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Analysis out of the box

Buenos Aires, cultural audit of an organic city

Analysis out of the boxArt Market | Veritable city-overgrowth, Buenos Aires has no European equivalent in terms of its excessive size and intense centralization of political, economic and cultural affairs. The city concentrates almost half the national PIB, generates two-thirds of the industrial PIB and financial activities while more than a third of the total national population lives in « Greater Buenos Aires ». The artistic scene reflects the city : rich, complex, and splintered. Here is the cartography of a living organism.

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A paradoxical economy

The economic context is marked by negative external factors : unable to pay its bills since the 2001 economic crisis, Argentina no longer has access to financial markets and can’t rely on a commercial surplus to procure dollars. This balance has only degraded since 2012 and a strict control on exchanges was put in place to stem the flow of capital out of the country.

State involvement at the embryonic stage

The lack of resources available from the state hinders the position and growth of Argentinean contemporary art, which remains a local market despite the recent passing of a law favourable to patronage. Moreover, administrative barriers limit international circulation of works, and the creation of a more restrictive and intrusive fiscal regime has hit in the midst of an already slowing market. While the association AAGA notes a record 22,000 works sold in 2014 (+25% compared to 2013 according to official figures), the specialist website Trastienda Plus reports a substantial fall in value of purchases/sales in art since 2013.

Art as investment to combat inflation

Contemporary art in Argentina represents a dollar asset for buyers and serves as a store of value in an economy ravaged by 30% inflation and a peso that has depreciated by 55% over the last four years. arteBA’s vitality comes out of the is context, as acquiring work during the fair means taking advantage simplified administrative procedures regarding the importation of works that are priced and purchased in US dollars. In fact, the majority of transactions in foreign currency take place on the parallel market - a market that, though officially prohibited, unofficially constitutes the norm. Argentina’s political protectionism dœs not facilitate the import and export of works given the long and costly custom formalities. Thus, rather than serving as an investment asset to generate a plus-value over the mid/long term, art responds to an immediate savings need.

The pull of cultural emblems

Buenos Aires has a plurality of cultural institutions historically concentrated in the heart of the Microcentro, the emblematic neighbourhood that houses most of the galleries, museums and foundations, including the Borges Cultural Centre, the Cooperation Floreal Gorini Cultural Centre, the OSDE Foundation... Today new initiatives are multiplying, symbolizing an urban expansion strategy through art. Through the Polo Sur Cultural project, the federal government is attempting to revitalize a long-dismissed zone south of the city and incite reconstruction of the area with : the MAMBA, the MACBA, the Museum of Cinema... these institutions fortify the private infrastructural tissue that constitute a « porteño » artistic landscape : the Arts district, the Arts factory, the Faena Arts Center, the PROA Foundation, the MALBA that brings together the collection of its founder Eduardo F. Costantini and the Fortabat Museum which houses the Amélia Lacrose de Fortabat collection...

The eloquent dynamism of a new generation of galleries and artists superimposes itself on these urban mutations. Ruth Benzacar and Nora Fisch have left the centre for the Villa Crespo neighborhood, Barro for the Boca; a strategy justified by the quest for larger spaces, accessible rent and a closer proximity to artists and a younger audience.

An effervescent market’s ecosystem

Along with Sao Paolo and Mexico City, Buenos Aires is one of the most active urban and artistic zones in Latin America : a growing number of galleries and the arteBA fair act as the lungs for the South American market.
Although in the collective imagination Argentinean contemporary art is inseparable from figures like Julio le Parc, Leon Ferrari and Pablo Suarez, a new wave of artists is emerging, Guillermo Kuitca, Jorge Macchi, Fernanda Laguna, Luciana Lamothe, Adriana Minoliti and Joaquin Boz. This young generation is present on the international scene, as the exhibition My Buenos Aires at the Maison Rouge attests to. As for galleries, their numbers have increased since the 2001 crisis; some 200 galleries are now redrawing the artistic landscape, like the new Sly Zmud but also alternative spaces with innovative propositions like Diagonal and Naranja Verde. As for collectors, the market enjoys the dynamic participation of an active circle of buyers : Juan Vergez, Ignacio Liprandi (gallerist and dealer), Mauro Herlitzka (ex-president of arteBA), Hugo Sigman (owner of Biogenesis & Elea laboratories) and Rubén Cherñajovsky (owner of Newsan group).

DIY as model

The economic crises that mark the daily life of Argentineans have developed and legitimized informal means of transmitting knowledge and distributing work, on the margins of academic pathways, in response to a lack of infrastructure :
- Colectivos de artistas are spaces where heteroclite competencies and generations meet under one roof. Jardin Luminoso and Portela 164 are among the most emblematic organizations of this kind. Veritable « art incubators » , they offer their members workshops, a technical and critical framework, and classes’Fundraising soirées are often the principal source of revenue for these spaces. On a smaller scale, « clinica de obra » - where young artists gather under the supervision of a « professor-mentor » to discuss their works - are on the rise.
- The Kuitca grant, created in 1991 by the painter Guillermo Kuitca, highlights the importance of transgenerational knowledge transmission. With the support of the private university Di Tella (following the Antorchas and PROA foundations and the Ricardo Rojas Cultural Center), this program has allowed several artists access to a studio, a framework and ultimately marketplace recognition.
- The Bola de Nieve project, launched by Ramona magazine, observes a theoretical and documentary logic through use of NTIC. This online date base offers a panorama of contemporary Argentinean art where each new member can join the platform only after approval by his or her member-peers. Today, this online platform showcases 1,138 artists, their biographies, a selection of works and texts reflecting on the national scene.
- International artist residencies like URRA, directed by artist Melina Berkenwald, and Proyecto ace, founded by artist Alicia Candiani. These projects are part of a recent movement, close the European model and motivated by a similar desire to create networks. However, it is impossible to establish an inventory of artist residencies in Buenos Aires, as many don’t have any fixed location, such as the Centro Rural de Arte.

If Argentinean creative production hopes to increase its visibility outside Latin America, the federal capital will have to confront numerous challenges : an unstable economic situation, a lack of synergy between various art world players... These obstacles, while perhaps impairing the development of the art market, have not prevented a new generation from appropriating the city and creating a harmonious relationship between the traditional and contemporary.

Vincent Kozsilovics / Maria Olmedo
Publié le 09/06/2015
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