Gustavo Bonevardi is an architect and artist from New York City most famous for “Tribute in Light,” an art installation memorializing The World Trade Center displayed every September 11 in New York City. As the son of the late avant-garde artist Marcelo Bonevardi, Mr. Bonevardi has enjoyed an eclectic career ranging from architecture and fine art to graphic design and computer animation. This week, Mr. Bonevardi will be represented by one of over 350 galleries from around the world at Art Basel in Miami, Florida. In honor of this event, Mr. Bonevardi sat down with dot429 to discuss his unorthodox but flourishing career and being gay in the art world.
Tell us a little bit about Art Basel. How long have you been participating in it?
Mr. Bonevardi: This is Art Basel’s eighth year. The first couple of years I came as a viewer but this is the second year I’m participating as an artist. The dates this year are December 2-5. Thursday, December 2, is the first day open to the public but on Wednesday, December 1, starting at 11am VIPs are invited, then it’ll open to the press and become increasingly bigger and more social towards the end of the day, culminating with the main opening at 6pm. I guess a lot of collectors come to Art Basel to buy art and want to see the works in a quiet, contemplative atmosphere, before it turns into this enormous international, social event.
How did you get involved in art and what are you presenting at Art Basel this year?
Mr. Bonevardi: I became an artist essentially by chance. I am trained as an architect but have veered off in different directions when opportunities have presented themselves. I like new challenges, and that has served me well. A few years back, I found myself doing computer animation, an unexpected segue out of architecture. My business/creative partner and I started making virtual recreations of buildings. We did a lot of work for New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. I’ve always taken advantage of opportunities that have presented themselves, actually welcoming them despite often not having the formal training to confront them. I guess I’ve been fortunate enough to latch onto things that I become passionate about enough to learn what I needed to. I’ve done lots of things with my architecture degree and always been involved in art, but it’s only in these past three years that I’ve dedicated myself entirely to fine art. And this is also the first time I’ve done art that is intended for galleries as opposed to installations or murals for specific sites or commissions. Recently the work I’ve been focusing on is very simple pencil on paper drawings. For the past two years I’ve also been working on watercolors. Technically my work is not complicated. It’s all subtlety, precision and execution.
What does an artist need to do to be invited to exhibit his/her work at Art Basel?
Mr. Bonevardi: Have a great gallery. Art Basel is the biggest art fair in the world. Because it’s international and so successful, it is competitive to participate and galleries have to apply for a booth, so for the galleries it’s not just a matter of writing a check, and they’re in. So to answer your question, I wasn’t selected as an individual artist, the gallery I exhibit with was, and they chose to include me.
Art Basel has changed and gotten bigger over the years with the addition of peripheral fairs. What are your thoughts on that?
Mr. Bonevardi: Art Basel is the central focus, but this week here in Miami is more than just Art Basel, there are many peripheral fairs. These are great because they allow so many more artists and galleries to participate which really turns this into the mega event that it is. There are at least three other important art fairs that I know of going on at the same time and probably more. Also the area called the Design District, where a lot of European and high-end design firms have shops also hosts a fair this weekend, Design Miami. And there are lots and lots of parties. Tonight is the Vanity Fair International Party and the opening of Design Miami. Thursday there’s a MoMA party at the Raleigh and a party at Lords, a new gay hotel that just opened up, and that’s nothing, there must be hundreds. There are events going on morning, noon, and night.
What inspired you to design “Tribute in Light” for the World Trade Center Memorial?
Mr. Bonevardi: It’s something very special and happened before I started working exclusively as an artist. I’m a born and raised New Yorker and my studio is near Ground Zero. My business partner John Bennett and I lived through the September 11 attacks, and it had an enormous impact on us both. The idea for recreating the towers in light occurred to us the day after the attacks, it was something that was born out of a desire to heal the city quickly. It was a visceral response. The night after the attacks, I sneaked into Ground Zero and took photographs. John and I discussed the idea of using light beams to recreate the image of the towers and made an image of what we thought [Tribute in Light] could look like, we wrote this tiny caption that was maybe four sentences long, and emailed it around—it just mushroomed. Concurrently, other people were coming up with similar ideas. There was a team of artists who made a rendering that was published, and they became part of the growing group. I guess you could say it went viral, the idea was so much bigger than any of us. We worked with The Municipal Arts Society and Creative Time, two arts organizations in New York who in the end were able to make it happen.
Do you think there are any hurdles in being LGBT in the art community?
Mr. Bonevardi: I would think the art world is more accommodating than almost any other field. The arts are more accepting of individuality, ambiguity, and nonconforming. Those qualities are championed–in fact, they’re in a way what you look for in an artist. Then again I was born and raised in New York, with an artist father so maybe I experienced less conventional constraints than others may have. That said, I always find it interesting that architecture is strangely straight. Very few high profile architects, if any, are gay to my knowledge.
What do you think of the art world today? Has the business of the art world changed at all over the years?
Mr. Bonevardi: It’s basically the same but more so. There has always been a lot of fascination with wild, dramatic, spectacular things- shock value. For example, there’s a British artist, Marc Quinn, who in 1991 sculpted a self-portrait of his head and shoulders, and it sits in a glass box with a refrigerator attached to it. The sculpture has to be refrigerated because it’s made of the artist’s own frozen blood. That’s fantastic but pretty crazy. Another notable thing with the art world is the split between the top-tier artists, whose works are spectacularly expensive, and everyone else. There’s a tiny group of artists that are incredibly expensive, and then there’s a gap to the next tier. You don’t find artists evenly distributed along a range of prices. This has always been the case but the split is getting larger. I think the reasons for this come from outside the art world and have more to do with media and marketing.
To visit Gustavo Bonevardi’s website, click here.