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arteBA 2006: First impressions and interview with Teresa Frías de Elizalde

Alberto Heredia, "Engendros" (Daniel Maman Fine Art Gallery, Buenos Aires)

Capacity crowd. The preview of the 15th arteBA on the 18th of May reflected that the most expected cultural event of the year in Buenos Aires had begun. Getting to see the works of art showed by 63 participating galleries, most of them from Argentina, Brazil, and further representatives from Latin America and Spain, was almost impossible.
The arteBA Foundation plays through the fair an important role in supporting artistic creation, collectionism and spreading Argentinian art, focusing especially on emerging art. At the fair, a wide space called Barrio Joven is worth mentioning, where the most innovative and daring emerging art is on display. A refreshing experience.

Click here to go to the Interview with Teresa Frías

Orly Benzacar (director Ruth Benzacar Galería de Arte, Buenos Aires), with work of Flavia da Rin.

AfN: How long have you been taking part in arteBA?
Ms Benzacar: Ruth Benzacar gallery has participated in all arteBA editions.
AfN: What do you think about the fair?
Ms Benzacar: The fair has developed in a very positive way. This was the best year. arteBA is attracting more and more people interested in contamporary art.
AfN: Some people say that in Buenos Aires arteBA is the only moment of the year in which collectors buy, no movement the rest of the year. Do you agree?
Ms Benzacar: Not at all. Maybe someone had a bad experience, but one cannot generalize.

Ruth Benzacar has been organizing a contest for five years, Curriculum Cero, to close every season. It covers a wide range of formats in visual arts for Argentinian artists younger than 30 years old. Absolut requirement: the artist must not have won a prize before. Every year the selecting committee is different.

Natalio J. Povarche (director Rubbers Internacional, Buenos Aires, Argentina) with work of Xul Solar

AfN: How long have you been taking part in arteBA?
Mr Povarche: I have taken part the 15 years of arteBA.
AfN: What do you think about the fair?
Mr Povarche: The fair is very good. It has developed remarkably. In the last four years it has become competitive. As I always say, 'one has to organize a fair looking to the north and not towards the navel', and now it's working this way. It has been created a fair according to Argentinian art.
AfN: Are you missing something in the fair?
Mr Povarche: The only complaint would be that the fair is not widespread among the important Latin American galleries.
AfN: Have you sold something yet?
Mr Povarche: The opening day the gallery sold work from Xul Solar and Alejandro Andriuolo.

Ricardo Trevisan (director Casa Triângulo, Sâo Paulo)with work of Albano Afonso

AfN: How long have you been taking part in arteBA?
Mr Trevisan: It is the first time that I take part in arteBA.
AfN: What do you think about the fair?
Mr Trevisan: The fair is very well located and very good organized. It receives many visitors.
AfN: Brazil ist the second country with more galleries in the fair. Is there any special cooperation?
Mr Trevisan: There is a collaboration process between Brazil and Argentina, but there should be a further exchange of artists.
AfN: Have you sold something yet?
Mr Trevisan: On the opening day I sold already work from Marcia Xavier, Lucia Koch and Felipe Barbosa.

Oscar Cruz (director Baró Cruz Galeria, Sâo Paulo) with work of Michael Wesely

AfN: How long have you been taking part in arteBA?
Mr Cruz: It is the third time that I participate in the fair.
AfN: What do you think about the fair?
Mr Cruz: This was the best year. It is good organized. There are important works of art. I think the Barrio Joven is very interesting.
AfN: Do you think there should be a higher number of foreign galleries?
Mr Cruz: The international participation in the fairs grows slowly, but it's good so. Ca 20 foreign galleries, 7 from Brazil. The program is more international. The number of international collectors rose as well.
AfN: Have you sold something yet?
Mr Cruz: On the opening day we sold quite a lot: Jac Leirner, Sebastián Gordín, Matias Duville and Claudia Jaguaribe.

Luis Adelantado (Director Luis Adelantado Valencia/Miami), with work of Priscilla Monge.

AfN: How long have you been taking part in arteBA?
Mr Adelantado: I have already participated in one of the first editions.
AfN: Any other fairs in Latin America?
Mr Adelantado: Regularly in maco méxico and this year in SP Arte, with good results.
AfN: Have you sold something yet?
Mr Adelantado: Not yet at the beginning of the fair, but I expect to do it in the next days.
AfN: What about the collectors program?
Mr Adelantado: Collectionism could be more strengthened.

Elena Rodríguez Alonso (coordinator A y N Centro de Arte, Madrid), with work of Alejandro Corujeira.

AfN: How long have you been taking part in arteBA?
Ms Rodríguez: It is the first time.
AfN: What do you think about the fair?
Ms Rodríguez: I have a good impression. It is good organized. There are a lot of visitors. Good level of the galleries.
AfN: What about collectors?
Ms Rodríguez: There are American collectors, Argentina is very popular there. It is good organized for collectors.
AfN: Have you sold something yet?
Ms Rodríguez: Yes, the museum A. Caraffa de Córdoba bought a work of art with the program Matching Funds (which finances half of the purchase made by an Argentinian museum).

Work of Nicanor Aráoz, without title (Appetite)

Daniela Luna (director Appetite, Buenos Aires). Participating gallery in the space Barrio Joven.

AfN: How do you find the support given to emerging galleries by the fair?
Ms Luna: The support we received was excellent.
AfN: What kind of artists do you work with?
Ms Luna: The artists I work with are not so commercial. They work with video, installations, performances..., with a lot of humour, and above all, they make honest proposals. They follow their own style. I want them to create what they like, not adapting their work to the market. Normally they are between 23 and 35 years old.
AfN: Have you sold something yet?
Ms Luna: The level of sales was very good, and we have made very good contacts.
AfN: What kind of buyers?
Ms Luna: Argentinian and foreign private collectors.
AfN: How old is the gallery?
Ms Luna: Only one year old.
AfN: Have you been to other fairs?
Ms Luna: Yes, in Periférica in Buenos Aires, with good results.

Interview with Teresa Frías de Elizalde


AfN: How did you come to the art world and how long have you been at the management of arteBA?

Teresa Frías: I was always interested in art, although I did not live tied up with it. Basically I was in production. And six years ago I joined arteBA, as Chief Operative Manager.

AfN: How has the fair evolved?

Teresa Frías: The fair has been consolidating in these 15 years. Year after year you can see a great difference and a great growth. arteBA has been consolidated as a fair of contemporary art, at the beginning it was a fair of galleries and I believe now it has its own identity. The fair is already acknowledged. The name arteBA already became a generic one of validation. The galleries that enter arteBA are galleries with good work, because they enter through a selection committee.

AfN: Regarding the number of participants, objectives for the future, is the fair increasing in size?

Teresa Frías: This year we have extended the fair for the first time, until last year we had only one pavilion. This year we took an additional pavilion, where you have seen that 'Barrio Joven' (Young District), the video boxes and publications from abroad are located, because the demand is increasing, more quite interesting contemporary galleries have entered the market and we have great demand of space. In addition we dedicated many meters to the experimental projects, like the arteBA-Petrobras prize, that is a prize that you will have seen that it takes much space in the fair, the Barrio Joven, and all that demanded much more space, for that reason the growth. We took space according to the galleries that we needed to be entered. Many were left out, because the selection, filter process, we think that it is very demanding, and want it to continue this way, and it is interesting for us to have a very plural committee, with people from abroad as well, and the plans are to continue growing in that sense, so that the quality is every time better.

AfN: What about the proportion of foreign galleries?

Teresa Frías: Well, this year grew, but basically because we had an agreement with Brazil, the embassy of Brazil. We have been fighting for so long for this regional union. We are united by the Latin American accent, right, Brazil has a very intense market, very rich, but we think that without integration no fair is totally consolidated. Our fair is basically regional, with an international projection, but for us Brazil was very important. In this sense, the embassy of Brazil helped us to bring 7 galleries of the ones we considered best in Brazil, representing the country. And then other galleries from Spain, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay. It is more difficult for them to fall within the market, because, as it happens in all countries, people buy the art that they know. Then our future mission is to spread works and the artists who are going to come through these foreign galleries, so that they are known previously and they arrive before, in advance, so that those that collect that type of art also come here to find it.

AfN: Would you add something else to the aims of the fair?

Teresa Frías: We think there are many fairs at this moment, perhaps too many, but there is a worldwide tendency and it is that much in the fairs is being sold. And our objective is to have our own personality, not to be the copy of any other fair. We think that Argentinians have something very special, surrounded by a very special environment, the fair, which also favors. Foreigners say it as well. Perhaps you have noticed, hopefully you did, that the Argentinian is very warm, receives well, the economic context helps, because it is very cheap with respect to the rest of the world, that is an opportunity that also occurs to favor. We want to take advantage of all opportunities provided by political, economic and cultural context, so that our fair consolidates and becomes very important in the region, and it is really positioned in the cultural calendar, and above all, that it leads to a free-flowing exchange of artists, so that Argentinian galleries have more international artists, and the international galleries already have Argentinian artists, and many. Many curators come here, and have taken artists. That is one of the nicest things that happened to us. Foreign galleries have discovered young artists and that also has to do with our enrichment. It is part of the objective, to spread and to try that there are not so many borders; that the Argentinian art is well known abroad.

AfN: How is the collectors program working?

Teresa Frías: The collectors program is without any doubt still our Aquilles' heel, because the fair, although it is 15 years old, just now is taking an international look, with an open projection, and it is just beginning to be known. Many collectors have come, but they have come on their own, because someone told them that something was happening in Buenos Aires. We made a program of collectors, we have helped collectors to come, but cannot settle that program because this fair has a very different characteristic, probably unique in the world, it is a Nonprofit Organization, with the mission to generate a market and to activate it, but we do not have resources nor subventions of the State of that type to generate the ideal collectors program, what we would like to have and we aspire to have. But our hope is that, as we have demonstrated that we can make a fair of this category and this quality, we are going to surely obtain companies that help us to generate this.

AfN: Then you have not received any kind of support from the State or the Government of Buenos Aires?

Teresa Frías: These are cultural policies of the countries. We move independently of what happens in the Government. For that reason, with all those changes we have had very hard moments in Argentina, by the time when we did't know what was happening, that our currency changed its value from one day to the next. arteBA resisted and we continued doing the fair. And we think that it was the most successful year, people bought art almost compulsively and found here a sort of haven and was beautiful, and the artists adapted the prices according to what was happening in the country. Neither in that moment nor now we have asked for formal support to the governments; we understand that so far this organization managed very well. By all means, any help from the governments is always welcome. In Arco, you know already, there are fabulous subventions, but, good, so far it is not the case.

AfN: How is the contemporary art scene in Argentina?

Teresa Frías: The contemporary art is settling, quite solid. The Argentinian is very conventional in his taste. For a long time it was always the old masters and the impresionists, the very classic painting. But there was a turning point, and people have brought themselves to, I don't know if to understand contemporary art, but they have first accepted it and now they are enjoying it, and buying it. Although we are not speaking perhaps of collectors, because we cannot call collector the one who has just begun and has bought five or six works, there is a great interest and that is being generated. Suddenly, the one that used to buy a plasma screen with a certain value, or often changed a car, but didn't come to the idea to buy art, today he is giving it the value that corresponds, and then people go and they look for a photography or a minor work, but they are interested, and that first interest remains. I believe that arteBA helped much. It helped people not to be scared to enter a gallery. Furthermore, when one does not know much about contemporary art, the fact to come to arteBA and find all works of art together, arouses more curiosity and reduces inhibitions, one goes from one gallery to another watching art. The other way is more elitist, the market is smaller, some well-known individuals go to a certain gallery that inaugurates a work. In this case it's not like that, it is like a great spectacle that opens its doors and adds followers.

AfN: One of the things that have attracted more attention is the support given to the emergent sector, the young galleries. Will you carry on with it?

Teresa Frías: arteBA always did that. The contemporary art in Argentina always came from there, from the young people, the cutting-edge. We always tried to give all possibilities to the artists who did not have a gallery and did not have the chance to exhibit, offering spaces, meters for free, helping them to take the opportunity to be recognized by galleries, and thus entered. Many artists began to work from these proposals, and many galleries began in the Barrio Joven and today they belong to higher leagues, like Florencia Braga Menéndez. Some of them are excellent gallery owners. Well, Florencia Braga, in the particular case, also opened a gallery in Madrid. And that fills us with pride because it is a way to help art management legitimately, otherwise they do not have any chance. In this case, there is a sponsor, Coca-Cola Light, which supported this project of the Barrio Joven, and provided it with space. Thanks to Coca-Cola Light and us, as we could help from arteBA, these great artists had a space. In fact, foreigners have bought a lot in Barrio Joven.

AfN: Besides this sponsor, Coca-Cola Light for Barrio Joven, there are several prizes, exhibitions… Tell us more about these initiatives.

Teresa Frías: The most important prize for us is the arteBA-Petrobras prize because it was generated after one "pensada" (sort of brainstorming), as we say here in Argentina, focused on how to achieve that the artists could really have a contest which did not limit them. So that we do not have to say to them that it must be a certain format, a certain size, a certain discipline. We wanted to open the door and give the exhibiting platform to the artists, who propose us something, which is perhaps neither saleable, nor capable to be exhibited in a gallery. But there was Petrobras, this sponsor which understood it. Every year this contest is comprised of different juries, and they consult as well further juries. Many people enter this prize. Eight works are selected, which receive a subsidy to be developed and then they work in "clinics" with the artists to develop and to improve the projects during two months. And in the end the eight final projects are exhibited here in arteBA. Last year we had Paulo Herkenhoff, who awarded the first work and, to be honest, we were proud to hear everything he said about our unknown artists in this project. Particularly this year was Cuauhtemoc Medina who also commented the importance of giving these artists an opportunity. Furthermore I believe that it even generates a very special tension in the fair, because on one hand you have them, the artists who are absolutely the vanguard, the experimental, what still is necessary to explain and not easy to understand, and on the other hand you can find the acclaimed argentinian artists, who of course must have their space within the fair and legitimize the work being developed by new artists.

AfN: Which is the role of arteBA in Latin America? Is there any cooperation with other fairs? Are you looking for a common strategy to attract people to the fairs in Latin America?

Teresa Frías: Strategies, we have not planned concrete strategies. Only with Arco. Rosina Gómez Baeza in his previous management came many times to the fair, mainly when the fair just began and we needed to improve a lot, and she did very constructive critics to us. We have learned much from her. We have learned to select and we have learned what quality is. And finally we did something with Arco. For several years we tried to manage, because we did not have money, the presence of Argentinian galleries in Arco, by getting the tickets for the artists, cargo for them, and so on. And last year we began a program of ARCOdata Argentina, a program exactly managed by Rosina. It is a very complete data of the consecrated Argentinian artists. Let us say that our mother, or our professor was Rosina Gómez Baeza. With the rest of the fairs, we visit them, but nothing else. There are no alliances established at this moment. We are growing, we know perfectly that we are growing, that we need much. But I believe that every year we have better quality and we can achieve many more things.

AfN: What is missing in the fair? The main issue would be then the collectors?

Teresa Frías: What we need is to be in the corridor of the great international collectionism. And we aspire to be there, by talking with gallery owners, listening to them, asking them 'how'. We always try to listen and learn. Because we also learn much from the good clients, who know, who go to other fairs, and who we fortunately have here.

AfN: Do you have already numbers of this year's arteBA (visitors to date, sales), considering that it finishes today?

Teresa Frías: Considering that it finishes today, I don't think we broke any record, because last year the fair was also very intense. It's only a few days and people come, and they do it in great amount. We do not have the closing numbers today, but I estimate that it will be around 100,000 people, by the numbers we are handling. That's many people and above all the readership of the fair is very important, because later programs have been made, there was much demand of journalism, and that is very good, because we think the sales will continue. All those that have come, have watched the works, have remained thinking, for us is a multiplying factor, because then the galleries begin in a direction and continue selling all year constantly. arteBA works like a great trigger.
It has grown because there are more people interested. And there are many buyers just for fairs, that come, only buy a very important work, and during the rest of the year they do not buy that much. But they begin to know 'expensive artists', to say it somehow, and begin to buy, and that's good. With respect to the amount of sales, that is very special, because as I said that we are a Nonprofit Organization, we have nothing to do with sales. We just prepare the layout to make it happen. Nothing else than that. The gallery owners are free to tell us or not. In general we get the information by chatting with them at coffee time, by the clients who tell us, the people who tell us what works they bought, because they are glad or because the gallery owners smile. But there is no record. We just see their faces. People cannot help it because they are excited and want to tell the whole story. One realizes. But there is no record. We have done it on purpose. It has to do with the fact that this is not a business.

Text and interview: Patricia Blasco

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