Since our homes have officially become our safe sanctuaries, office space and cradles of inspiration for both work and play, it’s time to consider (if you haven’t already) elevating your walls with art that has staying power. And, now, more than ever, it’s best to support locally. For a look into the ever expansive art scene in Latin America, we turned to gallerist Steven Guberek, founder of SGR gallery in Bogota, whose approach to contemporary art distances itself from intimidating, over-intellectualized discourses and focuses, instead, on how art inhabits and transforms the spaces we live in. He tipped us off on a few artists to have on our radar as well as tips on how to start collecting the right way.
Tell us about you, your story. How did your personal journey with art start?
I’m Steven Guberek, born in Bogotá, Colombia in 1985. My personal journey with art started with a pencil and a bodybuilding magazine. As a kid, I loved drawing, and at some point, became obsessed with the similarity between bodybuilders and action heroes (G.I. Joe or Ninja Turtles). Naturally, I became obsessed with drawing these super muscular men I found in these magazines. I grew up with a pencil in my hand, and have been drawing ever since.
At some point, I became very interested in art itself, probably because of my great aunt’s spectacular art collection, as well as my grandmother’s. My cousin was also a renowned art dealer, so there was always talk of art within my family circle.
What are the challenges and advantages of running a gallery today?
Running an art gallery presents, in all practical matters, the same challenges as running any small business. Paying rent and payroll at the end of the month, keeping up with taxes… the usual. However, there are a few challenges specific to an art gallery that have nothing to do with entrepreneurship. How do you get accepted at relevant international art fairs? How do you get institutions and curators to look at your gallery and it’s program? A huge part of running a gallery has to do with networking and social life, and this is definitely a challenge.
From your experience, how has the art world changed over the past year?
In some ways, the art world hasn’t changed at all, especially in the higher spheres. From my point of view, I believe the art world has changed in a sense that it has now opened up to a much larger audience who began to consume art because of the living dynamics caused by the pandemic. Lots of young people, who would normally spend their extra money on leisure (restaurants, travelling, fashion, etc) were now stuck at home for months, working online with similar, if not the same, salaries.
Naturally, this large group turned to art and decoration in order to embellish the places where they usually only went after work to sleep. Home became a place of permanece, and this created an immense group of potential new art collectors, to whom the gallery has aimed its newly developed SGRPROMO program. Every weekend, the gallery presents via Whatsapp or Instagram, a new body of work by an artist at a discounted price for only 24 hours. Through this program, SGR has managed to reach this new audience and create a group of new and dedicated collectors.
What are you doing to promote both established and lesser-known Colombian artists in the world?
SGR has been actively participating in international art fairs for the past decade. Through its participation, it has managed to create a somewhat modest, yet growing market for its artists internationally. Art fairs allow for not only commercial, but also institutional interactions, as well, and this has been a way for some of the artists to access different international art scenarios, such as museums. Now, SGR is expanding its SGRPROMO program to Mexico and the US, with local alliances in each country. This will allow for many of the younger, lesser known artists to have a more immediate and impacting way of internationalizing their work.
What were some of your most interesting discoveries in 2020?
My most interesting discovery was the realization that the apparent rules surrounding the art business could definitely be broken and transgressed. This allowed for a liberty in decision making for the gallery that was unheard of before.
Regarding talent, my most interesting discovery is definitely a young artist from Ibague called Javier Morales Casas, who paints about rural Colombian mythology in the most fascinating way.
How do you go about discovering new artists and bringing them into your gallery?
This is a very difficult question to answer, and curiously, I get it quite a lot. There isn’t really a formula for discovering new artists. It’s a combination of many different strategies, I guess. Once you are deep in the art scene, as a gallerist, you are constantly approached by a handful of artists on a regular basis, usually through the gallery’s social media. They are reviewed initially by my communications team, and any interesting proposal will eventually reach me.
I also try to attend as many thesis projects from local universities in order to see the work by young artists who are being produced by the academy. Social media has also become a very relevant way to discover new artists. I ran into Javier Morales’ work because of a post on instagram by a Colombian curator.
Someone once said that if gallerists are also good collectors, then they will never sell the really good pieces. Would you agree?
Not at all.
Do you remember the first artist you signed to your gallery?
I simultaneously signed three artists, two of whom are still part of my roster: Alejandro Londoño and Luciano Denver.
Can you name three new artists currently on your radar?
Dionys Mattos (young Cuban artist)
Top three art destinations in Latin America?
Inhotim (Brasil) – large scale sculpture collection complex
How do you see the art scene in Colombia and Latin America in the next decade?
In the words of the great Juan Uribe: “Crisis comes with good art”. I believe that if political stability allows for the existence of an art market, locally and internationally, the art scene will continue to grow and flourish.
Living with an art piece is very personal. Do you collect art more with your heart or with your brain?
Neither, or both. I am an obsessive art collector. I collect strictly through impulse, but these impulses are mediated by my preconceived ideas about the artist, the piece, the gallery, the context, etc.
With Father’s Day around the corner, what would you give to the man who has everything?
Regarding art, nobody has everything.
And last but not least, 5 tips to start an art collection the right way.
First, always try to buy art through an established gallery. This will help an artist grow in the right way.
Second, buy what you really like, not what someone else likes.
Third, do research. Find out what’s going on in the artist’s career
Fourth, beware of the conservation quality of the piece. You want to invest in something that will last.
Fifth, follow your instinct.