Of all the works that I have seen at arteBA, and I have looked at too many to count, one of the most memorable is Elías Santis’ ethereal painting at Mite‘s. It depicts a group of young people outside at night. A young boy with his eyes closed holds a light that casts a glow on his face while a young woman to his right reaches out for it. The painting evokes a strange but hopeful sense of looking towards the unknown. I think it is a fitting painting to represent Barrio Joven, which I found in general to be ripe not only with promise, but a sense of community within the emerging art world.
I wrote on opening night how much I loved the booths that some of the galleries had constructed — such as the wooden cabin at Big Sur and the cozy living room at Mite — so I was delighted to hear on Friday that Mite had won the prize for best gallery at Barrio Joven. Four cash prizes were handed out Friday night including two prizes for best gallery, which went to Bounjour Galería and Mite.
Chatting in Mite’s living-room booth with its owner, Nicolás Barraza, I asked him how he felt about it all. Tired, but very happy, he told me that he certainly wasn’t expecting to win the prize. It was only when collector Alejandro Konikoff, who would be handing out the prizes on Friday, came to personally invite him to the announcement that Barraza knew something was up. Returning with an envelope full of cash — 5000 pesos to be exact — was just the cherry on the top of a project that had already been met with great success. The money, he told me, was almost enough to cover Mite’s costs for participating in arteBA.
On top of selling a significant number of works at their stand, Mite recently sold the popular Santis painting I mentioned above to well-known Argentine art collector Aníbal Jozami. I couldn’t help but notice that Barraza is not your typical gallerist — not only does he not look like one, but he doesn’t really act like one either. Humble and happy to hang out with his artist friends and DJ parties at the Mite space in Patio Liceo, Barraza manages to avoid being stuffy and still have a good relationship with important art collectors. Before I left the stand, he encouraged me to go check out Bonjour’s project, which took home the other best gallery prize. That’s the kind of buena onda that exists between the projects at Barrio Joven.
At Bounjour I spoke with owner Mara Caffarone who was equally excited about her gallery’s big win, given it was Bonjour’s first time participating at the fair. Not only did the gallery win, but so did one of their artists — Nicolás Novali — who took home the first prize of ARS $15,000 for his 2009 project, Cráneo Sonriente (Smiling skull). Second prize went to Jazmin Berakha. Novali’s action installation is very cool — a giant outline of a skull concocted out of used holiday sparklers. Beside it you can watch the video of the sparklers being lit and burning the outline of the image.
During my past four days at arteBA, I have found myself returning again and again to Barrio Joven. I’m not sure if it’s because of all the couches where you can rest your weary feet; but I know it’s not because of the stained glass house erected by Chandon — an unfortunate eyesore in my opinion. I’m pretty sure it’s because I love looking at the work of artists who haven’t been “discovered” yet, before the work and the artists themselves become tarnished by the big commercial scene. I asked Barraza if he could ever see Mite outside of Barrio Joven — on the “other” side of arteBA — and with a smile he simply said, “No…I’d rather start my own art fair.”
I suppose that’s why I like emerging art so much — it looks to the future.