Puma Comes to Town

(All photos by Andy Donohoe)

I’ve been quite busy these past few days, so I hadn’t had the chance to post a quick piece I wrote for Juanele about the Puma Urban Art Fest, a pretty-high-profile, Puma-sponsored festival held in Argentina’s most prestigious cultural space, the Centro Cultural Recoleta, the weekend before last. There was some decent art and a few good bands played, but the event, I think, was more marketing than substance. Anyway, here’s the post, a week late.

* * *

It would have been hard not to be intimidated by the VIP factor of this past Friday’s Puma Urban Art Fest opening at Centro Cultural Recoleta. Though the conferences, roundtables, and screenings held Saturday and Sunday were all free and open to the public, Friday evening’s launch was pure veep. The press list was dominated by names like C5N and Pagina/12, the television cameras were rolling, and hell, even Charly Garcia dropped by.

Puma Urban Art Festival
Look, it’s me, looking!

I felt totally out of my league — that is, until I saw the art. Or more appropriately, until I found it. Because amid the cameras and the café tables, the bands and the $14 beers, it took some effort to get to the art itself. A few dozen works by local and international artists filled a gallery and a half at the rear of the giant cultural center. Some of these pieces — a photo of an office building all but exploded by Mark Dean Veca; a set of crisp, threatening geometric works by Joaquin Croxatto; and Clara Muslera’s tight Xul Solar-inspired sketches — were very good. But they took all of 10 minutes to see.

This isn’t to say that the festival failed to deliver on the cool front. In one of the galleries half-filled with art, DJs spun bass-heavy tunes as London-based D*Face painted live and skateboarders tried their luck on a custom-built ramp. On a nearby outdoor stage, more than 20 bands from Argentina and around the world kept Fest-goers entertained. Along the center’s main passageway, edgy magazines and spunky toy manufacturers manned display booths. Screenings of Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop and some D*Face shorts shared the Centro’s newly restored auditorium with the presenters of a six-part, two-day conference on urban art.

Puma Urban Art Festival

I liked a bunch of this stuff and I have nothing but respect for the artists involved. But the slickness of the whole affair made its content feel like an afterthought, a sideshow to the “ooh-that’s-cool-and-irreverent” style of brand promotion to which urban art has become a golden ticket.

There’s nothing surprising or particularly disappointing about this dynamic — I understand how these things work; I knew what I was getting before I walked through the door. Still, though, when Puma comes to a town with as rich a street art scene as Buenos Aires’, touting their headline-grabbing urban art festival, shouldn’t they bring along more than a gallery and a half of art?

I guess it depends on whether they can get Charly Garcia or not.

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