Kitted out with a pen and a pad of Post-its, gallery visitors make their way around one of Buenos Aires’ newest and most novel art events. Scribbling a few notes here and there, the neon-colored bits of paper are then stuck next to each work of art on display. Not a game or quiz in any sort, but in fact a unique way of searching for your next piece of treasured art, Art & Swap is the latest addition to Buenos Aires’ ever-growing calendar of contemporary arts events.
Now in its second annual edition, Art & Swap was launched 15 years ago in Belgium with the idea to make art available to all. Rather than use money as a currency for purchasing works, the initiative was for potential buyers to offer up an experience or object in exchange for acquiring the piece. Reducing financial barriers and offering art outside of traditional monetary transactions, it both makes art more accessible and allows the works to become priceless, as there is no monetary value placed on the pieces whatsoever.
Head curator Helena Heukeshoven spoke of the advantages of viewing a work of art’s value outside of the usual price tag: “Interested viewers have to think particularly carefully about what each work of art is worth to them personally,” adding that visitors are usually very generous with what they offer. She commented that it encourages visitors to really think what they are willing to put on the table – so to speak – in order to take each piece home. As experiences are a popular swap option, offers of stays in personal homes, holidays, as well as invitations to upcoming weddings are often written onto the Post-its; clearly, creativity knows no bounds in this realm of diverse interchange.
A simple system, potential ‘swappers’ make a lap or two around the exhibit space. Browsing without any kind of price guide, visitors are then free to make their own evaluations and make any offer or swap that they deem suitable. After as many sticky notes are placed around the work as the weekend allows, the ball is then in the artist’s court, as it’s completely up to them to choose whichever offer most tickles their fancy.
Sensing a gap in the frequently exclusive and elitist contemporary art market, Belgian-Argentine curator Heukeshoven had the idea to bring Belgium’s longstanding popular Art & Swap to Buenos Aires. The idea having already well and truly taken off in Brussels, (known as Art Truc Troc) Heukeshoven hopes that art-loving porteños will also enjoy this original way of choosing and taking home art.
Comprising 36 artists who are from both Argentina and Belgium, the exhibition is a varied mix of work produced by both emerging artists and those with an established name in either country’s contemporary scene. Handpicked by Heukeshoven herself, all the artwork is a curated selection displaying everything from more classical painting styles to contemporary photography and installations. The result represents a broad range of styles and artistic techniques: “There really is something for everyone,”said Heukeshoven, emphasizing Art & Swap’s “Art for All” philosophy.
Important to Heukeshoven is the ability to go and personally meet each artist in their own studio environment. It’s this personal element which makes this year’s Art & Swap feel like someone’s own intimate, varied collection.
And even if you’re like the majority of us, without a lavish second home in Mendoza or Punta del Este to offer an artist a stay, there’s plenty on the market for a more modest swap. There’ll be an interactive installation which will take a photo of participating visitors, perhaps enough for an exchange of a small item or food. Not just about searching for a unique piece that will fill the blank space above your mantelpiece, the idea is that the exhibition be interactive; many of the installations allow for audience participation. Take the Argentine street artist, Ever Siempre’s thought-provoking, anti-social media installation which slowly crushes and destroys a piece of artwork each time a visitor takes a photo and uploads it onto a social platform with a hashtag.
Although understandably coy about any favorites, Heukeshoven highlighted Pastel’s huge mural scale project that’s set to be one of the most eye-catching walls this year. A muralist and street artist, Pastel’s work can be seen all over Buenos Aires, the U.S and the U.K. Often inspired by the area’s history, his work is typically plastered across the sides of tower blocks, along highways and on deserted buildings, each large-scale, brightly colored floral print acting as a juxtaposition between its urban situation and natural content. The work, which this year is set to measure around 20 meters in length, will be rather hard to miss and an opportunity to get up close and personal with his revered work.
As part of its accessibility mission, each year, Art & Swap hopes to use the event as a platform to support a local social cause. Last year, the group installed a huge mural measuring 900 square meters in the Saldías area of Villa 31. Allowing local street artists and the community to collaborate on the large scale project, the result was a permanent local landmark that brightens up the neighborhood and brings awareness to the power of art and social change. This year, Belgian performance artists Brahim Rachiki, Arnaud Kool, and DJ Michael Burztejn will be creating live in front of an audience a 20 square meter piece of art, to be auctioned off in August to aid the Make a Wish Foundation, a global charity which helps make the dreams of seriously ill children a reality. Often including the opportunity to meet a star footballer or a chance to travel abroad, the Make a Wish has helped grant nearly 250,000 wishes worldwide.
This year Art & Swap is taking place in the newly minted Mercado de Los Carruajes, Av. Leandro N. Alem 852, near Retiro. Open to the public from this Friday, June 29th at 12 PM, Art & Swap will be open all weekend until Sunday, July 1st. Entrance is free and does not require a reservation. Follow Art & Swap on Instagram and Facebook for a sneak peek into this year’s offering.