The story of the Ruth Benzacar Gallery has many beginnings. We could think of it as being the fresh start the gallery got as recently as 2014, when it moved from where it had spent the last thirty years to an entirely new spot in Villa Crespo. It could be in 2000, when Ruth died and her daughter, Orly, was left in charge. It could be in 1983, when the gallery first moved to its famous spot in Florida, right by Plaza San Martín, or in 1975, when both the gallery and the Benzacar’s home shared a space in Talcahuano and Arenales. We could mark the beginning of the gallery in 1965, when Ruth and her husband Samuel decided to start selling paintings in their home in Caballito.
When Orly Benzacar tells the story, however, she calls the gallery’s story “a family story, a typical adventure of middle class Jews who were pioneers of sorts.” Ruth’s father started doing really well in his meatpacking business, and he decided to start buying art. “He was very curious and sensitive when it came to art”, Orly told The Bubble. “So when my father became broke a few years later, my parents realized that the only physical thing they could turn to for salvation was their art pieces.”
And so, in a very Argentinean turn of events, it turns out that all the Benzacars needed to do was turn their home into a gallery to face their personal economic crisis. Soon, artists and middle class buyers were coming in by the hoards into the modern house in Caballito, and without them planning to, the Benzacar household become a hotspot for people in the know. “Back then, people would establish a far more romantic bond with others, so my parents quickly became friends with the artists,” said Orly. “It was actually the artists themselves, in that moment of crisis, who stimulated my mother and her work at the gallery.”
Orly grew up soaked with all this artistic influence. At nine years old, she already knew some of the most important artists of the time; in fact, none other than Antonio Berni was a close friend of her mother’s. This made for a very eccentric childhood, with her even having to sleep right under a whole wooden structure where paintings were kept when there wasn’t room for them anymore. That called for a move, and Orly spent her teenage years in a home and gallery in Recoleta.
By that time, however, Orly went through a period of much needed teenage rebelliousness. After having been raised next to world famous paintings and having gone to an art institute as a child, she decided that what she actually wanted to do was become a biologist. And so she became one; it would be ten years after getting her degree before she would start working with her mother in the gallery in the nineties.
After Ruth died in 2000 quite suddenly, Orly was left with the task of handling the gallery during one of the worst economic crisis ever to hit the country. “I was lucky enough to get to know about new projects abroad that really helped the gallery keep going, collectors who would buy pieces from me and allowed me to keep affording [to do] it,” she said.
But this wasn’t mere luck. The Ruth Benzacar gallery has always been one to grow with the times rather than stick to classics and ignore the artistic context around them. In 2001, contemporary art became the trend, and Orly knew enough to understand she had to be part of that movement. She paid close attention to the new international art fairs, and worked closely with Art Basel Miami. It was actually during her time as director that the gallery was supported entirely by contemporary art pieces for the first time ever, as opposed to having to sell established art just to keep the show running.
“Contemporary art is a high risk market”, Orly said. “I can put a young artist I strongly believe in on exhibit, and everything can still go horribly wrong. But one of the most important legacies my mom left me was the importance of joining our time. Running a gallery for fifty years and keeping it contemporary is not easy, because it means a constant renewal of artists, so we had to work hard to keep that philosophy alive.”
Being aware of the times doesn’t only translate to hosting the work of new artists. It also means including other art forms such as performances, poetry readings, workshops for children, as well as having conferences with the artists, which the Benzacar gallery now does. “People used to come like crazy to our gallery. We would have 6000 visitors in a month, and now, we have days when only two or three people come in”, Orly explained. “This is because the dynamics of visiting galleries has changed drastically. In a world where the screen comes first, things aren’t what they used to. So we host these activities because we know we need to attract people.”
Now, the Ruth Benzacar Gallery provides all these cultural activities. It has remained a place not just for the art buff but for anyone close to culture, much like it was back in the sixties in that house in Caballito. It has managed to stay relevant by evolving with its time.
As far as the art is concerned, what will you see is very simple: what Orly likes. “One of my objectives when I took over the gallery was to never give in to anything I didn’t feel was good enough for the gallery”, she said about the contents of it. And as far as the family story is concerned, the Benzacars have come a long way, and in 2010, Orly’s daughter, Mora Bacal, started working her, completing the full circle of the Benzacar women.
One of Ernesto Ballestero’s for the upcoming exhibit, Conjeturas.
Source: Ruth Benzacar Press.
The next and last exhibit of the year will be Ernesto Ballestero’s Conjetura, which is opening on Wednesday November 16th from 6pm to 9pm at the Ruth Benzacar Gallery (Juan Ramirez de Velasco 1287). The gallery will be closing for about a month during the last two weeks of January and the first two weeks of February, so be sure to make the most of the exhibit before summer vacation season hits.