(NOPD) Bucking Bogotá’s Past of Crime and Neglect

Bogotá — Unsuspecting tourists once smelt the stench of cocaine hanging in the air. Now the smell is of fine arts.

At Bogotá’s History Museum, visitors are greeted by the sound of a gelato machine, a smell of icing, and the sight of glittering photographs. Every moment’s pause was meant to give a sense of the rich and dizzyingly creative vein here.

“Bogotá’s amazing culture is good for the world,” adds the museum’s manager, Marina Leguinazzo. “I could not be content with just our cultural heritage; I wanted to show other people the colors of our soul.”

A similar crescendo goes on in the Hope Museum of Contemporary Art, where a sculptor has created a sky-blue canvas that will measure 3 meters by 9 meters (10 feet by 30 feet) and will be on show for one month. “It’s a unique experience — the first time this type of work is in the world,” notes curator Francisco Torino.

Welcome to art fairs in Bogotá.

Some collectors plan their purchases at art fairs at various markets in Bogotá, such as Sunday’s packed offerings at the Santa Teresita market. International buyers restock or fill their shopping bags with hundreds of items, such as sculptures and photo booths and cabinets full of glasses and objets d’art.

Buyers rarely appear en masse at Bogotá fairs, as they do at fairs in Miami, London, and New York.

One of the major marketplaces is the Hope Market. People like Juan Luis Munoz, an American historian, come every day to shop for photo printing and computer cards.

On a recent visit, Munoz picked up a bulletin board featuring fliers for photo fairs in Paris and London. And he walked into the sales room to see if anything special caught his eye, to be sure.

One place, he says, promises work with an Oregon-based artist who trained in Peru, Enea Garcia, and another English-born national painter.

“Sightseeing through the market is a great experience,” says Enea Garcia. “You feel, and smell, the energy of the country.”

To a slightly embarrassed laugh, he confesses he’s been to art fairs “more than once.” But he’s been happy with the response he’s received.

Mr. Munoz agrees. “It’s a good impulse to get to know who you have.”

The success of the Hope Market is a symbol of what the country hopes to see in its arts market: a city that seems to add value at every turn.

“People are so confident about [this city’s] capital investment,” says Francisco Roigis, a businessman who is involved in Bogotá’s development plan. “They want their cities to be interesting places, to use their creativity. People want to share their paintings and photos, and they look for them here.”

So far, Francis Asscher, the husband of a wealthy foreign buyer and co-founder of the art fairs, has connected with a group of Colombian art collectors.

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