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ARCOmadrid February 21- 25, 2018

Santiago Sierra, “Political prisoners in Contemporary Spain” 2018 @ Galeria Helga de Alvear

This year the 37th edition of ARCOmadrid, the international meeting point between Europe and Latin America, held at the IFEMA convention center welcomed a staggering 100,000 visitors, including over 200 art professionals and 300 collectors from all over the world. Surprisingly, the fair’s attendance in the Spanish capital consistently surpasses that of Art Basel, FIAC and Frieze, attracting more attendees than three of the art worlds most important International art fairs. This years’ edition has been touted as a major success, with many museum quality gallery presentations and a “10-20% increase in sales,” and what was described as, “the best year since the beginning of the crisis in 2008.” Despite the usual discrepancy in reported art fair sales versus actual sales, (which should always be taken with a grain of salt), it was still clear that this years’ fair was a commercial success compared to previous years and this resulted in a more optimistic outlook amongst participating galleries and attendees at the fair.

This year ARCOmadrid featured 208 galleries from 29 countries divided over four sections: Opening, Dialogues, Future and the General Program. Opening was reserved for younger galleries who were invited by a curatorial panel to participate and featured two wonderful recent discoveries, Madrid based Galeria Algeria run by Sebastián Rosselló and The Ryder based in London, run by the young and ambitious Spanish curator Patricia Lara, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in January at the Talking Galleries symposium in Barcelona.

Galeria Alegria featured elegant, linear, sculptural works in brass by Danish artist Lars Worm, deftly paired along side Chilean painter Humberto Poblete-Bustamante’s works on canvas. I caught Worms’ recent solo show at Alegria during my last visit to Dr. Fourquet (a barrio dotted with galleries a stone’s throw away from the Reina Sofia) and was taken with the irreverence and humor of these works which somehow still manage to project a simple elegance.

Lars Worm @ Galeria Alegria

Dialogues was a series of thoughtful duel artist presentations and Future was a “curated” section organized by Chus Martinez, Rosa Lleó and Elise Lammer. Like Artissima in Torino, ARCO seems to be curated and run predominantly by women, aside from director Carlos Urroz, a welcome change. The fair lasted five days with the first two days dedicated to VIPs and professionals only. This provided collectors and curators ample time and space to visit the gallery booths, talk at length with dealers and have more than enough time to mull over purchases two full days ahead of the public mob scene.

Wednesday morning the VIP opening began with a with a bang, and a major controversy surrounding Mexican artist Santiago Sierra’s artwork which was unceremoniously removed from veteran Spanish dealer Helga de Alvear’s booth by IFEMA director Eduardo Lopez-Puertas. The artwork in question consisted of 24 pixalated photographs of Spanish prisoners, including leaders of the Independent movement in Catalunya. The work was installed in a very prominent position and meant to greet visitors as they entered, but it was quickly removed just prior to the opening.

Ironically, this piece was exhibited at the fair by Helga de Alvear, one of Spains’ most important and established gallerists, who in fact founded ARCO in 1982. Fortunately, the artwork was purchased prior to the opening by Catalan empresario and media tycoon Tatxo Benet who acquired the work for 80,000 euros and plans to offer it to a major museum.

The works’ title “Political prisoners in Contemporary Spain” is apparently what sparked the outrage and lead to its removal. There has been no conclusive outcome regarding Catalunya’s polemic “declaration” of independence and the provinces’ ex-president Carlos Puidgemont is currently a fugitive of the law, living in Belgium. While there are no clear answers with regard to the removal of this work or this incredibly controversial topic in Spain, one thing is clear – the value of Santiago’s work has since doubled and the international reputation of the artist has never been stronger, with several institutions now interested in acquiring this controversial work for their own collections.

Diego Bianchi @ Jocelyn Wolff Gallery

Political controversies aside, I made it early Wednesday afternoon for the VIP opening, just missing the inauguration with King Felipe and Queen Letitzia, the royal fashionista, who was literally dressed in red from head to toe with a long dress and matching musketeer boots. Upon my first walk through I was impressed by the museum quality presentations of many of the galleries on view. Of note was Jocelyn Wollf’s boldly curated booth which featured a stand out sculptural work by Diego Bianchi entitled Runner, 2017 for 18,000 euros made in plastic, styrofoam, fabric, wood, and paint; an installation of found doors by young French artist Guillaume Leblon and another curious installation of sea shell shaped oil lanterns hanging from the ceiling by Portuguese artist Francisco Tropa.

King Felipe and Queen Letitzia of Spain

In the Opening section there was a number of impressive presentations by young and up and coming galleries, including the aforementioned Ryder gallery from London run by Patricia Lara, who founded her space in East London three years ago with a focus on performance and new media. Her solo presentation of young British artist William Mackrell consisted of a bold performance piece entitled Intervention that included an actor dressed in white, laying in a metal and plexi vitrine over top of flickering neon bulbs a la Dan Flavin. The flickering bulbs mimicked the performers labored breathing connoting a link between technologies planned obsolescence and human entropy. Apparently, The Ryder’s booth was a hit with the King and Queen and caught their attention, along with everyone else at the fair.

William Mackrell @ The Ryder Gallery

While the performance was a risky presentation that drew throngs of curious viewers, Mackrell’s small works on paper from a series called Cover Up were what really caught my eye. Lara explained the story behind the works and how each day at dawn thousands of Western newspapers, art, and fashion magazines arrive at distribution warehouses in the United Arab Emirates. Before any of this material can be dispersed to bookstores and newstands, a team of workers scans the literature for nudity, lewd images and anything deemed indecent is quickly censored by hand using a thick black marker.

The artist collected these magazines and painstakingly scratched out the remainder of the page’s surface with a small scalpel blade leaving thousands of tiny pock marks, thus highlighting and preserving the imprint of the censorship marks by the Owellian armies of workers hired to cover these images before their deployment around the United Arab Emirates. When I dropped by to say hi to Lara on Saturday these works had already been acquired by the Albright Knox and the Manchester Art Gallery.

The increasingly prevalent theme of censorship was not only highlighted in Mackrell’s work and with the removal of Santiago Sierra’s work at the fair, but with more and more of these types of stories surfacing in the media, this theme is clearly manifesting itself in the work of many contemporary artists.

William Mackrell Cover Up (Stripper with bare breasts),

2017 Etching on magazine print, mounted on aluminium 22 cm x 14.5 cm

Another gallery that I found had work of interest was the Mexican gallery MARSO, run by another female powerhouse, Sofia Mariscal (who as it happens just got engaged to Guillermo Penso Blanco) of the Venezuelan Penso Family, who own and run the impressive Otazu Bodega collection. Sofia and Guillermo curate the Otazu Collection together and MARSO’s booth featured a couple of artists of note from this collection, which I will write about in my upcoming coverage of the VIP trip to Bodega Otazu, that will include a interview with the dynamic couple.

At MARSO I discovered the work of American artist Virginia Colwell, born in 1980, who is now based in Mexico City. Sofia explained that her subtle and elegant text-based works on paper, silk and felt made with graphite attempt to examine the space between official and unofficial histories and the poetic ambiguities of truth and fiction in historical narratives. Often Colwell’s artworks begin in her father’s FBI archives, those of clandestine Puerto Rican revolutionaries from the Cold War, US embassy archives analyzing the El Salvadorian Marxist insurgency, and archives about Mexican political corruption in the 1970s. Colwell grew up with her father who was an FBI agent and this influenced her to produce this series of works, turning these personal narratives into delicate objects in order to transmit her fathers’ story.

Also on view at MARSO, were more delicate works on paper in graphite by the American artist Tony Orrico, who held an a awe inspiring, live, endurance-based, drawing performance at the Otazu Bodega the weekend before, surrounded by thousands of wooden barrels of wine and a rapt audience….but more on that later.

Teresa Braula Reis, Untitled, 2017, Cement (cement and mortar), 26 x 20 x 4,5 cm @ 3 + 1 Gallery

In advance of my first trip to ARCOlisboa, coming up in May, I tried to focus on some of the Portuguese galleries participating in the fair, of which there were many. At Lisbon’s 3 +1 gallery I found the work of Portuguese artist Teresa Braula Reis very engaging. Her photographs and sculptural works in concrete examining memory, place, nostalgia and the built environment were beautifully executed and intellectually engaging. Over at Daniel Faria’s booth, (shout out to the only Canadian gallery in the fair!), I chatted with Portuguese curator Rui Amaral about the forthcoming trip to Lisbon and he gave me a very informative 101 on what to see when there. Daniel Faria had a minimal and well-curated booth featuring the work of Canadian artists Shanoon Bool, Douglas Coupland, and a new artist, who just had a solo show with the gallery in Toronto, experimental photographer Stephen Beckly who I am quickly becoming a fan of.

Douglas Coupland, Shannon Bool, Stephen Beckly @ Daniel Faria Gallery

The always talkative and charming Luis Valverde at Madrid-based Espacia Minimo gallery told me he made an effort to invest in ARCO and his local audience this year. He did so by presenting a large, well thought out booth, featuring many of the artists in his highly conceptual roster. He did a great job of delineating each artists’ works so that it almost felt like a mini gallery survey, allowing each artist their own room to breath, yet showing the full breadth of his program.

At àngels barcelona, Emilio Alvarez presented another large booth that included a great selection from his roster; Esther Ferrer, Joan Foncuberta and Harun Farocki, but also a work by Barcelona-based Jaime Pitarch, entitled Tournesol that featured a cleaning cart with several colorful mops, plastic garbage bags and bottles of cleaning products installed on the outside hall of their booth. While we were eyeing the curious object wondering if this was a work of art or actual cleaning supplies that were left there by an absent minded worker, a women suddenly appeared bent over on her hands and knees scrubbing some invisible stain on the convention center floor. One had to do a double take to figure out if this was in fact a performance or the real thing. Jaime Pitarch’s work always has a tendency to play tricks on you and is always smart, thought provoking and leaves you guessing.

Jaime Pitch @ Angels Barcelona

Aside from ARCO itself, which featured a great mix of well curated, museum quality work from world-class galleries alongside some very interesting new propositions, ARCO’s VIP program this year was also well organized and chock full of private visits to a multitude of corporate and private collections such as Inelcom, Lowe, Berger, Santander and Otazu, held the weekend before the fair. The Spaniards seem to have the Corporate Collection down to a “fine art” (no pun intended). There are a staggering array of banks, real estate, tech and telecom companies that all have their own corporate collections, even the ubiquitous El Corte Ingles, the highend department store has one.

I skipped the Corte Ingles' event but went to the party held at Inelcom’s headquarters on Saturday night, which turned out to be well worth the drive to Pozuelo. The massive private corporate collection features mostly video and installation-based work, and includes a dizzying number of artists such as Carsten Holler, Kader Attia, Olafur Eliasson, Ceal Floyer, Luc Tuymans, Tacita Dean, Joan Jonas, Damian Ortega, Steve McQueen, Candice Breitz, Gunter Brus and Sophie Calle, just to name a few.

One had to enter through not one, but two of Carsten Holler’s flashing light installations, which were rather blinding and made us feel as though we were arriving at MTV Music awards while on the verge of an epileptic seizure. The non-stop tapas and cava kept everyone out quite late and while the party continued upstairs in an outdoor tent, late-comers continued to explore the subterranean labyrinth of video and art installations below, in what must have been a converted parking garage. This was is an impressive and extensive collection and we look forward to going back for a more in-depth private walk though with the curator this Spring to learn more about the collection..

Esther Ferrer @ Palacio Velasquez, Reina Sofia

Besides the excessive parties and collection visits, there were also many other simultaneous off site exhibitions at museums and galleries during the fair that were certainly worth fitting into the very tight schedule. One stand out for me was Esther Ferrer’s solo exhibition in the beautiful light filled Palacio Velasquez. Another in a wave of exhibitions focused on underrepresented or unrecognized women artists, this exhibition by the Spanish conceptual artist Esther Ferrer, entitled All variations are valid including this one held at the Reina Sofia’s lofty outpost in magical Retiro Park, was unforgettable.

The exhibition featured a selection of works, including performances, installations, preparatory works, and series that documented many of her actions (with photographs and videos). Born in San Sebastián in 1937, Ferrer was a pioneer and one of the foremost representatives of performance art in Spain, participating in the activities of the Zaj group in 1967. Action art was at the forefront of her artistic practice, but she did return to object based works in 1970 with reworked photographs, installations, and a mathematical series based on prime numbers.

Her prime number poems were not only visually stunning, but conceptually and mathematically rigorous. These drawings made with series of prime numbers were meant to evoke the expansion of the Universe and thus, time and space. These minimal visual diagrams underpinned the metaphysical concerns in her work and the themes of time and space were reflected again and again throughout her oeuvre. These themes were especially vivid in her self-portrait series documented over a 20 year period, marking time and entropy on a frail human scale.

Dan Flavin @ Cayón Gallery

I could go on forever with the plethora of great exhibitions, museum shows, and peripheral events during ARCO week, but I will just mention one final exhibition of note, a spectacular historical show of Dan Flavins “Homage to Artists,” organized in conjunction with David Zwirner at Cayón Gallery. This was the first exhibit by the North American artist Dan Flavin devoted exclusively to the works he dedicated to some of the most important artists of the 20th century. This exhibit, which covers a span of 25 years, includes some of Flavin’s most notable works, dedicated to artists including Josef Albers, Alexander Calder, Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Cy Twombly. Flavin’s explorations culminated in what is considered his breakthrough work. Completed in 1963, the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brâncusi) consists of a single fluorescent lamp installed diagonally on the wall, a tribute to Endless Column (1938) by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncusi (1876–1957).

Following the creation of the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brâncusi), Flavin produced a series of installations—or “situations”, as he would refer to them—of light and color that completely redefined their surrounding space. In this manner, architecture assumed a vital role. This exhibition took place at Cayón Gallery's two outposts and it was incredibly rewarding to see this important selection of works on view together for the first time in Spain. While I assumed the works must be on loan due to their historical nature, all of the works on view were surprisingly available for sale.

That’s all that’s fit to print for SBFA’s round up of ARCOmadrid 2018…Stay tuned for our upcoming announcement of Unique Multiples forthcoming inaugural edition and our upcoming Travelogue: SPAIN!

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