With the promise of buzzing attendance and booming commerce, international art fairs are both a financial and a style boon to their host cities. Mainstays such as Basel, Frieze and ARCO still anchor the international market, but their ever-growing popularity has created demand for other bold, urban events to join the ranks. arteBA, Latin America’s largest contemporary art fair, has steadily gained steam in recent years as an annual social staple in Buenos Aires.
In recent years, the Latin American art scene has had increasing traction in the international arena. At the 2010 edition of Frieze Art Fair in London, festival-goers flocked to the seven Latin American galleries, among them Brazil’s illustrious Fortes Vilaca Gallery. Elsewhere, the Lyon Biennale appointed Victoria Noorthoorn, an Argentinean curator, for its 2011 showing, while the Pompidou Centre recently created a Latin American acquisitions committee. And as recently as January 2012, the Tate named Bogota-based José Roca as its Latin American art curator. As The Financial Times once boldly declared: “Latin American Art Is On The Up.”
arteBA, now celebrating 21 years, is positioned at the cornerstone of this movement. The fair brings in more than 150,000 attendees, over 800 artists as well as leading collectors from both near and far. While art from the region may be a growing trend, UK-based collectors and Latin American art experts JD and Stuart Evans point out that “value” is an enormous draw for international at arteBA. The festival’s combination of value and intrinsic quality makes it easy to see the deeper growing interests in Latin American art. “It’s underpriced and underplayed,” points out Facundo Gómez Minujín, arteBA Foundation’s president.
arteBA’s foundation status also alleviates the elitist sting of so many other international art fairs—as does its presiding dedication to making art accessible. The popular Barrio Joven Chandon section of the fair, for instance, is designated for young, emerging artists and has become a spotlighted arena for rising talents.
“As a not-for-profit foundation, arteBA is established to develop galleries, to develop production and establish prizes,” explains Gómez Minujín. In other words, it’s dedicated to the improvement of Buenos Aires as a cultural epicenter and ultimately an international destination.
The bridging of this gap is already underway. Abaseh Mirvali, curator of the Denver Museum, is collaborating with arteBA on U-turn, an initiative to bring international galleries to the event. This type of creative cross-pollination promises to bring some “balance,” as Sabine Schmidt of PSM Gallery in Berlin puts it, to the international relationship by introducing local talents to a broader audience on both sides of the equation. Mirvali has already been thrilled to introduce Swiss gallery RaebervonStenglin and its artist Saadane Afif’s work Babel, a small intricate piece that deals with the multiple channels of communication, while Argentine art sensation Eduardo Basualdo is reaping success with a series that explores “what’s inside.”
Art and commerce strike a fine balance at arteBA. Rather than reports of astronomical prices paid for works, visitors are more likely to overhear conversations about a difficult piece that a collector took a chance on, or about the creative provenance of a work. Buenos Aires as a city is filled with deeply curious and intellectually focused people, and art is naturally the topic of many conversations. From the halls of hip boutique hotels to stately lounges and private salons, curiosity is an energy that powers this city. And arteBA is poised to empower that further in the years ahead.