Meeting the artists

Overwhelming and deeply impressing were the generosity, the communication skills and the education of the artists and other exponents of Latin America’s art world. My itinerary was far from being a tedious chore—it was pure enjoyment! I rediscovered art’s capability of providing pleasure. In Europe and North America, discussions with artists had in the previous years far too often drifted into sheer triviality, focusing merely on the supposedly most interesting marketing strategy.

 Taking the time

Now, things had finally changed. We simply took the time we needed: to speak, to listen, to make small talk, to look out of the window together, and to take a look at art together. Not a single one of these many artists I visited over the years attempted to impose, much less force, anything on me. Most of them generously and immediately recommended me to their colleagues—a gesture that I had never had encountered in Europe. Indeed, there was usually an artists’ community at most of the places I visited. “Live and let live” appeared to be the unspoken motto. Regardless of where I went, I was usually welcomed in a warm and spontaneous, friendly and open, cooperative manner.

At the core of the meetings was not the sale, but the art itself, as well as the conditions from which it arose. Art still seemed to be a matter of the heart for the artists. In many long and intensive discussions, the artists willingly provided information about their concepts and ideas. All of this was conducted in an extremely professional ambiance and setting. Never, ever was there an artist who was late—and this in notorious Latin America, where, such as in Brazil, people are accustomed to showing up for evening invitations two hours later than scheduled!

I soon discovered that, generally speaking, the artists of Latin America displayed a higher level of education and were better informed than their European or North American counterparts. At least at the time, some 20 years ago, this was for one thing generally due to their coming from the upper social classes. (Members of the lower classes had other things to do than study the arts or pursue artistic and intellectual endeavors.) Another reason was that they felt obliged to learn and experience even more and to stay up to date because of their ostensibly peripheral origin and location, in order to be on equal footing with their colleagues in the supposed centers of the world. The details of this more or less distinct inferiority complex, as well as the matter of the would-be periphery, are issues that I will examine more closely at a later point.

 

Different each time: getting to know an artist

Coincidentally or by arrangement. Alone or in company. In the kitchen, with his family, or just getting out of bed with the lover; on the street, at a vernissage, in a restaurant, in a bar—or even in the studio!

There are the “organized” ones, the “cool professionals”, artists such as Alfredo Jaar, Waltercio Caldas, Doris Salcedo, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Vik Muniz, Ernesto Neto, and others: they would never commit an actual faux pas in their self-portrayals or presentations of their works. They are —or at least they feel—absolutely “bullet-proof”.

The “allegedly disinterested” also appear totally cool—people such as Cildo Meireles, Julio Le Parc, Antonio Caro, León Ferrari, Nelson Leirner, and Miguel Rio Branco—and they seldom let down their guard.

Nelson Leirner at the opening of “Face to Face”, Zurich 2007, Photography: M.G.

With some, dates are scheduled and organized right from the start. With others, one becomes familiar gradually over time, incidentally and without any effort. Indeed, with some I had come to take the acquaintanceship for so granted that I had a hard time remembering whether the studio visit had already taken place or not.

Sometimes, I was flooded with information—whether asked for or not. And other times, I had to laboriously hunt for the information (Jorge Macchi) or all but pry it out of the artist (Lazaro Saavedra). There are artists who are not talkative in the least, such as the late Antonio Dias, in which cases one subsequently wonders how one was able to obtain any information at all.

Then there are the easygoing ones, with whom everything runs like clockwork and information is provided in manageable doses, such as Milton Machado, Horacio Zabala, Teresa Serrano, Luis Fernando Benedit, Clemencia Echeverri, Guillermo Kuitca, Fabian Marcaccio, Iole de Freitas, Lenora de Barros, Eduardo Berliner, and others: interestingly, among these are quite a few painters and even architects—however, at this point I will not venture to estimate the significance of this.

What I have learned to greatly appreciate over the course of time is that I could also maintain outstanding relationships with artists who were not incorporated into the collection. And no one ever took offense that I could not make allowances for the occasional rivalry between localgroups.It was accepted—at least I believe it was—that I wanted to meet them all and treat everyone the same. So, I was stalking art either like a clumsy oaf or like a cheerful bee, flying through the region from one blossom to the next in search of pollen.

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