How Buenos Aires galleries and institutions are working with Art Basel Cities to spur international exchange

Can culture be a catalyst?


Ask five different people what Art Basel Cities Week in Buenos Aires was, and you will get five different answers. That’s by design: the spotlight moment that unfolded September 6–12 across dozens of sites in the Argentine capital sought to engage not only international collectors, curators, and art professionals, but equally the local population and cultural players, from studio co-ops to private foundations to national museums. Art enthusiasts in attendance plotted their own paths through Cecilia Alemani’s ‘Hopscotch (Rayuela)’ exhibition, glimpsing new commissions in locations rarely seen even by porteños; explored the city’s gallery scene through a coordinated program; and viewed exhibitions and performances presented by various platforms.

All told, Art Basel Cities Week attracted 33,500 international and local visitors and set a new template for cooperation in the city’s cultural sector. As Diego Radivoy, General Director of Creative and Cultural Development for the city’s Ministry of Culture, notes in this video recap, nothing of this scale has been attempted locally before, ‘with all the stakeholders of the visual art field working together.’

Florencia Battiti, director and curator of the city’s Parque de la Memoria, one of 22 Cultural Partners, saw the Week’s public format as a unique opportunity for local artists. ‘I think it is a very good challenge for contemporary artists to get out of the protection of the white cube and be in touch with the public directly, with no mediation,’ she says. And that point of contact works both ways. As Amparo Díscoli, founder and director of Cosmocosa gallery, notes: ‘For first-timers in any city, be it collectors, curators, or me as a gallerist, nothing can replace the experience of the fieldwork' – seeing the art in its native setting.

For Gallery Weekend Buenos Aires, a key component of the Week organized by arteBA Fundación and the Argentine gallery association Meridiano, Cosmocosa embraced the spirit of exchange with a dual show of 1980s works by the American artist David Wojnarowicz and an Argentine analog, Luis Frangella. ‘We met foreign collectors we did not know, curators we longed to know, and it also helped strengthen the bonds with those we already knew,’ reports Discoli, who saw a 160% jump in foot traffic. ‘We had a very appealing offering that we believe would have worked no matter what, but the fact that we combined all these aspects together made it a success.’ According to Agustina Taruschio of Walden gallery, which is participating in the Survey sector of Art Basel in Miami Beach next month, for the city’s galleries, the confluence of so many allied events ‘showed the general public that there is a completely different circuit outside museums and institutions that changes constantly, and that people can visit for free to see all sorts of artistic expressions that most weren’t aware of.’

Harder to pinpoint than monetary transactions – but arguably more important, as the coin of the artworld realm – are the professional and social connections and networks that take root among international curators, artists, and galleries as a result of immersive events like these. ‘There is so much art being produced in the world that without collaborating it would be very difficult to develop projects that transcend our countries, or even our cities,’ says Taruschio. ‘These networks can be grown, and Art Basel Cities: Buenos Aires is a perfect example, but they need to be nurtured to last.’

Time will tell if those connections might take cross-pollinating forms. The Miami-based architect René Gonzalez says, ‘As an architect, I really responded to the integration of the art installations throughout the city.’ He says he was ‘so moved’ by the ‘Hopscotch’ artworks by Eduardo Basualdo and Luciana Lamothe that he is in talks with the artists’ gallery, Ruth Benzacar, to explore ways to bring their work to Miami in the future.

Additional collaborations could take the form of a collector supporting a residency in Buenos Aires, a gallerist from abroad connecting with an Argentine talent, or an institution finding an enthusiastic new patron – but a lasting collaboration almost always begins face to face, says Patrick Foret, director of Business Initiatives for Art Basel. ‘A primary aim of our engagement with Buenos Aires has always been to enable dialog and sustainability,’ he adds, citing ongoing Art Basel Cities features like the Talks Program. ‘I think what we saw with the conversations that took place during Art Basel Cities Week is the seeding of fertile ground for future propositions – within Argentina, the region, and the world at large.’

Top image: The entry to Maurizio Cattelan's Eternity (2018), a temporary cemetery celebrating the living, which the Italian artist realized for 'Hopscotch (Rayuela)' with the participation of some 200 local artists. -Art Basel