Art fairs

Private collectors active at Arco but museums too quiet

We look at the talking points and early sales



Spanish private collectors were quick to acquire top-end pieces at the opening of the 28th edition of the Madrid-based Arco contemporary art fair (11-16 February). Alvaro Alcázar Gamarra of the eponymous Madrid gallery said, for instance, that a private Spanish buyer had bought Table Piece Y40, 1985, by British sculptor Anthony Caro within the first hour.

These buyers filled the gap left by Spanish museums; Arco has traditionally relied heavily on institutional purchasing power, but at the fair’s sedate launch an unnamed French dealer said that “institutions usually turn up with a shopping list on day one; not this time.” A spokeswoman for Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León confirmed the trend: “Musac this year, as an exceptional measure, hasn’t purchased at Arco, as the museum doesn’t have a budget for acquisitions for 2009.” A contingent from Madrid’s Reina Sofía museum was in attendance but the institution had not provided purchase details as we went to press.

With 74 Spanish galleries out of 238 dealers, “it’s still a very local fair,” said Juan Guardiola, a curator at Asia House in Barcelona. He criticised the “disappointing quality” of works shown by 13 Indian galleries who were given free booths under the “Panorama India” programme devoted to contemporary Indian artists. The high-profile New Delhi-based collector Anupam Poddar was spotted on the floor.

Marlborough gallery (London/Madrid) offered a yellow oil and pastel work by Francis Bacon, Study from the Human Body, 1986, for E15.7m, a hefty price tag in light of the market blip for Bacon pieces (see p48). The work failed to sell.

Another talking point was For the Love of Go(l)d, 2009, by Spanish artist Eugenio Merino at ADN gallery (Barcelona). This sculpture of Damien Hirst with a gun to his head, tagged at E32,000, was sold to the private US collector Thomas J.Morrison. An oil painting by the same artist showing the word Sotheby’s tattooed on the Brit artist’s knuckles (Sotheby’s, 2009, E1,800) was purchased by another US private buyer. Belgian collector Alain Servais bought a Merino sculpture, Hooligan’s Anatomy, 2009, at the same stand for E4,800.

Hugh Gibson, director of Thomas Gibson Fine Art Ltd (London), commented that “on the back of the healthy impressionist and modern day sales last month [the sale total at Christie’s 5 February London auction was £14.1m], Arco did not seem such a bad idea.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Private collectors active'