Medellín, Colombia

María Isabel Rueda, El fin (The End), 2013, printed polyester banner, 98' 5“ x 78' 9”. From the 43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas: “SaberDesconocer” (To Know Not to Know). Edificio Antioquia.

María Isabel Rueda, El fin (The End), 2013, printed polyester banner, 98' 5“ x 78' 9”. From the 43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas: “SaberDesconocer” (To Know Not to Know). Edificio Antioquia.

43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas

Various Venues

María Isabel Rueda, El fin (The End), 2013, printed polyester banner, 98' 5“ x 78' 9”. From the 43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas: “SaberDesconocer” (To Know Not to Know). Edificio Antioquia.

Is there really a need for yet another international biennial? I wouldn’t have thought so, but this exhibition, titled “SaberDesconocer” (To Know Not to Know), following no less than forty-two previous incarnations of the “national salon of Colombian artists,” has revised its designation to become the 43 Salón (inter) Nacional de Artistas—and with those gingerly parens and that distinctly lowercase i, the biennial has managed to find just the right balance, showcasing the strength of Colombian art by indicating its broader context, highlighting both connections and particularities. Along with a team of four curators, artistic director Mariángela Méndez has gathered works by 108 artists, of whom more than half are Colombian and another quarter from elsewhere in Latin America. The inclusion of a few regulars on the biennial circuit (Ernesto Neto, Jimmie Durham, Jeremy Deller, Kader Attia) does not detract from the freshness of the whole.

Although most of the works were sited at the Museo de Antioquia and its annex, the Casa del Encuentro, along with the nearby Edificio Antioquia, the former headquarters of a shipping company that now belongs to one of the local universities, the best introduction to “Saber-Desconocer” was probably at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín, which featured two “chapters,” or mini-shows within the show, each the brainchild of one of the two non-Colombians on the curatorial team. One of them, “Estado Oculto” (Hidden State), was put together by Rodrigo Moura, curator of the Instituto Inhotim in Minas Gerais, Brazil, in collaboration with anthropologist Paulo Maia. Inspired by a collection of fake pre-Columbian objects known as the Alzate ceramics—produced by forgers in the late nineteenth century with what now seems, it must be said, a wonderful sense of fantasy and freedom—the show is a meditation on similarities and differences between “art” and “artifacts,” and on fictions and realities of the indigenous. It includes videos of ceremonies in Brazilian indigenous villages produced by the villagers themselves, as well as powerful images of the Yanomami made by Swiss-born, São Paulo–based photographer/activist Claudia Andujar, in addition to neo- or pseudo artifacts by the likes of Armando Andrade Tudela and Jac Leirner. The other chapter, “Destiempo” (Out of Time), is the work of Argentinean critic/curator Florencia Malbrán and seems to articulate its Borgesian “refutation of time” by way of a Mallarméan poetry of blanks and absences, in which “Mailed Paintings,” 2004–, by Karin Sander and Jorge Macchi’s paradoxical sculptures, among others, stand out for their insistently restrained presences.

The themes concisely articulated by Moura and Malbrán were threaded through the rest of “SaberDesconocer” in a looser but elegant way. Most of the Colombian artists were entirely unknown to me and there are many whose work I hope to encounter again. Let me mention just three: Leyla Cárdenas (a multilayered graphic/photographic/ sculptural meditation on the architecture of industry), María Isabel Rueda (a gorgeously hypnotic video of nothing more than waves splashing back and forth under a dock), Angélica Teuta (who also played games with the fiction of time, or rather, of the clock). One notes among Colombian artists a special feeling for drawing (José Horacio Martínez, Lucas Ospina) as a technique and a deep fascination with the extraordinary local plant life. These two aspects are synthesized in the work of Abel Rodríguez, described as “a traditional expert of the Nonuya people of the mid-Caquetá river,” who has created delicate and finely detailed illustrations of the trees of the Amazon. But for me the show’s emblematic work was by the Guatemalan Regina José Galindo, who was represented by a casket-like iron box and a video showing the performance in which, after she climbed into it, the box was covered and then held aloft, with great difficulty, by a sort of cortege of bearers who slowly, painstakingly, passed it along from hand to hand until the last bearers set it down. The point is not so much that the artist constitutes the “content” of the work as that the work is realized when it conceals her as an individual and the weight of meaning is supported by others, the receivers. Showing contemporary Colombian art in an (inter)national context, this exhibition strengthened viewers in shouldering the burden of knowing and not knowing.

Barry Schwabsky