Art Galleries in the Colonial City

“Just art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and custom demand everywhere: The apparent realities of this world. There’s other reality, the real one, that we lose on sight. This other reality is simply sending us signals, that, without art, we could not receive”. Samuel Bellow

Art is a concept that envelops all the types of human expression that interprets a sensible vision about the world, either real or imaginary. And in this opportunity I wanted to write about something that made me curious, the art galleries in the Colonial City. The function of these places is to expose art works for the public to appreciate them, and in some cases a collector can acquire them.

Well, my search started in Google. The city is not so big, so it’s easy to move from one point to another walking, considering that I wanted to make a tour to visit them. I found nine galleries in internet, I verified (or at least I thought so) that they were active. But I had a big surprise the next day when I started to look for them through the city, what happens is that these type of business come and go like girlfriends, one day they are here, and other unfortunately no. Then I decided to change the focus of my investigation and concentrate efforts to find the galleries with more trajectory, the ones that have been consolidated for their work.

This search in specific took me to my first stop, Casa de Artes, a gallery with fifty-five years of trajectory. I arrived there without announcement, I rang the bell and in a matter of seconds a tall gentleman with glasses showed up on the other side of the glass door with a curious look on his face. “Yes?” – He asked. I proceed to explain who I was and why I was there. After that he welcomed me, his name is Carlos, the person in charge of the gallery, he invited me to come in. The gallery is divided in five sections: Textiles, masks, saints, jewelry and majolica, traditional expressions of indigenous and colonial traditions. The gallery offers personalized attention in a museum type shop, and a wide selection of original pieces of the Guatemalan traditional folkloric art. I ran by masks that date from the XIX century which finishes were different to all the traditional masks that I´ve seen, enen though they were similar; carved images on wood of Christ, the Devil, the famous and at the same time infamous Maximón, and many others. Reliquaries, earrings, and necklaces, unique in their class, as well as singular pieces that conform their majolica section.

But not just that, Carlos, who accompanied me during my visit, invited me to see a new section of the gallery, a museum that will be open to the public very soon. This museum exhibits the most select, antique and special pieces of their collection.

I went back a couple of weeks later to take some pictures, when the museum was ready to be presented to the public. While I walked through the exhibition I asked Carlos about some of his favorite pieces. Just when we were in the masks section he told me that one of his favorite pieces is a mask of the conquer Pedro de Alvarado, there are many masks of him, but this one is very singular for the finishes it has. The details of the blush on his cheeks are really well done, it even looks like if his light “skin” was tanned by the exposition to the region´s sunlight. Personally, what called my attention the most about this mask was its look, since the eyes finishes are so fine, to the point of simulating a human look perfectly. The masks are so well done that even Carlos says that even though he’s not superstitious, sometimes you can feel like if the masks’ looks followed you through the hall.

Other of his favorite pieces is a handmade textile that dates from 1920, of the ones that were used to dress religious images. This piece is part of the “Gwen-Eva” textile collection, named after the collection’s founder, Eva, and her daughter Gwen, who started to collect this pieces in the 60’s. Today, the tradition remains in the family, and is Karla, Gwen’s granddaughter, alongside with Carlos who preserves the legacy of this marvelous gallery and its new Ethnographic Museum.

After this interesting excursion by our folkloric traditional art, I moved on to my next stop, this was in Casa para las Artes, a gallery with a more recent foundation, it opened its gates in 2014. There I met Joel Batz, one of the gallery founders. Vivaldi´s Four Seasons were playing in the back, and an artist was painting in the patio, Joel told me that the gallery’s vision was to reach more national artists that were already identified with their own style, and that are in the point in which they are ready to expose. They try to find the artists that already consecrated their style. Right now the gallery harbors works of thirty artists that specialize in different techniques like landscaping, abstraction and sculpture, among others.

Joel defines himself and his associates as independent artists, who as well as develop the vision that I mentioned in the last paragraph, have the complementary vision that consists in their social work. In this work classes are given to children, the materials and teachers are financed by percentages that the artist donate from the sale of their works for the realization of this project that started when the gallery was founded. How it works is that they take the work team to different villages, searching for kids that are skillful in the artistic ambit, to stimulate their artistic development by giving them the tools they need to form themselves in this discipline on an early age. That way, they would have the necessary bases to keep shaping themselves in this world if that’s what they want.

Casa para las Artes

I could appreciate some works in this gallery that called my attention in particular, some of Joel that incorporate elements of our culture in some peculiar watercolors, one of them even reminded me of my home, in this painting there´s a route bus (that for some reason that I won´t explain you now, reminds me of my father) full of people, to the top. In top of it there are farm animals (which my mother loves), and elements from a house in the roof. For us that have been able to trip in this route buses, the agglomeration of people that is shown in the painting is logic and natural, Joel represents in a very singular way a cultural aspect that not all Guatemalans will understand, because not everyone has experienced it, but without a doubt they will recognize it. I also ran by some interesting sculptures from the artist David Ordoñez, titled “Tanates”, they are a representation of something that is very common in our country, since that´s how we call the packages or things that are wrapped in cloth that are usually taken in a trip. The textures, the colors and details on the textiles that wrap the “tanates” are visually astonishing, even intriguing, since they invite us to imagine which object are being guarded inside of it.

Casa Para las Artes is open to the public, it’s also a workshop for artists and art academy. It’s located near the exit that one takes to the capital city, and I consider that it is an indispensable stop for the lovers of contemporary art.

At this point I didn’t have much more galleries in my list, but for fates of destiny I ended up in a small gallery while I walk through the street. Unfortunately I didn’t find the gallery owner that day, but I met Manuel Morillo, who was taking care of the Gallery. It turns out that Manuel is an outstanding photographer, right now he’s exposing “Españoramicas” in the Spanish Cooperation, and I wrote an article about his expo (such a small world), so it was a pleasant coincidence to get to know him. Manuel was very kind and shared with me some information about galleries that I could check for my article.

That´s how I learned about a hidden treasure in the heart of a small town located just five minutes to the south of La Antigua, in Santa Ana. I know that journalism must be objective, but as you may have notice if you’ve read my previous articles, instead of being detached from the story’s reality, I like to be involved in it and let it be told by itself through my perspective. That’s why I can write without hesitation that the experience I had in “La Nueva Fábrica” was nearly surreal.

It’s located just in front of the church, on the other side of the town’s central plaza. It’s a project developed by New Roots Foundation, which since 1998 has worked with more than 25 communities in Guatemala to implement environmental and educational projects. In 2013, they established a residence program for artist in memory of its founder, the artist Lissie Habie (1954-2008), and started the arrangements to establish a space where art and Lissie’s collection were exposed, alongside with the work of artists in the residence.

The first exposition that I visited in this gallery with contemporary art museum vibe was a photographic expo from the archives of the Regional Investigations Centre of Mesoamerica (CIRMA), a wide photographic collection of diverse authors, in which authors encapsulated with their lenses fragments of time for us to see. I was able to see some of the pictures before this, like some resent ones that CIRMA exposed a couple of months ago about the migrant phenomenon, I will always have with me the first impression that a picture of a family caused on me, they woke up before the son came out to continue their journey, with a car’s back light in the back being the only thing that breaks the gloom. There was a picture in special that I had never seen before and I liked very much, this picture was taken in Chile, and in it you can see Mr. President José Arévalo Bermejo alongside with the illustrious South-American writers Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda, one of my favorite writers, something that was very pleasant for me to see.

After CIRMA’s collection I passed by the section in which the collection the artist Lissie Habie is located, who discovered a new world through the mechanical and chemical manipulation of the light to restructure the meaning of the images. She started to collect pictures as part of her artistic exploration, rescuing abandoned photographic processes like charcoal printing, cyanotype, printing in silver jelly, and others. She reunited photographic Latin-American works from all around the world, with the end of returning them to their geographic context, so they can be appreciated by the public. In this file there are anonymous works, like works of resident artists.

Among this pictures I found a beautiful portrait that was printed in silver jelly, of the unmistakable Frida Kahlo, taken by the North-American Nickolas Muray, where the artist pose crossing her forearms while she exhibits a subtle smile. In addition to this expositions, I was able to know a project called “Intimo” (Intimate), in which a space is given to the artist to express and explore their concerns, curiosities and more recurrent feelings, right now the exposition exhibited in that space is “Por maniobras de un Terceto” of Clara de Tezanos. I could also appreciate an installation that is named “Altares de Cristal”, a magnificent installation that far from being described by me, should be appreciated live, and that’s why I will limit myself to add a picture of it in the article, and leave you with the uncertainty of its nature. I took some pictures in the place, some notes, and I contemplated it while I walked through its expositions one last time, then I continued with my way.

I know that at this point the article is more extensive than what I usually write for the blog, but you cannot synthesize art, and boy I have tried during this adventure, without success obviously. Well, with success, but without synthesizing. And it was in this way, with art and without summaries, that I knew the last stop of this trip.

The name of this last stop is “La Antigua Galeria de Arte”, it’s located in street of Santa Catalina’s Arch, it opened its doors in 1996, it was founded by Estela Vásquez and her husband Brian Johnston, and it exhibits contemporary art from diverse artists. The gallery represents more than 50 artists, out of those, 80 percent is Guatemalan and the other 20 is foreign. Between the styles the gallery exhibits you can find figurative, landscaping, abstract, sculptures, photography and more.

The gallery exhibits very interesting pieces, like “Poemas de la noche” (poems of the night) of Hugo Gonzalez Ayala, an exhibition of twelve oil paintings over canvas, where he represents different parts of Guatemala like Antigua, Sololá and Quetzaltenango, mostly night scenes where Ayala wants to capture some movements and rhythms through light, and the modification of the color pallet. According to Ayala, what he wants to transmit is a feeling or emotion in a simple way, for him, there’s some analogy between poetry and painting.

I also found some clay sculptures a little abstract but visually attractive to me, as they were representative figures of the Guatemalan culture, I thought the artist was local. Well, as usual, I was surprised, since this pieces belong to the Norwegian artist Hanne Lunder, which work has been influenced in part by elements she found in this land, like symbols, colors and diversity. Her work is characterized by her own process of clay and color. The sculptures that called my attention where four busts of indigenous women, with colorful attires and accessories that seemed familiar. It was interesting to notice that all the women had something over their head, like is usual, keeping the objects over them in perfect balance.

In the two stories of the Gallery I saw many pieces that were interesting to me, like the painting of Alfredo Garcia Gil, impregnated with a real social critic from my point of view. Or the so personal works of Andrea Paola Castillo, which captured the complex fact of being a woman; the volume that Rogelio Barillas employs contrasting it with the subtle facial expressions of his characters; or the texturized color pallet of Sergio Alvarado that reminded me of Van Gogh, all masterly on their own way. If I detailed every piece that I liked from every gallery I visited, I would end up writing a book, which is not the case. At this point what I would like is that, the reader, meaning you, don’t just keep my impression of this magnificent works of art, but goes out to make their own; and the person who does it, when he or she contemplates this formidable piece that cause a feeling in the deepest part of their self in an unexplainable way, like a burning smut, in that moment when you discover art, you’ll remember this little article.

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