ARTBO MIGHT BE THE WORLD’S most podiatrically humane fair, given that its previews the Thursday before last began at 3 PM and lasted for only six hours. Its size is also quite kind, with sixty-five galleries, chiefly dealers from Latin America, though about a quarter are from Europe and the United States, and another fourteen were presenting solo projects selected by Tate curator José Roca.
As has quickly become the norm at fairs around the globe, the preponderance of Brazilian galleries at artBO (eight) can’t go without notice and was a driving theme of the week. As to why: “I think we were missing a fair in Spanish-speaking Latin America,” said São Paulo dealer Rodrigo Editore of Casa Triângulo, alluding to arteBA in Buenos Aires and Zona Maco in Mexico City, both of whose local economics lost steam after respective crashes in Argentina and North America.
So, Bogotá it is, and although plenty of the booths are full of work that could be written off as more facile than those of artBO’s northern counterparts, there are many exceptions, and actual surprises, like Jaqueline Martins’s grouping of historical works including performance documentation by Edwin Sanchez and the collective 3NÓS3, and a semicircular sculptural costume by Martha Araúfo, which, Velcroed to the wall, one may don and struggle to walk away with. It’s hard to say whether seeing institutional favorites like David Maljkovic (at Amsterdam’s Annet Gelink) recontextualized so as to mirror the geometrically driven aesthetic South American art is often associated with is refreshing or bleak, but I’ll go with the former.
In the wake of the opening, Catalina Casas arranged an informal dinner for a posse of out-of-towners at a Spanish restaurant around the corner from her gallery, Casas Riegner. Stepping up three flights of stairs to a private dining room overhanging a bustling bar, I wondered if the lofty table would only exacerbate the altitude sickness that was by now crushing the stamina of a substantial share of the fair’s delegation. “Don’t worry, we have coca tea at the gallery,” Casas assured me. Guests followed their way up to join us, curator Pablo León de la Barra, Spanish dealer Elba Benítez, and New York–based, Colombian-born adviser Ana Sokoloff, who rang in on the success of the afternoon’s opening. “There’s a very coherent selection of galleries, and more good stuff than what the local market can absorb. A healthy challenge!”
The following day, Roca hosted an open house for FLORA, his new nonprofit space devoted to links between art and nature. Roca broke down the impetus for the project as “much more than tree huggy—it’s about a dirty, friction-based art,” linking to the violence that has shaped so much of modern Colombian consciousness and culture with “botantics” (drugs). He then pointed back to European colonists whose research placed plants and animals as well as men into hierarchies, which structured the racial discrimination that has followed Colombia into the twenty-first century. Among the projects filling the four-story building were a wall of yellow, orange, and purple hairlike fibers dyed by materials and processes sourced from the Colombian Amazon by Susana Mejía, and one by Mark Dion produced during his residency at FLORA’s field station in rural Honda: an encyclopedic display of drawings of the plants and animals to be found in the area.
Friday evening, artBO invited one thousand of its closest friends to a fiesta at Andrés Carne de Res, a legendary all-inclusive dinner and dancing establishment an hour and change outside of town in the village of Chia. Since the dinner coincided with the vernissage of the satellite fair called Odeon, Chilean artist Gianfranco Foschino tipped me off to a rumor that removing all the VIPs from Bogotá, and thus from the other fair’s opening, that night may have been a strategic move.
“Narcos love castles,” someone murmured as we passed a mob scene outside a formidable chateau. I thought for sure this was our destination, but the bus continued onward into a mind-boggling leisure zone the size of a small college campus that resembled something more like an open-air, Western-themed Applebee’s. Hungry revelers filled tables with kitschy heart-shaped lanterns as servers in ski parkas dropped off skillets of beef and bottles of aguadiente. Fearing a boozy struggle for space on the shuttles back to the city, I left on the first one, only allowing myself a single Macarena and entirely missing, among many others, Ella Cisneros dancing on the tables. Apparently after a certain hour it would have been rude not to.
The next day, a couple dozen collectors made their way to the offices and storage of Leon Amitai’s textile company, where he and his wife Karin gave a tour of their collection installed onsite. A cartographic project by Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade measuring the friendliness of the famously cheerful inhabitants of his native Recife and an unusually massive wall of letters by Shannon Ebner were punctuated by the occasional window looking onto a Gursky-esque view of perhaps a million rolls of fabric. “I don’t know what mosquito bit us, but we started learning more, and going to more biennials . . .” explained our jaunty host Mr. Amitai with an earnest enthusiasm that hopefully means good things for a new generation of collectors in Colombia’s internationally burgeoning art hub.
After a quick diversion in the Colombian Caribbean, where a biennial is rumored for Cartagena in early 2014, I made it to Medellín, Colombia, for the final days of the forty-third Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas, which closed on Sunday. My first stop was the Medellín Museum of Modern Art (MAMM), where I caught lunch with its director, María Mercedes González, who cast some light on the exhibition’s parenthetical. “There was some early controversy among Colombian artists when the organization announced its decision to invite international artists to participate for the first time, but once it opened, nothing more happened—people saw that it was a really good Salon.”
Indeed it was, and the show’s titular conceptual framework, Saber Desconocer, which translates approximately to “to know, to not know,” is also fitting, considering that the biennial itself is relatively unknown outside Colombia despite the fact it has been running for the better part of a century. Echoing themes of environmentally informed existentialism expressed by Roca one week earlier, the biennial’s artistic director Mariangela Méndez described the diptych of Salon exhibitions on view at MAMM as they relate to the notion of Saber Desconocer: “On one side you have universal, less rooted, identity-based projects”—curated by Buenos Aires–based Florencia Malbrán—“and on the other they have more to do with traditional, indigenous knowledge”—curated by Inhotim’s Rodrigo Moura. “And in the middle you have the Ernesto Neto”—a typically huge, silky, sheer suspended playground perfumed with cinnamon and lavender—“bringing it all together.”