San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Artwork 101: Looting Costa Rica’s Paintings

THERE is an edge to art in Costa Rica,both painting and sculpture, that has nothingto do with the jungle scenes and woodensalad bowls on the tourist beat. Collectorsand galeristas have already noticed the trueinnovations in contemporary LatinAmerican art here that puts it on par with artaround the world.“In the last seven years there has been anawakening in people’s taste for theirhomes,” art collector Fuad Farach said.“Previously the acquisition of art wasrestricted to one group (the rich). Now thereare lots of small and medium-sized collectorswho don’t fear buying things. And thereis a new generation of business people, professionals,who are acquiring art the same asbusinesses and financial institutions. Therehas been an increase in talented artistsbecause of that.”As the experienced collectors know, thenew and established artists of this countryare accessible even to the novice collector orthose with a little more than a passing interest.You only have to know where to go, whoto talk to, or what to read.Curators at the Museum of ContemporaryArt in San José (257-7202) stress the importanceof reading and studying copious amountof art history to understand the moderntrends. That advice is echoed, in part, bygallery owners and collectors, but only insofaras any purchase with a mind for investmentshould be investigated.“The main thing is to orient yourself.Obviously it depends on the goal, if you wantto invest or of you want to decorate, and youhave to research it for yourself,” said AlexisDumani, co-owner of the Galería GDS.“AT times people see a piece and don’tknow what it is about. They should ask theassistants at the gallery what it is about, whatis its theme, in what phase of his or hercareer is the artist, what does the artist’sresume look like, in what public collectionscan you find the artist’s work, in what privatecollections, (though, she adds, privatecollectors are not always forthcoming aboutwhat is on their walls).“It’s good that people learn becausenobody knows what a work is about withoutaccess to the artist (directly or through awritten synopsis) or a critic,” she said.Unless it is strictly for investment anddoes not even straddle the line between thepotential for value appreciation and your owngood taste, Dumani believes the gut-leveleffect a piece has is the most important factor.“I look at a work first with an eye forwhat it sends me according to my experiences.It doesn’t have to do with the artist’sintentions, rather, what it says it to me,”Dumani said. “The initial impact, whether aperson likes it, is something very personal.Later, upon analyzing it a little, you considerwhat the artist is trying to say by readinga synopsis of his or her work. The intentionis transmitted by the artist or an art critic.Sometimes it’s about nothing more than anew or interesting technique, sometimes itcould be a social commentary, for example.”THERE are people, she said, who buywhat moves them, which she encourages, butthere are others who want to invest in a piece.In that case, research is necessary. Luckily, inthis computer age resources abound.She recommends that investors talk togallery attendants, museum curators, theartists and critics themselves, if available,and that they read art magazines, articlesabout the artist in other media, discover whatawards he or she might have won, read theartist’s resume, and discover where the artistmight be headed in his or her career, andhow serious is his or her commitment to thecraft. All of which may give an idea ofwhether a particular artist’s work willincrease in value.Marbella de Farach, art collector withher husband, Fuad, said there are two kindsof art in which you can invest. Pieces thatare by known and established artists, whichcost more but may be safer investments, andpieces by young and new artists, which areriskier. In the case of buying from youngartists, she said, “go with your heart.”“We went with young artists because it’smore fun to see how they behave, where theygo. Sometimes when you buy a known artistthe price levels out (it does not increase).”THEY started collecting 20 years agofor fun, now they do it as an investment andto support up-and-coming artists, many ofwhich they get to know personally.“In Costa Rica there are many youngartists who come from above with strengthand good art,” Mr. Farach said. “We believeit’s important that the collectors and noncollectorssupport national artists, as muchin painting as in sculpture.”A number of magazines and Web sitesshed light on Costa Rican and other LatinAmerican artists. A few recommendationsare the magazines Art Nexus, which coversart all over Latin America, Lápiz, a Spanishpublication that covers Latin American art aswell as European and North American, and,for comparison, Art in America, which coverscontemporary U.S. art. An incrediblenumber of Web sites are available, includingArt Nexus’ site,,, and September the Galería GDS will offerart appreciation courses once a week, taughtby a Cuban museum curator.The Farachs recommend three galleriesthat feature shifting private expositions inCosta Rica: Klaus Steinmetz, 289-5403,located in San Rafael de Escazú, 25 meterseast of the Plaza Rolex, Jacob Carpio 257-7963,located on the Ave. 7, 50 meters west of theLegislative Assembly in San José, andGalería GDS 380-4134, 386-8591,, located inMulticentro Paco in Escazú, by appointment.Commercial galleries that are recommendedare the Kandinsky, 234-0478, 208-2674, located in San Pedro, east of San Jose,in the Calle Real shopping center, and Galería11-12, 280-8441,,, Barrio Escalante,from the farolito 200 meters east, 100 metersnorth.

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