The Woman Behind Bogotá’s Most Important Art Event of the Year

María Paz Gaviria, director of the International Art Fair of Bogotá (ArtBo), explains why the city’s art scene has entered the global spotlight.

“Bogotá’s art scene has been exciting for a long time, but it’s gotten more international visibility—and grown exponentially in recent years—thanks to Colombia’s changing situation in terms of economics, politics, and general progress.

ArtBo was founded in 2005 by the Bogotá chamber of commerce. In many ways, it’s helped consolidate what’s happening here. The fair has stayed boutique in size, with about 70 galleries from around the world, and we’re trying to not grow much beyond that because we like the intimate scale.

I became director of ArtBo in 2012 with two major goals in mind. One was to make the fair a citywide cultural event with an impact beyond the art world, which in turn helps the art scene grow. Another focus I’ve had is the internationalization of exhibitors and visitors, while keeping in perspective that what makes this fair special is its local flavor. For instance, we have Artecámara, our salon for Colombian artists under 40 who have no commercial representation. This type of exhibit is atypical for an international art show.

While ArtBo in October is the most exciting time of year in Bogotá for cultural and artistic activity, there’s something interesting happening every month. Much of the action takes place in private, independent galleries rather than museums. There are about 40 noteworthy spaces, with new ones popping up all the time, and in most cases, the gallery director is also the owner. Many are clustered in the center and in north of the city in such up-and-coming neighborhoods as San Felipe and Terzaquillo.

One thing to be said about Colombian art today is that it’s constantly evolving. The painter and sculptor Fernando Botero is a very famous and respected figure, but his work is very much disengaged from what has happened in the art scene over the last couple of decades. In the ‘90s, and as recently as a decade ago, Colombian art was very much informed by a violent past and present, by armed conflict and social inequity. Doris Salcedo, Oscar Muñoz, and Miguel Ángel Rojas are part of that tradition. As that shifted, we began to see that content less and less. Personal themes are more common among the younger generation of artists such as Mateo López, Nicolás Paris, and Kevin Simón Mancera. They are very much a new generation with a more international voice.”

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of Afar.
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