“I think we can go past our state of permanent emergence” remarked ArtBo’s Director of four years, Maria Paz Gaviria (incidentally, the daughter of the former Colombian president César Gaviria), her tone tinged with humor and some impatience. Indeed, this was ArtBo’s 11th edition, this time scheduled slightly earlier in October so as to avoid conflict with FIAC in Paris.
Gaviria’s fatigue with the question of an emerging art scene is a measure of the well-established goals of ArtBo. The fair is focused on visibility for its galleries, which are now keen to be present on the international circuit (among those on the selection committee are Elba Benitez Gallery (Madrid), Beatrice Lopez (Instituto de Vision, Bogota) and Maria Eugenia of Galería Sextante, Bogota). Equally, ArtBo aims explicitly not to feature international blue chip galleries of the kind seen at Basel and Frieze. Instead, it wants to support regional and smaller spaces and, it would appear, foreign galleries which are in tune with them; for this see Lamb Arts (its first time at ArtBo) which works between London and Sao Paolo and includes South American artists, and—for the third time—Galerie Michael Sturm, based in Stuttgart but engaged with Latin American artists and showing also at PArC in Lima and Zona Maco in Mexico City. Given the quality of Bogota galleries Instituto de Vision and Casa Riegne at Frieze in New York earlier this year, it was interesting to see their “home” fair.
ArtBo is an initiative by the local Chamber of Commerce and symptomatic of a broader push for cultural development. It should not be forgotten that until about 10 years ago, Colombia and its principal city were effectively closed off from the outside world, repelling visitors with a violent drug trade, high levels of corruption and their attendant threats at street level. At the height of these troubles in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Bogota was reputedly known as the “city of no-one”; subsequent leaders, most notably the charismatic Antanas Mockus (former President of the National University of Colombia and Mayor of Bogota from 1993-5 and 2001-3), have sought to transform Bogota, inspiring in residents a sense of ownership of the city and their daily environment. The last decade or so has seen very significant growth in the Columbian economy, which recently overtook Peru as the region’s fastest-growing; poverty levels have fallen from 65% in 1990 to under 24% this year, and there is a rising middle class. In Bogota, transportation and construction are clear priorities. The city is projected to open its first subway in 2025, and plans to improve and make its bus system energy-efficient.
ArtBo 2015, fair view
For its part, ArtBo is referred to by its organizers as “non-commercial” in the sense that the money it makes must be reinvested (sales figures are not released). In the words of its director, since its inception the fair has been effectively “charged with showing the scene in its entirety”—not least because within the region, Colombia has relatively few museums and institutions. Varied sections within the fair purport to do this: a main galleries area, “Projects” (curated this year by Catalina Lozano and Manuela Moscoso), “References”, a show providing a form of historical backdrop (curated by Ana María Lozano), and “Artecamara”, the annual exhibition devoted to relatively new artists (curator Mariangela Méndez). New this year was “Sitio”, designed to allow galleries to propose works or displays that go beyond the normal booth format. There is a Forum for talks (which included artists as participants) and an appealing artists’ book section. “Articulare”, formerly a section for children’s activities, has developed into an impressive interactive project area at the end of the hall.
Following ArtBo’s lead, October has become Bogota’s “art month” (this has apparently been passed as a law), with 3-4 smaller art fairs, the most prominent of which is Odeon, closer to the center of the city, and other events including gallery openings in the La Macarena and San Felipe neighborhoods. San Felipe, in particular, has come up in the last two years as something of a new gallery district, with important spaces like FLORA ars + natura, whose Director José Roca had been curating Latin American art at the Tate. The Arte Circuito map done by the City Institute for the Arts, the Chamber of Commerce and Fundación Arteria provides a guide to the city’s permanent institutions, art spaces and other cultural outlets. No doubt connected, the first Bogota Biennial happened in May-June this year. One certainly noticed the city’s willingness to place artistic interventions in public historic sites – there was an excellent installation of large wooden sculptures and a video work, “Héroes Mil”, by Juan Fernando Herrán inside the Monumento a los Héroes. Throughout the former colonial residence of Simon Bolivar in the city center, now a museum, Instituto de Vision had installed stuffed birds of all kinds by Alberto Baraya for the memorable project “Ornitología Bolivariana”, which also included an outdoor sound performance. A representative at the press lunch hosted by Bogota’s Tourism office and “Invest in Bogota” during ArtBo was unwitting testimony to the growth of Bogota’s cultural industry, having moved from her native Venezuela for the cultural sector opportunities and better quality of life available in the Colombian capital.
Alberto Baraya, “Ornitología Bolivariana”, installation view inside the Quinta de Bolivar museum, Bogota.
At ground level, the fair felt comfortable and certainly unhurried, without the bombast of the blue-chip fairs—but also without their color. Regardless of ArtBo’s contemporary emphasis, there was a definite visual predominance of the sort of natural, earthy hues (beige, brown, white) common to a certain thread of late 20th century conceptualism around documentary and land art. One noticed a number of monochrome cityscape photographs, installations using animal hide and rocks and smaller scale graphic works, as well as some collage. Interestingly, the Projects section included noticeably more color and more varied media including digital art. Perhaps, one featured artist speculated, this was because its curators are from but nonetheless based outside Bogota, and thus “have different eyes.” The scale of the works on show throughout the main galleries section was mostly domestic, with few large installations.
Although a couple of the foreign galleries reported an unnerving start to the week, with “nothing ready and dust everywhere” on the Monday (one mentioned that the director’s first remark upon meeting him on site was “Sorry!”), by the opening the fair looked good; the quality of the display was high, if low-key, and the layout manageable. One sensed simply some cultural differences with regard to punctuality—there were not a few power drills were being wielded as the press circulated before the main preview. Notable hitches were the lack of functioning wifi in the exhibition center (also a problem last year), and the conspicuous absence of catalogues until the last day. Theft (a possibility not to be blasé about at any art fair) was sufficient to mean laptops were sometimes checked for proof of ownership as one left the exhibition hall. The cafes were underwhelming—but there were roaming stalls giving out free coffee shots. A stylized VIP lounge occupied a corner of the hall plus an outside area with woven rugs, a mixture of differently-designed chairs and sofas and a loud, soulful soundtrack, its walls papered with retro Banco de Bogota logos. The annual VIP party at a giant steakhouse hung with votive clutter and with a sunken salsa dancefloor in the neighboring town of Chia was unmissable.
ArtBo Director Maria Paz Gaviria addresses visitors to the fair’s 11th edition.
With booth costs ranging from USD4,000 for a project booth to USD 8,000-17,000 in the main section, and an admission fee of 35,000 pesos (about USD12; 15,000 pesos for students), ArtBo is relatively affordable. Although one noticed some sales occurring (Instituto de Vision had swapped out two large paintings in its booth by Day 3), the impression of this fair was not of rapid or even direct sales—nor of this necessarily being the primary objective. Josée Bienvenu Gallery (New York) was in attendance for the third year running. Considering the appeal of ArtBo, Josée described the experience of this fair in terms of less selling, but more valuable time spent with curators and other practitioners who come. She described an interesting scene and “sophisticated tastes” in Bogota, and deemed the fair worthwhile for the contact and presence it gave in this environment. Looking ahead to forthcoming editions, one hopes that such an atmosphere will be maintained.
“Artecamara”, exhibition view at ArtBo.
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