Patricia Vergez “swimming” in Martin Creed’s balloon vitrine.
After my recent trip to Palm Beach and Miami, I’m writing this from further south, travelling with Sotheby’s International Advisory Board to Argentina and Brazil. I was especially excited about this trip because back in 2001, when I was the Chief Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, I got a crash course in the amazing diversity of Brazilian art through a huge exhibition we mounted called Brazil: Body & Soul. The show took up the entire Frank Lloyd Wright atrium, with about half the show devoted to Baroque art (including a gigantic altar from the town of Olinda, in the Northeast part of the country) and the other half to Modern art: think neo-Concrete artists from the 1950s like Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica through contemporary practitioners with international reputations, including Vik Muniz and Adriana Varejão, whom we had the great fortune to visit on this trip.
We are starting out in Buenos Aires, and already I see that this trip is about great food as much as it is about great art, and I am eager to share both with you through several blog posts. First, a few food notes. The hospitality here is just remarkable, starting with the incredible array of imaginative and delicious hors-d’oeuvres, or “small bites,” that we have been served at every occasion. The hors-d’oeuvres reflect a melting pot of cuisines, from Italian to Asian, with a lot of Latin in between. The most delicious are made with flaky pastry and cheese, often topped with quince or guava pastes. In just two days, we’ve feasted on coconut-crusted shrimp, empanadas, quesadillas, shortbread biscuits with goat cheese, all sorts of puffs and crisps topped with chicken salads, jamón, pâté, caviar and smoked salmon. I loved an Indian-spiced lamb meatball today, with a minty yogurt dipping sauce. Teatime brings more treats – special little tea-sandwiches on a thin white bread called “sandwich de miga,” a cross between an English tea sandwich and an Italian tramezzino, with ham and cheese being especially popular. Because of the strong Italian ancestry of many Argentines, the pasta is great, and a simple spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil at lunch in the courtyard of the Hyatt Park Hotel was one of the best renditions I ever tasted. And then there are boundless sweets. Coffee is never served without a special biscuit, and every dessert course is followed by a cookie platter. The wines are delicious here – Malbec is Argentina’s very full-bodied signature red wine, and it pairs super well with the spicy fare and rich meats. I particularly liked a Trapiche from the Mendoza region at the foot of the Andes, served by one of our members, Serge de Ganay.
Hors-d’oeuvres come in an amazing variety. Impossible not to fill up!
As divine as the food was at all the homes we visited, the backdrop of great collections made it all the more exciting. You realize how much the connoisseur’s eye for art extends to the architecture, decorative objects, flowers, and of course, the food. At dinner the first evening in a collector’s home, I was delighted to discover contemporary Argentine artists I didn’t know from either the international circuit, or from my last visit to Buenos Aires in 1985, when I was curating a show for the Guggenheim on emerging Latin American art. One of the artists I met on that trip, Guillermo Kuitca, is one of the country’s most important artists today, and I was thrilled to take the group to visit his studio and see the paintings he is working on for a show at Hauser & Wirth in London. The works reinterpret analytic cubism, but on a large scale, with a network of colored lines overlaid on the monochromatic backgrounds. We also visited Leandro Ehrlich, whose newest work literally captures a cloud between panes of glass. A new discovery for me at a private collection we visited was Gyula Kosice, a Kinetic sculpture who was born in Hungary in 1924, and uses light, neon gas and water in his poetic wall reliefs.
A discovery - sculpture by Gyula Kulice in a private collection.
Argentina’s modern and contemporary museums are interesting because they are devoted to the collections of their founders. We had lunch and a great visit to MALBA, the collection of Eduardo and Clarice Costantini, and also had the privilege of visiting their home, filled with great contemporary Latin American art and superb furniture by the Campagna Brothers (everyone, including me, took turns sitting in the stuffed animal chair and being photographed).
With Clarice Costantini and Adela Casals.
The Rafael Viñoly-designed Fortabat Museum
At the Rafael Viñoly-designed museum devoted to Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat’s magnificent collection, we saw the famed Turner painting, “Juliette and her Nurse,” which was sold at Sotheby’s in 1982. The visit was all the more poignant since Mrs. Fortabat recently passed away, but her legacy will live on in this fantastic institution.
The Vergez Collection.
And the extraordinary private collection of Juan Augusto and Patricia Vergez married the very best Latin American and international contemporary art an old ink factory. The installation included work by some of my favorite artists, including Olafur Eliasson and Jorge Pardo, and a balloon-filled vitrine by Martin Creed that you literally dive into. The sounds of the balloons moving around mimic the sound, color and feeling of rolling waves of the ocean.
A picture of me taken from one end of Olafur Eliasson’s giant kaleidoscope.