oday was going to be Art Day number one, the idea being that I would go to the Museum of Contemporary Art, get grounded in what's what in Panamanian Art Now, and then ask the attendants where to go for good galleries.
Well, that got shot to Hell instantly. My cousin Ligia came to pick me and my folks up and we drove down there only to find that the Museum was closed for installation. I'd looked it up on the web but the site had no English version and the last exhibition listed ended on July 20. I figured they simply hadn't updated it yet and there would be something along on July 21 to fill the gap. Right?
Wrong. Turns out, the big Panama art museum takes over two weeks to install a show: the next exhibition opens the day I leave.
No problem; Ligia took us over to the Panamanian Cultural Institute, which has a gallery of Panamanian artists on the first floor ... which was also closed for installation of a show that is to open after we leave. WTF? Did they declare a no-art week and not tell us?
Poor Ligia told me she's not big on art, but she valiantly took me (after dropping my drooping folks off) to find the only two galleries she could think of. The first was an upscale couch art place. I found it interesting to see how Panamanian couch art runs heavily along the surrealist/harlequin/Picasso-cubist line. I tried to express this in non-art-fuck terms, and probably failed. Then the second one she couldn't find at all.
Finally, in desperation, she took me to a little place she suddenly thought of that she seemed to imagine wouldn't appeal to me. (She was apologetic the whole time we were there.) At last, we were hitting the mark, though.
This was Diablo Rosso (whose website also doesn't list exhibitions, and whose myspace page is even more useless), a contraction of every pre-gentrification, hipster/artist/DIY maker storefront-cum-hangout-cum-party-we-space I've gotten comfortable in, in my last young adulthood or so. Yeah, the world is scary and cultural capital is a universal currency.
It's a (or part of a) free-standing building with a very apparent graffiti mural along the driveway wall (apparent because--as I realized in that moment--there's no graffiti in Panama, at least, that I've seen so far). Inside there's a store with three rooms, selling the usual DIY lifestyle fare: t-shirts, purses, curios. These, of course, have a Panamanian twist, especially the purses woven out of what would have formerly been gum-pack-wrappers, but are now maps, tickets, cigarette packets, etc. Very ironic third world. I like that a lot.
Behind the store is a cafe/gallery (with no one manning the counter) featuring the work of one Jonathan Harker, who turns out later to have represented Panama in the 200? Venice Biennale. Okay, here we are, I thought. I bought some of his postcards.
It's the usual place, folks. There's one in every minor cosmopolis. Now I know where to go the next time I come to Panama and need art tips. If there are any art tips to be had. Perhaps I'd better go back later this visit, although they already pointed me to another gallery called Mateo Sariel on 74th in San Francisco neighborhood, which I will try to find later.