Three years ago the newly hatched, Pinta Latin American Modern & Contemporary Art Fair, jumped bravely into the ever-growing, melange of art fairs and biennales. Opening at the Metropolitan Pavilion/Altman Building in New York City, “The fair’s primary aim”, according to its director, Diego Costa Peuser, was “to bring Latin American art to the world.” As the only art fair in the U.S. featuring works exclusively from Latin American artists, Pinta was an immediate hit. Continuing its winning streak this past November, with double the number of exhibiting galleries, the fair stormed into the city. Again the crowds came. Roughly speaking, half the 60 galleries (all ensconced in their own mini spaces) were U.S.- based (most all from New York and Miami); most of the rest hailing from South America, the Caribbean Islands, and Mexico. With just five galleries from Madrid and one from Berlin, European presence was scant. In addition to increased attendance and public sales during the traditional 4-day event, purchases by art museums like the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and El Museo Del Barrio in New York, sky rocketed. Capitalizing on their successful track record, and hoping to conquer the European market, as well, Pinta will bring the mountain to Moses, when they take their fair to London, in June, 2010.
above: Carmen Mariscal, Recuerdo (Remember), 2008
Navigating through a couple thousand Pinta Fair paintings, sculptures, and videos, while bucking the crowds, can be daunting. For run-of-the-mill art viewers, who can glide past any number of works, while talking on their cell phones and still feel that they have been duly educated, it is a day in the park. For this critic–with a vested interest in the wares being exhibited and a must-see-everything-or-die attitude, which I bring to all my art fair forays– the journey is both heavenly and hellish: Hell, in that much of the art taking up space here is not worth the canvas it’s painted on or the material it’s fashioned from, followed by the guilt-inducing selection of artists to write about (to the exclusions of others); heaven, in that what does catch and hold my attention – memories that can truly be taken home– are life enhancing. Luckily, cream tends to rise to the top and, among the glut of easily dismissible works, the art and ideas of the following artists not only caught my attention, but held it for more than the customary few seconds. Like all good art, it selected me, just as I selected it. It is a toss-up as to who was quicker to the punch.
The first work to hit the ground running was that of Columbian artist, Fernando Botero. His sculpture, Rape of Europa (2005) at the Nohra Haime Gallery (New York City), a small, compact bronze of a naked woman resting atop a muscular bull with lust in his eyes (Zeus in disguise) at $450,000 was the highest priced item at the exhibition. Luckily I didn’t have my checkbook with me! Showing at the same gallery were two richly-colored photographs by Hugo Tillman from his 2008 series, Daydreams Are Mine. Tillman, a superb director behind the camera, is known for his intervention technique in which he interviews his subjects about their lives and studies, in-depth, the city in which they live – politics and all– all the while taking pictures. Out of this process he creates (sometimes using props, costumes and actors) what is, essentially, a staged happening. In Echeverra, a photograph inspired by Raul Castro’s relaxation of the government’s previously stringent position on cross-dressing and homosexuality [critic’s note: Raul’s daughter is a Lesbian], Tillman documents the previously hidden underworld of drag queens at the local community center. In Solar, which is the poorest form of housing in Cuba, residents–along with a generous mix of actors in the crowd–are assembled by the photographer on apartment balconies, facing each other at varying levels. The photographer’s intent is to show, despite the lack of money, the incredible magical energy and life that exist within the community.
The Peter Fetterman Gallery (Santa Monica, California) specializes in classic black & white photography with an emphasis on humanist imagery. Here, the work of Sebastian Salgado, the renowned Brazilian photographer stood out. Trained as an economist, Salgado began working for the International Coffee Organization. After many trips to Africa on missions for the World Bank, Salgado seriously started taking photographs. Abandoning his career as an economist, he began taking on news assignments, eventually veering more towards documentary-type work. After leaving Magnum Photos, the international cooperative of photographers in 1994, he formed his own agency in Paris, Amazonas Images, to represent his work. Salgado is especially noted for his social documentary photography of workers in less developed nations. On view were two stunning photos, Iceberg between Paulet Island & the Shetland Islands (2005) and his iconic Serra Pelada, Gold Mine [Figure Eight] (1986), pictured here, a harrowing photograph picturing hundreds of Brazilian miners , all between the mandatory ages of 16-30, during the mad gold rush of the 1980s. Here they are seen slavishly digging for gold by hand, no doubt at five cents an hour.
Bringing the only museum-quality exhibition experience to Pinta was the Rico/Maresca Gallery (New York City). Known for its high quality exhibitions of folk, outsider and self-taught artists, the gallery devoted its entire space to the work of Martín Ramírez (1895-1963), whose estate they represent. The self-taught Mexican artist, lionized by the New York Times as, “simply one of the greatest artists of the 20th century” immigrated to the United States and spent the remaining 35 years of his life producing an astounding body of work from the confines of a psychiatric hospital in northern California. Ramírez’s natural talent found expression in the unusual and vividly patterned drawings which he made on a variety of found materials. Some of his drawings on view included collaged pictures of women, cars and buildings clipped from magazines. Others, a specialty of his, featured trains and undulating tunnels in other-worldly landscapes. While Ramírez, below, is widely collected in the United States and abroad, his work is, surprisingly, still not represented in the major museums and private collections of his very-own Latin American community!
At Galeria Sicart (Barcelona), two enormous, show-stopping, ink jet photographs, Still Life and The Dinner, by Argentine artist, Nicola Costantino, were presented in cabinet style, filling an entire gallery wall. In recent years, Constantino, known for her use of dead animals in her sculptures, has turned(not unlike artist, Cindy Sherman) to starring in her own photographs; her work informed by such art-world personages as Edward Steichen’s mysterious Gloria Swanson, the dead Ophelia, and the expectant young girl painted by Gerhard Richter. In Still Life, with the two cabinet doors open, Constantino’s naked body is seen laid out on a silver platter, in altarpiece fashion, in the center of a long table. Here, Constantino’s nude figure, lit up like a Vermeer, serves as an incantation and a metaphor for art. The piece opens up to the most diverse readings, ranging from sacrifice to the delight of the senses. Surrounded by wine and bread, one cannot help but think of the Last Supper, with Jesus breaking bread and passing a cup of wine to his disciples. The photograph also brings to mind Peter Greenaway’s 1989 movie, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. In The Dinner, with two doors closed, we see, the same scene, without Constantino’s body. Clearly, judging from the crumbs left on the table and an overturned wine glass lying on its side, dinner is over.
Gracing the wall of masArt Galleria’s space (Barcelona, Spain), were Mexican artist, Carmen Mariscal’s colored photographs from her series, Recuerdo (Remember). Known for her interest in the human body and its fragility, Mariscal, who currently lives and works in Paris, uses video, installation and photography to examine such issues as identity, eating disorders, and fragmentation. In this exhibition, the image of a female with hands covering her face is superimposed onto a wall. This clever blending of fragmented wall and subject combines to create a well-weathered, multilayered image. For Mariscal, walls and bodies carry their own history. Each little mark reminds us of an event. Every little wrinkle and scar tells a story. It’s as if walls carry the DNA of the building, house and city, just as our bodies carry our own genetic markers. With decades of history written on both face and wall, it is inevitable that our own mortlity comes into view through her work.
The most inventive works on view were the serpentine cassette tape sculptures of Bolivian artist, Raquel Schwartz, co-owner of the artist-run Kiosko Galeria (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia). She is best known for her videos and full-bodied installations. Her prison room , made in fluorescent pink fake fur and shown at the XXV São Paolo Biennial, is legend. Ten years ago, Schwartz started using tapes from old cassettes that her musician husband no longer wanted and she was loath to throw away. With the patience of Penelope and the magic craft of Rumplestiltskin, she began to weave the tape into coats, dresses, hats and scarves. For this exhibition, two of her newly-conceived ‘creatures’ flowed through and crisscrossed the gallery like a snake descending a tree. One sculpture measured 32 ft x 6 ft, the other 26 ft x 3 ft. Each took 4 months to complete. Her largest cassette tape sculpture to date, which took the artist over one year to complete, is 82 ft x 13 ft. Due to space considerations, Raquel decided to leave it at home.
Blood Red Meat, certainly a sign of the violent times that we are living in, was the most mesmerizing subject to emerge at Pinta. Three different artists, in three uniquely different ways, tackled this subject brilliantly. At the Y Gallery (New York City), Tamara Kostianovsky, an Argentinean living and working in New York City, fashioned the hind quarter of what appears to be a calf or lamb from her old clothes. Using various fabrics and textures, she magically conjured up flesh, bone, gristle and slabs of fat, so realistic that only when closely scrutinized, does it become clear that this work is composed of fabric. Seeing this material, as the artist intends, we identify our own bodies with the work, bringing violent acts into a highly personal realm. According to Kostianovsky, “For Argentineans the cow is a symbol of national identity; it’s the core ingredient in most people’s diet and one of the main exports of the country. By creating sculptural works where cows appear skinned, tortured, or dismembered, I intend to speak about the conflictive relationship between homeland and émigrés; at the same time that I bring attention to the physicality of our existence, the escalating violence that we became accustomed to…”
At the Galeria Thomas Cohn (San Paolo, Brazil), Oscar Oiwa, a Brazilian artist of Japanese descent, now living and working in New York City (where he is also represented by P.P.O.W), showed a stunning and beautifully-rendered, 3-panel painting that stopped me in my tracks. Also using meat as a metaphor, his work represents mankind’s essential drive to conquer and dominate at any cost. At first glance, all we see are slabs of bloody meat hanging from a metal grid. At the top of the grid, on the right, a neon sign of the type found in front of Chinese restaurants the world over, spells out the title of the painting, Beautiful World Meat Market, in Chinese ideograms. On closer inspection, which the painting demands, we notice that one slab of meat is shaped like the United States. We soon realize that each slab of meat represents another country. Further entering into the painting’s background, we notice that the artist has painted, in muted colors that highlight the bloodiness of the meat, what appears to be a window display of a Chinese restaurant. Meat is hanging all over, and steam is rising from pots. Like all three “Meat Artists” his inferences, though cleverly disguised for all to see, are obvious and highly resonant. In the artist’s own words, “If one looks, without attention, this shop is like an ordinary Chinese restaurant. But looking more carefully, each meat represents a country. It’s a metaphor. The world is like a cow and each country is like a piece of meat. Each country wants to be more powerful than other countries. War still happens. But most of people don’t care about that.”
by Edward Rubin, Contributing Editor