One warm January evening, the height of summer in Uruguay, the colonial town of Garzón was teaming with people. Elegant couples from Punta Del Este and the chic beach enclave José Ignacio, a 30-minute drive away, popped in and out of art galleries surrounding the town’s palm-shaded main square. Alium, a boutique stocking the best Uruguayan handcrafts like brightly colored leather bags and knit ponchos, stayed open late. Bodega Garzón, a local state-of-the-art winery that produces Uruguay’s most highly regarded wines, poured complimentary glasses of mineral-driven sauvignon blanc in Boutique Garzón, its wine shop and café in town.
This was the night Uruguayan photographer Luis Fabini held an art show for Cowboys of the Americas in the Boutique Garzón space. The work, which includes an art book and large-format photography, is the culmination of a project where he hitchhiked from North America to Uruguay in search of the world’s last remaining gauchos. Art lovers from across Uruguay such as hotelier and designer Aaron Hojman had come to see Fabini’s raw and haunting portraits.
Fabini and partner Heidi Lender, a photographer and artist from Connecticut, live in Garzón full time and say it’s becoming an enclave for artists much like Todos Santos in Baja, Mexico, or Marfa, Texas.
“Garzón is pure inspiration,” says Lender. “It is the simple life: a farming town with gentle people living in an unfussy way. There is no real distraction, except yourself.”
Argentine chef Francis Mallmann put Garzón on the map when he opened a hotel and restaurant in a former general store more than 10 years ago. Lender stayed there on a whim in 2009 and basically never left.
“Mallmann invited all six guests up to a New Year’s Eve asado on his campo, and it was the most magical evening I’d ever experienced, something out of a Merchant Ivory film. I bought my land a few days later,” she says.
In an effort to cement Garzón’s reputation as an art destination, Lender is founding an artist-in-residence community on her property that will open in the fall of 2018. CAMPO will host up to eight artists at a time. They will stay in cabins nestled among indigenous trees and use a studio space in a modern barn. Architect Rafael Viñoly (Carrasco International Airport, Jazz at Lincoln Center) is on the Board of Directors. CAMPO will be open to outside guests during the summer months. CAMPO CANTEEN will be a food lab with a professional kitchen and a mess hall where chefs and artists can experiment and host pop-up dinners and classes for resident artists and the public.
In the meantime, visitors to Garzón have plenty to see and explore. The Piero Atchugarry Gallery opened in a historic stable in 2014. The contemporary gallery hosts artists from around the world who create installations for the property’s 54-acre sculpture park. Galeria Pueblo Garzón opened in 2012 and recently hosted the Uruguayan sculptor Daniel Escardó for a month-long residency. The Black Gallery has gallery space in Montevideo and Garzón and specializes in the work of emerging and established Uruguayan contemporary artists. The gallery’s worldly cofounder Mercedes Sader was a film producer in Luxembourg and Rome before moving back to her home country to open the gallery. “Garzón’s a mysterious little spot,” she says. “It’s really a great, inspiring, and relaxing place to share quality art.”
Lender is personally funding CAMPO’s first artist-in-residence this year. Charlie Baker, a nature-inspired artist who has designed custom pieces for the holiday windows of Hermés and Ralph Lauren, will do a month-long residency and he’s already scouted out his project. A 70-year-old eucalyptus tree fell down, exposing its root structure near what will become CAMPO’s entryway. Baker will transform it into an art installation that will welcome all those who come in search of artistic growth. It will be a fitting example of what artists can achieve in this town nearly an hour away from the nearest grocery store.