By Stephen Vargha
Cuenca artist Boris Ordoñez showed a tour group his huge chess pieces at the entrance to his gallery, OFF Arte Contemporáneo.
“It is like a chess game where the kingdoms are represented by the young and old,” said Ordoñez. “Young artists are represented by the pawn. They want to be the king of the art world.” The chess pieces were a black king and a gold pawn.
The 58-year-old native of Cuenca adds that the kings are the “older guys” as they feel like no one is going to take them over.
He adds that his brand-new art gallery is the chess board, where everyone is trying to win. Everyone of the 51 artists at the current exhibit is trying to be the most popular.
Ordoñez has brought in the best of Ecuador. Forty-nine of the artists are native to this country. The other two artists hail from Cuba and Israel. Both of those artists call Ecuador home now. Twelve artists are from Cuenca and seven of the artists are women. One of the artists, Edgar Chalco, was given the highest recognition the Ecuadorian congress gives to any art form in 2020.
On three floors, there are 160 works of art for all to enjoy. Cuenca native Hernán Pacurucu is the curator of the exhibit. Pacurucu and Ordoñez want to revive Cuenca after two years of dealing with Covid.
“After the pandemic, the people of Cuenca needed something to do,” said Ordoñez. “Galleries were greatly diminished due to the pandemic. It’s important to give the city a good place where excellent art can be displayed.”
Lee Nichols moved here a year ago from New Mexico. He is thrilled to have this gallery in his hometown. “It is really remarkable what Boris has done,” said Nichols. “Cuenca and this gallery remind me greatly of Santa Fe, which is the second largest art market in the United States.”
As a visual artist, Ordoñez started painting at the age of 12. His career started seven years later with his first showing in Michigan. Since then, the Cuencano artist has exhibited in various parts of the U.S., Europe, and throughout Latin America.
He tried to open his gallery in 2020, but a worldwide health crisis prevented that from happening. “I started before the pandemic, but I lost two years because of it,” said Ordoñez. “The economy slowed down so the opening was delayed.”
With the gallery now open, there are many styles and periods of time represented at this southside gallery. “Each artist has lived in his own kingdom,” said Ordoñez. “When you’re working as an artist, you create your own unique language and culture.”
The Cuencano wants the world to see what Ecuador has to offer. It is why there will be new exhibits several times a year. In June or July, the gallery will have an international photographer’s exhibit. Thirty of the most famous photographers in South America and the United States will have their photos at OFF Arte Contemporáneo.
Ordoñez said that up until now, Ecuadorian art has not had much visibility. He attributes that to the dynamics of the art world.
“Basically, Europe and the United States are where art is presented to the world,” said Ordoñez. “Only galleries can enter artwork at art festivals in those countries. OFF Arte Contemporáneo is going to represent Ecuadorian artists, especially the younger ones.”
His immediate goal is to get Ecuadorian art into an arts festival in Colombia or Peru. Ordoñez is committed to getting that done despite the $10,000 entry fee.
There is so much to see in Ecuador’s largest art gallery. On the first floor is a huge painting by Nelson Román. Born in Latacunga (Cotopaxi province), the 77-year-old world-renowned artist’s beautiful piece is asking $35,000. He is definitely one of the “Kings.”
What materials are used by the 51 artists represented here is all over the place. That included three gorgeous monochromatic pieces hanging on the wall on the first floor. Besides their beauty, what is impressive about them is that the material used is melted plastic. The artwork impressed one of the attendees at the April 6 Grand Opening that one of the pieces went home with him.
On the second floor is a very interesting piece of art by Ramón Burneo. Born in Loja and now lives and works in Quito, Burneo has created a sculpture from a rescued gas tank, a drone, and several other man-made items. What is unique about “Stowaway” is that no welding or gluing was involved. Everything is attached with screws and bolts.
Everything at the gallery is well presented. Even going up the stairs gives one an interesting perspective of the artwork. The windows of the building are a great backdrop for some stunning origami artwork that was hung from the ceiling. Instead of paper, the talented Ecuadorian artist had used wood. With the city as the background, the unique origami has many visitors standing there and admiring the Japanese-style artwork in its special surroundings.
There are two paintings from a well-known Quito artist. He painted them just for OFF Arte Contemporáneo because as soon as the Quito artist finishes a painting, it is sold.
The youngest artist at the exhibit is from Saraguro (Loja province). He represents the artwork of the ancestral communities of Ecuador and Latin America.
A totally different piece of art is a long and narrow tunnel. The Israeli-born artist’s green fly at the end of it is the only source of light. Ordoñez sees the tunnel as a way to show what goes through an artist’s mind as they create their next piece.
Of course, an art exhibit representing the best of Ecuador has to include Cuenca native Eduardo Segovia. To be unique, Ordoñez said his goal was to present works of the hometown ceramicist that are not so common. There are three pieces on the third floor that may not be familiar to many. Ordoñez hopes that is true as he wants to present art that draws one in to be a learning experience.
“I want to educate the community,” said Ordoñez. “Foreigners need to know what Ecuador arts is about. I want them to know who these artists are and to understand their art, even if they don’t like it.”
The artist adds, “My gallery is a place to come.”
Nichols agrees. “OFF Arte Contemporáneo makes Cuenca a real art market.”
OFF Arte Contemporáneo, Av. Diez de Agosto y Federico Proaño, Cuenca, https://www.offarte.com/, https://www.facebook.com/offartecontemporaneo
Open: Tuesday-Friday, 10:00-5:00, Saturday, 10:00-2:00
Tours: Check the Facebook page. Large groups can make special arrangements. English translation is available upon request.
Photos by Stephen Vargha