CONTEMPORARY ART FAIRS MOVE FAST. For those dealers, collectors, and curators who stick around for the whirlwind of ten-hour fair days, visits to remote private collections, and thumping social hours at neighborhood joints with names like “Why Not?” the fair is quickly supplanted by hazy memories. But ARCO, set thirty minutes out of centro, or downtown Madrid, takes a more measured pace than others, as if mandating a siesta within the normative frenzy. And why not?
This year’s ARCOmadrid was pushed back a week to accommodate Mexico City’s ascending powerhouse, Zona Maco. But ARCO’s new dates didn’t fix every conflict: I heard a few dealers complain that the richest Spanish collectors weren’t at ARCO because of the overlap with Spain’s school vacation period, which spanned the fair’s entire week. “Basel Miami Beach also changed everything,” Inés López-Quesada of Travesía Quatro reminded me. Her gallery, co-run with Silvia Ortiz, had just finished opening a new space in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Spanish collectors are not in a hurry; they don’t care if the work they wanted on the first day is no longer available.” Other galleries were banking on the Spaniards coming in over the weekend after their annual ski trips to Switzerland, but few showed up. “It’s something we’re still figuring out,” said ARCO director Carlos Urroz Arancibia.
Left: Collectors Leonora Belilty and Estrellita Brodsky. Right: Reina Sofia deputy director João Fernandes.
Instead, I saw figures from the Latin American market, like collectors Estrellita Brodsky, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, and Jorge Pérez. There were also dealers such as Elena Foster, Luciana Brito, and Tom Krinzinger; institutional bigwigs like Fundación/Colleción Jumex director Patrick Charpenel and Manifesta 10 curator Kasper König; and international artists like Dan Graham, Fernanda Fragateiro, and Christian Boltanski. All of them mingled until troves of high school students descended on the fair and began taking selfies and giggling at the art, which raised the question of who these art fairs are for—a knowing few or a disinherited many in the throngs of a recession? “Because Spain is in crisis, it’s a bit cooler,” said guest speaker Judith Benhamou-Huet at a talk on collecting.
ARCO to some degree answers the question of audience through its innovative curatorial focus, which persuades curators from all over the world—from Adriano Pedrosa to the Guggenheim’s Pablo León de la Barra, from Museo Tamayo’s Julieta González to University Museum’s Cuauhtémoc Medina, Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Tobias Ostrander, and São Paulo Bienal 2014 cocurator Pablo Lafuente—to attend, flying them over gratis and inviting them to hold meetings with whomever they’d like. “We have to pay more attention,” said SculptureCenter’s Ruba Katrib, the first face I recognized. Katrib was preparing to head the opening talk, titled “Material Culture and Contemporary Art,” and she was a paragon of calm. “I’ve always wanted to get this group of people together, and ARCO has made it happen,” she continued. “This fair is really about quality, slowing down and looking at even derivatives in a different way. How are we to understand derivatives in today’s art world?”
Organized into two halls, the more than two hundred galleries tried out different strategies: Some took a nationalist tack, like Chantal Crousel, who showed the Spanish José Maria Sicilia—“an artist who could also be seen at any museum here,” she said. Or they went global. Los Angeles–based Honor Fraser showed the stoic work of Austrian Tillman Kaiser because “we believe in it; anyway, our clients are world travelers.”
The Opening section of the fair, cocurated by Manuel Segade and Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, included younger galleries, like New York–based Johannes Vogt, showing artists Sadie Benning and Johanna Unzueta. Guayaquil, Ecuador’s NoMíNIMO was at the fair for the first time, sharing a booth with Lima’s Revolver. “Guayaquil is where artists are producing innovative art in a range of media,” mentioned gallery director Pilar Estrada Lecaro. “In Quito, the government is the source for most of the funding.”
“Ecuador is a tale of two cities,” said Pablo León de la Barra as we passed Mexico City’s Proyecto Paralelo in the Focus Latinoamérica section of the fair. De la Barra had just come in from Bilbao (where he’d been visiting Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s latest exhibition, “The Body That Carries Me”) to give a few public talks with Latitude Brazil—a group that represents Brazilian galleries abroad. “My favorite work here is Fernanda Laguna at Nora Fisch,” he said. My favorite was Diego Bianchi’s wrenching performance installation over at Buenos Aires’ Barro Arte Contemporáneo, where a male performer’s clothes, limbs, teeth, and phallus were tethered by wire to assorted objects that hugged the walls of the closed-off booth, causing the assemblages to hover and produce audible creaks as he moved. “In a fair like this, you have to be contrary,” said Barro director Nahuel Ortiz Vidal. “Diego’s a contrario; the work doesn’t have to mean anything.” I took that to mean the opposite.
On Friday night, Latitude held a cocktail party at the Dry Martini. Pinta London chairman Alejandro Zaia was there, as were Madrid-based curator Virginia Torrente, dealer Cecilia Jurado, and 80m2’s Livia Benavides. The ascot-wearing dealer Henrique Faria arrived after most guests were already sipping their second or third caipirinha. (“Be careful; they can creep up on you,” warned São Paulo artist Ricardo Alcaide.) Faria was exhibiting the work of two Spanish emigrants, Venezuelan Emilia Azcárate and Cuban Waldo Balart. “Hopefully I’m showing them in better states than their two countries are in right now.” He had already purchased for himself a series of erotic drawings by artist Carlos Motta that riffed on pre-Columbian art. When asked where he was going to put them, Faria quipped, “Right in front of my bed, of course.”
I followed the crowd out into the night and on to collectors Leonora and Jimmy Belilty’s capacious, art-filled apartment. Cohosted by Nogueras Blanchard, Maisterravalbuena, and Mor Charpentier, the gathering was flooded with usual suspects: Estrellita Brodsky and Leonora held court in the dining room while Alex Mor and Misol Foundation director Solita Mishaan exchanged drawn smiles in the living room. There was a life-size white patent horse replete with a matching medieval rider in the den, lance at the ready. And the joust was on as we headed afterward to Bar Cock, ARCO’s answer to Cheers—if Cheers were once a down-low bordello.
Quiet it wasn’t. Beatriz López of Instituto de Vision was complaining that Sofia Vergara stole her accent (though López’s singing voice was all her own). Magali Arriola, Fundación/Colleción Jumex curator and co-comisaria of the fair’s Latin American section, though herself hoarse, was able to explain to me what it’s like to work at the Jumex’s new digs while balancing her art schedule with a seven-year-old daughter. Her husband, artist Mario García Torres, had just opened a show of new animations at Madrid’s Elba Benítez Gallery. CAPC director María Inés Rodríguez joined a tête-à-tête with Juan Andrés Gaitán, while Documenta 14 director Adam Szymczyk, curator Abaseh Mirvali, collector Frances Reynolds, and dealer Peter Kilchmann circumambulated the wainscoted room. Above it all a painted rooster presided over the clucking.
The next morning I flew to the south of Spain. The NMAC Foundation, located in Càdiz, had invited a private group that included dealers Esther Schipper and Marc Blondeau, Tate trustee Nicole Junkermann, collectors Pilar Lladó and Jaime Gorozpe, and more to tour its natural surrounds. (It was once owned by the Spanish military, and army barracks still dot the landscape like camouflaged caterpillars.) Jimena Blázquez of the importing/exporting Blázquez family opened the foundation in 2001 to work with artists on site-specific projects. Marina Abramović was the first, carving niches along a quarry rock face, then came others, including Sol LeWitt, Olafur Eliasson, and James Turrell, lured no doubt by the Càdizian light and the cross-cultural vantage of the city’s proximity to Africa. On a clear day, you could see the plains of Tangier from the Blazquez house, a modernist white cube decorated with Spanish antiques. It sat perched on a manicured hill above the family’s stables—the largest in the world, with over 1,500 horses (some of which were so scared of Abramović that they had to be given sedatives during her stay).
For lunch at the sun-filled house, we were served shrimp curry, naan, and a lomito wellington (an Argentinean take on the English classic) while Jimena and her father Antonio told stories about the NMAC artists in an easy mélange of English, French, and Spanish. Maurizio Cattelan had apparently asked the family to buy another refrigerator so he could stuff Antonio into it for one of his pieces; this idea would later evolve into Betsy, a 2002 portrait of grandmother Betsy Guinness of the Guinness fortune. After visiting poignant works by Cristina Lucas, Santiago Sierra, and Adrián Villar Rojas—the last of which was purchased jointly with Junkermann’s JJ Foundation—the tour culminated in a thirty-minute stop at the Turrell, the artist’s first Skyspace to fuse an Egyptian pyramid with a Buddhist stupa. “There was a convention of Skyspace owners last summer,” Jimena began to laugh. “We bonded over how difficult it is to build something like this.” This one had taken four years to complete. Once inside, despite the work’s consuming light, I could see the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt through the oculus. I felt I could have been anywhere—Cairo, Goa, Sevilla, Tokyo—and I suppose that’s the point of it: to transcend.
Left: ARCO Opening section cocurator Manuel Segade. Right: Artist Jorge Méndez Blake.
Left: Fundación/Colleción Jumex deputy director Rosario Nadal. Right: Dealers Matthew Wood and Renato Silva.
Left: Artist Dudú Alcón Quintanilla (right). Right: Dealer Johannes Vogt.
Left: Dealer Ricardo Trevisan. Right: Artist Emilia Azcárate.
Left: Dealer Henrique Faria. Right: Dealer Angela Robins.
Left: Dealer Cecilia Jurado. Right: Collector John Moriniere.
Left: Collector Frances Reynolds. Right: Curator Chris Sharp (right).
Left: Dealers Justus Kewenig and Alexander Levy. Right: Artist Ricardo Alcaide and Viennafair director Rengel van den Heuvel.
Left: Collector Gloria Saldarriaga and dealer Philippe Charpentier. Right: Dealers Edoardo Osculati, Johannes Vogt, and Henrique Miziara with collector Vittorio Sangiorgio.
Left: Dealer Pilar Estrada Lecaro (right). Right: Dealer Eduardo Brandão.
Left: Artist Jerónimo Elespe and Ivory Press’s Daniela Macías. Right: Crone’s Michael Rade and Julius Lehniger.
Left: Museo LiMAC’s Antoine Henry-Jonquères and artist Sandra Gamarra. Right: Sol Lewitt’s Cinder Block at the NMAC Foundation.