(A)live from DiTella

March 7th, 2008

On my last night in Buenos Aires, I attended the inauguration of the group exhibition Fantasmas (Ghosts) at the Universidad Torcuato DiTella in Buenos Aires—a place most commonly associated to 1960s avant garde art in Argentina, through the most times controversial Centro de Artes Visuales directed by Jorge Romero Brest. Curated by Guillermo Faivovich and Javier Villa, Fanstasmas included artworks and projects created in a relatively abandoned part of the university. Each of the participating artists (made and) had a designated exhibition space, which ranged from a small free-standing building to large hanger-like rooms, all located in the perimeters of a wide outdoor plaza. Artist Daniel Hoglar’s installation included the rearrangement of found furniture in the storage-turned gallery space where he exhibited. The installation included a hill-like stack of a couple hundred unused school desks, along with a series of dimly lit, suspended ceiling lamps that were aligned forming a circle.

It was Thursday, March 6th, a damp evening, and a night with what seemed to be a new moon. This atmospheric condition emphasized that the lack of outdoor lighting was smartly dealt by dimmed illumination design (by Matías Sendón) of Fantasmas. With this atmosphere in the raw architectural context that was the venue, it was unavoidable to experience a playful sense of intrusion while walking in and out of the artist’s installations. Barely seeing, the public attending the opening walked cautiously and slowly throughout the space. A marvelous effect, it suggests a call for a playful, thoughtful, and certainly multi-sensory experience of what may well be associated to future of art practices in DiTella. See, Fantastmas is first in a series of projects celebrating DiTella’s fiftieth anniversary. More pertinently, the newly launched art department of the university organizes it.

Directed by Argentine curator and art critic Inés Katzenstein, the main goal of this new department will be to create an art school at DiTella. In the meantime that Katzentein and her team develops the program, projects like Fantasmas will be organized to engage artists, curators and the pubic to explore and activate the university grounds. The program is planned to take the form of a curricula-based advanced art school for artists, as well as a training program for emerging curators and critics. While the program will most likely involve studio-based classes, it will also offer intensive art history courses (about local art and international production) as well as critical theory seminars. At first, the program will not grant academic degrees, but this is one of the goals of the university.

The new DiTella art program emerges at a time when clinicas—artist-initiated and led studio-based workshops—have proliferated and possibly reached its peek activity in Argentina. (The literal translation of a clinica in English is clinic.) Through clinicas, artists offer technique theme-based course to a group of younger artists. Clinicas vary from technical and practical courses to seminar-based discussions to the more common studio crit’ moderated or led entirely by the teaching artist. They are commonly held at the studio of the artist who has designed and leads it, but they are sometimes hosted at institutions, allowing for wider outreach. Operating pretty much like unregulated markets, clinicas emerged as a response to the need and lack of advanced or critical arts training and art schools in Argentina. Today, there seems to be a decrease in granting support of clinicas, e.g. becas (grants) awarding artists grants to partake in the clinicas. The most popular grant was awarded by Fundacion Antorchas, whose primary granting activity to artists was during the 1990s. (There was also the well-known Beca Kuitca run by artist Guillermo Kuitca; this offered a dozen or so artists a studio space for a year or so, during which time Kuitca did studio crits.) While professionalization of the artist may seem to be a question of values when formalizing a degree-granting arts program, it is clear that artist-initiated endeavors, such as clinicas, are the best indicator to measure the needs of artists and the communicative desires their work bears. A dedicated institution can certainly consolidate these efforts and create a new communities and thus cultures.

(Photo: Archivo de Prensa de DiTella)

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