Arco 35 Anniversary: Madrid is back, Lisbon to follow

Stefano Pirovano

If seen from the art-world Madrid doesn’t seem the capital of a country that two months after the national elections is still not able to form a government. On the contrary, you would say that it is a clean, safe, efficient city where a huge community of runners live and people are more welcoming than in London or Paris. We are here to attend Arco art fair, that has organized a special edition to celebrate its 35th Anniversary, a main event that benefits of some exhibitions in town such as the ones dedicated to Ingres and George de la Tour at the Museo del Prado, or those to Hito Steyerl, Danh Vo and Andrzej Wróblewski organized by the Museo Nacional Centro Reina Sofia.


Last Tuesday we spent almost nine hours inside the huge pavilion hosting the 221 participant galleries, and even after such an extended visit – more than 20.000 steps! – we would have been happy to stay longer, to see more art, and get more information about the main topic here: Latin and South American art. This geographical indication works as a gentle driver for the European visitor, who is constantly stimulated with new names and visual possibilities to enquire. And even when (rarely) the quality of the proposals drops, that sort of sunny humor characterizing the Latin approach to creativity turns apparently less talented artists and dealers into potential discoveries.


The reason for this feature is shortly explained by Sara Ramo: “I feel that in Europe artists are less free to express themselves – said the artist to Cfa -. It seems that they are forced to behave in a certain way, and to respect some rules in order to be recognized as artists. I could not say exactly why, but in Brazil I feel more free to be myself, in particular when I have to talk about my work”. Sara spends half of the year in Madrid, and half between Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, where she was born. Needless to say that, as an artist, she prefers Madrid to Paris, where she spent an entire year in residency at the Cité des Artes: “I love Paris, it is beautiful. But here the food is better, and you don’t get mad to grab a taxi at night”. We may confirm her assertion, certain cities such Paris, but also London and Berlin, could be rather frustrating for artists.


Our visit started quite early in the morning from Arco’s yellow section, that is dedicated to 35 main galleries which have participated to the fair in the last years and that for the occasion have been asked to present two artists from different generations. Sometimes the dialogue between them is extremely instructive, such in the cases of Gabriel Kuri and Gabriel Sierra at Kurimanzutto, Tonico Lemo Auad and Manuel Espinosa at Stephen Friedman Gallery, and Mark Manders and Michael Borremans at Zeno X Gallery. What these three examples prove in this context is that two is a golden number for the gallery booth. While the solo presentation is most of the time a risky choice, and having more than two artists in your stand may create counter-productive conflicts, in the two-name-format the artists tend to support each other. And you can always put on display a fair number of artworks for each of them.


“It will be remembered as a very well curated edition” told Cfa Spanish lawyer and contemporary art lover Santiago Martínez Lage, former member of the Comité de Apelación of the fair, a special team created three years ago to give a second chance to those art galleries whose applications are refused by Arco’s selection committee, that is composed by dealers. As Mr Lage explained us, the Comité de Apelación was created to guarantee fair competition, which is a key element for having a high quality art fair. “Due to problems with the local laws, Art Basel has adopted a similar solution” he reminded us.


The section dedicated to young galleries and to the solo projects focused on Latin America are clearly a first effect of the good governance. Here we would like to mention Roberto Paradise, a young dealer based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is presenting works by Karlo Andrei Ibarra, Jose Luis Vargas and Caroline Wells Chandler. This latter will be included in a group show later this year at Brand New Gallery, located just next to Paradise and that is presenting three works by American artist Graham Wilson, whose art practice consists of cooking artworks in order to produce other fresh artworks. Later this year the artist will have a solo exhibition at Valentin, in Paris. With regards to the special section on Latin America we would like to recommend the booths dedicated to Felipe Cohen (Kubikgallery, Oporto), Mauricio Limon (Hilario Galguera, Mexico City) and to the Camel Collective (Parque Galeria, Mexico City).


“It took me years to come back to Arco” said Stephen Friedman to Cfa, “but now I am happy to be here again”. He sold two pieces during the opening, and many collectors are expected to come during the weekend. Among the dealers it’s general consensus that Arco is not the kind of fair that burns all the best pieces at the vip preview. Here you can sell important works of art also during the weekend. And today this is definitely a good sign, as the fact that Arco is launching its Portuguese edition, with 40 brave galleries, which will take place in the Fábrica Nacional da Cordoaria, located in Belém, four miles from Lisbon centre, from 26 to 29 May.

February 26, 2016