The newly launched website of SISMICA, sector brand for the Chilean visual arts, features an interview with gallery director Isabel Croxatto, discussing the strategies the gallery has adopted facing a political and a health crisis in a short period of time, adjusting to the new reality the pandemic presents, and what Chilean visual arts need to thrive.
Find the full interview here (in Spanish), and an English translation below.
Isabel Croxatto: 'We must professionalise and reach international standards'
Isabel Croxatto Galería was founded in 2012 by Isabel Croxatto as a space focused on emerging and established artists with national and international recognition. It takes part in art fairs, with a special focus on Asia-Pacific and Europe. From 2020, the gallery has added ICG+ to its operation, a virtual exhibition space developed to host a programme of exhibitions specially designed for an online experience.
In Chile, the social outburst and its overlapping with the pandemic have posed great challenges for the country's galleries. What strategies have you implemented in the gallery in the face of these two great historic events?
The main strategy Isabel Croxatto Galería has implemented in the face of the extensive contingency that Chile has experienced in recent times has been to have a sense of openness in the face of change. The social outburst coincided with the opening event of one of our most important exhibitions. Faced with this experience, we decided to become a space for dialogue and encounter through art, developing what was the group exhibition El Mundo Al Instante N°1, our first open call, which revolved around what we experienced and felt after the outbreak. Then, in the context of the pandemic, and unable to open our doors and travel to the art fairs in Asia that form part of our annual agenda, we decided to expand our strategies of visibility and promotion. Thus, in a continuous effort to deliver the content of our artists to a global audience, and in tune with the changes that the pandemic and the current virtual context propose, last April we presented the first 100% virtual exhibition created in Chile, El Turista by Coco González Lohse. Subsequently, in September, Isabel Croxatto Galería presented ICG+, a virtual and immersive exhibition space, the first of its kind in Chile, which hosts a complete programme of exhibitions specially designed to deliver an excellence artistic experience, to be seen online from anywhere in Chile and the world, and which has allowed us to continue presenting the work of our artists, this time reaching and generating links with a constantly growing audience.
The virtual format is complemented by our physical space in Santiago, which reopened its doors in the later months of the year, and is strengthened by our presence on the world's main digital platforms for contemporary art, such as Artsy and ArtLogic. Along with this strategy, the gallery's team has increased, adding members in charge of editorial content production, according to the need to transmit through this virtuality a body of work that deepens the processes and results that our artists have been developing since the late 2019 until today.
How has the pandemic affected sales and the relationship with the audience? Has the virtual boosted sales?
Initially, both in the weeks following the social outburst, as well as in the first two months of the pandemic, visits and sales suffered a certain stagnation. Uncertainty makes human beings more cautious in all their decisions, and the art market is no stranger to this. In our particular case, we had opened our most important exhibitions of the year on 11 and 18 October, and visits were strongly affected. From mid-November onwards, they began to return to normal, and we had one of our most attended openings in the first week of January.
The same happened with sales in the domestic market: the rising dollar and uncertainty initially caused collectors to freeze some purchasing decisions, but everything slowly got back on track after the end of the year. With the arrival of the pandemic in March, what we had seen in October deepened, and both national and international sales experienced a standstill that, little by little and in spite of the fears of economic crisis and recession, became active again. Isabel Croxatto Galería has always been characterised for having a strong presence in international markets through digital platforms such as Artsy, so we already had the experience of selling abroad through these channels. However, the domestic market is very dependent on the offline.
During the first months of the pandemic, in turn, demand and interest in artistic and cultural content rose exponentially, a situation that we were able to use to our advantage. In this way, by innovating with virtual exhibitions and strengthening our digital channels, we were able to recover a certain rhythm of sales and considerably increase our audience scope, reaching audiences throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania, and incorporating the work of our artists into institutional and private collections in Chile, Argentina, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden.
This has been possible through continuous work and constant research into the alternatives that virtual communication offers, building new dialogues with the public, seeking to maintain a close relationship, to share each exhibition project in a more intimate and profound way, just as we did in our usual physical space, but through live broadcasts, video-calls or guided tours with the artists open to the public through different platforms.
The digital dimension has allowed us to remain in contact both with the national public and with our international audiences, with whom we used to meet once a year when visiting the different art fairs in which we participate. This dynamic has amplified our efforts: guided tours are no longer limited to a limited capacity, but can be accessed by as many people as they wish, or can be viewed again later on our website.
With the reopening of our physical space, we have once again been able to conduct personalised visits, with a reduced capacity, which have also been live-streamed and broadcast through our social media.
The current pandemic context has opened up a new range of possibilities for us, increasing our usual content, as well as creating Viewing Rooms and audiovisual material in which our exhibitions and the work of our artists are explored in greater depth.
The various digital platforms we are targeting, and the quality of the content delivered in each virtual exercise in development, have achieved an increase in sales, which we hope will lead us to continue to empower our artists and work team during 2021.
What can you point to as positive or hopeful in this current context of changes and readjustments?
In spite of the complexity of the scenario we are going through, it has been a catalyst for changes that have required us to adjust to standards that perhaps weren't so present in the national art scene. The consolidation of digital channels, in which we have been involved for several years now, is something we see as very positive, and points to a professionalisation and readjustment of the sale and collecting of contemporary art, which, although in Asia and Europe was already established, today we see that in Latin America it is also beginning to be accepted in a better way.
We also hope that now that it has been demonstrated how important it is for the public, and for society in general, to consume artistic and cultural contents, these can acquire greater value both from the people themselves and from public policies. Art, in its different manifestations, has been one of the great refuges in these times of confinement and isolation, and it is good that its importance is recognised, from its creators to the different actors and agents who set this machinery in motion, both economically and socially.
In our particular case, we continue to explore different possibilities to reach more territories and more people with the work of our artists, something that has been central to our efforts, and which has made us one of the few Latin American galleries to explore the Asia Pacific markets.
Finally, the pandemic has meant for all of us, perhaps to different extents, a kind of forced residency; and just as the artists live their residencies and end them with a new exploration, we feel that all of us will have our own reflections and deep dialogues about what this experience has meant for each one of us. That will be fertile ground for creation.
How is the relationship with the artists considering the on-site exhibition schedules that were already programmed for 2021?
In times of uncertainty, the only constant is change, and we have learned to live with that and take it as an advantage in our favour. Something that characterises Isabel Croxatto Galería is the closeness not only with the public, but also and especially with our artists, being constantly in communication with them, beyond what concerns only the work. Thus, our relationship with the artists, in spite of being mainly subscribed to the digital medium during the last year, has managed to maintain even greater closeness, as in some way virtual communication has made us connect from the domestic and the crisis, often deepening the working relationship, but also the affective relationship that we have with each one of them.
We are aware that the health contingency can change from one week to the next until the pandemic is over, so we have allowed ourselves to have this flexibility in terms of our programming, and we are also grateful for our artists' trust in our actions.
Thanks to the leap we made in 2020 towards the virtual, and once we reopened the doors of our physical space in Santiago, our exhibitions are moving to a mixed model that integrates both the on-site and the virtual. In this way, our calendar for 2021 contemplates exhibitions that will take place exclusively virtually, such as the current international group exhibition CUIR; others that are presented physically in our space in Santiago and at the same time have a virtual dimension, such as Ex Post by Paloma Castillo; or only on-site and in a more intimate way, according to the logistics and symbolic load of each one. This allows us to adapt and respond quickly to any changes in terms of quarantines and pandemic restrictions, while still presenting the work of our artists to both national and global audiences.
What are your expectations for Sísmica's new plans for 2021?
Both Sísmica and ProChile have been important allies in our work to internationalise the careers of our artists, accompanying us in our participation in art fairs in markets as far away from Chile as Turkey and Hong Kong. ProChile was also a key partner in our process of adaptation towards the virtual during 2020.
We know that 2021 will continue to be a period of adjustments, challenges and important changes to adapt to the new realities we live in. At Isabel Croxatto Galería we hope that the revitalisation of Sísmica, as a sector brand born of the alliance between ProChile and AGAC, will mean the development of new strategic alliances that will allow us to position Chilean contemporary art on a global stage, strengthen ties with agents abroad that will enable us to maintain a permanent presence in other markets, and concretely and powerfully invigorate the Chilean visual arts creative industries in Latin America and the world.
From our experience, we know that Chilean art attracts the attention of collectors and audiences who get to know them in other markets, such as Asia; the important thing is to achieve a permanence there of more than five days a year. In this way, and by taking charge of the place from where we try as a space to carry out our work, we will be able to focus and direct our future efforts in a solid and effective way towards the construction of a circulation network that will take Chilean contemporary art to a better position on an international level.
What challenges still need to be faced in order to continue consolidating the art market in Chile?
The art market in Chile has had an important growth in recent years, but, when seen in the Latin American context, it is relegated to secondary positions compared to what we can see in Argentina, Peru or Colombia. It is important that both the market and the national scene continue to professionalise and seek to reach international standards. In this way we will be able to resonate in the Latin American and, hopefully, global context, since the prime material is there. It is necessary to learn from processes that have been successful abroad, and that can be replicated in Chile.
It is also very important to recognise the work of the art galleries at this point, who are ultimately the ones who consolidate the links with spaces and institutions abroad that allow exchanges of knowledge and experiences. It is also relevant to turn our national capital into an interesting pole for the continent's art, through actions and art fairs of high standard and professionalism that manage to attract the attention and captivate international agents.
Collecting and philanthropy are crucial aspects in the development of art scenes and markets in the world, and it is also important that in Chile they can develop and generate support networks and nurture our artists, so that they can create more and better art. It is, in the end, a circle to which we all must contribute and which, when set in motion, generates a beneficial environment for all. Much remains to be done, but partnerships like the work of Sísmica and AGAC are the first steps in the right direction.
Have you thought about establishing Pan-American alliances as other galleries in the Americas have been doing?
One of the good experiences that 2020 left us with was having taken part in a series of digital art fairs held in Latin America, where we were able to share with other galleries on the continent, albeit virtually. Getting to know each other beyond the visits to the pre-pandemic fairs, and being in the same WhatsApp group, seeing what each one is presenting, has been very gratifying and has also allowed us to get to know very interesting spaces and artists that perhaps weren't on our radar.
From our previous experience and efforts, we have had strategic alliances with galleries in Hong Kong, Istanbul, and now Madrid. However, we are completely open to being able to generate new and different bridges with spaces in our continent. We are better together.
What are your target markets outside Chile?
Traditionally, our efforts have been aimed at opening new markets for Chilean art in Asia Pacific, especially in the two gateways to the Asian market, Istanbul, in Turkey, and Hong Kong. We have been participating for five years in Contemporary Istanbul, the main art fair in Asia Minor, of which I am honorary ambassador for Latin America. Added to this is our participation for six years in Art Central Hong Kong, since its first version, an international art fair that runs parallel to Art Basel, and which in 2019 -before the pandemic- allowed us to start testing the waters in Shanghai and establish ties in Singapore.
Our plans for 2020 also contemplated starting to break into the American, Portuguese and Spanish markets, where we have had an exceptional reception from agents in the sector. We are constantly investing in the presentation of exhibition projects in these countries, attentive to the opportunities that each of them present us with, and with the aim of achieving a permanence in them that goes beyond participation in fairs, working on the circulation of our artists in these countries and their adjacent markets.
Any plans for the future that you can share with us?
The short and medium term future is still uncertain, so it can sometimes be risky to venture into sharing plans. However, we plan to continue with our mixed model of exhibitions, integrating the on-site with the virtual, and to continue reaching audiences and collectors in different parts of the world through digital channels. We hope to continue boosting the generation of content from our artists, with the creation of a series of catalogues for each of their exhibitions, something we began in 2020 through digital catalogues, seeking to take advantage of our careful curatorial work and the texts that both artists and curators generously write for our exhibitions, in such a way as to generate documents that mark a presence in time of what each show was and provoked. We also plan to disembark in Madrid in the second half of the year, health conditions permitting, with a collective exhibition of our artists in a current staging that represents the spirit and work of Isabel Croxatto Galería. And, hopefully, we will soon be able to meet up again with our friends in Istanbul, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Miami and Lisbon, whom we were unable to visit in 2020.