Isabel Aninat: “I look cuica and the artists at first had resentment, but in the end I won everyone’s trust”

Black and white photos, boxes of press clippings, special editions. In the center of her gallery, Isabel Aninat reviews and orders documents. There is a photo with Patricio Aylwin when he was a candidate. Another that brings together a multitude of artists where Mario Carreño, a very young Bororo and Guillermo Núñez stand out laughing. These are images that speak of the gallery owner’s 40-year career, a story that she began in 1982 in a room on Calle Bucarest, Plástica 3, and which extends to her current space, in the CV Galería building, in Vitacura.

Between those walls he will celebrate his anniversary next Wednesday, a celebration that wants to highlight not only his career, but also history, as well as the 350 artists who have passed through the gallery, he says.

-At one point I thought that celebrating is very ego and I was embarrassed. But later I said in Chile there is a lot of forgetfulness and, furthermore, nobody knows the great work that galleries do. I started out as a gallery owner with the idea of ​​widening the circle, and that’s what I’ve done. In other words, I had meetings with the pre-candidates for the presidency after the Yes and No, with the artists. And I organized a tribute to Carmen Waugh, who was so important to the artists. Those kinds of things are what I want to highlight, so that you know who they are and how the galleries work. Because many times the galleries seem to be just the cocktail and the sale, a somewhat frivolous thing. And the galleries are not frivolous at all, the few that have been frivolous have died.

Raúl Zurita and Isabel Aninat.

With studies in philosophy, Isabel Aninat was taking classes at the UC Institute of Aesthetics when she embarked on the project of her first gallery with two partners. She then founded Plástica Nueva, which eventually gave rise to Galería Isabel Aninat. Today she is the oldest and most recognized gallery owner in the country, she has a relationship with museums in America and Europe and usually participates in prestigious international fairs, such as Arco Madrid and Art Bassel. Still, she says she misses the romance of the early years.

-It was a very hard minute for everyone, especially for the artists. However, it was a very nice minute. I mean, I personally miss it, because there was a tremendous idealism, the artists showed things against the government but with symbols, with a lot of poetry. For me poetry is like the soul of art. And, in addition, the painters, the poets, the writers got together, something that does not happen today because there is a tremendous individualism. At that time nobody was thinking of selling; when someone sold it was a tremendous celebration. Also, we didn’t have many things, the artists brought things from home for the cocktail, if a chair was missing they brought it and much more was talked about.

From that time he remembers some bold exhibitions, such as the amatory mattress by Juan Pablo Langlois or the exhibition of a strong political character by Guillermo Núñez.

-At the end of Guillermo Núñez’s exhibition, you would have seen the things they wrote in the guest book: “If you’re so communist, how are you going to sell so expensively?” Later with Federico Assler they told me “this old man makes only penises”, hahaha. There were many people who said but this thing is so expensive and nothing is understood, and today those same people tell me what they want to buy, but it is so expensive. Well, at that time it didn’t cost anything and besides, nobody thought about the economic thing. While I was talking with the artists, they sometimes made me a drawing and gave it to me, and no one thought of selling it. Giving almost doesn’t exist today. There is a strong change, there are more people interested in art. At that time it was crazy to make a gallery.

It was not a business.

No. It never has been. All the money I earn I put here in the gallery. Chile does not have the real concept that art is so important for society. But art shows what we are, sometimes it goes ahead and also helps us to open our minds. I thank each of the 350 artists who have exhibited here.

How did you gain the trust of the artists?

A very good question, because I also look like a cuica and the artists at first had resentment. But when I went to the workshops, and I started with the most important ones, for example, Rodolfo Opazo.

Great painter, cantankerous, hermit.

He was unbearable, he didn’t trust anyone, and I adored him. In the end I ended up being his psychologist. But I earned their trust when I conversed with them, and in the end I earned everyone’s trust. When I took classes at the Pedagogical School it was the same, they thought I was a spy for the dictatorship, and in the end I won the award for best teacher. Trust is earned through conversation. It is not a matter of imposing, but of talking and doing things together. It’s something I miss.

You also gained the confidence of Roberto Matta, how was it?

Matta had been a friend of my father-in-law. He told me we were both totally crazy, he should have been an artist, just like me, but he stayed in Chile and there he cannot be an artist. I became very close friends with him, he even invited me with my husband and we went to Tarquinia, where he bought an abandoned convent and set up his workshop there. We were very good friends, I interviewed him and we prepared a book.

November 03, 2022 Interview with Isabel Aninat, Gallerist. Photo: Andres Perez

Is there a lot of counterfeit Matta in Chile?

Yes, a lot comes here, so much so that I’ve been a little harsh with people. I look at them from afar and tell them that’s a lie. And they tell me but how if I paid 20 thousand dollars. But an oil painting by Matta doesn’t cost $25,000. In other words, if I fall and sell you something fake, I have to return the money, I’m a serious gallery. That’s the risk of buying from anyone, it’s a pretty serious risk.

Does the Chilean public have a traditional taste?

There is a more traditional taste in general. Collectors don’t, because they know, they study. People who buy for their home are more traditional. Now I think that the galleries have to worry more about exporting. I started going out in the 90s and my impression is that the public at a fair like Arco was impressed with Chilean art, and it went very well for me. That means that we have a lot to contribute, but we are still locked up.

What else is missing in the middle?

We need more professionalism. You have to know that this is a fabric where they all go hand in hand. And in Chile we don’t all feel hand in hand, so many collectors go to the workshops to buy and that’s a hole for a gallery. And when a fabric has a hole, it begins to break.

At the beginning you had the dilemma of art and market, art and sale. How do you see it today?

Absolutely that the essential task of a gallery is to sell. That art is worthy and that the dignity of the artist also implies that he has to earn money. Money is part of this and a gallery is supported by sales. If everything has a price, why not art?

You exhibited Raúl Zurita here, but I imagine that it is more difficult with other political artists like Lemebel.

I am very open. There are things about Lemebel that I love, and others that I don’t like so much. Let’s see, I feel that some young artists are very obvious, that they speak, for example, of the social explosion, but without reflection. Instead, Lotty Rosenfeld’s cross, for example, can speak of the dictatorship, of the White House, of power. It is a symbol that has many readings. I don’t like works that have only one reading and that are so explicit. I think that genre artists suddenly also fall into a very, very obvious, very direct thing.

How has the pandemic affected you?

I loved it, in the sense that it gave me time to study, to reflect, to review the archive, to think about where I am going. Now, how did it affect me financially? Terrible, I’m still recovering.

The gallery benefited from the Emergency Funds for Culture, and was heavily criticized. What was it that bothered you the most?

First, why did they name me and not all the galleries? All the galleries received money, so I saw it as a political thing for (being the mother-in-law of) Luciano Cruz-Coke. But I loved the support of the artists, Zurita, Javiera Parada. They also named Patricia Ready, we know she has money and maybe they thought I had money too.

What would have happened if you didn’t apply?

At that time I had no way to pay anything. Then we would have closed. And who were the victims? The artists. We don’t think about those kinds of things; we throw stones, but we don’t think about the repercussion.

In an interview with this newspaper, the Minister of Culture announced a reform of the Culture Funds. She said that looking only at quality generates elitization.

Let’s see, I don’t know if Nicanor, Gabriela Mistral, is elitist, and they were of a quality… Thousands of artists have passed right here and zero elitists, but they were of great quality. I believe that the criterion of quality must prevail and that it is not only from Santiago, the province has a lot to say.

In that interview I asked the minister if the galleries could continue to apply, but she said it was not clear.

It shows that he knows little about the galleries and what they do. In other words, an artist locked up in his studio without anyone showing him does not exist. And to get to a museum someone has to have shown it before. In the gallery I spend a lot of money going to the fairs, I go to show the artists and then I play for them. But if a municipality is going to show it and I don’t have the option, why?