Ernesto Menendez Conde is the brain behind the online art magazine ArtExperience:NYC. It salutes contemporary art, Latin American, Hispanic and Latino artists and of course, New York City. Here's a chat that I had with him back in Feburary 2011.
MICHAEL: Hey Ernesto, Thanks for chatting. First of all, you recently launched the online art magazine www.artexperiencenyc.com. What's it all about? Did the world need yet another art website?
ERNESTO: Your question made me laugh for few seconds. Do we need another website on art? My answer is yes and no. There are already so many websites that probably a new one not only may add very little to the actual chaos, but will obviously increase it a little bit. However this excess in itself may be a good reason for creating the type of online magazine we recently launched. The New York City artistic scenario is so wide and diverse that it is difficult to even have an overview about is going on. People may miss a terrific show in a small gallery or may fail to receive updates about relevant artistic events. We are trying to help in that sense. We are somehow doing a curatorial work, which ultimately could help the viewer to decide what to see, while offering some hints about how to enjoy contemporary art. I have been so many times in the position of a viewer who is unsure about how to react or how to find some sense of pleasure in front of an art piece. Our magazine wants to deal with some of these uncertainties. On the other hand, as far as I know, ArtExperience:NYC is the first publication devoted to the New York artistic scene which is also oriented to the Spanish speaking world. Whereas there are too many art websites in English, there are probably far less in Spanish. New York is still one of the most important cultural centers on earth and what happens here is very appealing for artists, viewers, art critics and art collectors in Latin America, Spain, and Latino Communities in United States.
MICHAEL: Funny you should say that because after several visits to international art fairs, I've concluded that Hispanic/Latin American art is really pushing the entire contemporary art world forward. To me, it's so fresh and inventive. What do you think?
ERNESTO: I fully agree. Perhaps they are adding a sense of playfulness, humor and sensuality. I am strongly against any form of chauvinism, but I would say that Latin American intellectuals have been very aware of the hybrid character of their cultures and they have been trying to integrate it into the most sophisticated artistic languages. You have for instance some avant-garde proposals, like Oswald de Andrade's Manifesto Antropofago, dated from 1928, which is still very contemporary in a cultural stage that is becoming more and more cross-cultural, erasing national borders. Shows from Latin American and Spanish artists are taking place more and more often in the New York City Area. Ten or eleven years ago, when I visited the city for the first time, Latin American artists had a presence in art galleries, but generally speaking, art collectors were mostly interested in Avant-Garde movements or well established painters like Fernando Botero or Claudio Bravo. Now, we are seeing more and more emerging artists coming from Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, Chile and many other places in Latin America and also from Spain. Some cultural centers from these countries are growing pretty fast, promoting and exporting artists on a world-wide scale.
MICHAEL: So, obviously one of the functions of artexperiencenyc.com is to highlight emerging artists. That's also my mission. I love the fact that people seem to be slowly waking up to the fact that there are literally millions of talented artists all over the world. Still, people have been so conditioned by the art market which focuses on "famous" artists. Is this ever frustrating for you?
ERNESTO: As you said, there are millions of talented artists all over the world and most of them are competing for funding for their projects or trying to find places for showing their works. In the meantime, the art market is conditioning people to focus on few mainstream artists. This is obviously frustrating. Helping emerging artists is one of our goals. We are currently considering some initiatives oriented to promoting barely known figures, which is something we already did in our first issue of ArtExperience:NYC. Nevertheless, there are probably very few, if any, alternatives to the art market. Promoting a new artist is a way of participating and competing. But in any case, the art market helps to promote excellent artistic values and it has shown a flexible and open vision toward new artistic developments. This is one of its positive sides and in order to highlight emerging artists, it seems useful to take advantage of it. To me, as a viewer, another source of discomfort comes from the way in which the art market is influencing the new artistic languages.
MICHAEL: Yes, the art market is basically the "Big Brother" of the art world. However, I think real change really only happens from the bottom up ... you know, grassroots efforts. Look at what happened in Egypt. People were raising their voices and being heard. Obviously, emerging artists don't need to protest, but shouldn't there be some sort of unified effort among them to make art a higher priority?
ERNESTO: Probably, but it is hard for me to envision how this unified effort could actually happen or what effects it could have. The goal of making art a higher priority sounds like an old-fashioned Utopia and it suggests a misleading opposition between art and commodities. Any artistic effort against the art market, if successful or provocative, immediately turns the artwork into a profitable product. This is a moment in which a highly symbolic thing generates a lot of money. Other practices, like some samples of internet art, which are hard to sell, will remain almost unnoticed and may barely affect the status quo. Artists themselves need the art market, so no matter how radical their experiments could be, at some point they may have to jump in with art dealers, even if just in order to keep their seditious projects.
MICHAEL: You're originally from Cuba and now live in New York. How long have you lived in New York and what do you think of it? Do you consider it home?
ERNESTO: Arriving in New York City was like accomplishing an old dream. This is the second time I have settled down here, after spending some years in North Carolina. To me, it means a lot living in this city in which there is such a cultural life, so many art galleries and museums. I do consider it home, even if I don’t know the whole town. I am still excited about the energy of the streets, as if I were walking down them almost for the first time. It is hard not to enjoy crowds, musicians in the subway, drummers at Central Park, the opera and ethnic food at restaurants. Here I have fallen in love, I have felt loneliness, I have met the most amazing friends. There is a deep similarity between Havana and New York, which captivates me, but that I cannot describe because both places are totally different, as anyone could tell. So, yes, I definitively feel at home here.
MICHAEL: Thanks Ernesto. Cool chat.
Check out Ernesto’s cool webzine at www.artexperiencenyc.com.