Looking Sharp: Miaumiau In Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a vibrant, energetic and wonderfully chaotic city. In the past decade the art scene has evolved significantly and its artists have found different spaces to grow and develop. One of these spaces is miaumiau, a petit and luminous gallery located in one of Buenos Aires’ most picturesque neighborhoods. We interviewed one of its directors, Mariano Lopez. Cecilia Glik and him created the gallery in 2009. Mariano works as researcher and professor and Cecilia as a photographer. 

Miaumiau during the Nahuel Vecino exhibition. Photo courtesy of miaumiau.

BAPs: How did the miaumiau project start? 

Mariano Lopez: miaumiau started as a very over-determined accident. I had always been involved in the local art scene, especially in artist-run spaces like Belleza y Felicidad. Most of my friends were artists, poets, writers or performers. In 2009, I was in the process of writing my dissertation and realized I needed a quiet space outside home. I talked to my then friend, now partner and friend, Cecilia Glik and decided to rent a space together. The minute we set foot on the place we thought it would work perfectly as an exhibition space and we put up a very casual show of her pictures and my boyfriend’s drawings. We had no plan nor many expectations. We just did this show and then another one with our artist’s friends, and the huge and enthusiastic response made us realize we could become an art space. 

Director Cecilia Glik and Grillo Demo's 'Evita.' Photo courtesy of miaumiau.

BAPs: How do you choose artists to exhibit in the gallery? Would you say they all have something in common that represents the spirit of miaumiau? 

ML: As I was saying, most of the artists we started working with were friends. The first year and a half I would say it was only painters, photographers and poets we knew from before. And we started to build our folder of artists using this affective network as a starting point. Maybe somebody who had shown in our gallery approached us and told us, “You should work with X or Y.” Or maybe somebody who had come to miaumiau and became a friend, suddenly showed up with a portfolio and a project. The first two years of the project we were very open to the things that were knocking at our door. And in general they were interesting and innovative things. We had an intuitive trust in the energies and flows around us, and in retrospective I can say we were right in being this open and welcoming.

After this initial period we started to be more selective and to try to build a path. But for us it is never about a “concept” or a certain line of art we want to champion and defend. It is always about the art that appeals to us for different reasons and creates a certain atmosphere in the space. Thus, the artists we work with are very different. We work with painters that refer back to the old techniques and mastership of Renaissance painting like Nahuel Vecino; with somebody like Amaya Bouquet who likes to stress the kinship of her work with jewelry and the craftsmanship of precious metals; and with Jazmin Berakha, who embroiders colorful patterns redolent of an art deco sensibility. It is very difficult to point to a common thread, but I would say all our artists are not afraid of beauty as a possible horizon for contemporary art; they all honor and respect beauty as source of joy and inspiration.

Artist Amaya Bouquet and her piece 'Archangel.' Photo courtesy of miaumiau.

BAPs: Do you combine your work as a director with curatorial practice? Do you invite other people to curate shows?

ML: Most of our shows, we curate them ourselves in close conversation with the artists. But sometimes we do invite other people to curate. We have invited curators to put up a group show or to help an artist organize her own show. We have had, for instance, a show that paid homage to Oscar Wilde, and Lucia Fridman, the curator, convinced almost ten contemporary artists from Buenos Aires to create a piece inspired in this figure. 

BAPs: How would you describe the current art scene and art market in Buenos Aires? 

ML: I think we should analyze the art scene and the art market separately, although of course they are interconnected and depend on each other. The art market in Buenos Aires is not that strong; for economic and cultural reasons it is not a very big market, and then there are certain limits to the development of an artist career and to the growth of a space like ours. However, this same characteristic makes it easier to start a project like miaumiau and others; rents are not that high in Buenos Aires and the very informality and the fact that the art market is not hyper-professionalized makes the whole scene more flexible and opening to new currents and innovative approaches. This is also true of the art scene, which I think is very vibrant, energetic and in constant change. There are a lot of young artists in Buenos Aires, and a lot of good young artists that keep creating new languages and transforming their city in the process.

Artist Constanza Alberione and her selfportrait. Photo courtesy of miaumiau.

BAPs: Who are the main buyers? Would you say there is a rising need amongst people to start collecting art?

ML: As I was saying before, the market in Buenos Aires is not very big. There are only a small number of big buyers and proper collectors. These are important buyers of course. Also, due to our jobs and careers we are in touch with people from other worlds, like fashion, advertising, cinema and design. Young people working in these fields and making a decent amount of money are beginning to buy art and to consider spending some money per month in contemporary art. This is something quite new, and we try to make it grow. Part of our job is making people realize that buying art is not as expensive or prohibitive as it is usually thought; also, that acquiring contemporary art can be a very wise investment decision; and finally, that through their involvement with the local art world they are contributing to the growth and development of the art scene and thus to the liveliness and vitality of their own city.

Miaumiau's first floor window facing Buenos Aires busy street. Photo courtesy of miaumiau.

BAPs: You were recently traveling through Europe visiting other art fairs. How easy or difficult would it be to feature Argentine artists from the gallery abroad? Is that something you are looking into?

MLI am definitely looking into that and this was one of the goals of my recent trip. As a result of the size of the market, projects like ours but also emerging artists in general, need to seek new potential buyers and expand their geographical field of action. I was in ArtBasel and was very impressed by the quality and the significance of the art pieces. Also, I realized it's not that different from ArteBa in terms of structure and dynamic. 

Of course, ArtBasel is right now impossible for miaumiau, or for any other emerging space in Latin America I would say, but I came to learn there are other options – like Liste, for instance. I spent one afternoon there and I found it really inspiring: it is a much more affordable art fair, with a very rigorous and interesting selection, and that apparently, from what I heard, works in terms of visibility and sales. So this is a track we definitely want to explore and it can be our first step in Europe. However, we would like first to try an art fair in Latin America, like ArtBO in Bogota or LimART in Lima. The art market in Latin America is growing rapidly as a result of the recent development of the region, and this is something we celebrate and will try to capitalize on.  

Article by Sofía Martinelli