C-32 Sucursal, La Ene in MALBA
Article by Anna Lowe.
From one end of the spectrum to the other! Visit MAMBA’s basement this month and you will find an undoubtedly beautiful exhibition by Deutsche Bank, with over 53,000 pieces – the bank has one of the largest corporate art collections. In contrast, over at the MALBA their basement exhibition space has been overtaken by a small, intimate show ‘C-32 Sucursal’. It’s organised by La Ene (Energy New Museum of Contemporary Art) an independent collective who represent the polar opposite of Deutsche Bank’s art programme. Founded in 2010 La Ene (its name a nod to the ‘New Museum’ in New York) has the stated aim to provide ‘constructive criticism to the Buenos Aires art system’: to critique the institutional politics and economics at the core of contemporary art museums and provide an alternative, ‘new’ museum guided by principals of openness and questioning.
In order to explain more fully what La Ene attempt in this exhibition and why, beyond aesthetics, it is such a stark contrast with MAMBA’s, I will give you a little bit of ‘art historical’ context – bear with me! In 1974 the German, conceptual artist Hans Haacke was famously rejected from Cologne’s prestigious Wallraf-Richartz-Museum because of his work Manet-PROJEKT ’74. This installation detailed the history and owners of Manet’s Bunch of Asparagus (1880) and revealed the Nazi-era career of its donator to the museum, Deutsche Bank chairman Hermann Josef Abs. Again in 1987, at a Kassel exhibition, Haacke questioned the bank’s extensive dealings in apartheid South Africa by displaying a photograph of the funeral coffins of police victims inside a logo of Deutsche Bank. The point is, across his career (and with dogged intensity) Haacke dug up inconvenient information surrounding art institutions and collectors and unraveled the pacts binding money to art.
So here we are back in Buenos Aires 2014, and both sides of the art/money/power debate are still represented – the Deutsche Bank’s stunning Mondrians and Dalis are no doubt gaining in value due to MAMBA’s legitimizing display, and on the flip side ‘institutional critique’ is quite literally given a platform at MALBA. Walking into La Ene’s exhibition you are confronted with a huge wooden deck constructed by Puerto Rican artist Radamaes Juni Figueroa. It serves to break down the often fetishized, silent space of the white cube gallery and, complete with seats and plants, provides a space to meet and discuss. Similarly Figueroa’s work ‘Never-Ending Tropical Fountain’ is essentially a punch bowl where viewers are encouraged to participate and interact – to drink punch.
Key to La Ene’s mission is the decision not to collect physical artworks. Instead of ‘owning’ works as investments La Ene’s collection is stored on hard drive and are produced for each new exhibition. A work by Franco Ferrari presents viewers with a reproduction of baroque painter Sacchi’s ‘Marcantonio Pasqualini coronato da Apollo’ (1641). Reformulating the idea of ‘high art’, he plays with ideas of Internet theft and the possibility of building your own museum at home. Similarly, artist Sinclair asked school children to build a museum out of classroom objects. La Ene, even in the act of naming themselves a ‘museum’, question and parody what it means to be an art institution and to store art.
If these are not lovable works – and they are not – that is because La Ene searches for an entirely different artistic tone. Though not visually arresting, their brand of light-hearted critique does make the exhibition seductively enjoyable. Another humorous work is Zaq Landsberg’s passports and citizenship papers which were made after he purchased nineteen acres of desert land in Utah in 2005 and declared it the Republic of Zaqistan, a sovereign nation. As well as building monuments in his desert, in 2012 Zaqistan’s first embassy was established when he occupied La Ene for six weeks, hosting events as well a making passports.
As the example of Hans Haacke and Deutsche Bank demonstrates, critiquing the power structures behind art is nothing new. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important for young artists to continue to engage in this ongoing conversation. In a city like Buenos Aires, where there are very few non-commercial spaces for artists to show their work, La Ene’s alternative space is an exuberant companion. I applaud MALBA for responding to this probing and provocative artistic community and bringing their art to a broader public.
- Location: MALBA, Av Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 3415
- Open Until: 10th October 2014
- Hours: 12- 20 (Closed Tuesdays)
- General Admission: $50 AR ($25 on Wednesdays)
- La Ene