When Pablo Benzo visited his home country of Chile, earlier this year, to present what turned out to be a very successful solo exhibition with Galeria Animal, the global pandemic, being “what it is” necessitated a longer than expected stay. Why not take advantage of the time and talent to take part in the ongoing artistic makeover of the iconic El Persa Víctor Manuel building in the southern edge of Santiago. 

As one of the oldest and the biggest flea markets in the bustling capital, El Persa Víctor Manuel, which opened as a tannery in the 1940s, is currently undergoing big changes, transforming  into one of the cultural beacons of the city. Spanning over two levels of approximately 24,000 m2, the site has been built in an industrial architectural style. With the addition of guided tours, urban art, and regular musical program, the enhancements aim to elevate El Persa from “cachureos,” elevating the mercado to a destination in the Chilean capital, long dominated by the central and eastern sections. Inviting artists to paint different parts of this market, turning ceilings, floors, walls, and roofs into a gallery setting has resulted in a fresh look and richer cultural atmosphere. Following the works by Agotok, Mono González, Oficio, Erico, Juanita Perez, Saile, Aner, Paula Tikay, Sick, Inti, and Daniel Marceli, Benzo recently contributed to this mission with a large, site-specific intervention.

"It was painted during the quarantine and lockdown, so I had to stop some days and then sneak in and finish," the artist told us about the logistics of this undertaking. "I needed special permits to work but I had those only at the beginning, so as you can imagine it was a great adventure." Taking the existing architectural elements into consideration, Benzo created one of his still life/interior compositions. Applying light layers of water-based enamel paint, he rendered a series of perspective-defying objects that subtly emerge from the patina of the aged walls. Trompe l'oeil elements bestow an illusion of pillars, paintings, and lights, the work adds depth and resonance to this unique space while respecting its long tradition. —Sasha Bogojev