Home Magazine MeetMe#18 | Frieze London 2019

Here we are with the last article dedicated to Frieze London 2019. After our general introduction on the highlights of this 17th edition; a guide on the London Art Week; and a focus on the latest London art auctions... Now its time to bring you inside the fair and get you closer to the story of three selected galleries: Galeria Luisa Strina (Directors Maria Quiroga and Marli Matsumoto) - Galeria Maisterravalbuena (Founder and Director Pedro Maisterra - Belén Valbuena) - Marfa’ Projects (Founder and Director Joumana Asseily). 

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Galeria Luisa Strina at FRIEZE 2019


Since the 70s Galeria Luisa Strina has been a real symbol for Brasilian contemporary art system. You actually started when a system did not exist at all there. You did a lot of research working with emergent artists that became, years later, internationally known and that represented important historical moments, such as Cildo Mereiles, just to quote one. And you also were the first gallery from America Latina to be invited to participate in Art Basel. How is today to support this long and important history? 

In 2019, Galeria Luisa Strina celebrates its 45th anniversary, more precisely on December 17, when the second exhibition of a commemorative cycle, that is being held at the gallery’s second space, will be inaugurated. In this first stage, the group show Chão de Giz [Chalk Floor] revisits iconic works originally exhibited at the gallery over a period that spans from 1974 to the mid-1990s. To the historical works are added other pieces by artists who joined the gallery’s cast in the 2000s, setting up a diachronic dialogue around the curatorial theme: chalk floor. A chalk floor – which could also be a charcoal floor – constitutes an unstable ground, on which one moves with some hesitation initially. The show’s title, of course, alludes to Cildo Meireles’ work ‘Cinza’ (1984/1986) – an artist whose career goes hand in hand with that of the gallery, and vice versa, during the last four decades. It also refers to the political and cultural context of the 70s in Brazil. It was on unstable ground from the point of view of freedom of expression that Galeria Luisa Strina opened its doors in December 1974. Antonio Dias, Caetano de Almeida, Carlos Fajardo, Cildo Meireles, Dora Longo Bahia, Edgard de Souza, Fernanda Gomes, Ivens Machado, Jorge Guinle, Leonilson, Luiz Paulo Baravelli, Marina Saleme, Milton Machado, Mira Schendel, Muntadas, Nelson Felix, Nelson Leirner, Regina Silveira, Tunga, Waltercio Caldas and Wesley Duke Lee are some of the artists who actively participated in the first 20 years or so of this journey that merges itself with the recent history of Brazilian art, and whose works are gathered in this exhibition. An alternative reading of the “chalk floor”, however, accounts for the wobbly path of the new languages that were at the height of experimentation when Luisa Strina founded the gallery, which until then lived and reproduced “deliberately in the shadow”. Even with re-democratization, the “opening rhetoric” did not encourage “opening languages” – to use expressions from the early 80s debate of ideas. The condition of the new that experimental art proposed did not please the dominant culture of the time, that kept “the old-new commitment.” So, to put it into fewer words, to support this long history what we do as a gallery is to keep the foundational principals and ethics, as well as supporting the experimental art frontal today.

Was the idea of dealing both with historical international artists together with emergent ones a must and a specific choice since the beginning?

Yes, absolutely. As the first Brazilian gallery dedicated exclusively to contemporary art, Galeria Luisa Strina has its history linked to the internationalization of Brazilian art, as well as to the history of the internationalization of Brazilian art collections. The pioneering presence in Art | Basel is one of the reasons that explain this indisputable fact. Another is the standpoint that Luisa Strina has since the creation of her gallery to present solo shows by foreign artists in São Paulo, be them historical names or very young promising artists.

The gallery today has two women directors. Was this a precise choice, or does it simply represent the natural path of events from the foundation by Luisa Strina? 

It was a natural path of the gallery choosing qualified professionals who have been showing continually competence to occupy their positions.

How is today the art market in America Latina? Is there more attention, in comparison to the past, to South American artists? How has been working in Europe in the last decade?

The Latin American art market has been going through delicate political and economic scenarios in most of its countries. But even not been in its best activity, it has showed that presently it is a market much more established than 20 years ago, with important shows and art fairs persisting and building new venues of capitalization. Since the South American artists’ works internationalization, their presence at the global art scene has been established with their production evolving accordingly. As the European market is now very familiar with Latin American art it’s a great market to establish partnerships, create projects for exhibitions, exchange residencies, and always a very important region of collectors. 

Which recommendations would you now give to an emergent gallery?

A very consistent cast of artists and exhibition agenda. Being efficient is paramount during economic horizons of uncertainty, for example doing smart investments on art fairs, which can bring you the right profile of collectors. Explore online platforms and its tools.


MAISTERRAVALBUENA, @ FRIEZE 2019. Photo by Renato Ghiazza


Maisterravalbuena has more than 10 years. The gallery project was born in 2007 from the idea of Pedro Maisterra and Belén Valbuena. Did you start with the specific idea of working and sustain Spanish artists?

We were definitely interested in promoting Spanish artists as we believe that is the way for a gallery to grow: to promote the artists of your country worldwide. As well as that, we focused from the beginning in working with foreign artists that were not so known in Spain. That was combined with the aim of working with artists from our generation with whom we could have a close dialogue. Of course, after 12 years of gallery, some things have changed, but we keep the same intention of promoting Spanish artists as well as bringing to Madrid foreign artists. We are also interested in being a gallery that works for their artists and is important to them, in which dialogue and communication is a present and vital part.
How was, at the beginning, the response to Spanish artists in the International art fairs? After all these years, has something changed?

We think the important thing is not really the nationality but the quality. We found very good responses towards Spanish artists when the art is good. We’ve been showing in every Basel Miami we’ve been in, since 2009, as well as Frieze since 2011 or other fairs all over the world, artists as Antonio Ballester Moreno, Néstor Sanmiguel Diest or Regina de Miguel between others. The response has always been good and we are very proud that the quality stands out. That is also thanks to mature collectors or curators who don’t care so much about the market but about art. We also insist on showing Spanish artists abroad in every fair we attend. As a gallery, we feel that is part of our responsibility, as well as collectors in every country,  buy their local artists and curators promote their country artists.

You participate to Art Basel Miami. Do you think there are still lot of differences between the European market and the American one?

We participate since 2009 and we’ve seen quality changes every year. We don’t really feel there’s a big difference in the markets. In the last years, there has been a risen of well-prepared collectors that trust themselves to buy what they like and that happens in both sides of the ocean. Of course in Basel Miami you meet more Latin American collectors and USA ones that don’t travel so often to Europe, that’s why traveling and showing our artists internationally is important. 

What recommendations would you now give to an emergent gallery?

We would say trust in you, plan not just the close future but in some years time, talk a lot, hear a lot, don’t be afraid of making changes if you see what you are doing doesn’t work, think internationally, make friends and be prepared to work very, very hard.


Marfa' Project Gallery.


Marfa’ Projects was born a few years ago, in 2015. For a gallery path four years usually still represent a young reality. But this is not your case: you are the director of a young gallery, but so vivid and strong with your projects that you already have a certain kind of history. Do you think that the brave and precise choice to work from Beirut with local artists – or born there and then moved to other countries - both emergent and more established ones, was well understood and rewarded? 

Thank you for your kind words, the past four years have been an amazing adventure, one that born out of a need that was shared with me by friends and colleagues from the Beiruti art scene. It was clear that there was room from more spaces to support and foster the careers of promising and talented artists, some of which had already gained international recognition. And indeed, it is truly fulfilling to watch and contribute to their growth as they meet success at home and abroad. Some are receiving international prizes, other are being offered residencies, and many are featured in exhibitions in different parts of the worlds. 

How was, at the beginning, the response to Lebanese artists in the International art fairs? From 2015 did you see some changes? 

Art fair visitors have been really curious to learn more about the artists we’ve shown, after being first drawn to their work.  We’ve had really interesting conversations with many of them, and some even follow and support us now and stay informed of the artists’ work and the gallery’s activities. Art fairs are indeed a great platform to create bonds with collectors, curators, institutions and others, and those experiences have been very rewarding so far. Art fairs are really intense and fast-paced, and yet many people really take the time to stop, ask questions and engage with us. 

Marfa’ Projects is an interesting reality starting from the name you gave to the gallery. Of course, the first thought is about Marfa in Texas, but then I discovered that Marfa is the neighbourhood where the gallery is based, that means “port”. It is really symbolic, also as a statement for the project. Why did you choose this name? 

Marfa’ is indeed the Arabic word for ‘port’. Besides it being an Arabic word, rooted in our culture, its meaning carries symbolism, as I really intended the gallery to help the artists’ work take off, and be a dynamic platform for the exchange of ideas and thoughts.

You participated in Art Basel. Do you think there are still a lot of differences between the European market and the American one?

As with everything else, the art market is more and more globalized, so the differences between the different markets are really minor nowadays. 

Is Beirut art system vivid thanks to realities like yours, and artists who keep on working on their history, politics and means?

Beirut has always been home to creative minds in various fields. Of course, the recent history and events have been a topic on which artists have worked extensively after the civil war ended, but the younger generation is steering away from that and tackling other subjects. 

What recommendations would you now give to an emergent gallery?

Be patient, be consistent, stay true to your vision. It is not an easy endeavour, and you need to really persevere and make the most out of it, as ultimately it will certainly payout. 


Cover image: Marfa’ Projects @ FRIEZE 2019. Photo by Renato Ghiazza 

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