Beyond Botero: Inside Bogotá’s Robust Art Scene

Courtesy Instituto de Visión

The city is making a new name for itself with the help of a vibrant, and growing, set of excellent contemporary art galleries. 

Every autumn, the annual art fair ArtBo in Bogotá, Colombia, draws thousands of collectors and curators from all over the Americas and Europe—it’s the region’s Art Basel. Founded in 2005, the flourishing fair’s 2016 edition, which took place October 27 – 31, boasted almost 75 galleries (about a quarter from Colombia) from nearly 30 cities and several satellite fairs. It's the anchor of what has become Bogotá’s “Art Month,” with special exhibits, programs, open studios, parties, and events in and around Bogotá. But while October is a great month to visit Bogotá, galleries tout robust programs year-round.

“Bogotá has become a point of exchange of traditions, ideas, practices, and cultures, and this is reflected in the fair and the art scene,” says Maria Paz, the art historian (and daughter of a former Colombian president) who runs ArtBo. “But mostly, is reflected on the change of international perception about the city and the country.”

Colombia’s reputation was already changing (despite any damage done by the Netflix hit crime drama Narcos about Medellín in the 1980s) when President Juan Manuel Santos won the 2016 Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to end Colombia’s civil war.

“This shift of global interest to discover the country and its artists added to the increasing number of galleries, collectors, and institutions,” Paz says.

The count in 2016 is up to 80 for galleries with nearly as many museums in Bogotá alone. All that, plus a surplus of accomplished artists from the region’s many art schools, is helping Bogotà position itself as an emerging art capital. The museums are well publicized and easy to find, but here are the gallery highlights:
 

Courtesy Getty Images

San Felipe, a Northern central district of Bogotá, is a riot of galleries and popups. But it was a quiet quarter of modest residences and auto repair shops until about six years ago when architect Alejandro Castaño turned a multistory office building on Calle 75a into a by-appointment-only private museum. His stellar collection of more than 3,500 contemporary and modern artworks, largely Latin American and many on paper, are hanged studio-style floor to ceiling, with five private rooms for viewing of video works. This collection is closed to the public, but a query to a concierge or with of the neighboring galleries may yield a private tour.

With the idea of creating a multifaceted art district, Castaño invited others to join him, and many did. One is Liz Caballero, who returned to Bogotá after stints in London, Paris, and Athens to open Sketch next door to Castanõ’s museum. Her three-story commercial gallery sells works on paper (Calle 75a #20C-12). In the other direction on the same block is Beta Gallery (Calle 75a #20C-52), which offers quality work by Colombian artists.

Five minutes away by foot, the nonprofit art space FLORA Ars + Natura emphasizes the connection between art and the natural world and exhibits both up-and-comers as well as international Colombian art stars like Bogotá-born Doris Salcedo, who had major solo shows at Chicago’s MCA and New York’s Guggenheim last year. The gallery comprises several floors of exhibition space, a roof garden, a new café, and an art library, part of a new, architecturally significant expansion. Founded by José Roca, a former curator of Latin American Art at Tate Modern who is an unofficial dean of the Bogotá art scene, FLORA offers extensive programming and events throughout the year and serves as a community hub for artists and gallerists alike (Carrera 20C #72-23).

Courtesy Instituto de Visión

You’ll likely hit several other galleries walking towards Instituto de Visión, one of this neighborhood’s larger gallery spaces, founded by a sisterhood of avant-garde women curators who aim to create conversations between international artists and Colombian artists. Formerly known as La Centrale, this gallery, like FLORA, is known for ambitious, intellectually rigorous exhibitions. (Carrera 23 #76-74).

Hop in a car to La Macarena in the modern and middle-class downtown area once nicknamed “Barrio Bohemio.” Situated between Carrera 3 and 5, and between Calles 26 and 30, many of the art galleries have been within blocks of one another for years. (Restaurants abound, unlike in San Felipe – this is a good place to take a break between galleries.) Across from the now-iconic curved brick buildings of the Torres del Parque (whose completion signaled the area’s shift towards sophistication in the 1960), you’ll find Alonso Garcés, representing mostly established Colombian artists (Carrera 5 #26B-92). Next door is NC-Arte, an independent project space that invites Colombian and international artists of renown (like and Do Ho Suh) to create site-specific installations (Carrera 5 #26b-76).

In nearby Chapinero, Casas Riegner reigns as an establishment favorite participating in international fairs like Art Basel and Frieze and showcasing contemporary Colombian masters like Antonio Caro, José Antonio Suárez Londoño, Matéo Lopez, and Johanna Calle in a grand setting. During ArtBo, collector Hugo Pérez of the Pérez Art Museum Miami was seen holding court in the front garden (Calle 70a #7-41).

NC Arte, Bogota, Colombia contemporary art galleries
Courtesy NC Arte

Slightly farther north are Valenzuela Klenner (Carrera 5 #26b-26) also emphasizing emerging artists, largely from Colombia, with a special interest in socio-political work, and Beatriz Esguerra (Carrera 16 #86a-31), a gallery founded in 2000 by a Middlebury graduate in art history after stints at three of the biggest museums in Bogotá.

In the Candelaria neighborhood, make time for the elegant shop of Escuela de Artes y Oficios Santo Domingo, a non-profit school founded 20 years ago by the Santo Domingos (Colombia's wealthiest family, also known for their philanthropy in New York and London) to revitalize Colombia’s flagging tradition of fine craftsmanship and boost career opportunities for artisans in weaving, leather, woodworking, silver, and other practical arts. Following a successful pop-up shop at Sotheby’s New York last year, blankets, table linens, personal leather goods, jewelry, and other design objects made by students, teachers, and alumni are for sale at the entrance of the sprawling school. A peek inside the school (you can ask for a tour) reveals artisans of all ages at work in a series of interconnected workshops and lushly landscaped inner courtyards (Calle 10 #8-73).

Finally, a fifteen minute walk along some of Bogotá’s biggest boulevards in Barrio Quinta Camacho is the 40-year-old multistory gallery Deimos, where several Escuela alumni have design objects including furniture for sale alongside paintings and sculpture by mostly Colombian artists—all organized into charming vignettes in a series of small rooms overlooking a back courtyard (Carerra 12 #70-49).

Note: New art spaces pop up routinely, so wherever you go first, chat up the gallerist for guidance on what’s new and what’s on view where. To get between destinations with longer distances in Bogotá, arrange a private driver through Uber or your concierge for safety and ease.

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