ARCO 2015: Latin American Art Prospers to Prop Up the Spanish Fair
Seven years ago, ARCOmadrid drew a record 200,000 visitors, but recent times at the major international contemporary art fair have reflected the unfortunate downturn in Spain’s general economy and contemporary art market—notably the country’s decline into two full recessions between late 2008 and early 2012. That period witnessed falling participation from foreign galleries—who cited financial restraints as cause—as well as a significant decrease in visitors. But change is in the air.
Under the directorship of Carlos Urroz, ARCO has responded to the country and continent’s economic woes by internationalizing its gallery exhibitor list, as well as outlook. “There are very powerful markets and fairs,” Urroz explains. “But we wanted to do something different.” In 2014, the fair spent €4.5 million ($6.2 million) on bringing a select group of 500 of the world’s collectors and curators to the event, and 2015 has seen an increase in the presence of foreign galleries—representing cities from Lima to Ljubljana—which now account for 71% of the February event. A key factor in this boost has been the burgeoning growth of Latin American art. Of the 212 galleries that will be present at this year’s five-day fair, 46 of them are from Latin America (such as Buenos Aires’s impressive Jorge Mara - La Ruche and the emergent Galería Isabel Aninat from Chile), which equates to roughly one-third of the international participation.
This section is divided into a number of thematic areas: the legacy of Latin American avant-garde, Rethinking Formalism, and Gender Performativity (and research methods). The last of these is embodied by the work of photographer Mario Vivado, who is represented by Santiago de Chile-based gallery D21 Proyectos de Arte. His project on show “Lo que el SIDA se llevó” (1989) charts dominant icons in the Chilean gay popular imagination—with subjects performing as people such as Buster Keaton and Marilyn Monroe—and how an ethos of salacious desire and clandestine sexual acts suddenly ended, with the advent of HIV/AIDS. Vivado’s work provides a nostalgic look back at this bygone era, before the shift in how desire was addressed within gay subculture took place.
A glance at Brazil alone—with São Paulo’s prospering fair SP-Arte and Rio de Janeiro’s booming ArtRio—gives insight into the new world order that ARCO is harnessing. Galleria Raffaella Cortese’s Anna Maria Maiolino, for example, is one of Brazil’s most important contemporary artists. She uses a diverse array of mediums, from sculpture to drawing, and artist books, performance, and video (with a particular focus on the fundamental processes of destruction and creation). Maiolino constantly innovates through form—Neo-Concrete, New Objectivity, and New Figuration are all touched—from her robust moulded plaster and bronze sculptures to the elemental grandiosity of her acrylic-on-paper “Codificações Matéricas” series, which will be on display at ARCO 2015.
Roberta Lima of Charim Galerie, now based in Austria, remains firmly in the Latin American avant-garde legacy, using her body as the site and theme of her work. For the visceral piece Rewriting Love and Pain (2004), Lima cut the Portuguese words for “love” and “pain” into each of her arms with a scalpel and later transposed them onto a sheet of paper. Her more recent work, such as the performance ReBirth (2012) deals with the historical use of human bodies in architectural processes and structures.
While there may be glitzier, more publicized affairs, such as Frieze and Art Basel, and those that cater to more specific niches—the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair, for example—few events are taken more seriously than ARCO by high-profile collectors looking for cutting-edge international art. Ever since ARCO was founded in 1982, following a last minute switch of city from Barcelona to Madrid, the fair has aspired to global recognition. Now in its 34th edition, a fundamental lynchpin in the European art market—and one of the most established art fairs in the world—it still draws in excess of 100,000 attendees. Based on the northeastern outskirts of Madrid, ARCO is uniquely eclectic in its offerings of global avant-garde to work from emerging artists, adding 27 new galleries to the general programme this year, despite the fact there are now more than 200 art fairs in the world. But what ARCO has most successfully achieved is to make a virtue out of necessity, and ride on the crest of the Latin American art scene’s towering new wave.