The fashion scene in Argentina, and in Buenos Aires in particular, is not as rich as it could be for a vast region with an epic history and a heavy interest in style and culture. Interior design, product design, culinary trends and the art movement are light years ahead of fashion—the latter specifically being at the focal point of the city’s cultural identity. MALBA (aka Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), a privately owned museum by real estate magnate Eduardo Constantini is a shiny symbol of contemporary Latin American art culture in Buenos Aires. It boasts a permanent collection, impressive in scale and scope including works by Diego Riviera, Frida Khalo, Winfredo Lam, Fernando Botero and Luis F. Benedit (whose latest exhibition was on during our visit)—look out for our upcoming profile of MALBA.
Whereas MALBA is all art culture, ArteBA is a cultural event with a broader aim for attendees, particularly those from overseas, according to Maia Guemes, one of the event’s promoters. In addition to the art, she notes: “Buenos Aires has three strong characteristics: a cosmopolitan nightlife, restaurants and majestic architecture.” And as she explained, attending ArteBA is as much about experiencing these other facets of the city as it is about taking in art at La Rural, the massive space that holds the event. “ArteBA offers collectors something unique that shouldn’t feel like Arco, Freize or Basel. It has an international quality of standard with Latin American flair,” she adds.
For important international collectors, such as Ella Cisneros of Miami, Patrica Phels de Cisneros of New York, Stuart and John Evans of London and Humberto Ugobono, Puerto Rico’s most seasoned collector, in attendance, this Latin flair did not disappoint. The buzzed about works of Leandro Erlich and Pablo Siquier at Ruth Benzacar Gallery and Matias Duville at Alberto Sendros Gallery, and the Borders Without Limits artists at Torrejon y Dabbah garnered the most traffic, but there were more than enough options—both established and emerging—to explore.
Ana Torrejon, a partner at Torrejon y Dabbah and former fashion director at Argentine Elle, however, brings the process of acquisition squarely into focus: “Curators from the museums are coming and they are including ’40s, ’50s and ’60s works in their museum collections.” Meaning, masters such as Antonio Berni, Leon Ferrari and Luis Felipe Noe (who at 80-years-old produced some of the most compelling works seen at the show) all get attention. In the latter’s pastiche paintings, tightly striated topography intersects with a pop of fluorescent lines to create an Esher-like, vertigo-inducing landscape.
For collectors, art acquisition is thus moving beyond the pale of simply supporting cultural heritage. The widening attention to the regional art is turning to a focus on investment. And prices for Latin American art lag considerably behind international standards for seriously recognized artists. A well-prized Benedit cross and bone sculpture priced at $30k is a steal for the Fitotron creator and one of Argentina’s most esteemed living artists.
While there are no personalities such as Marc Jacobs, Miuccia Prada or Terence Koh to bring that fashionable glam to the mix, the attendance at ArteBA is a refreshing stew of the seasoned collectors mixed in with the young and curious (many of them students, stimulated by the reduced entry free and the some renegade art). Among this crowd you’ll find the most artfully dressed city-dwellers, but not in any brands you’d recognized. Their spirit is mirrored in the “Barrio Joven” (Young Quarter) section of the exhibition, which houses emerging galleries that are as eclectic as the young ‘uns circling the area. Of the bunch, Mendoza-based artist Ramiro Quesada Pons, who created miniatures of actual Taschen books by photographing and laminating them, particularly transfixed us.