By Silvia Goñi*
“Hello, never heard of me?” is the question posed by Sergio De Loof from the video shown by the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art. A video made to honor the artist, who died on March 22, when the Covid-19 pandemic mandatory quarantine had just begun.
We may describe De Loof as a multifaceted creator, performer, videographer, photographer, promoter of cultural gatherings at bars and other spaces where fun, music and entertainment intimately related to art. De Loof became the host of the settings he himself designed and decorated. He was friendly and affectionate and had a close relationship with the fashion world. In 1989, he opened Bolivia bar in San Telmo neighborhood in Buenos Aires City where they served homemade treats prepared by his mother Blanca together with wine in demijohn. Bolivia was the place to keep the porteños´ evenings going in the city at the beginning of President Menem’s government in the 1990s. By then, places like Parakultural and Cemento, multidisciplinary artistic centers that had been paradigms of the post-dictatorship period, were losing their strength. Sergio would say: “I was never identified with the underground culture, I did not wear black, instead, I have always been for bright shinny colors, pink, light-blue, green …”
The fashion shows he organized in Bolivia bar were temporary pieces of artworks. He preferred to call them artistic collective actions rather than performances as the term performance reminded him of the avant-garde Di Tella art group from the 1960s. He created his fashionable apparel models from scrap fabrics that he found at the Don Orione Shelter Homes, or from paper from Vogue magazines, which he bought at the Florida street kiosks. He was not a classic fashion designer. He was only interested in the show and his creations evoked the 1940s and 1950s. His gay and transgender friends, whose bodies were not perfect, walked the runways. There, many of them found an inclusive space at a time when gender equality did not prevail. It was there where he learned to be free. To decorate the Bar with a baroque spirit, they went to Don Orione Home and the Salvation Army shelters to look for furniture, and to the Flower Market for the table arrangements. Everyone working there lived in a real commune.
Sergio De Loof was born in 1962 and lived in two southern suburbs of Buenos Aires City, Berazategui and Hudson. Upon returning from his first trip to Brazil, he started studying at the National School of Fine Arts. Together with his friends he went to the Hebraica Cinematheque, the Leopoldo Lugones Theatre and to the Cosmos Cinema to see the films of Luchino Visconti. That was how his real education began. He admired the greatest painters of all times: Leonardo, Caravaggio, Fragonard, Fantin-Latour, Picasso, Matisse, Andy Warhol.
He would define himself by saying: “I am not a fashion designer, nor an artist, I am all in one.” His work was himself, without prejudice, freely expressing joy and anger. His lifestyle was that of the world of entertainment, trends and current affairs magazines. In the 1990s, in addition to Bolivia, he also opened other bars in San Telmo: El Dorado, Morocco, Ave Porco. They served as popular meeting spaces where artists and intellectuals, celebrities and businessmen would gather. Later he opened El Diamante in Palermo Soho, another fancy neighborhood in Buenos Aires.
De Loof´s Tribute Exhibition “Sergio De Loof: never heard of me?” that opened in November last year at the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art, filled him with joy because he feared people would have forgotten about him. The invitation made by Victoria Noorthoorn, the Museum Director, was the recognition deserved by his career and a way of bringing him together with the art world once again. He actively worked together with the curator Lucrecia Palacios recreating in the museum rooms with the use of mannequins and videos the decoration of his bars and his many fashion shows.
This mega-exhibition was mounted thanks to the valuable contribution of the Buenos Aires Theater Complex, the Argentinian Theater of La Plata, the Cinema Museum that digitized the videos and the Ida Foundation for the Argentine Design Research that cares for Sergio´s archive since 2014 (including VHS, photographs and notebooks that had to be restored).
The documentary “El Monarca”, made by Mariano Garamona (editor of Mansalva) at the time of putting together the exhibition, shows us how De Loof lived his last years at his parents’ house in Hudson. Here is why, when saying good-by to him in the social networks after he passed-away, his friends referred to him as “the Great King”, The Prince and the Pauper, lover of luxury and poverty, contradictions that had characterized him. He lived and died poor. His being far too sensitive inspired artists such as Nahuel Vecino, the Belleza y Felicidad Art Gallery and other art spaces from the 90s.
“Art is the right way to follow. It leads you to beauty, love and brilliant glamour”. Perhaps, destiny was written that De Loof would die during quarantine shortly after his father’s death. As Gustavo Quiroga, president of the Ida Foundation, pointed out, for sure, that was his last great work of art,
His plan was to close the exhibition by blocking Av. San Juan, where the Museum is located, and then, take it to São Paulo, Brazil. He wished to share his memoirs in a book about his career, for which he had already written a poem, and which included texts by the director of the Museum of Modern Art, the curator of the exhibition and the president of the Ida Foundation, among others.
He knew his end was near, thus, he arranged for his ashes to be taken to Rio de Janeiro and have them scattered at the sea on Copacabana beach. Following his style, he did not wish a formal farewell.
His friends, collaborators, artists and Public and Private institutions are now in charge of fulfilling his wishes and so keep his memory alive.
English translation by Lucrecia Marques de Aranciaga