By Alan W. Moore
Madrid isn’t that big of an art town. It’s more about the patrimonio, the magnificent treasures of the Prado, Escorial, et al. It’s the center of the State, recently very much under siege by the rabble. So it’s refreshing for the few days when the city’s contemporary art fair–the ARCO- is in town, the 32nd edition of which closed 17 February.
It’s held in two bays of the giant fairgrounds at Campo de las Naciones, and, with a meal, coffee and perhaps a cocktail at one of the many stands, it’s a day-long comprehensible visit. (Not cheap, of course, but then aren’t we all bourgeois now?) There was a lot of buzz that this year’s mood was down, very subdued because of “the crisis.” Still, it pretty much seemed to be business as usual. But nothing too very adventurous. The big news was when someone knocked over a Bernardí Roig sculpture. Last year it was a wax effigy of Franco in a freezer (so he couldn’t melt, I guess).
An article in El País by Fietta Jarque and Ángeles García profiled the happy, rising art scene in Istanbul which, unlike Spain, has not succumbed to economic crisis. Turkey was featured this year at ARCO, organized by Vasif Kortun. Despite that young artists are “bored with the endless Orient-Occident dichotomy” that marks Euro-Turkish relations, the next Istanbul Biennial is entitled “Mom, am I barbarian?” Still not sure about that one, it seems.
There were talks for ARCO of course, like that on “peripheries, use value and social change” – on the periphery of the main event. These featured New Yorkers Chus Martinez (El Museo del Barrio), Laura Raicovich (Creative Time), and Richard Flood (New Museum). They were held in a box way off to the side of the hall, well out of view of the crowds of – it is hoped – buyers.
There was also a lot of spin-off action,with two other fairs, Art Madrid and Just Mad, and their related events at the newly-born cultural center Matadero. (That’s the old slaughterhouse of the city that has been renovated for art events.) Their two spaces were ARCO-related: an exhibition of young Turkish artists and a show coordinated by Creative Time 2012 prize-winner Fernando García Dory called “Inland Station/Campo Adentro.” This is a large-scale ongoing project, a “line of work” which uses cultural strategies to link city and countryside.
As always, it’s nice when the ARCO can include some part of what the traveling circus of the international art market leaves behind.
1. Tàpies to start, then a mixed plate of Miró with salsa Picasso – The 8th Art Madrid fair served up mostly Spanish postwar masters in a packed corridor space. This is “Humboldt en el Orinoco” (1968) by Manolo Millares (1926–1972), shown by Lorenart. The reference is to the 18th century German explorer who explored Venezuela in 1800. Born in the same year as the Surrealist manifesto, Millares was as avant-garde as you’d want to be in Spain in 1957, part of the group El Paso (The Step) and the Informalists.
2. The razor’s edge – The 4th edition of Just Mad was held down in the parking garage of the lurid Hotel Silken Puerta América, a luxury hotel designed by 12 different architects(!). This was the young folks’ fair, as they call it, but also the one with more evident attempts to engage living artists. It also featured more political work, including Isaac Montoya’s “Carnivalismo” (2009-11), which is a videotape of solarized street dancing. A look through a mounted blue glass screen reveals the hidden images behind – riot police in motion. It’s all too real…
3. Discourse learning – Just Mad 4 set aside booths like this for public meeting and greeting, like “Speed Arting” and “An Artist on My Couch.” Local art schools also had setups.
4. Dark histories – This is a work by Equipo Crónica (1963-1981), a group of painters whose work straddles the Franco dictatorship and the Movida period of the return to (a kind of) democracy. They moved from the Informalism of artists like Millares to a punchy political Pop. This is “The Soldiers of Breton” (1971), part of the collection De Pictura, formed by entrepreneur Mariano Yera and psychiatrist Javier Lacruz, hung in a VIP lounge at ARCO.
5. Just for fun – Mario Ybarra Jr.’s installation at the booth of the Santa Monica, California gallery Honor Fraser was entitled “…like a cow visiting a butcher shop…” Very appropriate for meat-obsessed Spain, this Chicano artist filled a pallet-floored booth with painted plywood hams and cuts of meat, and played a jolly music butchers’ video. A Disney version of Paul McCarthy, if that is possible…
6. From rails to trails to obscurity – The SEFT-1 project of Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene was featured by Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo, and it’s a knockout. Puig and Domene built and drove a specialized vehicle along abandoned railroad lines in Mexico and Ecuador. The privatized rail service has pulled back from the these countrysides, isolating many communities, and removing incredible landscapes from easy view. (A version of this show is also up at Magnan Metz in Chelsea going into March.)
7. Obsolete visions – A viewer contemplates the “postcard” views of the SEFT-1 project of Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene at Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo, ARCO 2013.
8. Hidden hands – Rampa gallery of Istanbul had large photos by Nilbar Güres. These groups of women are in Anatolian Turkey, a very Muslim part of the country, albeit one with a rich history. “Güres”, writes a critic, “always looks for the hidden and the uncanny taking place behind the protection of traditional structures” (Övül Durmusoglu). Indeed, these pictures are pretty damn weird! (Look for the hands…)
9. Pigs eating countries and a killer talks – The Promoteo Gallery of Milan had two fierce works, one allegorical and the other not. Santiago Sierra’s performance documentation “The Iberic peninsula devoured by pigs,” performed by a porcine company in Milan in late January of this year was documented in one room. In the other was a work by the extraordinary Aníbal López (aka A-1 53167, his national ID number). López’ work was a video of a dark screen interview of a Guatemalan political hitman done at Documenta XIII. This tape is riveting, deeply unsettling, and as much about the audience of artisticals in Kassel as it is about the testimony of an odious “professional.”
10. Along the lines of marvelous things… Maybe it’s pointless to illustrate the only painting in this show I wanted to own, a big, gorgeous, funny work by Günther Förg at Galerie Lelong in ARCO. Förg’s work looks pretty blah on the internet, but face to face it’s like Rothko crossed with Guston. Only 80K Euros, but hey, they’d probably pay the onerous Spanish VAT for you. (Günther Förg, “Untitled,” 2002; acrylic on canvas. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, photo by Fabrice Gibert.)