The Last Unicorn

Kate Sutton at the 22nd edition of arteBA

Left: Developer Alan Faena. (Photo: David X Prutting/BFA) Right: arteBA director Julia Converti and dealer Beatriz Lopez. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

“ALAN’S TRULY MAGICAL, like this unicorn cowboy dressed all in white. You’ll love him!” a friend babbled over brunch last Sunday, a day before I left for Buenos Aires to visit the Faena Arts Center. My first actual glimpse of the mythical Alan Faena would be from the rooftop terrace of the Aleph—the residential building that marks Foster + Partners’s debut in Latin America. Faena, indeed decked out in white, from his fedora to his feet, was strolling down the street outside the Faena Hotel, reappearing minutes later in a penthouse window. “Does he ever leave the district?” one of my companions wondered aloud. “Does he ever need to?” answered another.

CREATING VALUE WHERE THERE WAS NONE Faena Group boasts in the promotional literature. Bombastic, but to be sure, Faena Hotel and Universe has transformed the abandoned southern port of Puerto Madero into Buenos Aires chicest new address. Now Faena is hoping to bring some of his magic to Miami, where plans are in the works for one of the more ambitious developments currently going in the US. Sprawling from Thirty-Second Street to Thirty-Fifth Street, from the beach straight back to Indian Creek, the new Faena District will feature a residential building by Foster + Partners, a hotel by Roman and Williams, and three buildings by Rem Koolhaas and OMA: a bazaar, a parking facility, and an art center. Another art facility in Miami? “We’re working on our angle,” Faena Group representative Alicia Goldstein assured me.

Left: Pablo Banares and Faena Arts Center director Ximena Caminos. Right: Curator Sonia Becce. (Photos: David X Prutting/BFA)

I would get a taste of what said angle might be with Faena Art Center’s dual openings of exhibitions by Russian collective AES+F and Argentinean Eduardo Navarro. AES+F’s “The Liminal Space Trilogy” unites three massive projections: Last Riot (2005–2007), The Feast of Trimalchio (2009–10), and Allegoria Sacra (2011–12), the last of which was recently awarded a Kandinsky Prize for its amusing/unsettling mix of aliens, centaurs, devil-centipedes, and drowning airports, all set to stun. Navarro, meanwhile, parked his modest Estudio Jurídico Mercosur III (Mercosur Law Studio III) in the street behind the center. The eighteen-meter-long semi trailer features both a mobile bar, offering visitors free fruit smoothies, and a law office, where a practicing barrister doles out pro bono legal advice. Navarro admitted to curator Sonia Becce that he found the neighborhood “like Holy Land, the biblical theme park on the Costanera, but for businessmen. Everything’s imitation something or other; nothing’s real, but it doesn’t matter: It’s a lucid dream.”

Monday night certainly felt like a hallucination, as we were treated to the fifth annual Fashion Edition BA. The competition pits five emerging designers against one another for $50,000 to develop their collections. It was like walking in on a Project Runway season finale, where all the build-up drama could be inferred merely from the different sound track selections. More than one designer took the opportunity to pay tribute to the hotel’s famous unicorns, which decorated a dining room. As the reception took over most of the facilities, we were discreetly invited out to the terrace for a bottle of Faena Malbec by the campfire, which Faena himself was stoking, white linen suit be damned. (“He never gets one spot on him!” his wife, Faena Arts Center director Ximena Camenos, laughed.)

“I really believe in the power of art to transform,” Caminos continued, her eyes fixed on the fire. “My grandmother worked at MAMBA, so maybe it’s just in my blood. But I trained to be a painter until I realized that helping other artists is what I do better.” One of those artists is Nicola Costantino, who will represent Argentina in Venice. Costantino originally planned a mournful tribute to Eva Perón, but the concept changed slightly when Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, got wind of the project, and volunteered herself for the role. (“She sees herself as the new Evita,” our taxi driver later explained.)

Left: Artist Eduardo Navarro at his bar. (Photo: David X Prutting/BFA) Right: ArteBA President Facundo Gómez Minujín and curator Abaseh Mirvali.

The next day, I managed to pay my own respects to the famous First Lady (or at least a few of her handbags) at the Evita Museum before ducking over to the Alvear Palace Hotel for a welcome reception for the twenty-second arteBA fair, which kicked off that night at La Rural. Not shy about midday drinking, the primarily Argentinean crowd also included artists Gonzalo Lebrija, Klara Liden, and Alexander Wagner; curators Cuauhtémoc Medina, Pablo León de la Barra, José Roca, and Abaseh Mirvali; and collectors Gail and Louis Adler, Gabriel Werthein, and the colorful Dudu von Thielmann. “Dudu’s an institution,” my companion whispered, reaching for her wine. “Her house may as well be a history museum. You should definitely get yourself invited there.”

Before I had a chance to try, I found myself swept into conversation with Mirvali and genial arteBA foundation president Facundo Gómez Minujín, son of the legendary artist Marta. He had just announced that, after fourteen years on the board, he would be stepping down as its president. Minujín didn’t let on to any exhaustion, and instead rattled off the roster of galleries and special projects: “arteBA is run as a foundation, not to make profit, which is how we can afford to bring in curators like Chus [Martínez], Cuauhtémoc, and Pablo,” Minujín explained. “It really operates more like a biennial; last year alone, we had 120,000 visitors. 120,000!”

Left: Dealers Alexander Schröder and Fernando Mesta. Right: Arcos Dorados Solo Show winner Adriana Minoliti in her Playroom.

arteBA ensures those visitors have plenty to look at, supplementing the traditional fair format with two competition sections and an Open Forum that’s free to the public. The young and the restless were nominally cordoned into the Barrio Joven, where I was particularly charmed by Julio Hilger’s installation at Fiebre, of ceramic cartoon characters learning to play guitar from an instructional video. But the main fair had smart international showings from upstarts like La Central (Bogotá), Emma Thomas (São Paulo), and Revolver (Lima). Meanwhile, Jacques Martínez opted to revisit recent history, with a memorable sampling of painters from the 1970s. “These were the hippest artists of their generation,” director Clara Martínez recalled, as I paused to appreciate a jarring portrait by Hugo Svernini. “Now they’ve been all but forgotten, entirely unjustly.” Over in the Arcos Dorados Prize for Latin American Painting, assembled by de la Barra, the vibrant palettes of Pedro Varela and Adriana Minoliti spiked the intelligent elegance of GT Pellizzi and the Space Invaders–esque animations of Lucía Madriz. (Minoliti ended up taking top honors for her Playroom installation, a live-in bonanza of form and color.)

The real highlight, however, was the U-Turn section, which was put together by Mirvali and featured the fair’s international heavyweights: Esther Schipper, Vermelho, Travesía Cuatro, and Proyectos Monclova among them. Claire Fontaine’s tennis balls—stuffed with the kind of contraband (lipstick, candy, cigarettes) smuggled into prisons—lay scattered on either side of the wall between MD72 and House of Gaga, and there were strong solo shows of Alexander Wagner (RaebervonStenglin) and Roberto Winter (Mendes Wood). I found myself particularly drawn to Gastón Pérsico’s exquisite cabinets at Nora Fisch. “Careful. I put vodka in the humidifier,” Pérsico warned me when I leaned in for a closer look.

That night, the fair was hosting a seated dinner within La Rural, after which U-Turn would throw its own bash at Casa Carlos Calvo, a restored 1860 mansion in the trendy San Telmo district. Before taking in either, however, I had one more pit stop: the famed Rojo Tango at the Faena Cabaret. The hour and a half of twirls, high kicks, and dips made my five hours at the fair look like a warm-up stretch, but it still hardly prepared me for the dance floor at Casa Calvo.

Left: Artist Lev Evzovitch of AES+F and actress Anna Skidanova. Right: artBO director Maria Paz Gaviria, artist GT Pellizzi, and dealer Cecilia Jurado. (Photo: Nacho Valle)

Left: Dealer Nora Fisch. Right: Collectors Louis Adler and Gail Adler, Dudu von Thielmann, and Gabriel Werthein with curator Cristina Sommers.

Left: Designer Cora Groppo with a model at Fashion Edition 2013. Right: Dealers Flaviana Bernardo and Monica Martins.

Left: Curator Cuauhtémoc Medina and dealer Ruth Benzacar. Right: Dealer Felipe Dmab.