So you're probably there, in Madrid, for the art fair. You quite possibly live there already with a rich and fulfilling cultural life in the Spanish capital, eating lots of tapas and various parts of pigs (like Jamon Jamon Lays potato chips, so porkful in Spain they have to say it twice).
But it's likely if you're reading this, it's because of ARCO, one of the grand old art fairs and one of the most important dates in the Spanish art calendar. The fair is a monster. The professional days are pretty manageable, but Spaniards really love ARCO and though the numbers vary, something like 150,000 people attend the fair (compared to a reported 50-60,000 for Art Basel by way of comparison), so unless you're chained to your booth, you'll probably want to do something else other than the fair whilst you're there as you'll likely be quickly defeated by the crowds.
The Prado of course is probably one of the best museums in the world, with acres of art collected whilst Spain owned half the world. You should probably go if you're not there in Spain all that often.
But there are other things which are highly recommended. You should try not to miss these either. But seriously, it's hard to beat the Prado...
Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo
Gregor Schneider. Punto muerto.
It's sort of difficult to get to, but there are somethings that are so awesome you really should just go for it. Rent a taxi, take the metro, whatever. Gregor Schneider makes fantastically strange installations, they are dark funhouses with each space creating its own peculiar and often unsettling fictional tableau. Because they are pretty difficult and expensive, his installation are rare. There will be another art fair next year. But there will not likely be a another Schneider installation anywhere close to where you might actually be.
Go get some food, a drink, a rioja. People treat seeing art during fairs like some stupid marathon. Really, that's why I'm here writing this. So there's all kinds of stuff you don't have to worry about. Have a drink. I feel like you've earned it.
MNCARS-Museo Nacional Centro Arte Reina Sofía
Locus Solus. Impresiones de Raymond Roussel.
Plaza Santa Isabel, 52
(Ree Morton, Sister Perpetua's Lie, 1973, installation, 800 x 300cm. Collection Generali Foundation, Vienna. Photo: Joaquín Cortés / Román Lores. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2011.)
This might be one of the best art shows in the world right now. Maybe you think Raymond Roussel is a totally lame writer, or you don't even know who Raymond Roussel is. That's okay, and something you can solve right this second by buying one of his books. Well, he's one of the most beautiful and whimsical writers of the last century. With thoughtful connections to important historical artists (Duchamp, Picabia, Ruppersberg, De Cointet) as well as writers influenced by Roussel (Ashberry, Butor, Cortazar) this exhibition serves to expand and illuminate this strange and important writer.
I think that's enough. It's dark out, you've seen some great art. Eat a long dinner somewhere. If you really have time for one more thing, go the Ballet Russe show at CaixaForum as it too is quite beautiful and worthwhile. But don't worry, sometimes enough is enough.
(Serge Lifar and Alexandra Danilova in Appolon musagete, 1928, showing the first version of costumes designed by Coco Chanel. Photo: Sasha © V&A Images. Courtesy of CaixaForum.)
The more arty bar these last years has been the Bar Cock, cigarette smoke so thick you can't see the other side of the table, the sweetest laughingest, most awesome owners around. For some down and dirty dancing, of the flamenco variety, I like Candela. So go drink too much wine, end up in a strange bar much too late. Dance with a stranger, let yourself get much too sweaty, stay out until dawn. Try not to lose your hotel passkey, but it's okay, they can make a you a new one.
Remember art isn't the bullshit bastinado of wandering around a fair, getting over-saturated with so much visuality you yearn for the comfort of blank white walls. Don’t forget what Allan Kaprow once said, art is life.
(image top right: Gregor Schneider, Punto Muerto (Deadlock), Oct. 28 2011 - Feb. 26 2012, CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo. Courtesy of CA2M.)