In an October 2011 New York Times’ article about the region’s burgeoning reputation in the art world entitled “Latin American Art, Rediscovered Again,” Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, was quoted as calling Latin America “hot.” The MoMA itself recently opened a show of Diego Rivera to record crowds, about the same time as Rufino Tamayo’s “Watermelon Slices” was sold off the auction block for more than 2.2 million dollars. The 2007 bronze sculpture “Dancers” by Brazilian artist Fernando Botero was the cause of heated bidding at Sotheby’s and another record sale.
As for Art Basel Miami Beach, around 20% of the galleries represented this year come from Latin America. The Premiere Artist’s talk at Art Basel Conversations is with Gabriel Orozco, who practices worldwide (and who has recently had a solo show at the Tate), but is originally from Mexico; and the Art Salon program—kicked off with a conversation about “regionalism”—features panels on Argentina, Latin American media, and talks with other prominent Latin American-identified artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez (Venezuelan, lives in Paris) and Ernesto Neto (Brazil).
Meanwhile, while the economy of the nation hosting Art Basel Miami Beach sputters, gallery cash registers point their noses toward collectors and buyers representing the BRICs. The B, of course, stands for Brazil.
As much as it pricks of regionalism, neo-colonialism, exoticism, or whatever -ism, it's hard to resist talking about art hailing from south of the Rio Grande (or of the Miami-Dade line, for that matter) at least in a loosely conglomerated lump. Frankly, that's a lot of art. Certainly anyone identifying themselves as Latin American and participating in the global art conversation—as an artist, collector, curator, or otherwise—is as much of a 21st century globalized citizen with the same confounding complex, criss-crossing nodes of history, geography, languages and cultures as anyone else. Yet there’s no denying that there is a growing buzz lately around the region as both a producer and a consumer of contemporary art.
What’s the deal? Does it even make sense to speak about Latin America as a distinct region in today’s global art market?
Rodrigo Torres, Some change, 2011, Cutting and collage of bank notes, 30x57cm. Courtesy of the artist and A Gentil Carioca Gallery, Brazil.
“I don’t like to segment art…. Good art is good art, [whether] it comes from Latin America, Europe or Asia,” says Márcio Botner, one of the founders of Rio’s hyper-local yet consistently globetrotting A Gentil Carioca gallery.
Paula Bosso, of Bogotá’s Casas Riegner Galeria, mostly agrees that art is art, wherever it comes from: “this [question] is particularly complex, and has been widely debated by scholars working on Latin American Art. [But] Latin America is a vast and widely heterogeneous region, with multiple identities, hence it does not make sense to homogenize it.”
Akio Aoki, of Galeria Vermelho based in São Paulo, concedes that “we can speak of Latin American identity if you consider that most Latin American countries entered modernism at the same time (50s and 60s). Some of the visual codes and strategies in architecture, visual arts, performing arts, theater and the like are similar in the region. The 'concreto' and 'neo-concreto' movements that came in the wake of modernism can be seen as a starting point for the current generation questioning the modern modus operandi.”
Icaro Zorbar, Algún día te diremos adios" (Someday We Will Say Goodbye), Mixed media installation. Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Casas Riegner.
Indeed, the neo-concretist movement—as well as regional currents in kinetic and conceptual art, photography and painting—while not necessarily producing an entirely new language, certainly introduces new vocabularies. Meanwhile they often strictly avoid Latin American content per se. For example contemporary works by Gabriel Kuri from Kurimanzutto gallery in Mexico City play with more universal ideas of temporality, while Icaro Zorbar from Galeria Casas Riegner works with themes of absence and loss, and Andre Komatsu of Vermelho works with urban landscapes. Rodrigo Torres, an emerging artist represented by A Gentil Carioca, often collages currencies from different countries, mixing economies and cultures almost indistinguishably through the universal language of money.
Works that do engage content, tread lightly. Aoki comments again: “… in our understanding, the representation in arts does not have a specific geographic identity and we are not concerned about art that that represents whatever Brazilian cliché–of colors, crafts, etc.—there might be. What might be noted in Brazilian art is a representation that may be related to a specific Brazilian scenario that can be decoded in the Western world.”
ALALAÔ. Courtesy of Marcus Wagner.
An interesting “scenario” to be “decoded” will take place as well at Art Basel Miami Beach. An Art Public opening night event, organized in conjunction with A Gentil Carioca and Marcus Wagner, called ALALAÔ, will bring Rio’s Ipanema beach culture to Miami’s. The “urban beach congregation” ALALAÔ is, according to Wagner, “an art gallery without walls.” The “chaotic organic soul of favelas and botecos of Rio de Janeiro is synthesized on its beach” – and his project is a series of rituals and art works in the open air.
This year, the November 30th happening on the beach will include Ronald Duarte’s Nimbo Oxalá, in which a “ritual” of fire extinguishers unleashed by a circle of people in white will kick off the trans-local activities. In the white cloud—in the “capital of Latin America” that just happens to be in the USA—you can be everywhere and nowhere at once.
--Mara Goldwyn, an artist and writer living in Berlin
(Image at top: Andre Komatsu, Desvio de Poder 1, 2010, Mixed media, Edition: 1/1. Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Vermelho, Brazil)