In recent years Latin America has received a vast amount of attention from the international art world, and Colombia is no exception. With Colombian artists opening exhibitions across the globe and international artists visiting, working and exhibiting in Colombian cities such as Bogotá, Medellín and Cali, the local art scene is thriving. During an interview, Natalia Valencia, a Colombian independent curator, told OBG that the current boom in the country’s art scene is attracting significant international interest, as collectors and investors look to Latin America to expand assets and diversify investments.
From large museums to independent galleries and spaces, the country is living one of its best moments for artists and collectors alike. This renaissance has collectors from around the globe focusing on the country and has enabled some young artists to receive considerable support. “The mood is vibrant due to the fact that young artists can already make a living from selling their art and winning grants, which is a big difference from 10 years ago when most artists were forced to work at other activities, such as teaching, since it was almost impossible to make a living from art itself,” Valencia said.
While Colombia did not historically possess a strong institutional museum network or support system for the arts, the private sector has played an important role in facilitating the art scene, which now features a vast number of established and new artists.
IN THE CAPITAL: Colombia’s capital city is host to some of the most renowned galleries in the country. Some of the big names include Nueveochenta, founded in 2007 by former president César Gaviria and curator Carlos Hurtado, and Galerias Casas Riegner, which started in Miami in the early 2000s. After being well received by the local artistic community, the gallery opened its Bogotá subsidiary in 2005. In addition to galleries, collections and foundations have been spreading around the country. One of the best examples is the MISOL art foundation. Led by Solita Mishaan and Jaime Cerón, the foundation has multiple programmes and offers support such as grants and residencies to artists. MEDELLÍN: The eternal spring city, as Medellín is known, has kept up with the movement in its own way. Places like Galería de la Oficina have a long history of exhibiting art in the city. Additionally, in the past few years independent spaces have flourished rapidly, now evolving in Medellín as they once did in Bogotá. Some of these spaces include Casa Tres Patios, an artistic foundation that exhibits and promotes artistic experimentation; Taller 7, one of the first such spaces founded in 2003; Campos de Gutié rrez; and Platohedro. Considering the growth and evolution that these spaces have seen recently it may very well be the moment for independent artists, foundations and galleries in Medellín.
ORIGINS: Between 1968 and 1972 Colombia, and more specifically Medellín, was host to three major art events, entitled “Bienal de Coltejer”, after the textile company that sponsored them. The biennales were a milestone in the Latin American art world; and evidence of it was the realisation of the “No Objetual” Arts Colloquium and the creation of the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín.
THE 1980S: As a result of the biennales and other factors, Colombia became an important art destination in Latin America for both local and international artists, brokers and collectors. However, the large inflow of money into the country caused, in many cases, an overvaluation of art. A considerable number of the works that were purchased for large sums of money in this period were pieces that had not undergone the natural process of value acquirement. Many of these artworks went on to experience considerable devaluation in later years, which had a negative impact on the local art market and scene in the following decade.
THE 1990S: In the aftermath of the art market’s collapse, the country’s art scene retracted to Bogotá almost exclusively, with the exception of some big names. Salón Nacional de Arte, which operates a system of open calls for proposals from anyone working creatively from artisans to fully established artists, continued to provide funding. This system was one of the few mechanisms that were available in the country to support the arts during this period.
THE 2000S: Alongside a global revolution of independent spaces, artists and curators, a new way of doing things emerged in the opening decade of the millennium. An injection of funds from private entities helped Colombia keep up with this change. As explained by Manuela García, a local artist, during an interview with OBG, “a change began with artists and curators who studied abroad. The biennale system was re-thought and independent spaces flourished, with a conception that art does not have to be tied to an institution. It was a global movement that saw its advance in Colombia as well. For the first time, international artists were appreciated alongside local ones at the Salón Nacional.”
Important art events started emerging. In 2007, for example, the Encuentro MD07 took place in Medellín. For the first time this event was not a biennale or a salón, it was about bringing together international and local artists to meet and work in the local context. It was during events such as this that independent spaces started gaining importance.
TODAY: The year 2013 marked a milestone for Colombian art, since for the first time the Salón Nacional became the “Salón (inter)Nacional”, acquiring an international element. The 2013 Medellín edition of the now international salón was not an open call for proposal, but a curated edition with specific research lines and selected participants. This change developed from a discussion that started during the Bogotá Salón in 2000 and from the previous experience of the Salón Nacional in Cali, which for the first time brought foreign artists. The internalisation of the Salón Nacional is an attempt to open Colombia to the world and to bring the country’s art movements in line with wider international trends. So far it appears to be a successful transition.
UPCOMING TRENDS: The art of the past generation was almost invariably linked with politics or denuncia (complaint, denunciation). This art was a direct reflection of the political situation in the country at the time. One example is the artist Doris Salcedo whose vast array of works contains a very subtle and well-thought-out approach to its message. Today, the new generations have had the opportunity to explore different themes. Currently there is no unique line or technique being favoured for artistic creation, on the contrary, one of the characteristics of this artistic boom is its multidisciplinary approach.
Nonetheless, Colombia’s deeply rooted tradition of dibujo (sketch or drawing) is still present. Some artists have continued this tradition, but have approached it in different and innovative ways. One example is Mateo Lopez, a Bogotá-based artist who has applied the drawing tradition in sculpture and installation art. Lopez has had solo shows in the Americas and Europe, his most recent in the Casey Kaplan Gallery in New York.
Another example of an artist applying drawing to different forms is Nicolás Paris, who has used it as an educational tool, working with the concept of “Garage Universities”. This concept, as explained by the Kadist Art Foundation where Paris exhibited, was developed in parts of Latin America as a response to the difficulties in accessing education. Such spaces became dedicated to both theoretical and practical learning. Paris’ exhibits have received considerable attention both inside and outside the country.
FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL: The recent success of Oscar Murillo, a Cali-born artist who grew up and studied in London, is a reflection of the increasing effects of globalisation on Colombia’s art scene. In García’s opinion, Murillo embodies what could be the next trend in Colombian art. The artist’s most recognised works include large-scale paintings with stitched canvases that often include text or phrases, dirt, dust or found objects. He has also worked in video, installation and performance art. Although Murillo has received mixed reviews, especially from fellow artists, the media and commercial attention has been extensive. García told to OBG, “He is the cliché artist that a lot of people want to see.”
Another example, though with a different perspective, is Gabriel Sierra. Born in the small Colombian town of San Juan Nepomuceno, Sierra works with design and architecture. He creates what has been referred to as sculptural interruptions, challenging the continuity of architectural spaces and exposing their insides. Sierra has experienced considerable success since the Encuentro de Medellín in 2007.
Although both of these artists use very different techniques and forms of expression to explore their subjects, they are equally good examples of the local-gone-global phenomenon that is putting Colombia firmly back on the map of art destinations.