Petrobras visual arts prize @ arteBA 2011

Carlos Herrera

Carlos Herrera – “Autorretrato sobre mi muerte”

Let’s be clear from the very beginning: I personally believe that prizes in the realm of art are quite an odd and almost reactionary thing. That is, they are remnants of the Nineteenth Century — from those French art salons that usually favored the more conservative and academic for their systems of compensation. Perhaps medals are OK in sports, in which the contest against others is one of the main goals. In today’s artistic practice, however, collaboration is far more significant than competition.

Argentina’s art system seems to have a particular affinity for prizes. Perhaps this is because of the lack of official aid, scholarships and subsidies for artists. Perhaps it’s because it’s much easier to give a prize to an artwork than to seriously support all the steps towards its creation. Or perhaps it’s because big companies found out that for a tenth of the cost of a not particularly expensive TV ad, they could get a lot of media attention, penetrate a focus group, get tax exemptions, and their nicknames changed from Greedy Anti-Socials to Patrons of the Arts.

The arteBA 2011 Petrobras visual arts prize is a curious case among the local awards. Celebrated within a fair –- where, as John Baldessari once said, artists sell their old things to be able to make new ones — the prize attempts to diagnose and interrogate current tendencies in contemporary art production. Usually displaying works quite hard to market because of their experimental and sometimes ephemeral nature, for its current edition Petrobras curators Sonia Becce and Claudio Iglesias decided to make a call to creators under 35 for artworks that reflected on the space-time dimensions of the fair itself. Entitled “6 días” (Six Days) –- the duration of the fair — the selection includes the work of seven artists, each of whom received AR $12,000 (close to USD $3000) for the production of the pieces.

Located in a corner of the fair, the visual display of this exhibition is markedly different from the rest of arteBA. If space for artworks to breathe is not exactly what abounds in the galleries’ booths, once entering the territory of this exhibition I felt a kind of relief. Within its darkened, mostly empty space, the location offers the possibility to experience the pieces and not just to follow your eyes to the next one. The rest of the fair is rather like browsing the aisles in a supermarket. An artwork needs space and time to be fully appreciated. And those are the topics of this show.

Luciana Rondolini's “Calamidad Cósmica” and at the background the entrance to Victoria Colmegna and Valentina Liernur's "Papo's VIP"

Luciana Rondolini’s “Calamidad Cósmica” and at the background the entrance to Victoria Colmegna and Valentina Liernur’s “Papo’s VIP”

At the entrance to the hall, a wall separates the triangular-shaped room of “Papo’s VIP” — Victoria Colmegna and Valentina Liernur‘s collaborative project. It’s presented as a so-called installation/painting/event that involves a series of actions — everything from presentation, poetry readings, DJs’ spinning, artists’ videos displayed on a big flat screen or simply wine-drinking and chatting among friends. It’s a situational action for your pleasure and a VIP sector for anyone that has the courage to trespass the fence that blocks the always-open door. And needless to say, you will find very different people there from the ones that gather in the nearby Petrobras VIP or the Mass Group sections. Just wonder why.

Some meters away from “Papo’s VIP,” a giant, shiny, multi-colored popsicle lies horizontally on what will soon be its death bed. Slowly melting and dispersing artificial colors at the same time it exhales its fake aroma, Luciana Rondolini‘s sculpture looks like an eerie toy taken from a kid’s nightmare. A giant popsicle not to be savored, just to be contemplated until it completely loses its shape. As its title says: a cosmic calamity (“Calamidad Cósmica”) of huge, humorous proportions.

Pablo Accinelli's two channels video piece “Todo el tiempo”

Pablo Accinelli’s two channels video piece “Todo el tiempo”

Next to it hangs Pablo Accinelli‘s video piece, “Todo el tiempo” (All of the time), showing on its two screens a car’s travel down a road as seen from its windows. Revealing time, distances, measures and endurance in a work, I felt it deserved a better display to be fully enjoyed. Also, the sound of the distant car engine was totally overwhelmed by what sounded like a chainsaw at work. This interruption came from a closed white cube inside the exhibition that hosts Belén Romero Gunset‘s “Roto” (Broken), a performance space in which the artist herself stands amidst a room almost completely filled with the most diverse objects that she keeps breaking again and again. It is really amazing how beautiful disorder and chaos can look, at least in an art space.

Belén Romero Gunset's “Roto”

Belén Romero Gunset’s “Roto”

Santiago Villanueva‘s “Adquisición” (Acquisition) works as a nice reflection on the art fair, the market, the prizes, the institutions and the role of the artist between all of them. His project consisted in using the 12,000 pesos given by the arteBA Petrobras Prize to buy an art piece from the first half of the Twentieth Century and donate it to the museum of art from its city of origin — Azul in a Buenos Aires province. At first sight, the bought and exhibited work by Anselmo Piccoli from 1959 looks really strange in this context — outdated, extirpated from its museum walls as if it were part of a corporate advertisement. Only when reading the accompanying text that functions as part of the installation did I realize what this piece does here — an artist from the future giving light to an artist from the past; money redirected from production to consumption. It’s a small gesture that manages to bring a lot of things into question.

Santiago Villanueva - “Adquisición”

Santiago Villanueva – “Adquisición”

Mariana Telleria - “Somos el límite de las cosas”

Mariana Telleria – “Somos el límite de las cosas”

At the end of the hall, with exaggerated theatrical grandeur and against the black curtains, stands Mariana Telleria‘s sculpture, “Somos el límite de las cosas” (We are the limit of things). The skeleton of an unmoving carrousel filled only with light –- the light of the soon-to-be-banned light bulbs — it functions as an empty stage to be populated with memories and stories and as a circular structure that displays the stillness of suspended time.

The one moment time really stands still is in death, and that is what the small, discretely lit piece by Carlos Herrera portrays. The sculpture-object entitled “Autorretrato sobre mi muerte” (Self portrait about my death) shows and covers in a white plastic bag a pair of socks from the time the artist played rugby, a t-shirt he bought at his last birthday and a pair of his shoes. The only problem is that when I started approaching this weird-looking piece, a strong smell started to invade my nostrils. But unlike the soft, fake-fruity smell coming from the popsicle sculpture, this one was much more meaty. Inside the empty shoes lies a bunch of defrosted squid that scatter their smelly proteins and the solid stench of death all over the room.

It’s an austere, harsh and radical portrait that could work as an emblem of the prize itself – actually, it won the AR $50,000 stimulus prize — and a work that would have delighted André Breton: “Beauty will be convulsive or will not be at all.”

Prizes should also be like this one, or will be nothing at all.

A group of Petrobras executives closely smelling Carlos Herrera's “Autorretrato sobre mi muerte”

A group of Petrobras executives closely smelling Carlos Herrera’s “Autorretrato sobre mi muerte”

Ariel Authier for Juanele

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