I bought a piece of art today because it made me cry. Titled Grasses in the Night, it’s a monotype by Costa Rican artist Lorena Villalobos. In it I see human frailty (the delicate grasses) and our inability to see the danger around us (the darkness). News of the Manchester terrorist attack has hit me hard. Never before, in my lifetime, has the value of human life been so low. When a young man can take the life of an 8-year-old child and believe he is on the side of righteousness, then we are all reduced to blades of grass in the night, grass that can be trampled on by unseen feet, when least expected.
I came across this piece in the Hidden Garden Art Gallery, the largest of its kind in Costa Rica. Located about 3 miles from the Liberia International Airport on the road to the coast (between Payless Car Rental and the German Bakery), the gallery consists of 15 rooms (about 3500 square feet of wall space) with more than 400 pieces from over 60 national and international artists on display. Most are original pieces but there are some giclée prints, too. While some of the featured artists now live abroad, everything on show was created in country.
As I moved from room to room, I racked up quite a sizeable spend in my head. It was such a pleasant change from the sameness that pervades the tourist offer in Costa Rica and indeed many other countries, what I like to call the MTs (empties) – made for tourists. It’s an amazing space. Some of the rooms have wide open windows looking out on to the gardens. And despite the heat, there’s an airiness that lends itself to a leisurely browse.
I was particularly taken with this wooden carving – Paso al Futuro (Step to the future) and wished I had an unlimited budget and a private plane to fly it, and everything else I’d picked out, home.
I got chatting with the owners, Chicagoans Greg and Charlene Golojuch. The pair had always planned to retire to Costa Rica but when redundancy forced their hand about six years ahead of schedule back in 2008, they took the plunge armed with little more than high-school Spanish and the determination to make good the change. Greg set up shop in a room at what is now their gallery. He was approached by Argentinian-born artist Carlos Hiller with a view to representing him. Hiller’s underwater work is on permanent exhibition in the gallery and the artist himself occasionally paints in public, using his art to create social change.
Hiller then introduced another artist to the Golojuchs, and, as luck would have it, another couple of rooms in the building became available. And then a few more. The recession had hit and businesses were downsizing or folding, freeing up space. Call it luck or happenstance, the Golojuchs recognised the gift of opportunity and took it. Introductions and approaches were made to other artists and now the variety of what’s on show speaks for itself.
I was impressed to see original work by Otto Apuy, the artist responsible for the mosaic church in Cañas. Exhibited both nationally and internationally in museums, Hidden Garden is the first gallery to carry his work permanently. Word has it that Apuy started painting when he was two years old. He’d put a chicken’s foot into a pot of paint and then make imprints on the wall. Some 60 years later, his body of work that embraces multimedia and has been exhibited nationally and internationally has earned him the moniker Renaissance Man.
Susan Adams is another artist I recognised from my time Stateside. Back in 1995, Adams received an unexpected invitation to a private showing of the Monet exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. She was so inspired that she quit her job and moved to Costa Rica where she’s spent the last 20+ years painting. If more people did rather than simply think about doing, how much happier the world would be.
Perhaps what sets the Hidden Garden apart from other galleries I’ve visited around the world is its lack of pretentiousness. The Golojuchs speak fondly of the artists they show and talk animatedly about their work and the stories behind their creations. There’s no falsity, no self-promotion, no BS. Instead, there’s an aura of sincerity, an air of respect, and a genuine appreciation for the art in their care and the artists who have created it.
The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am till 4pm. If you’re in the vicinity, it’s worth stopping by. And if you’re not, it’s worth a detour.
Featured image: Cocina Duty / oil on canvas by Russell Chauncey.