Madrid, an inland empire of electric streets paved with diversion and vibrancy where, as Hemingway remarked, “you don’t go to bed until you’ve killed the night”, and where the following day, in the hue of the city’s post-party drowsiness, Madridleños will persevere to slaughter the day. The Spanish capital has always exuded a doggedness to endure, not just to rue and spite the turbulence which often confronts it, but to actively tackle it. In 1982 when ARCO (The International Fair of Contemporary Art in Madrid) had its maiden year, times were not propitious. Spain was at the latter end of its transition to democracy and with high inflation, and a low growth rate, the country was economically distressed. The idea to administer such an event was met with inevitable scepticism and yet it was a success pulling in 25,000 visitors in its first year.
Now in its 32nd year, ARCOmadrid holds its 2013 exhibition in a climate which has once again turned cold, economically and politically. Despite managing to retain high attendance rates (in 2012 there were reported to have been 150,000 visitors at the event), ARCOmadrid and its participants have not been left unmarred by the recession. According to Inés López of the Travesía Cuatro Galería, one of the consequences of the economic situation, and its global dimensions, has been a slump in the art market propounded by a dramatic rise in VAT. This increased taxation, as well as the high price of exhibition stands, sparked the exit of eight of the eleven Catalan galleries due to appear at ARCO 2013.
Hard times have often been met with cultural fulfilment, yet to credit the epoch may be to depreciate the artist. According to Fernando Cordero of Galería La Caja Negra, Madrid, the effort made by Spanish galleries to attend the fair during such a tumultuous period deserves to be highlighted. Artists invited use conceptual and non-conceptual tools to ponder the world in which we find ourselves. One such participant who confronts what she sees as corporate and other establishment hypocrisy head-on in her work is the Catalan artist Núria Güell. Still, even if ARCO doesn’t manage to bring us to fully comprehend our current predicament, the array of artists, curators and critics which it attracts will certainly succeed in stimulating challenging questions regarding our modern condition.
Antonio Saura, Dame aux miroirs / Postcard / Montage nº 62, 1977, Montaje de dos elementos, pintura acrílica sobre tarjetas postales, 27,3 x 37,8 cm; Courtesy La Caja Negra.
The international scope of the fair, its new themes, and novel angles will present a fresh and varied focus which should indeed challenge, provoke, inform and delight. Each year one country is nominated as the particular focus of the fair. This year the invited country is Turkey, a country which is flourishing both artistically and economically. Vasif Kortun is curating the Turkish contingent and has chosen some of the most prominent galleries to join him at ARCO giving visitors a chance to see the current state of Turkish art. One such gallery is the Rampa Gallery which will be showing different bodies of work by Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin and Nilbar Güreş amongst others. Other Turkish artists to check out are CANAN, Nalan Yırtmaç and Ceren Oykut, three interesting female artists whose work deals with social issues regarding their culture and who will exhibit at the X-ist Gallery.
There are to be over two hundred galleries attending the fair and though it is impossible here to do justice to them all, the following are some of the highlights from the Madrid contingent. La Caja Negra, a gallery specialising in graphic art, will be displaying works by Antonio Saura, featuring the artist’s small montages of found images from 1956 to the 1970s. The exhibit promises to surprise lovers, and indeed novices, of Saura’s work. On Friday the 15th Galería La Travesia Cuatro will be inaugurating works by Colombian artist Mateo López, whose art is influenced by his studies in architecture and his mentoring by William Kentridge. The alluring distortion in his “three dimensional” drawings allows him to stretch the medium’s boundaries resulting in a kind of complacent vibrancy in his work. Galería José Robles will be exhibiting Javier Fresneda, an artist who attempts, through his multi-disciplinary endeavours, to play with the perception of our surroundings and to examine our notions of possibility and impossibility, of deficiency and excess. Indeed, some of his recent endeavours, such as Montaña Múltiple (2009-2010) and En Bandera Total (2009), encompass combinations of possibilities with a disconcerting abundance of information (in the former he developed a model mountain integrating the fourteen most difficult climbing routes of the highest mountains in the world). Should you need further encouragement to make it out, on the morning of Friday February 15th the Madrid galleries will open at 10am and provide a breakfast for visitors.
Javier Fresneda, Freehands, gallery installation view, 2013; Courtesy of Galería José Robles.
There will also be a cornucopia of arty eye candy in the more established museums in the city centre. La Casa Encendida is exhibiting work by contemporary German artist, Albert Oehlen and Matadero Madrid is presenting Arqueológica, a collection of work by eight international artists revolving around the relationship between archaeological working methods and contemporary art.
If you desire to further satiate appetites and exploit Madrid’s vibrant nightlife, we gathered some advice from the Madridleño gallery owners and artists accustomed to circumnavigating the city’s food and bar scene. Unsurprisingly, the beatnik district of Malasaña emerges as the place to be. Famed for its creative counter-cultural scene, it is full of lively bars and cheap eateries. For decent affordable tapas check out Bodega de Ardosa, Clarita, Le Patrón, El Disparate and Lamucca. Post-dinner, if you want to hit the tiles, try Malabar, La Realidad, Tupperware and Garaje Sónico.
For one week ARCO will be where art will flourish, where ideas will be exchanged, where new perspectives will be generated and so become a microcosm of the life its host city tends toward. It will be a place to be invigorated by day, before going on to kill the night on those electric streets paving Madrid.
(Image on top: Nilbar Güreş, Breasts, from the series Cırcır , 2010, copia fotográfica C-Print, 120x180 cm; Courtesy RAMPA.)