A scholarship in Barcelona took him from an architect at UBA to being the gallery owner chosen by Jennifer Aniston and other celebrities

Back in the eighties, at the age of 19, Néstor was an enthusiastic student of architecture, painting and photography. Out of curiosity and fun, and as part of a climate of freedom that the democratic opening had imbued in society, he began to rub shoulders with different personalities of the night and the underground of Buenos Aires. He began to organize cycles of parties in places like La Ideal, The Spanish Club, The English Club. He set up booths and performances on records like Freedom, Le Coin, La Madrid, Tokio. He organized parties with set designers, artists, musicians, DJs, circus people. They sent to print posters and three days before having the location for the party, they went out to pamphlet the city. “The day of the event it was ten o’clock at night and the place exploded with people, you could find Mimi Maura, Hilda Lizarazu, Miuki Madelaire, Sergio Deloff, Mariano Toledo, artists, musicians, designers.”

Zonana studied architecture, but his curiosity led him down other paths

After several years of organizing these events to which almost three thousand people attended, raising just enough and “a money to have a coffee with milk on the corner of Córdoba and Scalabrini Ortiz”, Néstor had the idea of ​​having his own space. His Pavilion 4 was being developed in Palermo, back in ’87. Today he is 52 years old, and has 54 international art fairs to his credit, including Art Basel Miami, to which he has been traveling with his Pabellón 4 gallery for twenty years. He was one of the first Argentine gallery owners to exhibit there, he goes from city to city, from fair to fair. Arm and disarm stands all over the world. Nestor Zonana It is not usually shown, what it shows are its works, and it exposes its artists all over the globe. But everything had a beginning.

Pavilion 4 of Zonana
Pavilion 4 of Zonana

He was about to finish his degree as an architect at the UBA and won a scholarship to work in Barcelona. Upon returning, he decided to remodel his Pavilion and transform it into a multidisciplinary space in which art events, his architecture studio, and gastronomic experiences coexisted. From there, he generated artistic competitions, and invited selection committees of curators and specialists. Thus he began to venture little by little into the trade of observing and choosing. Most of the artists he accompanies and represents began their careers with him, and are still the soul of Pabellón 4: the Argentines Jimena Fuertes, Paula Otegui, Ruben Grau, Alejandro Thornton, Dino Bruzzone, Paul Sende, are the core of his gallery. . It also has other Latin artists such as the Mexican Amor Muñoz and Natalia Revilla, from Peru.

At a post-Fair cocktail at Pinta Miami 2021 with Celia Birbragher, director of Artnexus, the Colombian magazine of Contemporary Art.  She is a great patron of art
At a post-Fair cocktail at Pinta Miami 2021 with Celia Birbragher, director of Artnexus, the Colombian magazine of Contemporary Art. She is a great patron of art

The real leap began with an act of faith: Twenty years ago, Diego Costa Peuser, current director of Pinta -the group that brings together international art fairs- approached the Pavilion to invite him to exhibit at Pinta Miami during Art Basel. Nestor was surprised and was sincere: “Look Diego, I don’t have money to pay for this”. Fortunately, that no turned into a yes, when Peuser decided to buy works by his artists to finance the trip and the stand in Miami.

That was how Zonana traveled to the United States in 2000, and became one of the first Argentine gallery owners to exhibit at the Art Week. “It was a blow to the head, a bridge to find out what was happening there. Approximately 250,000 people from all over the world travel to Art Basel annually. After that first time, he never stopped going. For all the following years he was able to finance his stand and his travel. Through the Argentine Investment and Foreign Trade Agency, the Argentine Chamber of Art Galleries, Meridiano, managed to provide subsidies to Argentine galleries to be able to travel to the event and more and more can participate. At first, the process to export the works and document them so they can leave the country was very complex; and in recent years it has accelerated. “Some galleries do it by plane with a customs broker, I prefer to take them with me and pay excess baggage; once I arrived in Colombia and on the day of setting up my stand, my air cargo had not arrived”.

The cataract of anecdotes and stories that he was able to live, was undoubtedly thanks to the fact that he treasures them and keeps them, he does not divulge them. He always decided to be reserved; but he was encouraged to tell some of his experiences, one afternoon in the winter garden of his house in Palermo; a space overflowing with plants, showcases, parts of disassembled works and paintings that explode with color.

At the stand in Pavilion 4 of Mapa, the Buenos Aires Art Fair, with Eduardo Costantini and his wife Elina Fernández
At the stand in Pavilion 4 of Mapa, the Buenos Aires Art Fair, with Eduardo Costantini and his wife Elina Fernández

Although the big celebrities send their emissaries or art consultants to the fair to choose the works, they do show up at the opening of Art Basel, the private event that only the most famous, and some gallery owners and artists enter. in the of 2021 One of the figures present was actress Jemima Kirke, recognized among other things for her character Jessa in the HBO series, Girls, and also for being Hope Haddon, the bad director in Sex Education. One of the “emissaries” of celebrities that Néstor met and with whom he established a friendship that continues to this day, is Verónika, a Russian costume designer and adviser to Jennifer Aniston.

They met at the Art Basel Scope Fair, where he participated for 15 years. “A very pretty blonde girl came up to my booth very often. After three years I found out that he was buying the works that were destined for Jennifer’s collection every year. After three years of having her as a client, the actress invited him to her birthday, in a seasonal house that she rented in Miami in Sunny Isles. “I thought he was a super cool person, very low profile, even the audience that was there on the birthday. One imagines that a celebration of a superstar like her is going to be a party for a thousand people, but it was not like that. Obviously among the guests was Brad Pitt. “I couldn’t talk much with him, I met him on the second birthday that Jennifer invited me to. I went two years in a row, then the jet was cut off”. Néstor laughs at these situations: “I’m not a celebrity, I’m pretty clueless.”

Scope has also been approached to buy by high caliber collectors such as Peggy Cooper Cafritz (now deceased), a renowned American philanthropist. “She was amazed by a work by Paula Otegui, she came with a boy who drove her wheelchair. My stand was very small, twenty square meters, because Scope is a very expensive fair. He began to see Paula’s paintings and told me: do you think that this artist is going to be emblematic? Without knowing who Nestor was, he told her that he had managed his career for 15 years and was in love with the work, and for him that guaranteed that he would continue to grow as an artist. With those simple words Peggy felt safe to buy it, and she felt so crossed by Otegui that she bought almost her entire stand.

Jean Pierre Murray, one of the most important borders at the Tate Gallery in London, bought works by Dino Bruzzone from Néstor: three remained in his possession and two were donated to museums. “When I arrived at his house in Beverly Hills I was very surprised. None of these collectors lives in one place. He lived between Beverly Hills, The Hamptons and Miami. I hung Dino’s works in his house. It has an incredible collection of contemporary art, with iconic pieces like Bruzzone worth a thousand dollars and Andy Warhol pieces worth a fortune. He has a lot of appreciation for pop art, that’s why he went crazy with Dino’s work.” Marcela Roggieri, the Argentine concert artist who lives between the United States and Paris, and travels the world with her shows, buys the works of Paula Otegui from him. “When he comes to Argentina we always go for a coffee; The last time I traveled for Paris Photo, I went to his house there”.

At the last Art Basel in Miami, Néstor met in person Ai Weiwei, one of the most emblematic Asian artists of the moment. “Some Mexican artist friends invite me to a party, and when I turn around I have a Ai Weiwei. I had a hard time recognizing him because he was quite undercover, he had a hood; we stayed chatting for a long time, super charming”. He was the only Asian among all Latinos. The artist told him how well he liked Latin American people, and stated that one of the shows where he had felt the best was when he exhibited in Argentina, at Proa.

With Asian contemporary art superstar Ai Wei Wei at an Art Basel Miami 2021 after-party
With Asian contemporary art superstar Ai Wei Wei at an Art Basel Miami 2021 after-party

Another art rockstar that he had the pleasure of meeting is Demian Hirst, in an art show at the São Paulo Biennial. He made a very exclusive dinner in a hidden shed, for about sixty people, and invited him. “He is a war madman, a great artist. I didn’t dare to take a photo with Demian, but I did with Ai Weiwei.” For many years Néstor traveled to Artbo, Colombia’s art fair, and befriended Colombian gallery owner León Tovar, who works with the great masters of geometric, kinetic, and concrete art. One night he dropped into a party by chance: “They wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t on the guest list and everything was very exclusive. León was at the door and began to shout: How can you not let Nestor Zonana in?!”

“A very nice situation is to end a fair at a party with collectors and artists. There they no longer talk about art, they talk about life, about other things. But I am very reserved. You can be having a fantastic time with someone at a party, and if you later post photos on networks or in another area, that person may feel that you have betrayed their space of intimacy. These are just a few of the many experiences that Néstor was able to transmit. Now he is preparing to travel with works by some of his artists to Punta del Este, where he will experience new stories. And to all this, what is art for him? “It is a means of life, of transformation, of conceiving life from another place: and it is also a means of permanence; of decision about how one wants to live, how one wants to be observed, and what one wants to share”.

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