For four decades, the public that has attended the ARCO fair has been waiting for contemporary art to provide a response to the present. It is the historical essence of this particular exhibition that began to walk in the Palacio de Congresos de Madrid, to forget the Francoist gray color when the Paseo de la Castellana was still the Avenida del Generalísimo. There, in a building decorated by Piet Mondrian, multicolored Spain had to be celebrated, democracy had to shine beyond borders and dazzle with impudence and freedom from inside borders. ARCO was born as a cry that tore through the straitjacket of censorship. That is the DNA of ARCO, which over the years has preferred the collector to the public and to be more fair than loud. Its current director, Maribel López, maintains the legacy of Carlos Urroz and in the celebration of the 40th anniversary that could not happen in 2021, she proposes a poetic return to the past. No politics. Undisturbed.
López has said that he does not want a “No to war” in the halls of IFEMA. For her, art “is explained in other ways.” In a recent conversation with Europa Press, he assured that the “immediate” is not artistic material: “We do not expect a book that takes so long to write to tell us about the present moment. The work of art is the same: it is not made in the five minutes that a gesture lasts”, maintains Maribel López in full collision with the political art made from the seventies onwards. In fact, one of the obligatory stops this edition is the José de la Mano gallery, where we find the vindictive work of Ramón Bilbao, who a few months after Franco’s death made a huge canvas that reproduces in oil the faces of the last shot by the dictator, on September 27, 1975. In the large painting appear the portraits of the two ETA militants, Txiqui and Otaegui, and three other members of the Revolutionary Anti-Fascist and Patriotic Front (FRAP), Humberto Baena, Sánchez Bravo and García Sanz . On their faces, a large black X.
His gallery owner indicates that the price of the piece is 25,000 euros. It was never for sale, because Bilbao wanted the painted series of chronicles of the transition to be kept together in a museum. The family has inherited this historic work, which was kept in the artist’s workshop and is now being discovered, a year after his death, as an essential milestone in the reconstruction of Spain’s democratic identity. Although it is political and immediate art, the kind that cannot be according to the director of ARCO, Ramón Bilbao’s work cries out for its entry into the Reina Sofía Museum. In the background appears a large canvas by Agustín Ibarrola, which recreates a manifestation of the Basque people, with an enormous ikurriña. The panorama is completed with a special montage of an installation by the Basque artist Inés Medina.
Politics is inevitable at a fair like ARCO and its director knows this well because she had to assume the first censorship carried out at the fair, when in 2019 the president of IFEMA ordered the work Political prisoners of Santiago Sierra. It was a delicate moment, as was the anger unleashed by the management of the fair in 2012 against the piece Always Franco, by Eugenio Merino. During our visit, the artist mounted his new work in the ADN gallery: postcards from decolonization, a series of monuments cut from their place with which he denounces the memory of Hispanic people that Spain does not want to review in order to get rid of those tributes to the invaders of America.
Wouldn’t it have been nice to pay tribute to Franco stuck in the fridge a decade after all the controversy? His gallery owner Miguel Ángel Sánchez does not have good memories of that fair either. He says that he has not yet overcome the storm that was unleashed against the piece, that fear has remained in his body. “Eugenio raised it with me and for a few seconds I thought about it. He wanted to dress Franco in the admiral’s suit, white. But I refused to go through the same thing again,” admits Sánchez. Indeed, as Merino’s work indicates, Franco is still so fresh in ARCO at a historical moment in which fascism is growing in voting intentions. Too “immediate” for the fair.
Without leaving DNA, the canvases printed in unique pieces by María María Acha-Kutscher attract attention. The series is titled outraged, and they are appropriations of photos of demonstrations and also images proposed by the women’s groups with which the Peruvian artist has been working. The largest of all is priced at 8,000 euros.
Another of those who has not stopped looking politically from art is Riiko Sakkinen, who presents an ironic poster about his “favorite leaders of the extreme left”, with the face of Pedro Sánchez. Next to her, she has nailed a series of scarves about the Spanishness that she wins in votes, which she has bought on the internet and in a stall at the Santiago Bernabeu. Near him appears the spectacular work of Pilar Albarracín: three photos in which the artist appears dressed as a Spanish widow and holding a book on the history of Spain, while everything is consumed by flames. Don’t put out my fire, let me burn has titled the work.
More political gestures: those of the Austrian artist Martha Jungwirth, 82, opening the catalog of the exhibition that the Beyeler Foundation (Basel, Switzerland) dedicated to Goya last fall. The design of the book made the nude of the famous maja of the Aragonese painter disappear through its most intimate part. Her gallery owner in Thaddaeus Ropac recounts that the artist, angry, grabbed the brushes and immediately constructed two abstract visions of the paintings that Godoy commissioned from Goya, which do not hide anything. Jungwirth has built canvases over three meters wide on which she sticks packing paper to paint faster than on canvas. The aqueous oil slips and drips while she allows the Goyesque figures to be intuited, in the middle of an expressive emptiness. The price of each one is 265,000 and 275,000 euros. The dealer says that he has already sold another vertical version and that he hopes that collectors will pick up and buy the work of an artist that she had never exhibited in Spain.
On femininity, overcoming gender and social pressure, the work of the Japanese Isabella Fürnkäs, at the Hua International gallery, is very interesting. Chains and sequins restrain and release the mannequins that emerge as ghostly figures. In front of this expressive and striking ensemble we find the silent Maider López, who has intervened in the plinth of the Espacio Mínimo gallery stand, drawing that invisible but essential part with a pen. In the same space, the artist Bene Bergado shows a work that had not yet been seen in Madrid, Gathering and ornament: on a ping-pong table that is a canvas, the broken dishes made with bronze and marked with important dates for the artist are distributed in a thousand pieces. Pepe Martínez, director together with Luis Valverde of the gallery, says that they face the edition with “concern” before the return to normality. And despite everything, it’s positive: “People have continued to buy these two years and the list of invited collectors is hopeful,” he says.
To celebrate the 40 (+1) years of ARCO, the management has proposed to the curators María Inés Rodríguez, Francesco Stocchi and Sergio Rubira a selection of 19 galleries that reflect on these four decades. The gallery owner Íñigo Navarro has set up a very intimate and necessary space with the work of Carmen Laffón, Isabel Quintanilla, Amalia Avia and María Moreno. Precisely of this there is a view that her husband bought in the first edition of ARCO from the gallery owner’s father, Leandro Navarro. López has yielded the landscape to show it. Its not for sale. Yes, a Miró from 1976 is available for two million euros, possibly the most expensive piece of this edition. Navarro brings it from a collection in Switzerland: “It is very difficult to find a piece like this in Spain. The great collectors in this country do not have this type of work in their collections… you have to tempt them,” he says.
Following the tradition of the Madrid realists of the 1950s, Félix de la Concha has set up a year-long visual diary at the Fernández-Braso gallery looking at the clothes hanging on the streets of the capital. He finished it the same day of confinement, and yet it seems like an allegory for seclusion. They are small oil paintings on boards in which the artist has slipped into the intimacy of freshly washed clothes. “Someone got mad at me because they didn’t want me to paint their clothes and picked them up without drying,” he says. As a documentarian of the immediate, he toured the city in search of the passing moment. That decisive moment of clean clothes. Half of the set is sold for 95,000 euros and in groups of four for 3,000 euros.
In this hurried tour of the ARCO, which will remain open until Sunday, we stumble upon the work of the Colombian Miler Lagos, in the Max Estrella gallery, made from the waste of newsprint reels. He transforms them and returns to the place where the paper came from, from tree trunks. The immaculate white paper of those large rolls that he has turned into sculpted wooden billets (48,000 euros). A trompe l’oeil that transforms the present into art. Because they are inseparable.