ARCO Madrid 2019 Trophy Hunting For Something Profound – Ben Austin

ARCO Madrid

I arrived in Madrid, after an early morning flight from Lisbon. I had downloaded Blurred Lines on Netflix for the journey, a documentary about the art world, nothing that revelatory here, the usual stuff, insane amounts of money, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons touted as geniuses of art marketing and Lord Larry Gagosian presiding over it all. Montage art clips, cool music and talking heads; dealers, auction house bods, artists, collectors and fair organisers (Matthew Slotover) all trying to justify the high stakes and the inherent or intrinsic value of art as a force of good, a means to engage, challenge and even educate the viewer.

Contemporary art is not mere baubles for oligarchs, trophy hunting for the mega-rich who buy brands names to get bragging rights – BA

Contemporary art is not mere baubles for oligarchs, trophy hunting for the mega-rich who buy brands names to get bragging rights, don’t you know? No there is something profound and significant about these pieces that can stand alone, without the assistance of being ‘placed’ in an outstanding collection. Whatever. I think one of these heads got it right when he wondered how much of this stuff will be considered to have any value at all in 50 years. Also, there is a lot of stuff out there.

ARCO Madrid 2019
ARCO Madrid 2019

So, with a deep breath and a healthy dose of cynicism I get into a taxi to take me to ARCO, now I must quickly add that ARCO Madrid isn’t really in Madrid proper, it a good 25 minutes and €30 taxi ride away in some conference, exhibition place called IFEMA, Feria de Madrid (far from Madrid?!?) had I more time I would have tried to figure out the complex Madrid metro system, but the hotel receptionist assured me that I would have to change at least 4 times and it would take an hour to get there, maybe. OK, fine I thought, I mean I have been to art fairs all over the world, and for the most part, the fairs do take place actually in the city advertised. You wouldn’t rock up to Basel only to find out the art action is happening in Zurich. OK, that is a bit of an extreme example, but you get the gist.

When I arrived, I quickly understood why and how this was the location. SPACE. The fair couldn’t do a Frieze and erect a massive circus tent in a park, like some ephemeral installation. Roll up, roll up and see the show sort of thing, no this needs proper halls, aircraft hangers to house all the work…

How long I thought, how long before fatigue sets in? When I become visually punch drunk and stagger around lost and confused. Seasoned art fair visitors know what I am talking about, that 1,000-yard stare of the overwhelmed.

ARCO Madrid 2019
ARCO Madrid 2019

It doesn’t matter if you are at Basel (Switzerland, Miami or Hong Kong) or Frieze (London, New York and now LA) it is the same scene the world over. Seemingly disinterested dealers gathered around a table, the older smarter gallerist presiding over his minions, bored model-like waifs and well-groomed boys, sockless with leather tassels on their shoes. Ask them a question, I dare you? Once you are given the ritual once over, that is. Is he a buyer? No, not sporting a chunky Swiss watch, an artist maybe? No, not dressed all in black, with a hipster Berlin beard. Umm, puzzling?

Oh, you are writing an article, great. Oh, no not for Art Review, the Art Newspaper, Artforum and the like, sorry. Yes, please could you send me some images, thank you, no don’t worry I will not publish your made up prices either. So it goes on, from one booth to another to another until you reach the outer circle, those little project spaces, those brave souls with their solo presentations and dreams of the big time. These dealers are happy to talk to you, with youthful enthusiasm.


So, maybe I should talk about the galleries and the art, which I have to say is, really good. There wasn’t much in the way of the brash and the lurid. These are for the most part galleries from Spain, Portugal, France,

ARCO Madrid 2019
ARCO Madrid 2019

and Latin America and the artists shown are smart and technically sound. The names are unfamiliar and more the better for it. I struggle to collect business cards reluctantly given away from these hallowed desks.

We have Galeria Pelaires out of Mallorca, Sabrina Armani from Madrid, likewise F2. From Lisbon, Monitor and Galeria Vera Cortes. Galerie Lelong & Co from Paris and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin and Krobath out of Vienna. The later had some quality, unique pieces by Julian Opie, priced at €40k each.

Other ‘names’ spotted include John Baldessari at Mai 36 Galerie, Zurich, who were also showing the geometric abstractions of Albrecht Schnider. One gallery making the trip from London/Greece is Rodeo. I liked the work of Apostolos Georgiou, Ulrike Muller and Tamara Henderson. At Monitor, I was taken by the distressed paintings by Nicola Samori. At Galerie Lelong & Co, there was beautiful alabaster ‘Minna’ by Jaume Plensa which was sold, and I didn’t try to ask how much for. They also had some very striking Hockney digital prints and original photographs by the Northern master.

ARCO Madrid 2019
ARCO Madrid 2019

Galeria Vera Cortes was proudly showing a strong piece by the Portuguese urban artist star – Alexandre Farto aka Vhils from his ‘Camada Series’ of advertising posters, priced at €43k. Hubert Czerepok’s neon ‘Americans, I am Afraid of’ at Zak/Branicka, Berlin made me laugh, but not as much as the ‘We are all innocent when asleep’ series by Christian Jankowski at Galeria Pelaires. Images of guys, crashed out unconscious after a big night out and are comically decorated by prankster friends. Oh, how we laughed.

Elsewhere in the project section, The RYDER had a solo presentation of Andrea Galvani; I particularly liked the image of the jet fighter breaking the sound barrier. Also from London was Copperfield showing the work of Oscar Santillan.

Other funny, ironic work was the ‘white on white’ pieces by Waqas Khan at Sabrina Amrani (Madrid), I chuckled at the group looking for meaning in the pure white surface. I had a chat with the artist, and there is much more going on here then meets the eye.

I must give a special mention to Cyril Moumen of Nosco, who is showcasing the bronze work by the Peruvian twin brothers – Jose Luis and Jose Carlos Martinat, who have been collected by Perez Museum, MoMA, Tate Modern, Guggenheim and Saatchi.

ARCO Madrid 2019
ARCO Madrid 2019

What else? Jason Martin and Steven Claydon at Galeria Pelaires (that name again). Pilar Albarracin at Galeria Filomena Soares. A wonderful Angela de la Cruz at Galeria de Alvear (Loose Fit – Pink and Orange) sold for an undisclosed sum and a fluid sculpture by Richard Deacon (Band) at Galerie Thomas Schulte. Yellow and blue colour planes by Yaima Carrazana at El Apartamento (Cuba). Big hitters to be found at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, such as Alex Katz and Tony Cragg. A stunning marble piece by Lopez Garcia António entitled ‘Fatima’. Another blue chip gallery making the trip over is Edward Tyler Nahem, showing Roy Lichtenstein (Water Lilies with Cloud) and a lovely Beatriz Milhazes (Egoista). The Italians were represented too at Giorgio Persano Gallery from Turin, showing two clever Michelangelo Pistolettos. I was also taken by the Muntean/Rosenblum series at Galeria Horrach Moya.

Time to retreat to the VIP section, where everyone was lining up for free beer, what is there not to like about that? As I was leaving there was a poetic performance piece going on, and as all the crowds dispersed I could wander around freely taking in a sculptural Joana Vasconcelos on my way out.

ARCO has something for everyone. It is a serious survey of work from Europe and Latin America. There is no Gagosian, White Cube or even Victoria Miro here, maybe they will come and join the party at some point, but I don’t think the fair would benefit from the inclusion of the big guns as ARCO creates a sense of wonder and discovery, especially when trying to find the actual venue.

Words/Photos: Ben Austin © Artlyst 2019

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