lunes, 9 de febrero de 2009

Awakening the Eye


A story of stories

To Guido Di Tella

In Argentina, memory is a raw material as scarce and valued as platinum is in the precious metals market. This exhibition is an exercise in memory as well as a tribute to a collection and the educational impact it has had on its audience. For the past decade this collection has been exhibited in the halls of Torcuato Di Tella University, benefiting thousands of students who have walked past these paintings year after year, their sights set on the future. Images of these works have become unconsciously engraved in their memory, connecting them to their own cultural heritage.

Awakening the Eye is an exhibition of one hundred works of art by the most creative of Argentina’s artists. Together and individually they impact the spectator and stimulate his or her vision to the many ways of expressing truth through art. Also, the exhibition pays homage to the creative genius of Guido Di Tella, the man who encouraged artists in the Sixties and founded this University three decades later. Maria and I offer the show as an expression of our appreciation for a sensitive Renaissance man, one capable of developing ideas, carrying out projects, and demonstrating by practical example how to improve education, the backbone of any cultural endeavor. It is also a reminder not to let his memory slide into the quicksand of the forgotten, together with those of so many other exemplary Argentines.

The art works cover half a century of our lives and reflect the challenges undergone by their creators. What we see on these walls is the material side of the story of compelling quests and surprising discoveries, shared by a couple that placed art above most other priorities.

Accumulating one hundred outstanding art works sounds like a monumental feat. It might imply the investment of significant sums of cash and the advice of seasoned experts. But, at a rhythm of two paintings a year, a selective eye and personal contact with artists, it is within the reach of any businessman or professional. In our case, it was the principal motor of our activities during many years, many trips, and many experiences.

There are countless ways to collect. The case of Guido’s father, Don Torcuato, for whom the Torcuato Di Tella University is named, was a classic example. He chose an expert advisor, Lionello Ventura, who knew all the paths to the best masterpieces available in Europe. The Old Master treasures that he accumulated can now be found on the ground floor of Buenos Aires’s National Museum of Fine Arts.

Guido’s focus was different: equipped with limitless curiosity, an uncanny intuition and boundless enthusiasm, he dedicated his energies to discover and support the most experimental examples of Argentine art. First, in 1958, he inaugurated the Foundation that is named for his father, ten years to the day of the death of the legendary entrepreneur, and then the Di Tella Prizes, acquiring the best of what came from abroad, to enhance the collection of the Museum, with the hope that this artistic breath of fresh air would serve as a tool to enrich the vision of local artists.

In the case of the art work that is on exhibit today at the Borges Cultural Center, the paintings, objects and sculptures are the result of a relentless accumulation without any master plan or clear-cut objective. None of the works, originating in a passionate search that started in 1959, was purchased in an art gallery or at auction. Many were traded for primitive art, some were gifts, other exchanged for texts that I wrote, and a number bought at prices mutually agreed upon between friends.

Seen from today’s perspective, it might seem a dream. Finding the pieces required extensive travel: to a mountain top in Northern California, a castle at the edge of Lake Como, to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and, of course, the traditional centers, New York, Paris, Milan, in addition to visits to studios all over Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Rosario. In this case, the collection is the material manifestation of complicity, shared goals and parallel sensitivities.

The Argentina saga began one Saturday in the Spring of 1960, following in the footsteps of the Ver y Estimar Group and its leader Jorge Romero Brest. I was taken to the studio of Antonio Seguí in what were once the salons of the Circle of the Catholic Workers’ Vanguard of Balvanera, in the 2200 block of Cangallo Street. As of that afternoon, a solid friendship with Seguí blossomed, one that both families still enjoy. After so many decades, it now includes a second generation of artists, with Octavio, the son of Antonio and Graciela Martínez, as well as Julian, the son of Tatato Benedit and Mónica Prebisch, and Mateo, the son of Pat Andrea and Cristina Ruiz Guiñazú.

There were also parallel interests: tribal, ritual and oriental art, all lumped into a category called ‘primitive’ then. These works from America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, because of their strength and audacity, their elegance and echo of the essential, have never lost their validity. Today, as fifty years ago, these pieces capture my eye and make my head spin. They have helped me to correlate the parameters of contemporary art in a more universal context.

Pre-Columbian and oriental art captured my eye before contemporary art, which did not exist as an auction house category in my youth. During my brief career as a dealer in primitive art, I began to meet artists who wanted to exchange their work for pre-Columbian textiles, African masks or ancient images of Buddha. Their fervor reached such a degree that there were even artists willing to pay cash for my wares: Horacio Butler, Hector Basaldúa, for example.

It was back then when Guido and Nelly Di Tella appeared in our lives. We had just organized our first major exhibition in Buenos Aires, in the now defunct Ronald Lambert Gallery, just a few steps from the Galería del Este and the Instituto Di Tella, on the last block of Florida Street. The Di Tella Institute was a hallmark in my art education: for the first time I came upon the great young international artists that Jorge Romero Brest discovered on his frequent cultural safaris around the world and invited to the Institute’s annual Prizes. I also discovered the local ‘avant-garde’ that congregated in the halls of the Institute every Saturday at midday since its founding in 1963.

Guido and Nelly appeared one of those Saturday mornings at the Ronald Lambert Gallery and María and I gave them a guided tour of our show, which offered works by Fernando Botero, Antonio Seguí, José Gamarra, the Mexican muralist Juan O’Gorman, Haitian primitives, colonial religious wood carvings and a hundred pre-Columbian ceramics and textiles: all novelties in the limited international market in Buenos Aires at that time.

We told the Di Tellas about our experiences: the common coincidences, shared searches, similar sensibilities and a certain taste for adventure that always stimulates the art addict began to appear. The foundation for a lasting friendship was established, based on mutual respect, shared goals and like values. We watched our children grow and then our grandchildren.

Guido’s taste was always universal: he showed the same joy before a world-class masterpiece or a highly original piece of handcraft. Their home, as a result, proved that one can mix the most diverse objects, as long as each piece is special in itself. One of the essential ingredients in this formula was Guido’s lively sense of humor. He applied it at all times throughout his life, to the occasional discomfort of the recipients of his wit.

We began to visit the Di Tellas where they lived with Guido’s mother on Superí Street in Belgrano. The decoration of the large house echoed classical European taste. An old saying came to mind when Guido paid us for several pieces: one of the hundred dollar bills was of a series that had been discontinued in the 1930s. I had never received such an old banknote! It confirmed the American maxim about people with ‘old money’.

Guido became fascinated by Argentina’s pre-Columbian cultures and decided to form a collection of pieces with a compelling artistic impact. Back then, a market for these pieces which later flourished thanks to Guido’s initiative did not exist. One had to go to the source and get the objects from the established local ‘collections’ which were in the hands of Syrian-Lebanese shopkeepers, Jewish merchants, and the brothers of the different Catholic missionary orders.

At Guido’s request, on January 16, 1968, we took off on a whirlwind tour of Tucumán, Catamarca and Salta on Aerolineas Argentinas flight 560. It was our baptism: what followed was a mind-boggling series of adventures. From time to time, for several years we traveled around the Northwest of Argentina gathering extraordinary pieces. They now form part of the Di Tella Collection that has on occasion been exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA).

Each trip produced its treasures and its anecdotes. We investigated, followed leads that led to dead-ends, returned for promised masterpieces that never materialized, and at times arrived too late because a mysterious buyer had beaten us to the prize. We managed to convince a school principal to exchange two marvelous Condor-Huasi ceramics for desks and chairs. Everything was fair game in the mission of gathering Guido a collection. We finally reached our goal and Guido had a collection of a hundred pieces, many of them unique in rarity and quality.

The intrepid collector then set his eye on the present: he began to succumb to the robust magnetism of Fernando Botero’s paintings. The artist was at the best moment of his remarkable career. Guido and Nelly had seen the early Boteros in our exhibit in 1967, but by 1970 Botero had perfected the images that branded his style forever.

In those days I had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Fernando: he sold me a painting a year at the price he sold to his dealers. The arrangement lasted until the artist signed an ironclad contract with Marlborough in 1971. Guido had fallen in love with a painting that hung in our penthouse overlooking the Río de la Plata: the portrait of a bishop in his red robes with a serpent crawling up his staff. Nelly, as in so many similar circumstances, stoically accepted her husband’s compulsive decision. Guido thought the 2,500 dollar price for a painting measuring 150 x 100 centimeters was excessive. We finally reached a mutually-satisfying agreement, but the frowns on the face of Antonio Cardinal Caggiano when he visited the Di Tella home, placed the presence of this opulent Colombian intruder in danger. The painting became ‘persona non grata’ in Nelly’s living room and soon appeared in Christie’s. The ‘Bishop’ found a new home on a different continent.

Guido and Nelly had by now become ‘role models’ for us: we were fascinated by the way they combined family, art, education, lively senses of humor in a warm life style.

The most unlikely incident in encounters around the world occurred on a black night in Africa, at the Dakar airport in 1972. Guido was on a plane parked at the end of the runway, returning to the homeland with General Peron. I was in the terminal, midway into a SABENA flight from Buenos Aires to Brussels. Father Carlos Mujica, the priest who had married Maria and me nine years earlier, as well as Jose López Rega, founder of the Triple AAA, the group that would assassinate Father Carlos two years later, were also on board. We found ourselves separated by 200 yards of runway without a possibility of greeting each other.

Guido’s need for collecting diminished once a political career became the number one priority. He had been able to combine the quest for art with his other vocations in the realms of business, education, culture and family, but politics devoured his prodigious energies. Our relationship changed directions: instead of supplying him with art works, I began to flood him with ideas and projects related to art and education, designed to augment the role of culture in the erratic activities of the government.

In the decade from 1965 to 1975, we formed the framework of our own collection. We had already traded a number of pre-Columbian pieces with Antonio Seguí for his paintings; then three large canvases by Rómulo Maccio in his studio at 1356 Defensa Street for African masks; and we bought the classic prints of Ramona at 100 dollars each from Antonio Berni in his spacious headquarters behind his wife’s home at 4139 Rivadavia Avenue. I found ‘Ramona Montiel Cortesana’, a work in this show, forgotten, in a corner: Berni sold it to me for 240 dollars. I later discovered the object’s distinguished provenance, the series of museum exhibitions in which the work had appeared in the United States.

Manucho Mujica Laínez led me to Ana Sokol’s barbershop on 25 de Mayo Street, where she specialized in servicing sailors. We established a rapport and bought five of her delicious naïve paintings. We traded a voluptuous Indian wood carving from our ‘Asia’ show at the Bonino Gallery for two marvelous drawings by Bobby Aizenberg at his home/workshop at 410 Caseros. We bought two paintings of the ‘Astroseres’ series from Raquel Forner in her studio at the Cité des Arts in Paris; two works by Fernando Maza at his studio in Nogent-sur-Marne; and a work on paper from Jorge Demirjian, whom we met in London. In our wanderings through Europe, we bought or traded work with promising young artists of that moment: Valerio Adami, Rene Bertholo, Lourdes Castro, Antonio Dias, Leonardo Cremonini, Jan Voss and others.

Little by little, our apartment began to overflow with art work, but the series of shows we did at Bonino, first ‘America’ (1969) at the original Maipu Street gallery, then ‘Africa (1970), ‘Asia (1971), and ‘Oceania’ (1972) at the revolutionary new gallery, designed by Clorindo Testa, just around the corner from Florida Street, helped reduce the stock.

In 1968, thanks to an ongoing relationship with the Di Tella Institute, MoMA sent a delegation of its International Council, led by the legendary Rene de Harnoncourt and Monroe Wheeler. The curator of the Works on Paper Department, William Lieberman, who accompanied the group, arrived with a limited budget for acquisitions. To lure the group to visit our apartment two blocks from the Plaza Hotel in hopes of selling primitive art, I distributed a photocopied invitation to their rooms. Rene de Harnoncourt, himself a pre-Columbian enthusiast, appeared the same day with Monroe Wheeler, who bought a Nazca ceramic.

They spread the word among the others and we made several sales as well as new friends, especially Eugene and Margaret McDermott from Dallas. Within a few years, we put together an important collection of pre-Columbian art for them, which in time was donated to the Dallas Museum of Fine Art. Guido and Nelly offered the group a reception in the family home in Belgrano where we were able to get to know the distinguished visitors better.

Lieberman bought drawings by Antonio Seguí and Brazilian artist Antonio Dias from us for MoMA. The Di Tella Institute coordinated the shipment of the curator’s varied acquisitions but the promised payments were delayed in coming until Samuel Paz asked me to intervene in order to accelerate the arrival of the cheques. I saw those works of ours exhibited for the first time in 2006 at the Museo del Barrio in a show of Latin American treasures from the reserves of MoMA.

After the Di Tella Institute closed its doors, Guido found a new way to support the arts from his post as director of the National Arts Fund. We decided to seek a more peaceful refuge and went to Colonia del Sacramento on the Uruguayan coast one day in August 1975 with Guillermo and Franca Roux, who had bought a house there. We liked Guillermo’s work so much that we started to advance him cash against future delivery to get a head-start on other enthusiasts.

In those years, we met Pat Andrea, and started to do things together in Buenos Aires, Colonia, Europe, even in Java and Bali. He illustrated a book at our home on the Ferrando Beach in Colonia; painted us a picture while living in the service quarters behind our garden on Talcahuano; and portrayed a greyhound we had in San Pedro in another work.

We went to Ricardo Garabito’s studio with Samuel Paz and bought an unforgettable painting; visited Adolfo Nigro’s studio where we got two more; and to Pablo Siquier’s with Sonia Becce, where we acquired one of his first works, which was later shown at his exhibit at the Reina Sofía in Madrid. We also acquired works by Mariano Sapia, Martin Reyna, and Emilio Torti, whose work we discovered at the Fundación San Telmo and traced back to Rosario. We began to have more pictures than walls…

The difficult years were dedicated to establishing a second front in Colonia, at our farm in San Pedro. Guido and Nelly spent part of that time in Oxford, where Guido taught and wrote. The Oxford connection produced some cultural ramifications, after David Elliott, the director of the Museum of Modern Art at the University came to Buenos Aires in 1994 to organize a show of Argentine art that would travel to his museum and others in Europe (Stuttgart, London and Lisbon). I had the opportunity to work on the show and lend a Seguí and a Kuitca to the exhibit, besides contributing a text on Kuitca to the show’s publication. That same show was the highlight of the inauguration of the Borges Cultural Center in October, 1995.

During these years our collection continued to evolve; each year brought an exciting surprise. The most exhilarating of all came when we discovered Guillermo Kuitca and acquired several of his paintings. We then became involved with the young artists in his first Workshop Program: Daniel García, Mauro Machado, Manuel Esnos, Graciela Hasper, Tulio de Sagastizábal, Sergio Bazan, Mariano Sapia, Julián Trigo… We bought our first sculptures, all by artists from Cordoba: works in wood by Tulio Romano, Jose Landoni, and later Juan Carlos Der Hairabedian, plus objects by Jorge Simes and boxes by Fernando Allievi and Rosa González. Sara Galiasso made us a fountain in Buenos Aires and later a site-specific installation on the coast in Chile. More recent acquisitions were work by Oscar Suárez, Andres Waissman, Marcelo Pombo, and Julián (Benedit) Prebisch.

Returning to chronological order, during the first presidency of Carlos Menem, I devised a number of plans and projects for Guido. We saw each other with less frequency but the volume of my letters increased. From time to time, we talked about art, but the focus was on more substantial matters. I sent him a project aimed at unifying the efforts of the Foreign Ministry so that each link in its chain of command would produce a clear image of Argentina abroad, one reflecting international standards.

In 1997 the Foreign Ministry named me curator of the official selection for the XXIV Biennial of Sao Paulo. That recognition by my adopted country was the one that I most appreciated. After a long process of introspection and evaluation, I narrowed my choice to two candidates: Jorge Macchi and Nicola Costantino. I felt that I had to get it right because the Curator of the Biennial was Paulo Herkenhoff and the President of the Foundation was Julio Landmann, both respected friends for many years.

The space where Biennial is held is desolate, cold and enormous. The project that Jorge presented was marvelous, but I felt that the work would be lost among the overwhelming presentations that would surround him. Nicola’s project of human skin trimmed with natural fur, titled “Peleteria con piel humana”, in addition to echoing the last trends of the Ditellian experience of the late 1960s, so involved with fashion, would be enormously attractive. The ‘showcase’ we built with her apparel received more inches of press and provoked more curiosity than any other national offering.

Many of my concerns were related to non-official topics: as Guido did not have the time or space to consider all these matters, I dealt with some of them with his sons, Luciano and Rafael, or directly with the University. We went to Guido and Nelly’s for dinner occasionally or met at the family offices where Esmeralda Street. There were also brief meetings in the brand-new headquarters of the Foreign Ministry. Somehow, a healthy synergy evolved among those involved and much was achieved in a range of activities.

1. The Visual Arts Prizes of the Torcuato Di Tella Foundation.

The Torcuato Di Tella Prizes, for example, were the only access that a living artist had to have a one-man show at the MNBA. After an initial intent to reestablish the celebrated prizes, the winner of which was Alfredo Hlito, the rhythm was interrupted. Guido named me a member of the jury together with Daniel Martínez and Samuel Paz. I set up a schedule that reinitiated the process.

The debate was intense in the second version of the Prize (1989): Antonio Seguí won after several votes. The exhibition at the Museum was a success, thanks to the incorporation of Julio Suaya as the event’s organizer. The support of his client, Telefónica de Argentina, was crucial in the outcome. President Menem inaugurated the exhibition and tens of thousands of viewers visited the show in Buenos Aires and then in Mar del Plata during the summer.

The third prize, with the same jury, went to Luis Fernando Benedit. The resulting exhibition was a success and both shows were accompanied by comprehensive catalogs. When the moment came for the fourth version of the Prize, complications arose. The MNBA had opened its exhibition spaces to shows by artists of all ages and styles: there was no identifiable standard of quality. The honor of exhibiting at the Museum had lost its spirit of distinction. Daniel Martínez had died. I suggested that Irma Arestizábal become the third official juror; she did not belong to any cultural clique. Jorge Glusberg, in his role as the director of the Museum, and Julio Suaya, without a vote, in representation of Telefónica de Argentina, were added.

The jury never met. In the interim, the Museum announced in its program for the following year that there would be an exhibition of Víctor Grippo, winner of the 4th Di Tella Prize, a prize that had never been awarded… Given the confusing circumstances, the meeting of the jurors was postponed to a yet undetermined date. For continuity and success, memory and discipline are essential and responsibility for decisions must be assigned. The second series of the Di Tella Prizes did, in any case, honor three of the best artists of the period: Alfredo Hlito, Antonio Seguí and Tatato Benedit received their deserved recognition. Víctor Grippo awaits his…

Toward the end of 1999, Guido and Luciano asked me to prepare a plan for the formation of a new Di Tella Institute in the abandoned warehouse complex of Molinos Río de la Plata in Puerto Madero. This initiative never prospered (see 11.) Simultaneously we discussed other possibilities for a future version of the Prizes and which spaces in Buenos Aires were worthy of housing them: the MNBA, MALBA, the Borges, or the future UTDT campus on Figueroa Alcorta, even in Puerto Madero. In 2002, Luciano had renewed his enthusiasm to reactivate the Prizes, especially the one dedicated to visual arts. We reviewed a variety of alternatives, but it proved impossible to find a sponsor to replace the cash-strapped Torcuato Di Tella Foundation.

2. The Borges Cultural Center

One project that produced satisfaction, but required months of hard work, was the invention of the Borges Cultural Center: it was an almost magical achievement. The Center emerged out of a Saturday afternoon cruise off Punta del Este where Guido, Mario Falak and Roger Haloua, three men with proven capacity to execute large-scale projects, spent an afternoon exchanging ideas. Falak was one of the principals in Galerias Pacifico, a large mall in downtown Buenos Aires. The mall had accepted the obligation of ceding some 10,000 square meters of its monumental block-square building to the Under-Secretariat of Culture for a Center for Visual Arts. The official entity had neither the money nor the personnel to embark on such an ambitious undertaking.

That afternoon, off the coast of Punta del Este, Haloua accepted the challenge of putting together a Cultural Center in nine months, with the financial support of Galerías Pacífico, and under the wing of a board of directors composed of three cabinet ministers and several big names from the Establishment. No one had any defined responsibilities. The date for the inauguration, nevertheless, was definitive. It coincided with the State visit of King Juan Carlos and his wife in October, 1995.

Haloua asked me to draw up a project for the Center and I immediately found myself working with Roger on the colossal job of creating the Borges. Guido was delighted to back cultural projects with a vision for the future, and we enjoyed his unconditional moral support during the chaotic nine month pregnancy of two and a half acres in ruin. There were successes, problems, failures, especially in the area of finding sponsors. Everything, nevertheless, came together and the King was duly impressed.

The only misadventure of the opening night: the charming Cristina Erhardt del Campo, representative of Christie’s, lured the King to a distant corner of the labyrinth-like Center to show him the legendary Crown of the Andes, a five million dollar gold and emerald masterpiece of Colonial art, which the New York auction house, thanks to the enthusiasm of Lisa Palmer, the Director for Latin American Art, had brought from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires for the day to honor the celebration of the birth of the Borges. The crown was a mythical cornerstone of the Colonial legend, a welcome visitor to the River Plate, and brought a record price at the November sale. The King was so excited that he missed the official visit of David Elliott’s “Arte de Argentina 1920-1994” exhibition.

The infatuation between Christie’s and the Borges almost became a full-blown romance. Together we planned to have the first Christie’s auction in Latin America. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the selection of the works for the benefit sale was placed in incompetent hands and we had to bow out of the project. The auction was never held.

3. Partnerships with the National Museum of Fine Arts

The MNBA decided to join in the development of the Borges Cultural Center and accepted the responsibility of providing artwork from its enormous inventory to hang in a specific area of the vast space. When the Torcuato Di Tella University (UTDT) acquired the warehouses of Aguas Sanitarias on Figueroa Alcorta across the broad avenue from the River Plate soccer stadium, we negotiated another agreement with the MNBA to display works from the Museum’s inventory in the University’s new campus. The Museum also had the right to curate shows of its own in the massive project designed by Clorindo Testa.

The agreement was in accord with the Museum’s mission to show its works to the widest audience possible, especially in venues where a different public could be reached. In the case of the Borges, the union was short-lived. The alliance with the UTDT has still not been activated: the thousand and one details involved in executing such a great change have delayed the ambitious project. We did manage, in any case, to broaden the possibilities at our National Museum. Jorge Glusberg, then director of the MNBA, offered us the Museum’s auditorium for the seminars on contemporary Argentine art that the UTDT had initiated in 1996. The two six-session seminars held at the Museum drew large crowds.

4. Relations with the Islas Malvinas

Like an almost incestuous spider web, the relationships between the UTDT, the MNBA, the Borges, major artists, education and diffusion of art spread into unexpected areas: for example, the disputed islands in the South Atlantic. My own obsession with the Islands dates back to early April 1982 when downtown Buenos Aires began to be covered with posters, graffiti, shop windows, billboards and other manifestations in support of the soldiers in the South Atlantic. I would go out everyday and photograph the moving chronicle of visual expression. My commitment to this quest, of course, exposed me to the dangers of the moment: one night coming home from Guido and Nelly’s home on Arribeños Street, I stopped to take pictures of signs in the window of an office of the Ministry of Foreign Relations at the corner of Reconquista and Ricardo Rojas Streets.

After I got back into my Fiat 600, I realized that an olive green Ford Falcon was following us. They stopped us right in front of the Bonino Gallery and I found myself with a revolver pressed against my temple. The two plain-clothed men pressed me against the wall for a quick body search and, thanks to God and my US citizenship, they took us to the nearest police station for an identity check. There, I explained to the officer on duty that I was only photographing images of the posters related to the situation in the Islands for my children and grandchildren so that one day they could understand the remarkable events of that moment.

A decade later, a US publication commissioned me to write about the Malvinas as an alternative tourist destination. I investigated the possibilities of a trip with the British Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Relations. That is how I became the first resident of Argentina to spend a week in the Islands since the 1982 conflict. One of my personal missions was to look for young artists with potential. There were two established artists who dedicated their talent to portraying nature: Tony Chater and Ian Strange. After asking a dozen Kelpers, I discovered James Peck. I had to walk the length of Stanley and then some to find his home. James was 25 in 1993 and had studied art in London. He was developing a personal style and his work was a painterly chronicle of his tenuous memories of the conflict. We spoke of organizing an exhibition in Buenos Aires, a dream we achieved a year later at the Sara García Uriburu Gallery. All the works were sold: Guido bought a series of drawings which hang at the UTDT.

When I returned from the trip, I met with Guido to show him my text. The trip had clarified a series of doubts for me as to what the Islands were all about. The mostly prickly topic was removing the mines that surrounded all the populated areas, as well as the Goose Green golf course. No one could guarantee 100 per cent demolition, so the dangers remain unresolved.

It seemed to me that a great majority of the residents would accept a good offer to sell their properties to the Argentine government, if the vote were secret. The only way, however, to convince them of the seriousness of the offer would be to deposit a significant sum in custody at the Stanley branch of the Standard Chartered Bank, the only existing financial entity on the Islands. The possibility of this solution was complicated by politically-driven media speculation, and circumstances never permitted the initiative to flourish.

The possibilities of the Islands becoming a tourist destination appeared to be more likely. Stanley could become a mini-Williamsburg, maintaining its quaintness. The vast military infrastructure at Mount Pleasant, with its large airfield, could easily be converted into a major attraction for visitors, with hotels, convention halls, entertainment centers, shops and restaurants. The Islands had great potential for theme parks a la Disney: whaling, pirates, maritime exploration, wars, fishing, plus adventure tourism related to the Islands’ fauna. The initiative would provide more jobs than there are Kelpers. But we have not yet reached that moment…

I took many rolls of photos and once back in Buenos Aires, Julio Sapollnik, on seeing the results, invited me to exhibit the series at the Salas Nacionales de Exhibiciones in the Spring of 1994. The exhibition, “Malvinas Close-Up”, which went to Municipal Theater complex in Mar del Plata for the summer, was applauded in national newspapers, magazines, radio and television. The avid visitors fill hundreds of pages with comments, pro and con, by veterans, Kelpers, politicians, students, tourists, etc.

5. The Torcuato Di Tella University (UTDT)

One of the tens of thousands of visitors to the exhibition of my photos of the Islands was Gerardo Della Paolera, the president of the UTDT. He invited me to take the show to the recently installed university, just beginning its third year of existence as an alternative to the State and Catholic institutions in Buenos Aires. The panels of photographs of everyday life and the portraits of people and wildlife gave a human dimension to a myth that no Argentine, except the troops and a few YPF workers, had actually seen. No one really had any knowledge of the topography –both human and natural- of this far off never-never land with such a British flavor.

Gerry enjoyed seeing the walls of the old Pfizer building covered with the colorful images, especially when the subject-matter was so controversial. He thought that it was a provocative way to induce his students into the dynamic world of art, as much a Ditellian tradition as education itself. At that precise moment, we were moving out of our large apartment on Talcahuano Street, with its 200 square meters of garden. Its spaciousness had enthused Guido and Nelly in one of the occasional moments that they sought an alternative to their house on Arribeños which, without the children, had become inhospitable for Nelly. But the time did not coincide with their needs.

Gerry came home and saw all the paintings that had still not found new walls. He suggested that we lend them to the UTDT for the benefit of the students. This initiative worked and 100+ paintings found a new home. We framed them uniformly with strips of wood painted by a young artist and they traveled to Mignones Street in several trips with a friend in his closed pick-up truck. It was a delight to place them one by one in the hallways, classrooms, public areas, the library and the offices of the president and other professors. At this phase of the initiative and then during its ongoing growth, the support of Hugo Vallejos, who oversaw the physical plant of the UTDT, was crucial. He answered our every need with intelligence and imagination. I am reminded that I owe him a photo of the Malvinas, the islands he piloted his jet over during the Conflict.

Guido had placed the UTDT in the right hands to accomplish the gigantic task of creating a university of international dimensions. Gerardo Della Paolera was a whirlwind of energy, a tireless generator of projects and an implacable executive when putting them in practice. Under his capable guidance and command, the UTDT flourished. I had the opportunity to accompany him in that process, with titles such as Curator of Collections and member of the Administrative Council and the Development and Scholarship Committees. As there is still little consciousness of the importance of scholarships for private universities in Argentina, the task of convincing corporations to donate 700 dollars a month for a scholarship for a talented youngster was monumental. I got lucky with the Deutsche Bank and with Robert Rocca of Techint, who wanted a quarterly progress report on the student that his contribution financed. The experience of watching the evolution of a project of the magnitude and substance of the UTDT is something I will never forget.

6. The Kuitca Scholarship Program

Guillermo Kuicta and his concerns about the formation of young artists became the subject of many initiatives: some were accomplished, others not. I met Guillermo toward the end of the 1980s in his studio at 2315 Cangallo. I was impressed by his vision, and we began to buy his paintings. In 1990, when he began to formulate his plan for a workshop for young artists with proven talent, it seemed to me to be an act of incredible generosity. The artist was just 29 and in the process of consolidating his own career. But I realized that he had sufficient determination and strength of character to manage both endeavors simultaneously.

When Guillermo invited me to be a juror, together with him and Thomas Cohn, the Uruguayan art dealer then residing in Rio de Janeiro, I accepted because I was certain that the project would surpass his expectations and be a lasting contribution. With the sponsorship of the Antorchas Foundation and under the vigilance of Jorge Helft, the first group of 16 artists was selected from over 300 candidates. The criteria that we employed were tough: we looked for quality, individuality, and an innate talent. Guillermo reserved the right of veto, following a personal interview with each of those selected.

Antorchas rented a modern two-story industrial building at 1505 Irala which was partitioned into individual spaces. The young artists began to work on a regular basis: Guillermo came on Fridays to lunch with the group and looked at each artist’s production that week. In the afternoon, one of the artists would present his work to the master and to his peers for comments from all. Daniel Besoytaurube traveled from Mar del Plata and Mauro Machado from Rosario to attend the sessions with Guillermo and then spent the weekend painting.

Collectors, curators, museum directors and relevant artists visiting Buenos Aires were taken to the workshop to show them the artists output as a means to accustom the participants to dealing with the international world of art. It worked because the workshop grouped a sampling of the best young art of Argentina in just one single locale. When the two year contract with Antorchas ended, the group found itself without sponsorship. Everyone wanted to continue the program for another year and Guillermo accepted the proposal that Adriana Rosenberg and I made, and the Taller de la Boca, as the project was then known, was given another year of life.

I started to look for friends with a predisposition for supporting worthy causes. In exchange for several paintings by members of the Workshop, the friend would contribute 5,000 dollars. I convinced Guido, who named his son Rafael as his liaison; Robert Rocca of Techint; Edgar Gunther, the donor of the Gunther Prizes for young artists in Argentina, Brazil and Chile; and Lorenzo Einaudi, today the president of the board that oversees the Borges.

We helped to internationalize the careers of these artists. I organized an exhibit at an alternative space in SoHo in New York. The show coincided with my participation as a lecturer in a seminar at Sotheby´s and I had the opportunity to take fifteen international collectors to see the show at DAD, an art transport company owned by Michael and Susana Leonard at 619 Broome Street. Several of the group bought works: also Red Grooms. Frank Stella and other members of the Manhattan Establishment visited the show.

I accompanied Guillermo to Washington where he was installing a show at the prestigious Corcoran Gallery and to close the negotiations for the exhibit of the Workshop at the Museum of the Americas at the OAS. The two events were successful and the Workshop show traveled to Detroit to the George N´Nambi Gallery. George had visited the Workshop the previous year and bought a series of paintings by Mauro Machado, to whom he later gave a one-man show.

Rafael selected several paintings from the artists and Guido responded whenever there was a logistical emergency. For all involved it was an enriching experience which exceeded expectations. The other sponsors chose their shares, while Roberto Rocca only requested progress reports. I continued as a juror in the next two Kuitca Scholarships. The second group found a new home in what is today the exhibition space of the Proa Foundation, sponsored by the Techint Group. The third selection moved to the top floor of the Borges, adjacent to Julio Bocca’s Ballet School, until Guillermo was named professor at the University of Buenos Aires with an official space all of his own. The circle had closed after a decade: a project that had been rejected at first by all of the official institutions at first had become the star art program of the national university.

During this transition, we tried to find a permanent venue for the Kuitca Scholarships, as Guillermo’s project was then referred to in the press. We tried to place the Workshop within the Ditellian universe. There were conversations with Guido, Gerry and Rafael, as to how to locate the scholarship program in the available space of the UTDT. The University, however, did not have the capacity to include new areas of action. In these comings and goings with Rafael, we did convince Guido that a Kuitca painting would enhance his living room. In 1994, he bought a fabulous work. When an exciting work of an artist enters one’s home, a daily, and hopefully permanent, dialogue begins.

7. Incursions in Colonia del Sacramento

We discovered Colonia thanks to Guillermo and Franca Roux and, on that initial voyage by hydrofoil, we bought the house that in time would pass to the Benedits. A year later, we purchased the buildings and gardens of the River Plate Estancia Company overlooking the multicolored waterway. The property’s titles dated back to 1750. Guido and Nelly had a long history in Uruguay and shared our love for Colonia. They visited us at special moments, like the wedding of our daughter, Tania, to Luis Garat, now in charge of fund raising at the Borges.

We began to diversify our activities in Colonia: with Roger Haloua, we started an art gallery with Susana Aramayo, the dealer active in Montevideo and Punta del Este. Also, with Roger, we opened a restaurant, La Pulpería de los Faroles, where we often hung artwork. At that point, we were looking for activities that, in addition to being creative, were lucrative. That did not turn out to be our strong-point. With Gerry, we tried to develop the project of using San Pedro as a retreat for professors and visiting dignitaries. We had a trial run with Robert Fogel, Nobel Prize winner in economy, and his wife, Ined Morgan, dean of the University of Chicago. We spent a wonderful day between San Pedro and our restaurant, La Pulpería de los Faroles, proving that the idea was a valid one.

I returned to seek other ideas that would enrich our lives in Colonia. Kuitca had been taking his workshop participants to our home in San Pedro as a kind of year-end excursion. It was a productive effort that I wanted to build on. I tried to unite Guido, Guillermo and Joe Tulchin, also the owner of a Kuitca and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, all already friends, in a project where each would build a home on our property on the banks of the River Plate and together create a center that would develop creative projects in art, economics, history, whatever. Once again, the timing did not correspond with existing realities.

8. A project for a home/museum

At that point in time, another project that we studied with Guido was converting the monumental house on Arribeños Street that Clorindo Testa designed for him and Nelly into a kind of a museum to house the pre-Columbian collection and his other diverse treasures. There was a sum of money available to launch the project, but there were a thousand details to be resolved. Guido offered me the role of director of a still-unwritten drama. The project never prospered: Guido was still not ready to leave the home where he and Nelly raised their children, even though its structure was uncomfortable for Nelly. Finally, the house was sold to the noisy school next door, and Guido and Nelly ended up on Ricardo Levene Street with a view of the MNBA.

9. The seven annual seminars: ‘Art & the Media’

The seven seminars, named “Art & Media” that I organized thanks to the enthusiasm of Gerry have served to link the Ditellian initiatives of the first epoch to what is to come in the future. The seminars recovered the voices of a number of protagonists of the sixties and opened the path to hear the voices of the young. They validated the role of collectors as a renewing force, taking into account the varied contributions of, for example, Eduardo Costantini and Jorge and Marion Helft. They provided the opportunity to make written history of verbal myths and register chronicles of anecdotes from before, the lifeblood of the kitchen of Argentine culture.

On announcing the first seminar, “How to Look at Today’s Art”, on August 23, 1995, Gerry announced: “Since the sixties, ‘Di Tella’ has become a generic term for audacity in art in the lexicon of ‘Porteños’. The UTDT wants to regain some of that special flavor which blossomed in the Institute Di Tella and brought life to Florida Street more than thirty years ago, when you perhaps were the same age as your college student children today. (…) The UTDT’s commitment to its students is not only that they acquire and deepen their knowledge in a specific area, but also to try to expose them to the concerns that mobilize the human being.”

It is worth remembering the network that this joint effort included: we were joined in the first session dedicated to the ‘artist’ by Benedit, Kuitca, Roux and Emilio Torti; to the art market, by Ruth Benzacar, Cecilia Caballero, Jorge Castillo, and Cristina Erhardt del Campo: to museums, by Mariano Bilik, Raul Santana and Julio Sapollnik; to education, by Alberto Bellucci, Elba Pérez, and Julio Sánchez; and to collecting, by Eduardo Costantini, Jorge Helft, Antonio Antonini and Guido Di Tella. There were also sessions dedicated to Film and Television, coordinated by Andrés Di Tella.

The second seminary in 1996, was called “Six Decades of Argentine Art” and included contributions by Victoria Verlichak, Pablo Siquier, Luis F. Benedit, Eduardo Costantini, Jorge Gumier Maier, Guido Di Tella, Guillermo Kuitca, Martin Blaszco, Enio Iommi, Martha Nanni, Clorindo Testa, Luis F. Noé, Franz Van Riel, Pablo Suárez, Victor Grippo, Ruth Benzacar, Laura Buccellato, Alfredo Prior, Alfredo Palacios, Marcelo Pacheco, Diana Schufer, Guillermo Whitelow, Horacio Safóns and Jorge Glusberg. The second and third seminars were held in the auditorium of the MNBA.

The third version (1997) was titled “Being an Artist Today” and included Marta Ares, Carlos Macchi, Jorge Glusberg, Enrique Banfi, Eduardo Miretti, Victoria Verlichak, Raul Santana, María Juana Heras Velasco, Marcelo Pombo, Graciela Hasper, Carlos Gorriarena, Patricia Landen, Nicolás García Uriburu, Juan Cambiaso, Guillermo Roux, Graciela Sacco, Javier D’Ornellas, Gregorio Díaz Lucero, Américo Castilla, Luis F. Benedit, Lucas Fragasso, Víctor Grippo and Guillermo Kuitca.

In 1998 the fourth seminar, titled “Icons of the Di Tella”, was held with sessions dedicated to Luis Felipe Noé, Marta Minujín, Edgardo Giménez, Clorindo Testa, and in memory of Jorge de la Vega. The participants were Irma Arestizábal, Gumier Maier, Jorge Helft, Marcelo Pombo, Ruth Benzacar, Guido Di Tella, Julio Llinás, Alejandro Vaca Bononato, Germán Gargano, Rosa Brill, Mariano Sapia, Nicola Costantino, Victoria Verlichak, Raúl Santana, Mercedes Casanegra, Mariano Sapia, Ana María Battistozzi and María José Herrera.

In 1999 we held the fifth seminar: “What is Art Today: Five artists in search of a definition”. Antonio Seguí, Luis F. Benedit, León Ferrari, Víctor Grippo and Pablo Suárez exchanged ideas with me over how to define an artist in today’s complex world.

In 2000 the sixth seminar was dedicated to “Singular Visions: Five artists who make no concessions” with Roberto Elía, Oscar Bony, Marcia Schvartz, Fermín Eguía and Roberto Fernández in dialogue with me.

In 2001 the UTDT presented the seventh, and what was to be the last, seminar: “The artist in a society in crisis” with Guillermo Kuitca, Arturo Carvajal, Luis Felipe Noé & Carlos Gorriarena, Sergio Bazán & Tulio de Sagastizábal, Américo Castilla & Oscar Smoje in dialogue with me.

The UTDT published transcriptions of the first three seminars with introductions by Guido: the small books have spread through the world. We have had requests from professors in Chile and Colombia to use them in their classes. In certain cases, such as Oscar Bony, Pablo Suárez and Víctor Grippo, the conversations are fresh and spontaneous and, at the same time, profound and revealing, the last testimony that remains…

We could not find financing for the eighth version of the seminar. It was to be called: “What Does Contemporary Art Have to Do with Me?” Aimed at the students, the topics were designed to provide the student with an introduction to the world of today’s expressions in the realm of the visual arts, with projected presentations by Guillermo Kuitca, Eduardo Costantini, Alicia de Arteaga, Julio Suaya and Nicolás García Uriburu, among others.

We tried a new approach with Juan Pablo Nicolini, Gerry’s successor. He felt it would be beneficial for the University to establish more active relationships with institutions in the US, and we designed an exhibit of some 50 paintings that could travel to a reduced circuit of US colleges. Once again, finances were our undoing: packing, shipping and insurance costs surpassed the available budget. One final effort came from Manuel Mora y Araujo, President of the UTDT’s Board: sending a selection of the paintings to provincial museums within Argentina. Another rocky period in state finances put an end to this project.

10. The mill complex at Puerto Madero

In one of the raptures of enthusiasm so typical of Guido, he purchased the old warehouses of the giant grain company, Molinos del Río de la Plata, part of the Bunge Born conglomerate. The site was a white elephant in search of a highly-skilled wild animal tamer. Thousands of cubic meters survived their decay in different degrees of disorder and destruction. With my son Tom, and Guido with his son Luciano, we weaved our way through the debris, careful not to fall through the decrepit floors. At the very top of the multi-storey structure, we found a cage-like space where Guido wanted to install a future office for himself. Each of us fantasized with certain spaces, but not even the most vivid imagination could cope with this labyrinth of potential.

Guido and Luciano asked me to prepare a draft for a project to recycle a renewed Di Tella Institute out of the rubble, one that in some way could house all the Ditellian activities between the new Figueroa Alcorta campus and the monolithic mill in Puerto Madero. I recommended forming a Development Commission whose members “would be distinguished for their capacity to produce results, for their lack of ‘vedettism’, their academic credentials, their international experience, their forward-looking vision, and their commitment to Argentine culture as a part of world culture”.

I prepared a ‘mission statement’ and emphasized the priority of assuring adequate financing, much of which was to come from renting part of the space to foundations or other similar institutions. It was an ambitious project and feasible in an Argentina of sustainable growth. Such circumstances turned out to be transitory once again, and the project proved impossible.

There was an excess of good ideas, but what lacked were tenants to fill the vast empty spaces. At the time of Guido’s death, no definition had been reached for the gigantic project.

11. A new campus for the UTDT

When Gerry was looking for the final millions of dollars for executing the master plan for the new site of the UTDT on Figueroa Alcorta, he asked me to prepare a study that would contemplate the creation of an Art Department at the new campus. We had often spoken about how to incorporate the time-honored Ditellian mystique within the new undertaking. We had signed an agreement with the MNBA to provide an exhibition space dedicated to programs that the Museum staff would generate. We projected a more adequate space for exhibiting this collection. There would be courses leading to degrees, seminars, lecture series, and a new attempt at integrating the Kuitca Scholarships. All kinds of initiatives seemed possible. As occurs in Argentina, during the years that it took to get all the official permits the City required, the economy deteriorated, a new crisis hit the country, and the project was placed on ‘stand-by’.

Even so we managed a first step, like a cat marking his territory. Clorindo Testa designed a structure on the new property for several of the UTDT’s programs. We selected a dozen paintings to hang there, works by Daniel García, Mauro Machado and Emilio Torti, three artists from Rosario with exhibition records in the US, and a work by Julián (Benedit) Prebisch, set in an area with Guido’s favorite memorabilia: a Di Tella car, a gas pump, and other icons that marked the product lines of SIAM. I wrote a tribute to Guido which hangs near the entrance. We had established a beachhead in the future site of the University!

12. An attempt at inter-American integration

In my state of frustration with the status-quo, I looked for ways to integrate the operators on the inter-American art circuit. At that moment, the only point of coincidence was the auctions of Latin American Art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s every May and November in New York. No other direct contact between Mexicans and Brazilians or Argentines and Colombians existed: they met in New York, or at a major event in Europe, or Miami.

I tried to design a mechanism that would permit periodic meetings in Latin territory. If Latin American art is to have any validity in a global context, it is up to the Latin Americans themselves to achieve this objective. Even today integration is still in diapers. Everyone sets his eyes on the North, and when a Latin American artist is accepted there, he becomes a valid option for a collector in the South.

My idea was that the leading players in the field would hold a meeting once a year in Miami after the May auctions in New York and a second meeting somewhere in Latin America itself toward the end of the year. In that way, this community of shared interests could begin to get to know each other in situ. The gatherings would include collectors, dealers, artists, critics and other concerned parties. I talked with Guido about the idea, but he did not see it as viable for his Ministry to support: he already had sufficient insolvable problems at the global level to divert his attention to specific ones in this hemisphere. Another project found itself relegated to the archives of unaccomplished dreams…

13. The 33rd Parallel South project

My travels around the globe began to put geopolitics in a clearer context. I lost my dependency on the idea that the globe is Eurocentric. After traveling in South Africa and New Zealand, I realized that the other nations of the Deep South had much to offer to the development of the Southern Cone countries. Everywhere at the end of the world, all eyes looked toward Europe and the US for guidance and inspiration. I on the other hand felt an initiative to stimulate any sort of exchange among the countries would be beneficial for all. I prepared a plan and presented it to Guido, who was finding himself in a purely north/south dialogue. He told me that my idea was ‘far-fetched’.

I followed the crusade on my own. The six cities that ring the 33rd Parallel South are Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Santiago, Sydney, Auckland and Capetown. I found moral support from official circles in Santiago and Montevideo. The director of the National Gallery in Capetown and museum directors in Sydney were enthusiastic about contributing logistic assistance. My contact in Auckland, Wystan Curnow, in reaction to Guido’s comment, said, “Of course, the idea is far-fetched. All original ideas seem far-fetched!” But Guido was never convinced, and I could not find any financial aid to launch the project, which contemplated not only cultural exchanges, but the gathering of minds versed in the regions’ economies and political affairs.

Once in Chile, I received support from the DIRAC, the cultural arm of the Foreign Ministry, where I was serving as juror in their programs for spreading Chilean culture abroad. Luisa Ulibarri, then director, presented my project at a regional meeting in Buenos Aires, where it was duly filed for future consideration. I had a moment of hope when Teresa Anchorena, the director of the Recoleta Cultural Center, decided to present the project to Amalia Fortabát. But I was then asked to redesign the project to include Europe, if I was to expect support. I could not do that. I think that this failure was my biggest frustration among the 1,001 ideas with which I tried to tempt Guido.

14. An exhibition for Guido: first try

In 2002, I proposed a project to the Di Tella family, one which combined three initiatives I wanted to accomplish. A new version of the Di Tella Prize; a show of work by all the artists who participated in the Di Tella Prizes and Experiences from 1962 to 1968, some 40 artists; and an exhibition I called “Guido’s Playthings”, which, as I wrote in the proposal, are “the exotic and eccentric objects that he gathered, a marvelous mélange of the classical and the everyday that so remarkably reflected his personality”.

The idea to initiate a new series of the Di Tella Prizes consisted in each artist from the earlier versions selecting a young artist for this rejuvenated version of the Prize. The jury would include an international personality, like in the early versions: I suggested Thomas Messer, president emeritus of the Guggenheim Museum. The jury would award four identical prizes, part in cash plus an exhibition with a catalog at the Borges in 2004.

All went well until we once again reached the financial barrier. A resolution for the future of the Prizes will have to await a new generation of players. If continuity cannot be consistent, at least, the desire to remember blossoms every so often, and that desire will provide the foundation needed to reactive the erratic memory of everything Argentine.

The end

Our collection of paintings grew and grew and wall space at the UTDT began to diminish. The bulletin boards dedicated to university activities multiplied and the works began to lose their visual integrity. Little by little paintings were removed to more occult corners, and a cycle draws to a close. At this moment, the aspiration of Gerry and mine for an Art Department has become a reality, thanks to the persistence of the actual president of the UTDT, Juan Pablo Nicolini. Art activities are now in the hands of a newly-formed in-house team under the direction of Ines Katzenstein, a young veteran of MoMA and MALBA.

For us, the experience has been miraculous, to be able to have our artwork in a place where it has been able, in part, to comply with its mission: to awaken the eyes of the thousands of students who have passed before these hundred paintings during the four years of their university formation.

Edward Shaw
Tunquén – October 2008

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