ArteBA and other ferias de arte have, over the past decade, come to comprise a resounding cultural and financial success story. It is a story that pushes us to re-imagine the relationship between commerce and cultural creativity, two vital facets of any forward-thinking democracy that nonetheless often find themselves, in our times, posited in stark opposition.
The art fairs take place across the región with a concentration in South America and Mexico. ArteBA in Buenos Aires, SP Arte in São Paulo, ArtBo in Bogotá and México Arte Contemporáneo, better known as ZONA MACO, are among the main events. These and other major regional ferias de arte have succeeded in attracting the most influential dealers and collectors from Latin America, as well as foreign investors increasingly interested in Latin American work. They constitute a space in which all interested parties gather to display, buy, and sell art. Museums and research centres have established acquisition programmes at certain of the fairs, insuring that some of the best work from the region can be seen by a wide public. At arteBA last year, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes acquired the series Reflejos by the Argentinean artist Eduardo Stopia, with the help of a 25, 000 U.S. dollar corporate donation.2
The trade that The fairs have become forums for the exchange of ideastakes place at the ferias is not, however, in financial and material goods alone. The fairs have become forums for the exchange of ideas too. Art, its role in society and the ways in which it reflects and impacts the wider world are at the centre of the debates that take place at the ferias. In 2010 arteBA held a series of dynamic discussions and roundtables under the title of ‘Bicentenarios: después de la invención’, bringing the interconnections of art, politics and history to the fore. Artists, curators and art critics from across the Americas contributed. ArtBo held a comparable programme with the topics of production and the circulation of art as its thematic centres. The art fairs, as public (if, sometimes, fee-charging) forums, have become spaces where debate can involve and engage with a wider participant-base than is possible at the seminars held behind the (often) closed doors of academic institutions.
One measure of the One measure of the success of the ferias is their movement outside Latin Americasuccess of the ferias is their movement outside Latin America. Fairs of exclusively or predominantly Latin American art have been launched in the U.S, Spain and England, contributing to the aim (at least of arteBA) of bringing Latin American art to an international audience and set of buyers. Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), the younger sister of the renowned European art fair Art Basel, is held in December each year. It is oriented towards Latin American and Chicano art, reflective of its setting in Miami, centre of Latino cultural life. An interesting aspect of ABMB is the slew of satellite fairs that have grown up around it. These smaller-scale events, held in Miami during the same week as ABMB, enable younger and less internationally renowned artists to showcase their work and make their mark. They have contributed over the years to Miami’s now well-established conversion into a veritable cultural hub. Further from Latin America, too, the art of the region is garnering support and appreciation. 2010 saw the London launch of Pinta, the modern and contemporary Latin American art show initially based in New York. It brought, for the first time, more than 50 galleries from all over the region to Earls Court Exhibition Centre and attracted 6,000 visitors;3 a success, the 2011 version is currently in gestation.
Beyond their Bringing children and young people to experience art, gaining critical and creative thinking skills transferable to their wider social world commercial and ideational impact, do fairs such as ABMB or arteBA hold any wider social powers? Several fair organizers believe so, and have acted in concrete ways to show the socially responsible side of art business. ArtBo was conceived of as a contribution to the Colombian “Arte Vivo” project that seeks to create social well-being through cultural activism and awareness. One pavilion is devoted to bringing children and young people to experience art, gaining critical and creative thinking skills transferable to their wider social world too.4 Equipping infants and teenagers with those skills is essential; it ensures that when faced with stagnant social and political crises, young people know that thinking outside the box may yield the solutions that conventional thinking has not provided.5 Young artists can benefit from the art fairs too. ArteBA houses a ‘barrio jóven’ that enables rising stars to show their work at the fair alongside established names. The work displayed is selected through a rigorous competitive process, encouraging young artists to push their work to its limits. It is clear, then, that the strongest ferias de arte have a capacity to bring concrete change both to individual lives and wider communal environs.
Latin American ferias de arte demonstrate that culture and commerce can have a mutually-enhancing relationship. In financial terms, the link between the two may continue asymmetrically, the artist dependent on the private and corporate mecenazgo (patronage) of the financially successful or inheritors of wealth. We witness no break from that apparently unidirectional dependency model. Yet cultural dynamism offers something that economic robustness cannot alone provide; by measures too easily lost from public discourse - raising aspirations among youth, or social conscience among the body politic, or simply contributing to communal contentment - cultural vitality repeatedly comes up trumps.
The interactions between Culture and Commerce found at the ferias move beyond a polarized model. The two Cs turn out, instead, to nurture each other and share in contributing to the wider well-being of their local environment. As exemplars of the positive interaction that is possible - and necessary - between culture, economics and social welfare, Latin American ferias de arte can be seen, in their own way, to push for stronger, happier, free-thinking societies.
Regional art fairs include:
ArteBA : www.arteba.org
SP arte: www.sp-arte.com
ZONA MACO: www.zonamaco.com
1 Figure based on last year’s turn-out: http://www.arteba.org/?p=288
4 For more on the relationship between commerce and cultural life in Bogotá, Colombia see http://www.artboonline.com/contenido/contenido.aspx?conID=331&catID=172
5 For more on this kind of ‘cultural agency’ see Doris Sommer, ‘Introduction: Wiggle Room’ in Cultural Agency in the Americas, ed. Doris Sommer, pp. 1-23