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Artistic Flare in Casco Viejo Panama

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Written by Matt   
Friday, 27 February 2009 18:17
Artistic Flare in Casco ViejoEvery major city has an artsy district: a place where thin people in jeans sip coffee and chew on the stems of wire-framed glasses. While Casco Viejo is reputedly that district for Panama, store the creativity and art tends to manifest itself in different sorts of unorthodox ways. Sure, online the neighborhood is home to a few museums, concert venues, pharmacy and thriving young artists, but the real thrill of creativity in Casco Viejo is visible on every corner, if you know where to look. These are not the types of pieces with limited edition IDs or an author's signature etched into the bottom corner. No, these are the kinds of works that might just as commonly go unnoticed to the untrained eye, should you not know how to identify them.

Yesterday, a half-filled bucket of yellow paint had been left by the garbage dump on 4th and Central. Someone, I don't know who, took the open bucket, threw it against the wall, and then ran through the pool of paint, leaving footprints down the street that slowly faded into the cobblestone. I took a photo of the image and still firmly believe it would hold its own in any of the modern world's bogus galleries.

My most recent trip to New York City found me in a midtown art gallery with exposed brick and pipework on the ceiling. The show was called something vague and existential like "Temptation" or "Voids" and a friend was showing two sculptures she had done, one of a miniature zebra eating bread and the other of an indescribable mass the size of a basketball with wires and strings coming out. As ridiculous as it sounds, my friend's blob was probably the best piece there. But that's not saying much next to the five-foot heap of dead banana peels one man was showing: "Yellow Mountain," he proudly proclaimed." The man then bent down and whispered something into my ear. "Came up with the concept tripping on mushrooms in Prague."

When I'm in NYC, I don't tend to question anything for fear that I'll offend someone. Either that or I'll get punched. But when I'm in Casco Viejo, Panama I like to ride the power whip for everything its worth, asking how art was constructed and what was intended by its creator.

"So, what was your inspiration on this piece?" I meant to ask the local crack head Henry. The piece in question was more of a conglomerate of pieces, with Henry having taken a bowel movement just off Sixth Street by the ocean. "And talk a little bit about the materials used if you could..."

My parents often refer to the artwork in our home the same way they refer to their fancy red convertible as "things we could afford before we had children." While they intend this to sound sarcastic and damning, as if by forgoing childbirth they might have ended up in a historic Spanish villa, I've always thought of it as a subliminal compliment, meaning, by being born, my brother and I inadvertently stopped them from investing in ugly ass shit.

The main pieces that come to mind are a set of two large lithographs meant to look like voluptuous women but instead resembling an out-of-focus kaleidoscope. They sit opposite each other in the dining room and often feature as the topic of discussion at dinner parties when a guest will inevitably ask for some sort of explanation. "We bought these from a young and emerging artist in Helsinki," the would say, or something similar to that.
This is supposedly one of the thrills of owning art: the ability to connect each piece with a story...a moment in time, one that you'd like to preserve and share with people sometime down the road. What I don't understand is why one could not do that with something far less expensive say, an old sock for example, or a used box of tissues. "And this box," I might elegantly announce. "I created this piece under a nasty cold in Russia during what I like to call, my flu period."

On the wall outside my office in Casco Viejo, the same building occupied by Manolo Caracol restaurant, is a strange series of painted faces that look into the sky like a curious army in the day. At night, in the little bit of light they afford, you can look at them and start to cry. The faces appeared mysteriously one morning, no one really knows how they got there. Were they not artistic and fascinating, I might have guessed them to be the work of a gang, perhaps documenting kills or bludgeonings to be had. But as it stands, the faces seem to speak to me. Their creator is unknown, as is the medium used in their creation, their inspiration, and more or less the meaning of their existence: a new level of artistic open-endedness and mystery that might just catch on in NYC art circles sometime soon.

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by La Mer , February 28, 2009
Your view on contemporary art and artists is hilarious. You draw attention to art galleries and street art in Casco but your whole argument seems to be built around the idea that most art is nonsense and that both artists and art collectors are vane. I cannot help noticing that your argument is also based on your persistent (and consistent) misunderstanding of art. With that being said, your article is quite effective. You sure made me curious to give Casco's art another chance after being totally disappointed by it when I visited in December. You should post a picture of those puzzling faces you are talking about.
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Last Updated on Friday, 27 February 2009 19:56