Text and pictures by Maria Santos

What is to be found at ARCOmadrid 2014? The good, the predictable, the slightly uncomfortable -yet correct- and all that glitters at the Spanish fair.

Yesterday, Bpigs brought you a sneak peek of ARCOmadrid. Today, the fair finally opens to the general public, and as of day two, this is what we saw and commented on during our second -yet not sufficient- visit to the grounds of the Halls 7 and 9.

But let's go back in time for starters, and start from the very beginning. Ten years before Madrid's one and only museum for contemporary art opened its gates, ARCO was the most significant event for contemporary art in the Spanish capital. Think of the context: the superation of the Franco regime, then the transition to democracy, and eventually: the embracing of modernity. Initiated in 1982, this (then) innovative fair was received with mixed feelings, but mostly with criticism and skepticism. Against all odds, the fair grew bigger and more prestigious over the years, and it rapidly established itself not only as Spain's largest annual art event, but also as one of the most visited fairs in the world. And this was only achieved due to its pragmatism. ARCO operates with a clear agenda: supporting Spanish artists and making them more accessible to broader contexts, while also investing a generous amount of budget to bring together professionals from both institutions and private initiatives and, needless to say, boosting the market in all ways possible.

In a nutshell, this is the place for top gallery owners, curators, and collectors to see, to greet, and eventually seal the deal; something that is more suitable this year due to the recent and surprising VAT reductions on artworks in Spain (lowered from 21% to 10%).

Now on its 33rd edition, the number of participating galleries has been increased up to 220, with representation of 23 countries, from which Finland, as this year's guest country, gets to present an overall of 13 galleries. In spite of this, the number of artists has been reduced in order to make the fair more comfortable to navigate and experience (in words of Carlos Urroz, director of ARCO for the past four years).

Alexander Levy and Soy Capitán at #Opening

And now moving on to the topic... What is worth seeing at ARCOmadrid 2014?


As already hinted, ARCO has reserved room for everything, but what is certain is that in spite of being ARCO, an "international" art fair, it often accommodates the taste of the Spanish collector of -allegedly- contemporary art. Meaning: there is a good deal of good old established galleries showcasing correct, and most important, saleable art of artists who might or might not be alive (or a lot of what I like calling bling-bling art, something that can be literally shiny (and thus get the inner magpie out of us), but not necessarily). However, I liked Helga de Alvear for her Marcel Dzamas and Thomas Ruffs and definitely Nogueras Blanchard, one of the leading galleries from both Madrid and Barcelona.

Paradoxically, there is some space for "art that deals with the political", the kind that just mentioning makes me blush, as some readers might recall. Barcelona's ADN is probably the best example of this. As for a quite in-your-face example: I spotted a Txomin Badiola's titled "Anal Capitalism" somewhere else.

Julio Le Parc, Op art, modernism... very convenient at ARCO. It also rhymes with the works of some hundred young artists a tad too influenced by post-minimalism, neo-dada et al

On the category of best duets, I couldn't resist the (geographical and aesthetic) proximity of two galleries: Juana de Aizpuru (first director of ARCO) + Angels Barcelona. I also liked the double feature of Hanne Darvoben + Rosemarie Trockel at Crone (at risk of not sounding very innovative). Funny enough, almost all of my favourite galleries turned out to be from Berlin, something that is not difficult statistically, given the fact that Germany is presenting 31 galleries this year.

Esther Schipper is probably at the top of my list -along with Mehdi Chouakri and Campagne Première- and not only because of crowd-pleasers such as Grönlund Nissen's "Unstable matter" (because the audience can use some playfulness too), but for the overall well-balanced array of artists: General Idea, Sylvie Fleury, Ceal Floyer, Pierre Huyghe.

@Esther Schipper

On Repetitions

Ignacio Uriarte's work can be seen in no less than three galleries (including Figge von Rose). Same is the case for the also Berlin-based Spanish artist Secundino Hernández, who seems to be omnipresent at the fair.

And now, what we dissed: I counted 3 (!) dented hoods and then lost track of the many crumpled pieces of paper I saw, all in varying folding styles. It was fun at the beginning, but then it wasn't anymore.

Focus Finland

Because we certainly can use some more Finnish artists' names other than Eija Liisa-Ahtila and Antti Laitinen. Under the alliterative title "Focus Finland", Helsinki-based curator Leevi Haapala has invited some 13 Finnish galleries and spaces to exhibit the works of artists such as Elina Brotherus, Heta Kuchka, or Riiko Sakkinen. Riiko Sakkinen's ironic installation addressing unemployment merged with capitalism has received quite a bit of excitement (FYI, the unemployment rate in Spain currently reaches 26,03%)

Mia Hamari at work @Forum Box

Artists' Talks

From left to right: Felipe Arturo, Fernanda Fragateiro, Lara Almárcegui and María Inés Rodríguez 

This series of talks conducted by María Inés Rodríguez was one of the things I was probably most looking forward to, since the access to the non-VIP visitor to parallel events is outrageously limited.

Therefore, the Artists' Talks program is actually one of the few events that press and visitors can attend. Missed it? Here is the video for Dan Graham's talk (dubbed in Spanish) as a sampler.


@Berliners and young artists-you will feel at home in this section dedicated to emerging spaces no older than 7 years because even the air feels lighter here. Since 2010, #Opening hasn't stop growing and this year it's showcasing 28 young / emerging / independent -you name it- spaces. The funny thing is that there is absolutely no Spanish representation among the exhibitors. In any case, some Spanish artists are being exhibited by Berlin galleries, as is the case of Vicky Uslé (Alexander Levy) and Eli Cortiñas (Soy Capitán). This is something that proves that artists may hail from everywhere, but they are mostly based in Berlin.

A remarkable discovery at #Opening, and also part of Focus Finland, was SIC, a Finnish artist-run gallery from Helsinki exhibiting works by Konsta Ojala and Kalle Leino.

On our watch list: Felix Kiessling @ Alexander Levy

And this is all for today, as we are heading back to ARCO right away. Today on the program: more artist talks, Aki Kaurismäki at Museo Reina Sofia, "El Ranchito Suomi" a presentation by Jaako Pallasvuo, and the show and party at Matadero Madrid.

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