Art Slant: A Walk Back to 70’s New York, a la Argentina


A Walk Back to 70’s New York, a la Argentina

by Whitney Weiss on 08/12/09

You’ve already read about Buenos Aires, but you’ve likely never been here.

Whatever article you read probably had an author marveling at how the weekend starts on Tuesday, praising the quality of the beef, and anointing the city the next this or that. This city is perpetually becoming the next Prague. But what Buenos Aires actually deserves comparison to is that idealized version of downtown New York 25 or 30 years ago, where unlikely permutations of unemployed artists collaborated without jealousy, waiting for some special patron to recognize their talent and catapult them to success through ample praise and good-old fashioned exploitation.

It’s not just the music that reigns supreme and the hours people keep that make it feel like the States in the 1970s down here. There is a definite reason why the nightlife in Buenos Aires is so famous worldwide. But, what no one really mentions is how much of it is directly related to the arts community.

Yes, any party with the right sort of crowd in the States can turn into an opportunity to earn yourself a show, but here, just one–anyone–can serve as your entry into the art world. Is there an eviction party for a publishing company over on Cordoba? That DJ who just threw on Grace Jones isn’t just a wild-haired party girl–she’s Daniela Luna, the head of one of the most avant-garde galleries in town, Appetite, which has a reputation for its entire aesthetic being based on the idea that any occasion involving art can consist of a rowdy party without being considered gimmicky. 

Likewise, at Milion, an upscale bar in the middle of the Microcentro, the polo-groupie crowd sips martinis while the owner, Osvaldo Gonzalez, broadcasts his weekly pirate radio show live on RadioBerlin–and prominently displays a piece done by one of the country’s most famous photographers over the terrace bar. No matter which party or bar you go every night of the week that’s not Sunday or Monday, you’re guaranteed to run into someone who is a pivotal player in the city’s art scene.

But it’s not because the creative community is exclusively made up of a cast of characters with more money than brains. Argentina is, after all, a country purposely choked of technology that’s perpetually weathering an economic collapse. The difficulties currently impacting the States and Europe don’t have the same resonance here. People–all kinds of people–are pretty used to being broke.

And whether it’s in a gallery, an abandoned building, or the basement of a dive bar, your average Buenos Aires party looks something like John Waters’ dreamland, where a motley crew of drag queens, photographers, and fierce weirdos on their way up and their way out dance, take drugs, and schmooze. Yes, I know that raucous parties in and of themselves aren’t anything new, but they’re doing it differently here–it’s not a room full of independently wealthy faux-ruffians.

In Buenos Aires, the world-famous nightlife of parties stretching on at a rate that makes Barcelona look sluggish is made upentirely of the arts community. The arts community is almost exclusively young, and these young people are actually broke. It’s the kind of atmosphere where you can’t tell who is joking and who is not when they tell you their given profession is porn star. But more than that, it’s a city where almost everyone in town who says they are a combination artist/fashion designer/writer/thrower of fabulous parties actually is–and does a fairly good job in all categories.

There’s one thing that consistently gets left out while everyone’s praising Buenos Aires: art made by people who actually live here, not expats whose main purpose of relocation was to start record labels or restaurants.

And the combination artists/fashion designers/writers/throwers of fabulous parties are long overdue for their own praise. But in praising them and their glorious scene, it’s best not to call their city the next anything–to do so would be a huge disservice to the unique feeling that, no matter where you go in Buenos Aires, somehow you’re managing to show up just in time for whatever’s happening.

Whitney Weiss, a writer in Buenos Aires

(Images: personal photo of Whitney Weiss; Photos by Stefania FumoTowa Ginger and Mariel; Nightclubbing in Cocoliche; Charly Darling, 2009)