is an artform that has gained much popularity over the years, but one which poses problems for collectors. How can one buy a work that is ephemeral? That type of art that lasts only a few minutes and is then gone or somehow different because of its location or interaction with a specific audience?
“It is indeed a challenge to find ways in which performance art is sellable,” agrees Patrick Charpenel, a curator from Mexico who is part of the selection committee of the Cabinets.
Back in the Barrio Joven, two people are stuck together by a mouthpiece. The work, by Andrés Piña, sees the duo manoeuvre themselves through the section, with a small arena that has especially been created for performance art.
At the Performance Box, a string quartet (yet with six musicians) is playing, directed by the rolling of a dice, turning a classical melody into an always changing composition led by chance. This remarkable piece, by the US post-conceptual artist Stephen Prina, was selected by Magali Arriola, who curated a section called U-Turn, which, together with the solo show section, brings an element of surprise, with the curators – who are less familiar with the local scene – bringing different associations and connections to the fair.
Music is a theme at U-Turn and beyond. It can be heard at the Vermelho gallery’s stand, for example, where the work of Argentine-born Carla Zaccagnini is shown. In the middle of the São Paulo gallery’s space sits a record player, with a headset next to it. The sounds on the vinyl record that is playing, World Score, are the notes that coincide from every national anthem from every country in the world.
Next to it, another work by Zaccagnini, consisting of an enlarged Mikado game, featuring the colours of all the world's national flags. Each stick touches another, in a delicate equilibrium. If one is extracted the worldly construction collapses.
All is fragile. But everything will be alright. Isala.
* This article was altered on May 30, 2018, to correct the statement that Gallery La Arte was exhibiting for the first time this year at arteBa. It is in fact their third year. Apologies for the error.