by Marianna Garin
Photo by Kate Redburn
Translation by Ricky Morales and Kevin Vaughn
On Avenida Santa Fe, a formerly primitive shopping center has been converted into an open space for artistic production, hosting graphic and fashion designers, artists’ studios, textile workshops, art galleries, bookstores and a small clothing shop called greenss. The Galería Mite was opened in this creative space in July 2008, and currently serves as the workspace of graphic designer Nicolás Barraza. He opened the space with his partner Marina Alessio; the idea was to create a space for art close to the street, and so they founded this playful space “where everything could happen”. The need was there, they had friends that wanted to exhibit, and the higher institutions weren´t providing a space similar to what they were interested in creating. The energy of the duo fuels a busy schedule of shows that change on an almost monthly basis. They finance the exhibitions with their own work. Next door at Alessio´s bookstore Purr, she sells catalogues, art-design and photography books, small editions of independent publications and fanzines, leaving enough space on the wall for another exhibition.
One afternoon WUBA contributor and freelance curator Marianna Garin sat down with Barraza and Alessio to get the scoop on this innovative art space.
Marianna Garin: At the institutional level Buenos Aires has a lot of problems. Not only does there not exist a contemporary art museum in the city, but the majority of the institutions are private with really mainstream programs and very conventional regarding the production of art. This makes creating an intermediate space essential, beyond the established institutions and commercial spaces where art is a commodity – a dynamic space that creates new discussions or methods of discussing and viewing art. This leads to my first question – what was the concept and necessity behind opening Mite ? Buenos Aires has various galleries run by artists
Nicolás Barraza: I wanted to do something social. I wanted to have a semi-public space on the street that would call people’s attention as they pass, so they would see that something was going on here. I didn’t know why exactly – a studio, but something open. So I took on the idea of a gallery little by little from that need for a studio, and then came the gallery. When we said we’d put together a gallery, it was because we’d already had a couple exhibits in another studio. It seemed like fun, organizing the openings.
Marina Alessio: It’s all a little crazy. We haven’t known each other our whole lives, we had this four minute conversation, talking about stuff that we liked and wanted to show, we’ve always understood one another. The first show was called Mite and it was inaugurated in July of 2008.
And where did the name Mite come from ?
NB: It’s a play on words, being a small space, and later a reference of something Berlinesque that you can see in the Galeria Santa Fe.
It´s also this necessity to occupy a new space because the institutions don´t provide what you are searching for.
NB: Yeah, like the idea of exhibiting and discovering new things. I like art a lot and wanted to do something.
MA: Over time, we realized that this space was needed. There were a lot of people who wanted to exhibit. We wanted to do something. The initial idea wasn’t to fulfill a need. It was more to fulfill our own desire.
How would you like to define the profile of the gallery?
NB: I’m not sure if we know how to define it in theory, but we know whether something is Mite or not, and we always agree. It’s more of a feeling. We know what is a yes or no, we know what this place is here for.
On the website, the presentations of the artists are through images. You’ve chosen to eliminate each artist’s biographical information as captions for the works.
NB: Yeah, we want to focus on the emotional side, that you don’t define by someone’s background. You see a work, you like it or you don’t, it’s about discovering your tastes.
Like a statement that falls in line with Roger Buergel's Documenta opposing authorship, where the voice of the work is the priority ?
NB: Yeah, we don’t post someone’s resume, nor their age or title, just their name and what they do. The most important thing for me is the work of the artist, afterward you can find out who it is. It’s about meeting the work and its author first. The visual perhaps doesn’t need much more information.
How did you go about finding the artists that make up the gallery’s permanent staff?
NB: It’s sort of random. Artists we like a lot, some are friends, and we combine them with outside artists that we like.
MA: We brought in Mite’s artists from the beginning. The first shows were individual exhibitions from each artist. They’re friends, people who did work we liked, and sometimes outside curators approach us.
How many exhibits do you generally do, and how many of them external proposals ?
MA: One exhibition each month, well, in reality there are two every month because I put one up on the wall at Purr.
NB: We ended up lacking wall space. We wanted to do a lot during the year. This year we wanted to do lots of stuff but there just isn’t enough time. We don’t want to do 14 day exhibitions either. We’d rather do them for a month, which is kind of a minimum.
Yeah, and also because it’s pretty ambitious to put on two shows a month.
NB: It’s a short amount of time, but we are still left with several projects left over.
What do you do to stay current, finding new artists and material ?
MA: Finding artists is easy. There are a lot. Plenty of people leave send work, and there are others that we’ve seen that we like. You can find work on the Internet too, we are constantly sending links back and forth.
Don’t you need time to dedicate to doing research and putting together a programming, etc.?
NB: Every day we are looking, sending links back and forth. The bulk of the shows are solo shows, but we’ve done some collective ones too, including one with all twelve residents.
How do you fund the exhibits?
NB: The gallery is supported from work done outside of the gallery.
So you two fund the gallery on your own?
MA: Yeah, I don’t know if there are possibilities for funding. We haven’t researched it a whole lot, but I don’t think so.
Is Mite a commercial space then?
MA: Yeah, we sell artwork. It isn’t the primary goal, but we do sell.
NB: Even though we don’t know much about commercial art, we do whatever we can. This place has a dual function [as a studio]. That’s why it works, because we fund the bookstore and the gallery with our own work. There are a lot of artists here who work as graphic designers or on the internet in order to make a living. There is work in that, in fact I make a lot of web pages for artists.
Do you have activities alongside the exhibits? Discussions, talks, performances, etc.?
MA: Discussions no, but we put on parties, social events, presentations, lectures and small parties at a shows closing. We want to create a space to be.
Have you done any international exchanges?
NB: No, for now it’s local Argentine artists involved with Mite. There are two artists that exhibit here but live outside of the country, one in London and another in Santiago Chile.
MA: We represent them in Argentina.
If we talk about the artist as a curator, what is the role of the curator ? The roles are being mixed more here, and the possibility that everyone can do exhibitions breaks the idea of the all-powerful curator – author of the master plan making all of the decisions. It’s also an experience as an artist to be so close to the production of shows, a frequent phenomenon here, right ?
NB: We invite artists to curate exhibits and it’s what happens here most, someone curating a show that isn’t actually a professional curator. We like to work with curators, but we also like artists to curate their own exhibits. The artists have their freedom. They almost always make new work [for an upcoming exhibition] and we help them with that. They finance their own shows.
Who is the audience? Do people from the “institutional world” come and how do you get the word out about your activities?
MA: We send out press releases by email. And yeah, “important” people from the establishment have come. But they come because we are showing a specific artist they’re interested in. If not, the artists themselves bring in the people, their contacts, we also generate new contacts through journalists.
Tell me how it went at arteBA. This was the first time participating at arteBA.
NB: It was a good experience. We learned a lot. We wanted to be there. We presented ourselves and they invited us to present Mite with our twelve residents. For us, it meant a lot to be there, making contacts and being visible in that context. We sold artwork. El Barrio Joven was a lot of fun this year, with great ideas and people behind the exhibits.
Tell me a little about Purr. Congratulations because the truth is that there aren’t a whole lot of bookstores that cater specifically to contemporary art here, and that have such unique material.
MA: Yeah, I was thinking that there weren’t any good contemporary art bookstores, and the ones that exist normally have books that are really expensive. I couldn’t ever find what I wanted, or they would charge 500 pesos for something that cost 30 dollars. The idea came to me, as a big consumer of books, to bring books from outside [Argentina] that you can’t find here: fanzines, magazines, publications, small editions, which in reality don’t bring in too much money at big bookstores. The shipping is expensive. The change from the dollar to the peso adds value. But most bookstores mark it up 300 percent of what it’s worth.
Finally, I’d like to know a little bit about the exhibit, “Shopping,” the show in small format that makes me think of those cheap businesses, “dollar stores,” or however they say it.
NB: It’s a show that we repeat. This is the second edition and 50 artists participate, but the works don’t come labeled. The public could buy pieces that they liked without knowing their origins. The price is the same, 300 pesos, the price of a pair of jeans, in other words, something accessible. The artist is invited to participate with three works maximum. Ten of the artists are Mite residents and 40 from outside the gallery.
How do you decide the value of a work, and how do you arrive at a price?
NB: The idea was that it be accessible, and not directed towards collectors, but to the general public, and that they be able to access the work that they liked. It’s an investment at the same time. In this case, we earned 30 percent of what was sold and 70 percent went to the artist. Generally it goes 40/60. Marking prices was something we learned at arteBA. Next year another group of artists will participate that didn’t this year. The idea is to circulate and give space to new artists.
Thank you very much, and I wish you the best of luck on your future projects!