Clemencia Echeverri’s “Nóctulo Eco” at ARTBO (image courtesy Galeria Eduardo Fernandes and the artist)

BOGOTA — The 11th edition of ARTBO in Bogota, Colombia, held from October 1–4 at the Corferias convention center, was a sea of abstract and conceptual art. Chosen by Director Maria Paz Gaviria Munoz and a selection committee, 84 galleries from 33 cities in Latin America, the US, and Europe presented works that blurred artistic mediums. Most importantly, the fair showcased Latin American art deeply committed to expressing its own cultural heritage, be it anthropological or political, that made for works that were genuine, heartfelt, and inspiring.

From the very get-go the fair stood out for its contemporaneity. Inspired by the tradition of abstraction from the 1960s in Latin America, artists from countries such as Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Guatemala, and Chile probed their roots to express their connection to their history and genealogy. Geometric paintings on cardboard by the Uruguayan abstract artist Carmelo Arden Quin, who lived in Paris from 1946 until his death in 2010, set the stage for experimenting with new materials. In the Cosmocosa Gallery booth, Argentine conceptual artist Eduardo Costa’s “Volumetric Paintings,” made in the ‘90s from layers of solidified acrylic paint, resembled triangles, spheres, and sheets of paper, straddling two mediums to create sculptural paintings.

Eduardo Costa, “First Interaction of Two Volumetric Paintings” (1998), solid acrylic paint, 20 × 38.5 × 22 cm (image courtesy Cosmocosa Gallery)

Younger Chilean artists like Nicolas Radic explored new ways of combining photography, painting, and sculpture such that one’s perspective of the works encompassed all three mediums. His tactile painting of a photograph of a sculpture immediately brought to mind Tauba Auerbach’s creased canvases and Anselm Reyle’s scrunched “foil paintings” rolled into one. Similarly, Spanish artist Antonio Ballester Moreno’s brightly colored geometric shapes on rough, untreated jute revealed a surface that was neither painterly nor sculptural.

There were a number of strong works by artists concerned with the environment and the inequities of government policies. The Frances Wu gallery presented Peruvian artist Sandra Nakamura’s meticulous graphite drawings inspired by old maps of Lima that revealed rampant constructions and poor city planning. Metal rods jutting out from the walls surrounded her portrayal and referenced unfinished, shoddy fabrications. Colombian artists Carolina Caycedo and Nohemí Pérez, from the Instituto de Vision, displayed stirring, imaginative works responding to the contamination of the Magdalena River that flows through Colombia and the eviction of indigenous tribes from the northern forested region of Catatumbo. Caycedo’s aerial images of the muddied brown river, dumped with refuse from mining towns, were transferred onto large concrete slabs, making the work impossible to ignore. And Pérez’s six-foot high charcoal depiction “Panorama-Catatumbo” of the native community’s wild vegetation not only recreated the lush forests being destroyed, but also showcased the lack of concern for a society that had thrived unharmed for years.

Antonio Ballester Moreno, “Tiras de papel de tapicerías y papel de pared, periódico, partituras, naipes, cajetillas de tabaco” (2015), acrylic on jute, 146 x 114 cm (image courtesy galería Maisterravalbuena) (click to enlarge)

Activist-driven political art conveyed the urgency of unrest in various parts of Latin America over the past few decades. The established Argentine photographer Graciela Sacco, who just held a solo exhibition at the museum Banco de la Republica in Bogota, showcased her photographs documenting protests and violence in Argentina from the 1990s transferred onto strips of wood and paper. Colorful photographs of politically-charged graffiti in Mexico assiduously removed by the government revealed the artist Israel Meza Moreno’s (who goes by Moris) effort to expose recent clashes in Oaxaca over student deaths and disappearances. While Colombian artist Rosemberg Sandoval’s large, black-and-white drawing at Casas Riegner, of a child’s shoes glued together with hundreds of Band-Aids, encapsulated the dire conditions of displaced indigenous people in his country.

The voices of the discriminated and disappeared in Colombia’s countryside were heard in Clemencia Echeverri’s deeply moving Noctulo ink drawings of abandoned homes filled with bat excrement, on view at the Galeria Eduardo Fernandes. Fine lines traced along the walls of the houses represent the inaudible sounds of bats, and are akin to the unheard of inhabitants who once occupied those homes. Similarly powerful in its channeling of marginalized voices were the artist Francisca Aninat’s rugged wall assemblages, created from scraps of fabric inscribed with dreams and wishes of poor people awaiting help at substandard public hospitals in Chile.

Moris, “El ladrido no es peor que la mordida (The bark isn’t worse than the bite)” (2015), digital print on paper (image courtesy Arroniz Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico and the artist)

Unlike most art fairs in the world, ARTBO’s strong conceptual undertone kept the works from being overtly commercial. But perhaps the most significant factor was a sense of authenticity that pervaded through the fair. From Joseph Cornell-like vitrines that referenced ancient artifacts found in South America to embroidered works on fabric that recalled the flora and fauna of the same continent, a sense of deep connection to individual cultures legitimized the works on display. What could be a better measure for the success of a fair?

ARTBO, the International Art Fair of Bogota took place October 1–4 at Corferias (Cra. 37 #24-67, Bogotá, Colombia). 

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Bansie Vasvani

Bansie Vasvani is an independent art critic with a focus on Asian and other non-Western art practices. She lives in New York City.

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