Art Basel Cities - Buenos Aires, Argentina

 Image courtesy Art Basel.

Image courtesy Art Basel.

The global art map is expanding - and that's a good thing.

 

The absence of mega galleries with their superstar artists on display made Cities  an event unlikely to be hosted by Art Basel. The titan producer of eponymous art fairs, Art Basel has annual eponymous iterations in Hong Kong, Miami, and, of course in Basel. But Art Basel disrupted its own art fair cycle - repetitious in venues, artists, and galleries -  in producing this new venture, formally named Art Basel Cities Exchange.  Announced as an experimental partnership with cities around the world to develop a new art program to "raise the city's art profile on the global art-world stage." Cities was a non-art fair developed by the titan producer of art fairs - a true paradox.

The inaugural Cities partnership launched in Buenos Aires in November. Sans the usual tented venue or pop-up borders within the rooms of a convention center, Cities was held in an impeccably-designed Beaux-Arts mansion. Located among government and consulates along a tree-lined promenade. Rooms were designed simply but thoughtfully - plush carpets, leather club chairs, and the wood floor, a herringbone pattern. (Cities did not entirely depart from the Art Basel luxury panache). Art Basel described it best:

"With its imposing double-height central entrance hall, music and billiards rooms as well as a success of majestic private rooms with balconies, it is a testimony of Argentina's Belle Epoque."

Rather than a commerce center Cities was designed as a reciprocal learning platform. Aside from the host city's reaping of the Art Basel provenance, attendees learned from one another. The stylish rooms of the mansionwere incubators for discussion on art's pressing, including African art

 

One of these salons I joined was co-hosted by Azu Nwagbogu, director of LagosPhoto and African Artists' Foundation. Titled, "New World Utopias: What are our greatest dreams for art in the Global South?" our coterie discussed how the arts of the "global south" - the region encompassing South America as well as sub-Saharan Africa - were perceived by its geographic corollary, the north. Elsewhere, other groups examined "Does the art world have anything to say about today's major social issues?" and "How can the art world reach out to a broader audience?". Other speakers of the day included even Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel.

'Cities' also spilled to the streets, with many local galleries hosting pop-up shows and other events to maximize the Art Basel presence in Buenos Aires.

Unlike the annual OTT art bacchanal at Art Basel Miami Beach, Cities was intimate and approachable.

 Image courtesy Art Basel.

Image courtesy Art Basel.

Photography by Nadia Sesay unless noted.