Yet Again

Alex Fialho at the 12th edition of ArtBO

Left: ArtBO director María Paz Gaviria. Right: Instituto de Visión's Maria Wills and Beatriz López with Otto Berchem work at ArtBo. (Except where noted, all photos: Alex Fialho)

UNCERTAINTY IS IN THE AIR IN COLOMBIA. In early October, the Colombian people voted in a nationwide poll against a referendum that would have ended the country’s fifty-two-year civil war. Given this context, two of the leading events in the Colombian cultural calendar, ArtBO in Bogotá and the traveling triennial Salón Nacional de Artistas, this year located in Pereira, could have felt out of touch. What place do art-fair booths and free champagne have at such a crucial crossroads in a nation’s path toward peace? For the most part, ArtBO did feel like business as usual, with standard mantelpiece abstraction taking center stage in many of the booths. Yet amid the collectors and cocktails, moments that addressed Colombia’s ongoing conflict felt particularly responsive and noteworthy.

Wheat-pasted in an allover grid across the front of the Instituto de Visión, one of Bogotá’s leading art spaces, was a pair of striking black-and-white images: one of a young girl peering through a bullet hole in a cracked window, and another of a woman holding a sign reading “¡Ni una bala mas!” (Not one more bullet!). The first was taken in 2002 in a violent neighborhood in Medellín by Colombian photographer Jesús Abad Colorado, and the second just last month, on the evening that the peace plebiscite was overturned. (The majority vote against the agreement struck between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] was in large part a reaction to the deal being seen as too lenient on the FARC guerrilla army, which has terrorized the country for more than half a century.)

Left: Artist Adriana Arenas and Museum of Latin American Art's Robert Braun with Jesús Ruis Durand work at the Salón. Right: Collector Joy Simmons with Juan Manuel Echavarría's work.

Instituto de Visión also wheat-pasted the images with the hashtags #acuerdoya (agreement now) and #apuestoporlaesperanza (to bet for peace) throughout areas of Bogotá where many were against the referendum. The project marked the gallery’s commitment to an antiviolent Colombian future and signaled that, for its impressive cofounders María Wills and Beatriz López, art has the potential—the responsibility, even—to influence politics. When asked about the implications of taking a stand at the entrance to the gallery (many of Colombia’s business elite voted against peace, as a way to protect moneyed interests), Wills answered adamantly: “If they go because of this, then we don’t care. We are passionate about peace.”

Colorado’s photography also played a central role in another transformative art context: the Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional’s illuminating exhibition “El Origen de la Noche” (The Origin of the Night), which considered the relationship of the sacred and ancestral to territory within indigenous communities in the Amazonian basin. The transdisciplinary exhibition’s fulcrum was a vast, nearly pitch-black hall where moving prayers and myths from indigenous nations (Andoque, Huitoto, Tatuyo, Barasano, Wayuu, Kogui, Y Tubú) filled the solemn space with sound. At one point, the reverent mood of the incantations was cut by a competing shout, when a collector in heels tripped in the candlelit space, letting out a screech as she spilled the free Chivas whiskey and carpaccio langoustine available during the exhibition’s VIP collectors’ tour. Talk about a clash of cultures.

A more seamless mix between audience and artwork came when a class from the university visited the exhibition and discussed the salon-style display of Colorado’s powerful photographs documenting Colombian indigenous communities protesting displacement by FARC guerrilla violence. “No nos metan en la guerra” (Don’t drag us into the war) read one of the signs pictured. The images provide an incisive take on territorial conflict within Colombia; while lecturing within the exhibition, curated by María Belén Sáez de Ibarra, the university professor noted: “A country without indigenous territory is like a country without bread and water.”

Left: Curator Jens Hoffmann with paintings by Beatriz González in ArtBO's Proyectos section. Right: Jesús Abad Colorado with his photographs at Instituto de Visión's ArtBO booth.

Sáez de Ibarra is one of Colombia’s most influential curators, often working closely with artists to realize ambitious commissioned projects; she describes herself as a “commission-er curator.” She supported Bogotá-based artist Doris Salcedo’s immediate response to the overturned referendum, her moving Sumando Ausencias (Counting the Absences). On October 11, just nine days after the peace plebiscite, Salcedo and countless volunteers covered Plaza Bolivar, Bogotá’s central square, with a white cloth on which the names of twenty-two hundred victims from the ongoing conflict were written in ashes. Stitched together on-site, the twenty-three-thousand-square-foot work completely filled the plaza for the day, marking the immense violence on all sides and mourning the missed opportunity for peace. A few weeks later, the large Campamento Por La Paz (Encampment for Peace) still fills Plaza Bolivar, its residents resiliently occupying the city center even during Bogotá’s characteristic torrential downpours. These determined efforts for peace from artists and others were the most inspiring part of the trip.

Back at ArtBO, pride of place was an important through line, as director Maria Paz Gaviria noted that “to be international, you have to first remain local,” highlighting the fair’s commitment to Colombian artists and galleries even as it grows. To this end, ArtBO’s Arte Camera section was particularly successful. As a noncommercial, curated display of works selected from an open call to Colombian artists under forty without gallery representation, Arte Camera reflects an emerging generation of homegrown talent. Artist Fernando Domínguez, whose two-channel video installation Camino Real was particularly promising, said being included was “magical for my career.”

Left: Johannes Vogt Gallery's Adriana Farietta and artist Alejandro Ospina at ArtBo. Right: La Silueta editors Andrés Fresneda and Juan Pablo Fajardo, curators of ArtBO’s Libro de Artista section, with printing press.

Art-world globe-trotter José Roca, former curator of Latin American art at the Tate, described the impetus for founding his exhibition space/artist residency hub Flora, in Bogotá’s San Felipe neighborhood, as wanting “to create a public for artistic display and production in Colombia.” An international group of emerging artists-in-residence, most born in the 1980s, showed works in progress across four bustling floors during Flora’s open studios. “I wouldn’t describe the energy around the Colombian art scene as a ‘boom,’” noted Instituto de Visión’s Beatriz López. “It’s just that people are actually starting to look.”

Case in point came in the form of the Referentes (References) section of ArtBO, curated by Pablo León de La Barra and Ericka Flórez. The historical exhibition was the highlight of the fair, providing a provocative platform for primarily Colombian artists working in the 1960s to 1980s with a strong focus on conceptual practices: Standouts included Miguel Ángel Cárdenas’s tongue-in-cheek sculptural assemblages as sexual innuendo, María Evelia Marmolejo’s environmental interventions, Álvaro Barrios’s mystical take on the readymade, Antonio Caro’s performative painting installation, and Ana Mercedes Hoyos’s sublime abstractions. Referentes, framed as a hypothetical re-creation of a landmark historical exhibition that in fact never took place, has laid essential groundwork for Colombian modern-art historiography; hopefully, this project can take other forms in the future.

Costa Rica–born curator Jens Hoffmann also took a long view on contemporary art in Colombia when curating another engaging section of the fair, Proyectos (Projects). Hoffmann’s fifteen-booth selection featured a wide range of figurative work, with paintings from longtime Colombian stalwarts Débora Arango and Beatriz González as jumping-off points. Morgan Mandalay’s paintings, on display in Mexico City–based Yautepec’s booth, pictured disfigured apes, often caged, floating amid flora and fauna as surreal takes on contemporary incarceration. At the booth of Proyectos Ultravioleta from Guatemala, Akira Ikezoe’s enigmatic paintings were rich with symbolic, quasi-hieroglyphic readings.

Left: Artist Fernando Domínguez with his work in ArtBO's Arte Camera section. Right: Curator Monica Espinel with Álvaro Barrios' work at ArtBO.

A daytrip to nearby Pereira revealed far less commercial work in the thoughtful Salón Nacional de Artistas. Under the guidance of artistic director Rosa Ángel, the sprawling exhibition—the forty-fourth edition of the state-funded program—was located across more than five satellite sites in Pereira, a Colombian city better known for its coffee production than artistic communities. Addressing landscape as a metaphor for territorial conflict in a Colombian context and beyond, the timely exhibition was put together by an all-Colombian curatorial team: “We wanted to get over the cultural insecurity that you need to be validated by an outside perspective to be relevant,” remarked Carolina Ponce de León, councilor of visual arts for the Ministry of Culture.

The nexus of the exhibition took place at Edificio Antiguo Club Rialto, a newly renovated former social club in the heart of Pereira. Hanging across two floors in the center of the space, Paulo Licona’s installation consisted of festive streamers and piñatas with a caustic edge: The disfigured, beheaded piñatas were created in the likeness of notable Colombian figures, including former president Álvaro Uribe and FARC leader Iván Márquez. The charged installation explored the celebratory culture around violence and the cruel cult of savagery at the heart of the longstanding Colombian conflict. Nearby, María Isabel Rueda’s photographic triptych made visible the surveillance and criminalization of drug trafficking in the remote Guajira region of Colombia. Two flanking photographs showed tracks made by private planes involved in the transportation of marijuana, while the central photograph pictured a hole where military planes had bombed the land, thereby halting the drug trade yet bringing ruin to the territory. The Salón’s title “Aún” (Yet/Still) addresses a provisional present, something in development or yet to come. Not unlike the expansive horizons laid bare by violence in Rueda’s photographs, a vision for Colombia’s future remains blurry; yet/still, artistic responses amid this complex landscape of conflict hit home the hardest.

Left: Artist Jazmín López with her work during Flora's open studios. Right: Guido Yannitto with his work during Flora's open studios.

Left: Artist Monika Bravo with her work and dealer Johannes Vogt. Right: Collectors with Fabrizio Abbieta's work at Diablo Rosso booth.

Left: Curator Magali Arriola and artist Mario García Torres, co-curator's of ArtBO's Foro section. Right: Antonio Caro painting in ArtBO'S Referentes section.

Left: Galleria Fortes Vilaça's Márcia Fortes and Matheus Chiaratti with Cristiano Lenhardt's work at ArtBO. Right: PIVÔ's Fernanda Brenner and artist Paloma Bosquê with Bernardo Ortiz's work at Casa Riegner.

Left: Proyectos Ultravioleta's Stefan Benchoam and artist Akira Ikezoe with his paintings at ArtBO. Right: Yautepec's Daniela Elbahara and Brett Schultz with Morgan Mandalay painting at ArtBo.

Left: Flora artistic director José Roca with visitors to the exhibition space-artist residency. Right: Volunteers sewing the white cloth of Doris Salcedo's “Sumando Ausencias” in Bogotá's Plaza de Bolívar. (Photo: Felipe Arturo)

Left: Doris Salcedo's “Sumando Ausencias” being sewn together in Bogotá's Plaza de Bolívar. (Photo: Felipe Arturo) Right: Exterior of Instituto de Visión with Wheatpasted Jesús Abad Colorado photogaph and ¡Ni una bala mas! photograph.

Left: Alarcón Criado Gallery's Julio Criado, curator Carolina Castro, Artishock's Alejandra Villasmil, ArteBA's Amalia Curutchet, and Malba's Lucrecia Palacios. Right: Artist Anna Frants, curator Leah Stuhltrager, and mapping programmer Olivia Jackson.

Left: Artist Carlos María, Olga Roballo, Abner Wagner, artist Juan Betancurth, and Ofelia Rodríguez painting at ArtBO. Right: Witte de With curator Adam Kleinman and Stedelijk Museum's Martijn Von at Nacional Salón de Artistas in Pereira.

Left: Councilor of Visual Arts for the Ministry of Culture Carolina Ponce de León and Nacional Salón de Artistas Artistic Director Rosa Ángel. Right: Curator Ericka Flórez and Guggenheim curator Pablo León de La Barra.

Left: Jesús Abad Colorado's photographs of “Los indígenas en el conflicto armado colombiano” at the Museo De Arte Universidad Nacional. Right: Jesús Abad Colorado photogaph and ¡Ni una bala mas! photograph on the exterior of Instituto de Visión.

Campamento Por La Paz (Encampment for Peace) in Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar.