Art Basel Cities Week in Buenos Aires

We share highlights from a remarkable project which transformed the city into a buzzing canvas

From 6-12 September 2018, Buenos Aires welcomed Art Basel Cities, a new initiative from Art Basel designed to promote and support local art scenes in urban centers throughout the world. In line with our 25-year relationship with Art Basel, UBS supported the week as Global Lead Partner, helping to fulfil what Sylvia Coutinho, Head of Latin America, UBS, described as an ambitious program that ‘promises boundless opportunities of cultural discovery.’

The expansive event saw public interventions conceived by eighteen artists, including Argentinian nationals such as Santiago de Paoli, Gabriel Chaile and Eduardo Navarro — whose work features in the UBS Art Collection — along with international artists such as Barbara Kruger. Each was selected by Cecilia Alemani, Artistic Director of Art Basel Cities Week, and united under the theme of ‘Hopscotch (Rayuela)’ — a title referencing the non-linear narratives constructed by experimental Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar in his eponymous novel, as well as the playful and universal nature of the childhood game.

As such, visitors were encouraged to explore the neighborhoods of La Boca, Puerto Madero-Costanera Sur and Palermo-Recoleta through a variety of different routes, experiencing site-specific installations and performances that engage directly with the city’s architecture, heritage and multifarious communities. ‘Buenos Aires has amazing museums, non-profits and galleries, but somehow the public art sphere is a bit more traditional,’ comments Alemani. ‘I was very excited to use the city as a platform to exhibit new works of art that could talk to a large audience.’

The approach represented a ‘new experience’, transforming the city into a canvas which, Alemani explains, ‘mixed these three spheres of visual arts, urban culture and a city’s history.’ As well as engaging first-time visitors to the city, the project aimed to transform sites familiar to the local community. Argentinian artists, who represented around 70% of those exhibited, were at its core: ‘For me, that was very important,’ Alemani continues. ‘I wanted to highlight artists like Santiago de Paoli, Mariela Scafati and Ad Minoliti, who are very interesting and who should, I think, be known internationally.’

The Art Basel Talks Program, which began in November last year, has also been crucial in manifesting an ongoing dialogue between international and local cultural leaders, practitioners and students. UBS contributed by presenting Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca in conversation with the Guggenheim’s Latin American Curator at Large Pablo León de la Barra, at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. The talk, which can be viewed in full here, offered new insight into the artist’s practice; an ‘important part of his work,’ Kuitca explained, is ‘the attempt to draw a map of the human condition.’

Guillermo Kuitca is just one of the artists featured in the UBS Art Collection — one of the world’s most distinguished corporate art collections, with more than 30,000 works created by artists from more than 75 countries. The talk in Buenos Aires represented a continuation of UBS’s history of supporting cultural endeavours across the world, with art continuing to be a shaping force in its drive to bring together ideas, inspiration and opinion to shape richer lives.

Art Basel Cities Week went further beyond the core exhibition through a Cultural Partners’ Program that featured shows, events and screenings also selected by Alemani. Highlights included Naama Tsabar’s sonic environment created by performers and musicians at Faena Art Center and a public workshop that examines ‘art’ and ‘politics’ with Uruguayan conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer, taking place next to his five works installed at Parque de la Memoria. The Art Basel Cities Week also celebrated the first ever Gallery Weekend Buenos Aires, with more than 40 galleries taking part alongside studio visits and other events.

Through these various layers, Art Basel’s first Art Basel Cities Week serves as something of an experimental blueprint for future endeavors, bringing a global audience to a thriving cultural hub.

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