arteBA Kicks Off

I recently referred to arteBA as South America’s biggest contemporary art festival. But when I said “biggest,” I clearly had no idea what that meant. arteBA is huge. Last night, the kick-off party went down in a massive convention center in Buenos Aires. It felt like New York’s Amory show, except it was teeming with an impossibly fashionable, depressingly beautiful sea of South Americans. It was a who’s who of the blooming Buenos Aires art and fashion scene—as in, who is who? Literally, I had no idea who anyone was. But with a steady mix of boys in tweed jackets, tatted-up art freaks, art school grads, and models, this sure felt like the place to be. And oh yeah, there was art, and lots of it. Because beyond the champagne, the after parties, and the trips to the bathroom, that’s really why we’re all here, right? Click the jump to see some of the fracas.

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The Young Ones: ArteBA’s Barrio Joven

The biggest weekend of art in Buenos Aires and all of South America, ArteBA officially began Thursday night with its invitation-only opening party, which was preceded by two nights of other more intimate festivities. While it felt slightly less packed than last year, there were more than enough well-to-do patrons of the arts rubbing shoulders with imported skateboarders and a couple of statuesque drag queens. A myriad of galleries from South America had work from the usual big names–Marcos Lopez, Nicola Costantino, Romulo Maccio–but this year, emerging artists and galleries enjoyed a far larger chunk of space on the floor.

While the Chandon flowed freely (but doesn’t it always?), hordes of ArteBA opening night guests headed straight for Barrio Joven, where 19 galleries from all over South America held their own next to the larger, more established spaces. An area for showcasing independent galleries and emerging artists, Barrio Joven managed to infuse some legitimate excitement amongst all the hobnobbing. Santiago’s Galeria Trafix and Espacio Lugar booths were packed with demure older Argies and young hipsters the whole night through, and works from Mexico City, Caracas, and Mendoza were equally well-received.

The young Buenos Aires art scene was also well-represented in Barrio Joven. Chez Vautier, Miau Maui, Mite, and Munguau were all showing their favorite promising young talent, with gallery owners enthusiastically talking up clientele to the sounds of skateboard decks crashing on the half pipe. In the background, a gigantic mobile of Converse sneakers managed to outdo even Chandon for product placement.

Around the corner from Barrio Joven, the godmother of all emerging art in Buenos Aires enjoyed its new position as elder statesman. Now in its fifth year at ArteBA, Appetite attracted visitors with its flashy sign and human-size bird cage. Expat performance artist Tranqui Yanqui engaged children and tipsy adults alike with his interactive neon ATM. Appetite owner Daniela Luna promised her booth will continue bringing the party to ArteBA after opening night with live cage dancing. As the obligatory art-viewing portion of the evening wrapped up, all the scruffy youngsters were making plans to head to the numerous post-opening-party parties while impatiently texting their dealers.

Before arteBA, a Stop in Paraguay

I´m writing to you from an empty hotel bar in the middle of the Argentinian jungle, the Atlantic Rainforest to be exact. It´s the kind of place where the best way to communicate with the bartender is to point and nod. There´s a crackling fireplace, a grand piano, and a library that spans floor to ceiling. Outside is just trees, the moon, and the Paraná River, separating Argentina and Paraguay. This is the closest I´ve ever felt to being Ernest Hemingway since that time I blew my brains out.

I´m in the north of Argentina awaiting the kick-off of arteBA (pronounced art-eh-ba), South America´s biggest contemporary art fair going down in Buenos Aires from June 25th to 29th. To kill some time before the opening cocktail party on Thursday, we decided to fly up, via LAN, South America’s premier airline, to see the famous Iguazu Falls, an epic span of water in perpetual and thunderous cascade. Located about 40 kilometers down the river from the Falls is the Posada Puerto Bemberg, where I am now. The Posada is a massive colonial-style inn, dating back to the 1940s. It sits on the sprawling estate belonging to the Bemberg family, who founded Quilmes, Argentina´s most popular beer. The grounds almost pull off the whole stepping-into-a-time-machine vibe, were it not for the luxury soap they provide and the Sade that plays over the lounge speakers. Still, it´s a location remarkable for its remoteness (the ride from the airport to here is bumpier than Lindsay Lohan in the bathroom), and for its diversity. Part farm, part luxury hotel, and, with its forest restoration project, part jungle savior, it´s something to behold. Outside, tangerine and banana trees dot the landscape while giddy chickens tumble out of them, flapping their wings with abandon. The library, carefully curated over the last half century, is filled with books about Latin American art and artists. It has me excited about taking in their contemporaries.

This afternoon we road a motor boat just ten minutes down the Paraná to the Paraguay side, where a tiny village sat perched above the river bank. It was a simple delight to hop off the boat and onto the shores of a different country, sans cover charge. As we made our way up the steep market, some locals—who were selling everything from soccer balls to porn DVDs—said hola, and some stared cold daggers into our hearts. We were ogling them as though they were a foreign species, snapping pictures with our iPhones while they manned deserted storefronts. It was brilliant fun. Also fun: watching the elders play an indigenous soccer/volleyball hybrid. They bet on the game and thus take it very seriously. They´re also incredible at it, making for some hypnotic spectating. See for yourself below.