Over 16,000 People Attend Opening Weekend of 1st International Contemporary Art Biennial in Cartagena

Over 16,000 People Attend Opening Weekend of 1st International Contemporary Art Biennial in Cartagena

Maria Nepomuceno

The 1st International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Cartagena de Indias opened last week to astounding success. With more than 16,000 people in attendance for the inaugural weekend, the crowds poured through the 15 venues of the Biennial, discovering not only the works of 120 artists from 45 countries, but also the city of Cartagena itself. Within certain circles the biennial is becoming known as the "Art biennial"- re-instilling faith in the state of contemporary art and demonstrating a true commitment to artists and works that are art historically, socially and politically relevant. Visitors from all over the world have been mesmerized by the tight curatorial proposal, selection of artists and works, the placement of key artworks throughout the city of Cartagena and the discovery of new trends in Colombian contemporary art.

Known for years as the one-time home of author Gabriel García Marquez and the land that bore Magical Realism, a port city of Indigenous, African, and Spanish colonial roots, the UNESCO World Heritage site that famously survived the repeated attacks by pirate Sir Francis Drake, Cartagena de Indias rededicated itself as a place for the promotion and dissemination of contemporary culture with the opening on February 7th of the the First International Biennial of Contemporary Art.

Artists Julie Mehretu, Oscar Murillo, Lothar Baumgarten, KimSooja, Oswaldo Maciá, Jessica Rankin, Elena del Rivero, Shirazeh Houshiary, Radcliffe Bailey, Perry Bard, Ã'lvaro Restrepo, Khalil Rabah, Ligorano/Reese, Anna Boghiguian, Friedemann von Stockhausen, Eduardo Abaroa, Janet Biggs, Emeka Ogboh, Leo Villareal and others descended on the city turning it into a new hub for contemporary art, sparking multilingual and multidisciplinary conversations and collaboration throughout the museums and spilling out into the streets. This was not another biennial-but rather one of the most important cultural events this city and perhaps country has

experienced in recent years. Director Natalia Bonilla said "The outpouring of support from every sector of Colombian society has surpassed our greatest expectations and we could not possibly be more thrilled with the work that Artistic Director, Berta Sichel has done to bring together some of the most diverse artists to participate in this first edition of the biennial."

Over 16,000 People Attend Opening Weekend of 1st International Contemporary Art Biennial in Cartagena

Lothar Baumgarten and Friedeman von Stockhausen; Perry Bard


At the opening night party on February 7th at the Palacio de la Inquisición, a historical museum that includes documents and tools from the Inquisition in Cartagena, invited guests were able to get a sneak peek at a variety of biennial commissions including those by Elena del Rivero, Terry Berkowitz, and Emeka Ogboh, all of which engage with history, exploring the presence of the colonial past within the framework of a contemporary biennial. During the party, guests interacted with dancers as part of the New York based artist Perry Bard's debut of her collaboration with Cartagena born and based choreographer Ã'lvaro Restrepo and his company El Colegio del Cuerpo.

At the Benefit Gala for The Museum of Modern Art of Cartagena on February 8th, the biggest names in the international contemporary art world mingled among the exhibition Imperfect Idler or When Things Disappear which showcases the work of thirty Colombian artists who were selected to take part in this biennial. All proceeds from the gala went towards the Museum of Modern Art of Cartagena, one of the biennial's main exhibition venues, and the establishment of new scholarships for art students in Cartagena.

Maria Clemencia de Santos, the First Lady of Colombia, Cecilia Morel de Piñera, the First Lady of Chile and another first lady of sorts, Martha Stewart rubbed shoulders with Deborah Harris of The Armory Show, Nelly Peñaranda founder of Artería, Jaime Abello director of the foundation Nuevo Periodismo, Kathleen Cullen of ArtInfo, Liz Christensen Curator for Deustche Bank and various representatives from internationally renowned galleries, among them Lehmann Maupin Gallery, Cristina Grajales, Luhring Augustine Gallery, Marianne Goodman Gallery, Lisson Gallery, James Cohan Gallery, Casas Reigner and others.

The gala succeeded in raising much needed funds-demonstrating for the first time an enormous outpouring of support for Contemporary Art and in particular for the education of art students in Cartagena. One board member underscored the biennial's commitment to education and to being a force for change across the country, "We have assured that the exhibitions and all conferences, artists talks, and workshops are free and open to the public as our ultimate goal is to be a pedagogical tool for the people, and particularly the youth, of Cartagena and the region."

This challenge was met all throughout the weekend as talks with Berta Sichel, performance curator Barbara Krulik, Natalia Bonilla, curators Miguel Gonzalez, Gabriela Rangel and Stephanie Rosenthal, historian María Teresa Ripoli, Nelly Peñaranda, Steven Henry Madoff and artists Emeka Ogboh, William Engelen, Richard Garet, Miguel Ã'ngel Rojas, Clemencia Echeverri, Felipe Arturo, Raúl Valverde, Carlos Schwartz, Wilger Sotelo, Oswaldo Maciá, and Leo Villareal were attended by diverse audiences from every sector of the city.

The weekend also included performances by Dutch artists Gijs van Bon whose piece is installed in front of the Univeristy of Cartagena and required the collaboration of hundred of students across the city who donated their words and texts they had written to the project. The Jamaican and British artist Satch Hoyt closed the weekend with his performance and impromptu collaboration with local sound collective Colectivo Octavo Plástico to an audience of hundreds in one of the most major plazas of the city. One woman from the neighborhood said, "I've never heard music that could sound like that-in Colombia it's usually cumbia, salsa, champeta, vallenato... I had never heard something so different."

On Wednesday following the opening weekend the commitment to education was again realized as 10 buses rolled into Cartagena from the surrounding municipalities brining children from schools where there are no art programs, many of whom have only seen international artworks online. The education program includes free daily tours, workshops with international artists and regular school visits from 40 schools around Cartagena every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Over 16,000 People Attend Opening Weekend of 1st International Contemporary Art Biennial in Cartagena

Bill Culbert; Carlos Schwartz


In addition to the four main exhibition venues, much of the art spills out into the streets, plaza and occupies alternative spaces across the city to insure that everyone in the city feels welcome to engage with art on multiple levels.

Yoko Ono's Wish Tree was installed in one of the busiest plazas of the city and in less than a week was covered in tags left by both biennial visitors and pedestrians passing by. While some wish for peace, one child told spectators that he wished for a bicycle.

Leo Villareal has installed Cylinder II which at almost 12 feet high fills an unassuming colonial house with light and beckons pedestrians passing by.

Nezaket Ekici reperformed her work Fountain on Saturday February 15 for an audience of hundreds who crowded into the patio of the Cooperación Española to see this renowned Turkish artist reinvent her work for this new context.

Carlos Schwartz has installed his Laberinto de Luz in the Playa del Triunfo creating a contemporary monumento to light along the old walls of the historic district.

Anna Boghiguian took over an entire chapel in one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city, and along with children from the surrounding streets, created a fantastic, whimsical and sometimes grotesque installation of birds and beehives that toes the line between spiritual paradise and earthly grime.

Oscar Murillo, took over a crumbling house with no roof in the historic district and filled it with paintings, drawings, found objects and video all of which reference his native La Paila, Colombia and while engaging with traditional Colombian materials, food, and song, allow for the public to explore the space intimately and organically.

Over 16,000 People Attend Opening Weekend of 1st International Contemporary Art Biennial in Cartagena

Elais Heim


In an effort to reevaluate the national trends and movments in contemporary art, a special section of the biennial has been dedicated to exploring the state of Colombian art today. Following an open call that generated over 450 submissions from all over the country, curators Miguel Gonzalez, Gabriela Rangel and Stephanie Rosenthal, worked together to organize the Colombian exhibition, Imperfect Idler or When Things Disappear. Following a rigorous search process that involved numerous artist studio visits, meetings with curators all across the country, the addition of nine artists selected from the open call, this survey of Colombian art today is now on view at the Museum of Modern Art of Cartagena and in a variety of alternative and public spaces throughout the city.

Participating artists include: Felipe Arturo, Jaime Ã'vila, Wilson Díaz, Julián Dupont, Juan Manuel Echavarría, Clemencia Echeverri, Adrián Gaitán, Elías Heim, Leonardo Herrera, Veronica Lehrner, Ana María Millán, Diego Mendoza, José Olano, Juan Sebastián Peláez, Miguel Ã'ngel Rojas, Luis Roldán, María Isabel Rueda, Wilger Sotelo, Paola Tafur, Pablo Gómez Uribe.


Throughout the biennial until the closing on April 7, the city will be abuzz with performances, workshops, and an ongoing film festival. Performances by Svetlin Velchev, Compañía Periferia, Beth Moyses, and Aardlek will take place throughout the city. Films by François Bucher, Slavoj Zizek, Salomé Lamas, Hito Steyeri, James Benning and many more will be screened at the Alianza Colombo Francesa and the Centro Colombo Americano. Check www.biaci.org for updates to our schedule of events and for news about participating artists or write to info@biaci.org for more information.