ARCO 2021 celebrates its 40th edition in an unusual way: with fewer galleries (130 compared to 209 in 2020), capacity reduced by half, more space in the corridors and in the month of July, when the normal would have been in February . The pandemic is still present in the environment, but not so much in the works hanging on the walls: there are hardly any creations that explicitly allude to COVID-19. It seems more, actually, as if the contemporary art fair is already vaccinated against the coronavirus and seeks to look the other way after a year that affected the world in general and culture in particular.
In fact, the 2020 edition was held at the gates of the pandemic with all normality despite the fact that the special guest of that year was Italy, at that time one of the countries in Europe with the highest number of infections. “The last edition of ARCO was to finish and go home. We left the fair and the following week this pavilion became a hospital, and that was a big shock,” recalls Paloma González, co-founder of F2 Galería, when asked about elDiario.es.
Behind González, there is a work by Simeón Saiz Ruiz, who has painted a photograph of Chema Barroso in oil on linen, taken during the first weekend of disarray in Madrid. “It is not so much a reflection of a pandemic, but of how a photograph in a newspaper can inspire an artist and demonstrate his skills as a painter. More than allusions to the pandemic it is to liberation. I don’t know if it is a big deal, but there is people who have said that they felt as if they were being born again, “the gallery owner details.
Other times those suggestions of the pandemic months are less obvious and, rather than talking about the coronavirus, they do so about themes inspired by the artist’s own introspection as a consequence of this period. This is the case of Rebecca Ackroyd at the Peres Projects gallery, who explores sensuality and female desire through abstract works. “All of Rebecca’s pieces speak of dreams. That is something we have done a lot during COVID: thinking about things that, as in this case, can be dreamlike and sexual fantasies,” the collectors emphasize.
Next to him, in the same gallery, is another painting that represents a recurring scene during the months of home isolation: a woman lying on a mat while watching television and doing yoga. Its author is Manuel Solano, an artist who lost his vision in 2013 due to complications related to HIV. Since then, he continues to paint using as reference those everyday scenes that remain etched in his memory.
But, beyond some timid insinuations to the coronavirus such as those mentioned, the general mood of collectors is to recover after the hard blow. In fact, in some of the main galleries, such as those of Marlborough, Juana de Aizpuru or ADN, it is common to see a bustle of many people walking from one place to another that would invite us to think of other years if not for the mask obligatory of the assistants.
The Guernica lost and lost art ‘controversial’
This year there is also no work that causes a stir due to its political nature, as happened with the ‘ninot’ by Santiago Sierra and Eugenio Merino in 2019, the work Political prisoners censored in 2018 or the figure of Francisco Franco put inside a refrigerator. The author of the latter, Eugenio Merino, is once again present in the ADN gallery, but this time with a piece where you can read the Universal Declaration of the United Nations and, next to it, a cinerary urn with the EU logo “in memory of human rights”.
Asked about this absence of “political” art, those responsible for the aforementioned work on Catalan prisoners declare that “we have never stopped exposing something to avoid a controversy”. “We have a file,” they add, laughing. This year, simply, a creation with that aspect has not emerged.
What can be seen, occupying a large part of the left wing of pavilion 7 of the fair, is a Guernica which, although it is not Picasso’s, manages to arouse the curiosity of those who circulate around it. It is a canvas created by Agustín Ibarrola, an author who joined together with several groups of intellectuals and artists from Euskadi to demand that the painting of the Malaga painter be exhibited in the same city where the 1937 bombing took place.
“In this hour when the right-wing and centralist manipulation of the Gernika makes every artist feel more present than ever the threat to the destiny of their works, I want to join and honor the centenary of Picasso in Gernika with this exhibition that tries to reflect the meaning of such manipulation using the same images of the Gernika“, said Ibarrola, in an exhibition presented in Bilbao in 1981, as a criticism of the fact that Picasso’s painting was then exhibited in the Casón del Buen Retiro.
“Agustín makes that painting at a very specific moment in our history: after leaving the dictatorship. There is the social struggle, the image of the Civil Guard, the criticism of Madrid’s centralism … However, when Guernica settled in that ballot box Armored from the Casón del Buen Retiro, Agustín’s cause loses all its meaning and keeps his painting until 3 weeks ago that we brought it here “, explains José de la Mano, head of the gallery that has Ibarrola’s painting.
Although Maribel López, director of ARCO, said that “the essence of the fair is the same” and that only “the scale changes”, the truth is that this edition is a bit a reflection of the situation that is also experienced in other fields : of an apparent post-pandemic commotion that, although not named, has left no one indifferent.