Diary

Roller Models

Left: Curator Ximena Caminos with Venice Biennale curator Okwui Enwezor. (Photo: David Prutting/BFA) Right: The Assume Vivid Astro Focus roller disco. (Photo: Carolina Bonfanti)

AFTER TWENTY HOURS of cramped airplanes and layovers, moving gradually from stark Los Angeles freeways to the leafy boulevards of Buenos Aires, I found myself sitting next to Ximena Caminos, director and chief curator of the Faena Art Center in the baroque interior of El Mercado restaurant. Caminos was helping to host the tenth anniversary of the Faena district with a celebratory roller disco by the ever-energetic Assume Vivid Astro Focus and a coterie of international travelers to show off the charm of Argentina’s capital. Perpetually clad in all white with a variety of cowboy hats sporting a single brown feather, hotelier Alan Faena sat across the table beyond platters of steaming meat. Faena funds the kunsthalle that bears his name with a fortune built mostly from his reinvention of the barrio, carving a luxury neighborhood out of an abandoned BA port. In hiring a seasoned curator to run his center, he also found a wife; from the Peróns to the Kirchners, Argentina has a historical penchant for power couples.

Like a darting sparrow, Caminos winged gracefully from topic to topic, telling me about the center’s program. Though it sponsors some projects with Argentine artists (and with only a few institutional competitors in town), the center is explicitly international in character, with exhibitions thus far featuring Ernesto Neto, Richard Long, and Franz Ackermann, as well as a new sister space, Faena Forum, opening soon in Miami. “The South colonizing the North,” she declared, before launching into a discourse on the magic of asado, or cooking with smoke. She assured me that the master of the form, Francis Mallmann, would make me smoked vegetables when we had lunch at his house.

I left one meal for another, skipping openings for Henrique Cesar at URRA and Rosana Schoijett + Guido Yannitto at Zaveleta Art Lab to arrive at the Villa Crespo home of dealer Teresa Ancorena for a dinner in honor of Okwui Enwezor, who was passing through Argentina on his global trot. Circling around the ceviche and panqueques were the elite of the Argentine art world: MAMBA director Victoria Noorthoorn and Alejandro Corres, director of the popular ArteBA fair, as well as collectors Teresa Bulgheroni and Ricardo Esteves. A crowd of younger artists and writers helped polish off the champagne, including Juliana Laffitte and Manuel Mendanha of the artist collective Mondongo, Ancorena’s artist daughter Luna Paiva, and novelist Pola Oloixarac. Throughout the elegantly remodeled tenement building hung the Ancorenas’ collection; Enwezor toured the rooms accompanied by a white-haired painter, who was giving an impromptu studio visit and a hard sell on a tablet computer.

Left: Zé Celso of Teatro Oficina with Jorge Fontevecchia. (Photo: Carolina Bonfanti) Right: Artist Eli Sudbrack, Kathryn Spellman Poots, Park Avenue Armory artistic director Alex Poots, and Ximena Caminos. (Photo: David Prutting/BFA)

The following day, I met artist Gala Berger to tour the last days of her museum’s tenure in the basement of MALBA, a private foundation for Latin American art. Given the need in Buenos Aires for an international contemporary art museum, Berger, along with a gang of collaborators, founded the La Ene—Nuevo Museo Energía de Arte Contemporáneo—with a robust collection of works and, almost as important, a sparkly logo and nickname. The entire collection’s storage sat under plastic on a white plinth in the middle of the gallery on a single, sleek hard drive surrounded by poetic works that are remade from instructions and digital files each time they’re exhibited.

We meandered through the bustling streets, stopping briefly for a group show of gallery artists at Miau Miau, then making our way through a warren of tiny galleries, bookstalls, chic occult shops, and artist studios called Patio del Liceo. We ran into Berger’s collaborator Marina Reyes Franco and a gang of artist-gallerists celebrating that the museum had—for the first time in its history—enough money to pay a whole year of rent in advance. Together we split for a long bus ride to Fundación Proa, arriving just in time to miss the show and watch the guard locking the front door for the day.

Steeling ourselves, we headed to the roller disco. Suited young men and their elegantly dressed dates slipped and slid across the floor in rollerblades and custom skates, weaving into the group of flexible skate-princesses voguing in identical black costumes with colorful sashes. First performed a decade ago in New York’s Central Park, avaf revived the roller disco for Faena’s anniversary. NYC drag legend Lady Bunny DJ’d as the early-on fashion crew gave way to artists who ruled the floor with deft moves. Writer-editor Marcelo Samuel Dansey and his boyfriend, artist Guido Ignatti, slipped in and out of the crowd like it was butter. The only known injury was avaf artist himself, Eli Sudbrack, spotted sporting a blue wrist brace from a spill.

Left: Alan Faena gives his toast at dinner. (Photo: David Prutting/BFA) Right: Artist Gala Berger. (Photo: Andrew Berardini)

The dinner after took place at Faena Hotel in a long room with white, silk-clad walls lined with the heads of taxidermied unicorns. The flickering candelabras glimmered through the pendulous crystal chandeliers over the banquet table as Alan Faena stood before the packed room in his white suit and white cowboy hat to thank the crowd. Watching his toast from the opposite end of this witchy tableau, I remembered the essay in the promotional schwag by occult director Alejandro Jodorowsky praising the hotel. But no Holy Mountain greeted us as we repaired to the bar. Instead we watched a white-haired, white-suited leader direct a modish gang of rockers in identical black-and-white striped shirts in a wicked version of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou.” I half expected David Lynch to wander in and start bartending.

Out on the patio Natalia Slyz, co-owner of SlyzMud Gallery, ecstatically sung the praises of the small, hardy scene of galleries, making me a list of her favorites, including Ignacio Liprandi, Ruth Benzacar, and Isla Flotante. When asked to describe the art scene in Buenos Aires, she bent her head and said, sotto voce, “Undercover.”

A gang of drunk, young gatecrashers chimed in: “It’s very good, except when it’s awful,” their leader said. No independent international contemporary art museum or magazine, they complained, and few commercial galleries. So what makes it “very good”? “The moment you stop caring and you’re free to do whatever you want.”

ALL IMAGES