Optimistic opening for Arco
A change in the fair’s director and a tighter focus helps restore exhibitors’ and collectors’ confidence—although the economic crisis is still felt in prices
By The Art Newspaper. Web only
Published online: 18 February 2011
MADRID. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Arco, the contemporary art fair of Madrid opened its doors on 16 February with great enthusiasm both from gallerists and visitors. Among the attending VIPs were architect Norman Foster, actress Lucia Bosé, the collector Anita Zabludowicz and drector of the Bronx Museum in the New York, Holly Block.
The atmosphere of general optimism can partly be explained by the change of the fair’s management, as former Arco deputy director and Madrid cultural advisor Carlos Urroz returned to take over last spring. The appointment has restored galleries’ confidence in what stands as the most significant commercial art fair on the Iberian Peninsula. “We feel we are in good hands,” says Juan Antonio Horrach Moyà from the Galeria Horrach Moyà in Palma de Mallorca. “After five years of absence we are happy to be back,” adds Toshikatsu Onishi, director of the Base Gallery in Tokyo.
Thanks to Urroz, Arco seems to have regained its credibility as a serious art market event with a new layout and a sharper selection of galleries. “The cut in the number of galleries this year (197 compared with 218 last year) reflects our focus on quality,” says Urroz, who decided to concentrate the exhibitors in two halls this year instead of three. This dramatically reduced the feeling of emptiness which prevailed last year, although no doubt the country’s recent economic concerns also influenced the decision.
“Twenty-nine percent of the galleries are Spanish and 71% are foreigners. These percentages illustrate the international scope of the fair,” continues Urroz and Arco has maintained its tradition to invite galleries from a specific country, with Russia as this year’s guest of honour. “It’s our first time at Arco and we’re happy because this section provides an excellent panorama of Russian art,” says Sergey Khripun, assistant director at the XL Gallery, whose stand was visited by Prince of Asturias Don Felipe and his wife Letizia, heirs to the Spanish crown. His happiness was further supported by the sale of two editions of a 2007 installation by artists Chernyshev & Shulgin for €25,000 each to collectors from Ireland and Luxembourg.
Prices in general, however, weren’t exceptionally high and buyers were rather timid during the first two days of the fair, when our reporter attended. The Paris and New York-based Galerie Lelong sold a 2010 painted collage by Jane Hammond for €27,000 and a 2008 drawing by Jaume Plensa for €45,000, both to European collectors. The Madrid-based gallery Helga de Alvear sold a Giacometti-inspired sculpture by Elmgreen & Dragset L’Homme qui ne Marche Plus from 2009 for €55,000 to a Belgium collector and a black-and-white photograph by Santiago Sierra for €25,000 to the Spanish Fundación María Cristina Masaveu Peterson in Asturias.
One exception could be found at the Marlborough Gallery, which exhibited the most expensive work by a living Spanish painter, the cityscape Madrid desde Torres Blancas by Antonio López. This work, which was sold at Christie’s in Madrid in 2008 for €1.7million, was not on offer for sale during the fair. But the gallery said it was having its best year at the fair since 2008, with sales including a painting by Manolo Valdés for €268,000 and one by RB Kitaj for €197,500, both to European collectors.
Although the country is still suffering heavily from the economic crisis, Spanish collectors were amongst “those who bought the most this year”, reported Isabel Mignoni director of the Madrid-based Galería Elvira Gonzalez, while “the presence of Americans was scarce”. The gallery failed to sell a canvas by Lucio Fontana, one of the rare works on offer at the fair exceeding €1million. “Arco is an interesting fair, because we see Spanish collectors that we don’t see at any other art fairs in the world,” explained Adrian Sutton from London’s new Blain|Southern Gallery.
Is the Spanish-speaking factor what differentiates Arco from other art fairs? Still recovering from the economic downturn and last year’s internal crisis, the fair managed to make up for lost time. But it still has to find its own identity, currently faltering between an international ambition and a regional reality.
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