Portrait of the Artist

By María Gainza

This year, the Beca Kuitca- that breeding ground and shop window for Argentine art- has shut down until further notice. Like a sort of involuntary farewell and a reflection on the complex weave of fashion, exhibition and business on which art rests, one of the artist-fellows took portraits of each and every one of her peers. The result: a book happily called Temporada [Season].

Every so often in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, there is a photo shoot showing a handful of artists having lunch at a bistro in the New York neighborhood of Chelsea. In their endless charm, they look like a group of models killing time between shoots. Once a year, the magazine i-D presents a selection of new artistic talents: they are, generally speaking, women wrapped in haute couture dresses. About three years ago, British Vogue featured British artist Vogue Tracey Emin and model Kate playing in a bed in a hotel. In every case, the artists were young—twenty-something or thirty-something—and bearing carefully orchestrated, hip expressions and attitudes that seemed to suggest that it takes more than tons of talent to triumph in the art world: you need a good look to go with your work.

Temporada, the new, limited edition book of photographs by Rosana Schoijett, seems to want to talk about these times and, among other things, what it means to be an artist today. It consists of 41 photographic portraits of the members of the Programa de Talleres para las Artes Visuales del Centro Cultural Ricardo Rojas 2003-2005, more commonly known as the Beca Kuitca. Overwhelmingly self-confident, they give the impression of being the all-star team for the visual arts, the most promising litter in recent times, the country’s hope for innovation. Which is true and not minor. The strange thing is, if you look at them quickly, you might think that they were a screen test for hip and laid-back youth.

Herself a fellow, Schoijett’s work can be read in layers. On a cynical day, one might think that the book is a sort of coming-out for a new art establishment. The portraits of the JBK (Beca Kuitca Youth) could be seen as the culmination of everything that took hold in the nineties, when the professionalization of the art career greased its gears so that, if they began to spin, they wouldn’t make too much noise.

Though possible, this vision would be riddled with the same prejudices that make us see the explosion of art biennials, art fairs, fellowships and galleries as a circus-like epiphenomenon that has little to do with the idea of the artist. At the beginning of the 21st century, this reservation is partly true and partly teenage tantrum. Today, art can be anywhere, at the margins or the center.

The thing is, in Schoijett’s work everything is more ambivalent than it seems: if you know her earlier work, you know that she is not one to slide on the thin ice of irony. Though deeply funny, her work is surrounded by a candid intelligence that makes everything she sees infinitely more complex than what at first glance might seem like just a good photo. Not even at the beginning of the year, when she presented her Kiosco (Kiosk) series at Malba -self-portraits with celebrities like Silvina Luna, the Rebelde Way boys and Raúl Castells[1]– did she show any malice. Rather, she demonstrated an acceptance of her own groupie nature, abundant humor, and undoubtedly many questions about her own work as a journalist, about how fame is built and sustained. To a certain extent, these concerns linger in Temporada.

It seemed impossible to find Schoijett until someone helped us out: that’s when we learned that the artist was faraway, working on an island for the magazine Caras.[2] In a later e-mail, she described where she was as “a little fantasy island, full of celebrities, parrots, squirrels and peacocks.” From a precarious internet bar lost in the sea, Schoijett reflected on her book: “I wanted to talk about the group of people with whom I shared the last two years, about how pleasurable and intense it was to find them and, mostly, about the beauty I saw in them and wanted to condense. For neither the series on the celebrities nor this work was the point of departure critical or theoretical. It was, rather, more like an uncontrollable need to see where I had gotten myself. It was a catharsis (more obviously in the case of the stars), and an act of love (more obviously in the case of my peers)”.

Temporada has an air of a group of friends, of a gang, a rockers’ camaraderie or an urban tribe. Generally speaking, a way of acting and inhabiting the present as well as the vice of drawing on similar sources. What’s interesting is how these photos work together and separately. It is not a sweet crowd in a graduation snapshot, but a personal register. The clothing and the way that the works serve as a backdrop speak of the room that each one of the artists inhabited physically and mentally in that asylum that is the Beca Kuitca. The very title of the book alludes not only to the time they spent together but also to fashion, fleeting and ephemeral. Temporada seems to capture the last year of the rest of their lives.

“One must be of one’s times,” said Daumier in one of the few statements reliably attributed to him. It was the rallying cry of Realism: the insistence on not repeating what had already been done, on not approving what had already been approved. For Schoijett -who is of her times even though she doesn’t set out to be- this means that there are no gods, no idols, no heroes: the JBK are their own fans. Which does not mean that they believe themselves untainted or noble- indeed, just the opposite. Schoijett portrays them as men and women wandering through art’s tricky terrain. She photographs their entire bodies facing the camera, bathed in harsh light and with neutral gestures. Like suspects in a police line-up, they don’t seem to know what to do with their hands. They know that they are talented but their future is still uncertain. It is a hopeful yet anti-romantic vision. What’s clear, though, is that these are not the sentimental eighties. When this wave hits the shore, they will know how to take the blow.

When in 2001 Kuitca’s face appeared in the poster announcing his show at Malba, many wondered if this gesture was not the height of megalomania. Kuitca, who certainly perceived this risk before anyone else, must have accepted the poster for one basic reason, a Warholian reason: appear in order to disappear. If one is so exposed, he can hide his life behind. With the poster, Kuitca showed how volatile the construction of a person created by the media can be, how thin, like tracing paper. Along these lines, Temporada, the photographs of the new breeding ground for the visual arts, is a sensitive and intuitive record that releases ideas every time you look through it.

[1] These are important public figures from an array of fields: Silvina Luna is a risqué model, The Rebel Way Boys are actors from a television show for teenagers, and Raúl Castells is the leader of a radical political movement.

[2] Caras is a local gossip magazine.

Radar, the cultural supplement in the newspaper Página/12. November, 2005.