This selection of galleries and artists is intended to reflect the contemporary Argentine art market scene, focusing on the city of Buenos Aires. The idea is to find a balance between the presence of long-standing galleries and small emerging galleries, between artists from different generations and languages, particularly emphasising names that have not yet gained international renown.
This is why there are artists who began to produce in the decade of the 60’s, some fundamental figures from the eighties and nineties presented in micro-anthologies, and young artists who are exploring new forms of art and subjectivity. From the artistic languages point of view, the selection places its emphasis on showing the plurality of the Argentine scene, viewed as a landscape of opposites in which proposals of a very different nature coexist alongside each other, like friendly but odd neighbours: from the conceptual to the materialist, the proto-scientific, the projective, the pictorial and the sociological.
This idea of the group as a landscape of contrasts or a heterogeneous people forms the backbone of the selection and aspires not only to be representative of a scene that, per se, is plural and vast but, above all, to underline these differences as one of the most important, vital and challenging characteristics of the artistic field in question.
In this sense, the selection argues against the idea of a national identity. We know that culture is a fundamentally positioned concept, but also that the notion of identity is dissolved among the immeasurable and uncontrollable waves of information we consume and the permanent speculative and emotional micro-actions that constitute us as subjects. As the driving force propelling this diversity and encouraging this selection, I would like to propose a certain artist attitude: I would go so far as to say that the artists grouped together in this presentation are generally determined to avoid condescension, to evade the weight of clichés around the national or regional and to betray excessively dogmatic genres or traditions, in favour of the intensity of their pursuits. While there is an attraction to the contemporary, there is also a strong heterodoxy.
Lastly, I would like to share my recommendations for the exploration of these works, three vectors, three insistences that connect the different works presented. They could be considered the common threads that shape the Argentine presence at ARCOmadrid. They are: the iron-clad validity of painting as a material to experiment with, the momentum of the deterritorialisation movements between the visual arts and writing (whether considered as simple graphology or as literature), and the presentation of gender issues in the works.
There are also artists who do not fit into any of these categories, some who are aligned with more than one, some who identify with what I’m writing and others who almost certainly don’t.
ARTISTS IN Argentina Plataforma / ARCO
In recent years, Juan Tessi has dedicated himself entirely to unlearning the classic painting techniques he trained in. This pursuit of a not knowing is project-based, meaning that in each series, Tessi becomes methodically immersed in a particular experiment that enables him to expand his language to unexpected places, and gradually leave his virtuosity behind.
It occurred years ago, when using the canvas as if it were a face, he applied the paint to it following make-up instructions. The palette became embodied, the canvas turned to skin and the resulting abstraction was a uniform mask. Afterwards, he took this treatment of the canvas as if it were a body a step further. Now, the painting was, therefore, body, and if it was body, it was crowned with ceramic heads that were both primitive and robotic. The technique then became focused on these ceramics, and the painting was stretched to its maximum extreme of schematicity.
Juan Tessi was born in Lima, Peru, in 1972. He studied in the Maryland Institute in the city of Baltimore, USA. In 1998, he settled in Argentina.
Some of the works by Elba Bairon appear to derive from that kitsch that interprets European painting in its most sweetened and bucolic version. I’m referring, for instance, to the sculptures of children with goat kids, of washing-women beside the stream, of farm animals. Other works have a less decipherable origin; figures lying with animals or figures with offerings.
But in all of them, the identity, the faces, the expression, the colour are erased by a particular method of surface “kneading” that softens the forms, brushing away the edges and details to the precise point between the figure and their virtual disappearance. Thus, the sculpted world of Bairon exists on the edge between existence and nothingness.
Nonetheless, this same abstraction technique also, oddly, produces a very peculiar sensuality in the pieces, an almost sugary quality that endows the figures with their lightness and intrigue.
Born in La Paz, Bolivia, in 1947, Bairon studied in Montevideo and moved to Argentina in 1967, where she dominated the art scene of the 90’s.
Dudu Alcon Quintanilha
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1984, Dudu Alcon Quintanilha trained as an artist in Buenos Aires, beginning his career as a photographer and then as a performer. His works deal with desire, social and economic exclusion, transgression, risk, meetings and sacrifice, and they unfold in an exploration of the body’s expressive, relationship and therapeutic capacities.
In Buenos Aires, he formed part of the Cooperativa Guatemalteca, a group with which he created art in the context of the Villa 31, located in the Retiro district. In 2015, in São Paulo, where he currently resides, he founded Mesha (from the verb mexer, meaning to move, shake, dislocate), a work group with LGBTQ people living on the street and in situations of vulnerability.
In the context of Mesha, Alcon Quintanilha produced a series of video pieces that he calls “Estudios Esporádicos de Performance”, in which he directs one or more people, choreographing their movements in a situation of intense emotional complexity. Here we present Variaciones, a work the artist produced as a volunteer in the Projeto Especial Centro de Convivência e Acolhimento para Adultos (Complexo Prates), a centre for people living on the street who are also being treated for substance dependence. The work exhibits an ambiguous situation of tension and communion between two men: the voice of the artist and Alessandro’s body as both choreographic driver and object.
Juan José Cambre
An architect by training, Cambre was one of the protagonists of the resurgence in painting that took place in the decade of the 80’s, and its link to the theatre and poetry scene. From the 90’s on, however, all expressionism was eliminated from his work. Cambre undertook long and rigorous research projects into the constitution of colour, based on the stabilisation of one single figure –in one period, a vessel, or in another period, the shadows of the foliage—around which colour is injected with dynamism, to the point of causing that figure to disappear into the abstraction or monochrome.
What we present at ARCOmadrid is a fragment of a series of paintings on paper that present vertical colour planes resulting from a series of superpositions of two or three colours deriving from one central matrix. The almost complete eradication of the anecdote leaves room for testing as a colour science and an aesthetic experience.
Cóctel, the series by Alejandro Kuropatwa, is one of the most important works generated by the AIDS crisis in Argentina. But, unlike the majority of the works on this subject matter that we’re familiar with, particularly the North American case, it is not a work of protest. His was a work of celebration. As if they were small monuments, Kuropatwa photographed the pills of the antiviral drugs cocktail announced at the XI World AIDS Conference held in Vancouver in 1996, which enabled him to live until 2003.
With this characteristic mix of humour, sensuality and solemnity that defined the oeuvre of Kuropatwa, this series closes a period of pain and death, and presents a dual significance -medical and festive- of the term “Cocktail”.
Kuropatwa, who had studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Parsons School of Design in the 1980’s, was an iconic artist in Buenos Aires, who portrayed the youth of the nineties, the decrepitude of the decade of 2000, and made his community one of the central themes of his work.
In addition to an abridged versión of Cóctel (that was originally presented in a larger format), we present three self-portraits created by the artist before his death.
In the hyper-urban world of contemporary art, the work of Sol Pipkin acts as a reminder, as an intervention from this increasingly less likely outside, that is nature on the one hand, and the hippy movement on the other. It is from this radically alternative space to the idea of progress that the work departs: strings of walnuts like giant rosaries, branches with crowns of thistle, talismans made sculptures, paintings using craft techniques, spiders, pumpkins, sculptures of seeds and paintings using natural dyes.
Pipkin is neither an outsider, nor a moralist, but is perhaps a mystic. Her search for a tactile sensuality dialogues with the therapeutic traditions of Lygia Clark and with a critique of rational knowledge that could not be more relevant and contemporary; her formal explorations and awareness-raising experiments with the public are aligned with this search for alternatives to the perceptive collapse.
Pipkin was born in Lago Puelo, Chubut province. She currently lives in the city of Rosario.
Guillermo Faivovich and Nicolás Goldberg
The rain of meteorites that fell on Campo del Cielo, in the Argentine province of Chaco, is the main research subject this artist duo has been studying since 2006. An initial interest in the ontology of these extra-terrestrial rocks led them to use methods unexpected even for them, over time; transforming them into scientists, politicians or detectives, depending on the moment.
To date, their work has focused on the history of two particular meteorites, El Taco, which is split in half and which they joined together in an unprecedented effort of diplomatic management, for an exhibition in Portikus, Frankfurt in 2010 and El Chaco, the biggest meteorite in the area, that they unsuccessfully attempted to transport to Documenta in Kassel in 2012, sparking a dense political debate on the whole concept of heritage.
At present, Faivovich and Goldberg continue to stretch the limits of their research, pursuing the location of the legendary Mesón de Hierro, searching for sets of meteorites seized by the government of Chaco and delving deep into the images from an atomic microscope that cause these metallic stones in Campo del Cielo to end up looking like the dark and remote space they come from.
To copy the manuscript of Pierre Menard by Jorge Luis Borges, to publish a book containing thousands of made-up words, to write the index of his non-existent biography, these are all the actions of Fabio Kacero that merge in a conception of writing as a conceptual procedure. For Kacero, the serialized and repetitive methods of conceptualism even work in his most recent fiction writer phase: Kacero, the author of the fantastic Salisbury, appears less a subject than a machine to generate short stories tinted with surrealism.
Yet at the same time he was becoming a writer, Kacero, who was also one of the most paradigmatic artists of the Argentine art scene in the nineties, continued to work on some of his historical series such as his sketches of modernist designs, his padded still lives, his performances “playing dead”, or his cry, loud and de-contextualised in the midst of inaugurations.
Considering all these almost-robotic sequences of creation and the combination of obsession with absurd in each one of his works, it becomes clear that the construction of Kacero as a character is one of the most palpable effects of his fondness for repetitions. Because of his characteristics, this character, Kacero himself, exists in contradiction of the most common characters of the 21st century, proposing the eccentricity of calm and the cultivation of a persistent phobia, as a true escape mechanism from the oppression of the so-called “normality” yearned for in the lives of modern-day artists.
With the idea of portraying this figure, so pivotal in the Buenos Aires scene, we present a selection of his most iconic conceptual works at ARCOmadrid: Tootloop, the Pierre Menard, the Nemebiax, Sasha and Trilobite.
Marcelo Pombo was one of the most brilliant exponents of the so-called “Arte del Rojas”, a group of artists who sparked a veritable political debate in Argentine art between the end of the 80’s and start of the 90’s, with the force of their ideas and the poor and “loving” materiality of their work.
Pombo, who had begun his cultural life as a militant of the gay groups, returned in the nineties to womanly DIY practices, presenting himself as a deliberately decorative and amateur artist, rejecting the professionalised and statement artist model that had emerged in the period. From that point on his work took a series of turns though it has always been found politically and artistically allied with devalued and provocative cultural positions.
While his initial alliance was with women and children, over the years Pombo painted works of breath-taking sensuality, with the skill of a craftsman and the baroque soul of a surrealist. At present, his work focuses on the study of the forgotten artistic figures and traditions of Latin American art.
At ARCOmadrid we present works from different periods, from his drawings of the early 80’s to his enamels from the decade of 2000, endeavouring to offer a brief overview of one of the most influential artists of contemporary Argentine art.
Provocative, excessive, erotic, rooted in the precariousness of cities and stretched by imagination to delirium, the oeuvre of Diego Bianchi has become one of the clearest icons of the Argentine culture that emerged from the crisis of 2001.
The work feeds off the entire spectrum of things left over, expired, tarnished and freed from use in order to summon the economy as one of the most central issues of the present time. In this sense, compulsive and dysfunctional recycling along with the challenges of production speed have been two of his main stimulants.
Nowadays, far from that crisis that so profoundly penetrated the Argentine self-awareness, precariousness continues to whisper through his work, though making way for new areas of exploration, such as the relationship between technologies and bodies, between desire and control, sensuality and catastrophe. This is how his architectural or sculptural constructions began to act as sets or props for exhibitionist, violent, absurd and deranged performances.
At ARCOmadrid we present a group of pedestals displaying small scenes between things and machines, animated by all these feelings of voyeurism, perversion and obsession.
Although much of her time is spent working in a group and collaborative context, and she has actively participated in two of the most important group initiatives of recent decades in Argentina, (the Belleza and Felicidad gallery and the Taller Popular de Serigrafía), Mariela Scafati is also an individual artist.
Scafati’s training as a painter and printer forms the basis of her work, but technique always works towards a sort of strange formal vitalism. Whether when she sews fabric cut-outs to compose geometric forms, when she writes posters that magnify the text messages from her phone during a period of activism or when she transfers her intimate bondage practices to the materiality of the painting, Scafati acts without transitions, imbuing her work with body and expression. Her most personal interests always throb in her work: desire, the street, others. Through this absence of mediations, through the work as a direct action, she overcomes the difficult challenge of connecting her formal experimentations with her private and political militancy.
Obeid’s interests appear to fit within the triangle formed by visuality, writing and politics. Her works, which are drawings, videos, works of theatre or photographs, take place in this space yet always deal with the transitions, translations and journeys between these points. To give you an example: The video Dictado, one of the most disturbing works on Argentine structural poverty, aims to raise current awareness of the independentism of Simon Bolívar in his famous Carta de Jamaica, of 1815. To do so, Obeid contrasts it with the Argentine reality two centuries later; a train is taken in the city centre and as it moves through the suburbs and then the countryside, she films from the moving train the precariousness of the ways of life and the economic and racial segregation. And as she shows these images, Obeid transcribes the words of Bolívar in a notebook. Thus, the poetic-political effect, the act of acknowledgment and appropriation, takes place among the interwoven actions of observing, reading and re-writing.
Some of this same fetishism for the outline, the re-inscription, the drawing of ideas, reappears in other works of hers presented at ARCOmadrid: her early video in which drawing is scratching, tearing, getting the paper to make noise, the drawings that copy the manuscripts of Walter Benjamin, and her photos of books.
Obeid studied at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Apart from her work as a visual artist, she has published the novels Frente, perfil y llanura, (2013) and Preparación para el amor (2015).
Since her return to Buenos Aires from her Spanish exile, at the start of the 80’s, Schvartz has occupied a key position in Argentine culture as a portrayer of artists, of popular figures from the suburbs, of lovers and animals, with a gaze that goes from tender to fierce and romantic to grotesque.
Schvartz is an independent artist; a pitiless critic of the artworld’s hypocrisy and frivolity. Her painting, linked to expressionism but also initially to the press, has had various themes: she painted the characters of Barcelona and Buenos Aires, Latin American cult objects, she pitilessly portrayed some figures from the Peron era, she experienced and painted the aridity of northern Argentina, and from each theme she received new materials and formats to experiment with: old frames, teazle frames, dyed wools, collages, arpilleras, resins, snails.
Schvartz was born in Buenos Aires in 1955. She studied under Ricardo Carreira and Aida Carballo. Her political activism obliged her to seek exile in Spain during the military dictatorship. Apart from her paintings, she has created ceramic works, prints and performances, including La kermés, together with her great friend Liliana Maresca.
Mirtha Dermisache dedicated her artist’s life to two themes in particular. On the one hand, from 1966 on, she began to write without communicating, inventing multiple meaningless graphisms, using letter, story, book and poster formats for her non-messages, inspired by either the refinement of old signatures or childish scribbles.
Her graphisms, that emerged at the same time as Jorge Bonino’s famous invented language “classes” and the writings of León Ferrari, over the years gained an incredible proliferation and multiplicity. With time, her expression became more sophisticated and the mimesis of pre-existent formats gave way to authentic inventions.
On the other hand, from 1971 on Dermisache took up her second occupation: that of teaching in her Creative Actions Workshop. The teaching of art techniques in this workshop had massive repercussions in six Jornadas de Color y de la Forma (Days of Colour and Shape) organised by the artist in different public spaces from 1975 to 1981, in the middle of the military dictatorship, with the idea of setting in motion the expressiveness and capacity for play of adults through the teaching of different graphic and sculpture techniques.
Dermisache found spaces to diffuse her writings within the framework of the CAyC, in Argentina, and in the special editions of the Archive for Small Press and Communication, in Belgium.
Dermisache died in Buenos Aires in 2012.
Since the end of the nineties, Cecilia Szalcowicz has been producing works that combine photography, design and fashion. Built on a strong belief in speculation and the visual at the same time, her work simultaneously alludes to the viewer’s intellect and taste, with enormous precision in recapturing history, and a very particular intelligence in the semiotic developments and quotations.
Szalcowicz transports bas-reliefs of Buenos Aires buildings from the 60’s to murals stuck on paper, she cuts photographs on the bias with glass included or changes the tones of a series of still lives between different shades of blue, as if the colour were in control of the electronic device. Everything contaminates everything else, is lowered or refined and becomes contemporaneity.
This then is the object of her work: a sort of ultra-stylized and coded processing of generally “old” images, to obtain a maximum point of synchrony with the present.
Szalcowicz trained as a graphic designer at the University of Buenos Aires. She formed part of the Suscripción group, is an amateur DJ and normally works with Gastón Pérsico, on both artistic and music projects.
As a member of a post-conceptual generation of artists (quite unusual in an Argentina more prone to open and subjective processes than formal and mental control), Accinelli is interested in art as a sort of microscope to isolate and think about the details that move the world. Which is why his activity consists of producing small displacements and interventions in everyday reality, that render it a potential object of speculation.
An ordinary man’s shoe displayed in a window on a revolving display device, is exhibited as if it were a jewel; a wooden stick appears attached to the wall by steel rings, as if it were a measuring device; a series of everyday photos of people queuing, are transferred to paper using the frottage technique, until they almost seem ghosts of themselves. Everything is modulated towards visibility or invisibility, trembling on a pivotal point between banality or the concept. And it is that particular vibration, that state of doubt between what it is and what it isn’t, that gives his project its greatest eloquence.
Accinelli lives in São Paulo, Brazil.
A sharp observer of the trends governing the status quo of the fashion and art worlds, Liernur paints from her attraction to this burden of over-information about the present that she avidly consumes and analyses.
Liernur’s latest series of works revolve around the materiality of fashion. They are paintings made of dress fabrics, and their composition (to use a classic term), is organised according to the function of the clasps, safety pins, seams and faded stains, as if each piece were a tee, a trouser, a fetish. In these games, the massiveness of fashion and the sophistication of the historical quote (Burri, Fontana, Kemble), coexist and become as one. Art is not protected against banality, nor fashion against the disproportion of art.
In principle, each decision in her work is guided by the elaboration of an idea or prejudice about contemporaneity and the will to express and release it. Clearly there is little innocence in this game. There is, however, body-language. It is both fluid and free yet conscious and in possession of clear objectives. There is also aggressiveness in the fabric. It is there to be clear in both its destructive effects and its condition as a cliché.
Liernur lives in São Paulo, Brazil.
Ricardo Carreira was one of the representatives of the renowned generation of artists from the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, in the sixties. Some believe the semiotic nature of his works from this period sparked Argentine conceptualism. In the legendary exhibition Experiencias 67, in the Di Tella, he carried out an analysis of all the material components of the exhibition hall and replicated them in a sample collection: parquet, plaster, wood, fabric. This analytical and didactic conception of the artwork has a parallel in one of his own most brilliant productions; a series of poems listing the surrounding everyday objects that approach the world one by one, as if perceived and named for the first time. Apart from enumerating, these poems also repeat some of these terms and underline them, composing a sense of radical estrangement through robotic insistence.
Mancha de Sangre, a red resin stain that Carreira presented in a tributary exhibition to Vietnam in 1968, operates from this same literalism. In this tough, short, machine-like telling, in this reduction of things and sensations to their bare presence, Carreira finds his most eloquent philosophy and form.
Ricardo Carreira died in Buenos Aires in 1993.
Kasuya Sakai was born in Buenos Aires in 1927, but trained in Japan, where she lived until 1951. From then on, in Buenos Aires, she worked on spreading the Japanese culture (in 1956 she founded the Instituto Argentino-Japonés de Cultura) and translation, while also participating in Art Informel. Influenced by Japan, she carried out intense calligraphic work on paper using traditional techniques, and also transferred this technique to painting, creating a series of works seeking the intersection between the low and dark materiality of Art Informel and some winged and ascendant forms of Japanese calligraphy.
The works we present at ARCOmadrid come from that period, around 1960, before she moved first to Mexico (where she developed a career as a geometric-pop artist and graphic designer) and then to the United States, where she passed away in 2001.
Of the works presented, a series of almost entirely black pieces stand out. They are close to the Gutai Group searches in which performativity appears to be “drowned” in the density of the pictorial matter.
In addition to being one of the instigators of Argentine conceptualism with his famous Vivo Ditos (that consisted of street actions in which the artist chose people, surrounded them with chalk and signed them, transforming them into works), Alberto Greco is known for his participation in Art Informel, with what he used to call his “shout painting”, a brutal work of stains made on old wood, tin, with the intervention of urine, coffee, wine or rain. But less has been said about the importance of writing in his work, from his early poems to the compulsive notes he included in his drawings, to Besos Brujos, his posthumous novel.
In Greco, writing is everywhere. It seems less a decision than a drive; it is the noise of the reality stuck onto his works, it’s the bond between the artist’s subjectivity and that exteriority that is the paper; it is the manifestation of his need for immediate inscription, of total and voracious fusion between the work and the present.
Before committing suicide in 1965, Greco wrote Besos Brujos in Ibiza, 130 pages that relate his obsession and unrequited love for Claudio in a sort of desperate diary-collage; chaotically mixing song lyrics, news articles, scatological confessions, drawings, onomatopoeias and notes on his everyday life.
This work, presented in Spain for the first time, is considered one of the first pop novels, a strange artistic-literary experiment in which the author’s voice, the appropriation of the mass culture and the heartrending confession unfold and converge.
Luis Frangella trained as an architect at the University of Buenos Aires and then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. It was his interest in the scientific constitution of the image that led him to turn to art when he moved to the city of New York in 1976, working first on translation experiments between sound language and visual language, in the wake of John Cage, and then as a painter.
From the end of the 70’s, he was one of the most active artists of the East Village scene, taking part in exhibitions and events in discoes and painting murals on the then-solitary Hudson River wharfs, along with his great friend David Wojnarowicz.
One of Frangella’s most remarkable characteristics was that he developed a neo-expressionist language, less as a means of self-expression than as a channel to explore semi-scientific subjects relating to the three-dimensional image. And although some of his works from the eighties appear to work with an academic repertoire and language, in reality, they are experiments on sight on the one hand, and death on the other. In all his images, the outlines of things are multiplied, replicated in resonances, reflections and sheens that clearly show these optical interests described above. On the other hand, the appearance of cut-off heads, torsos or candles has less to do with anachronism than an interest in capturing fragility and evanescence.
The fact that he lived in New York along with his early death in 1990, mean the work of Frangella is not widely known Argentina.
Laura Códega is interested in dark lives and beliefs. She is attracted by cursed writers, perverse surrealist painters and the popular myths and traditions forgotten by the overwhelming present-day normalisation. Her explorations lead her to recover aesthetics that are borderline horrendous, low, valueless for the world of contemporary art; rescues that she carries out not through the usual procedures of the quote or documentation (through which she, as an artist, would come out unscathed), but through the absolute contamination of her work by the object or period studied.
Among other subjects, Códega undertook projects on the Cordovan writer Jorge Barón Biza, on the artist Mildred Burton and on an opera in an ancient Greek tone on the relationship between art and crafts. In her presentation at ARCOmadrid, she explores an even more marginal subject matter: paganism in festivities and country myths. The horn is present as the Satanic phallus, the iron of the plough, the mythology of the farm, and a poem on the things subjected to the cycles of time and the country beliefs.
Her “immolation” in the anti-modern aesthetics of crafts is deliberate. Her etchings on cowhide are a clear example of this; a provocation. It is a policy in which she seeks to fuse with otherness.
Laura Códega was co-director of the Metrónomo gallery, in a passage of the Buenos Aires subway, and took part in the Cooperativa Guatemalteca, that proposes artistic projects in Villa 31.
From a distance, Eduardo Stupía may seem an artist of just one work: for decades he has been drawing black graphisms on a white background, all over. Yet at the same time, the versatility he displays in each of his series and works is astonishing, rendering him one of the artists who transform limitation into an opportunity for potency.
Stupía began his career close to the comic. From that moment, in the 70’s, to the present day, he has pursued a phenomenal amplification of the repertoire of the line, that becomes self-propelling; a conquest of space through the dynamism of the line in writing.
From the closely pressed lines of his early drawings, a sort of abstract, compact and frenzied shrub emerged, that opened up with the years, becoming more complex and producing increasingly dense evocations. The territories or accidents were latencies activated by the viewer’s gaze and time. Around the year 2000, this obsessive yet at the same time tremendously free gestuality, progressed to canvas and painting and his landscapes gradually expanded, becoming more literal and experimental. The spatial evocation, this time, became a poem of contrasts and differences moving towards unknown territories.