In need of a cultural break, we visited Buenos Aires for a few days to enjoy some music, dance, fine art, film and theatre. There is a daily flight with Aerolineas Argentina from teeny tiny San Rafael airport to the big city. It takes only an hour and a half to travel from quiet campo to bustling metropolis for a weekend of entertainment.
The most exciting event of our recent trip was the arteBA '10 contemporary art fair held at La Rural exhibition space. Over the years we have attended art fairs in Frankfurt, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Toronto, so we have several models for comparison when it comes to rating the Buenos Aires event. This fair was first class all the way - from curatorship to lighting to visual presentation. The artworks, drawn from commercial galleries all over South America, ranged from representational to abstract and included photography, installation pieces and video, as well as more traditional paintings and sculptures.
Anzizar with his painting
"Urban Birdwatching" by Jose Luis Anzizar appealed to me as a joyous and elegant series of canvases created with collaged elements cut out and applied to the surface. The artist's catalogue quotes him as saying that this group of paintings,"rescues the surrounding visual chaos which we usually overlook." The random nature of the squiggled lines suggests a haphazard flight path, or the casual doodles of a wandering mind, intercepted every now and then with an image of a bird or the silhouette of an aircraft. These paintings, presented by Elsi del Rio gallery, seem to capture the buzz of Buenos Aires.
VO4 by Ventoso
A fascinating series of wall-mounted sculptures caught my eye in Renoir Galeria de Arte's booth. These works, created by Abel H.Ventoso combine forms and linear patterns made from chunks of high density foam. The artist's background as an architect clearly informs his refined volumetric compositions. I like the way subtle tonal variations of black and grey affect the spatial relationships in this piece.
Magdalena Murua's black and white
Artist Magdalena Murua's work was presented at the fair by Praxis International Art. Murua cuts and pastes minute pieces of comic books, creating a mosaic effect from the small bits of colour or black and white cartoons. She starts with a grid and then applies the segments intuitively in stripes or waves. These works read as op art abstracts from a distance, and collage at close range, where graphic traces and fragments of text from the comics are visible.
The only questionable aspect of the BA fair was the pricing of the art. When I asked gallery owners for prices, every small work was $3,500 U.S. and every large work was $10,000 U.S. I assume that this was a starting price point, meant to be negotiated. We are used to a North American square inch price formula that's objective and consistent with the size of the canvas. Nevertheless, the values at arteBA appeared to be quite reasonable for both emerging and mid-career artists, and any serious collector could find high quality work here at a good price.
After the show, while waiting for a cab to take us back to our hotel, we couldn't help but notice multiple graffiti stencils decorating the streetscape. This artist's message certainly hits home.
Looking at art does work up an appetite, so we headed for Empire Thai
on Tres Sargentos. Owner Kevin Rodriguez, a banker from New Jersey, moved to Buenos Aires in 1996 and established a Thai restaurant as an alternative to what he describes as "the city's three p's - pizza, pasta and parrilla." And what a welcome dining experience it is! The coconut soup served here is absolutely the best we've ever eaten, and accompanied by a dish of Pad Thai with krupuk and a plate of tender beef satay, makes a satisfying meal. Kevin lets me in on the chef's secret - he makes his own coconut milk from scratch.
Just around the corner on San Martin is the luxury shopping mall Galerias Pacifico, which offers a wide range of leather goods, cashmere sweaters, cosmetics, fragrances, jewels, designer purses and electronics. On the upper floor is the Borges Cultural Centre
, which houses a small auditorium. We enjoyed a Sunday evening performance of Evolutionarte
, a dynamic flamenco show directed by Marcela Rodriquez.
The streets of Buenos Aires reflect all the contrasts of life in Latin America. The well-to-do casually step over the poor souls who sleep on the sidewalk. The city is both charming and harsh, beautiful and ugly, with a veneer of extravagant wealth and an underbelly of desperate poverty. It is an eye-opener.
Buenos Aires' beautiful Teatro Colon offers the ultimate theatre experience: see my article on Hubpages