What’s Behind Bogotá’s Rise as a Cultural Capital?
While it’s not the first country one might associate with contemporary art in South America, Colombia is taking hold of the reins and rebuilding its long-tarnished reputation through art. The country is working hard to prove to the world—the contemporary art world included—that it’s changed.
Within the last few years, the government has been investing in the art market, attracting visitors, journalists, and collectors from neighboring countries as well as Europe and North America. One draw in particular is the ARTBO fair, founded in 2005, which focuses on contemporary art and emerging artists. With each successive year, the number of participating galleries has expanded. The 2015 edition is no different, with 85 galleries exhibiting, up from last year’s total of 66. Functioning as a stimulus for the local market, the fair invites a savvy international collecting crowd to mountainous Bogotá, providing a rigorous schedule of programming that includes trips to local museums, galleries, and private collections—among them, the private collections of Jose Dario Gutierrez, Sergio Ferreira, and Alejandro Castaño. Among visitors last year were U.S.-based collectors Stanley and Pearl Goodman, who focus on Latin American and Mexican art and developed a new interest in Colombian artists during their trip to the fair. “One of the private collections we visited while in Bogotá contained more modern and less contemporary art, including older Colombian artists such as Alejandro Obregón (1920-1992), who we put on our list,” Mr. Goodman noted during a recent phone conversation.
One of the most innovative contemporary art venues in Bogotá is FLORA ars+natura, a platform fostering the city’s art scene by inviting local and internationally recognized artists to participate in residencies and exhibitions. “We see FLORA as a platform for emerging artists, and as a small but expanding community,” said artistic director José Roca, who was formerly a curator of Latin American Art at the Tate in London. Notable past projects include Mark Dion’s 2013 Field Station Honda, where he worked with young local artists in the Colombian countryside to document plants, culminating in a site-specific installation. “Our next project is called Escuela FLORA,” Roca told us. “We are building a new space for studios, which will be given as year-long grants, coupled with an independent study program centered on studio practice. Most of the artists that we will be inviting will become visiting professors for Escuela FLORA in 2016.”
The capital’s Museo de Arte Moderno (MAMBO) also fosters a dialogue around Colombian art, by living and historical artists. The city’s renaissance has not been limited to its institutional spaces, however. Bogotá’s commercial galleries such as Doce Cero Cero, Instituto de Visiòn, SKETCH, Beatriz Esguerra Art, and Casas Riegner have also played a significant role in its development, promoting local talent, engaging international artists, and laying the groundwork for an active collecting scene.
As Roca’s statement suggests, one of the most important elements to recognize is the dedication that many Colombians have shown in investing in the local scene, sharing their experience and knowledge. This is the case with Roca, who is originally from Bogotá and returned with the intention of tapping further into the existing arts culture. Another individual with similar intentions is artist Lina Espinosa, whose exhibition “Dibujo Habitable/Habi” opens on September 29 at FLORA ars+natura. “My experience as a Colombian artist has been a process of perpetual research and transformation [within the context] of my work,” Espinosa explained. “In a society that is immersed in many contradictions, such as the facts—and history—of everyday life, there is a desire and potential to construct images about a more mindful society. This is an interesting moment for Colombian contemporary artists and I am sure the diversity of art proposals this year will encourage visitors to think beyond the art fair dynamics.”
In advance of ARTBO 2015, Ana González, a Colombian artist whose work comments on conflicts of the past—and who created a site-specific installation at the city’s José Celestino Mutis botanical garden during last year’s fair—reflected on the impact of the fair to the city’s growing art community. “ARTBO has been an incredible platform where [local] artists, curators, writers, and galleries have moved to a new global level,” González said. “Nevertheless, Bogotá and its metropolitan area has more than 13 million inhabitants and only a small group of them (30,000 in the best scenario) have access to the fair and related events.”
Liz Caballero, Director of Sketch, a contemporary art gallery in Bogotá adds, “It is true that things have changed and improved in the past five years. A decade ago people would not visit galleries on a regular basis—the term ‘collecting’ would have been nonexistent and support towards the arts very limited. At present, I can say that there is an increasing willingness to make things happen and change even if it’s coming from a private initiative or individual pockets.” As such, gallery owners and artists are paving the way for contemporary art in Colombia to continue to expand commercially—with both global and local acceptance.
—Katy Diamond Hamer