Cock and Bull


Left: Curator Paolo Colombo and dealer Gerard Faggionato. Right: Filmmaker Adolpho Arrietta and artist Cristina Iglesias. (Except where noted, all photos: Kevin McGarry)

“I’VE ALREADY BEEN PICKPOCKETED!” reported artist Mika Tajima via SMS on the eve of the preview of ARCOmadrid 2013. I’m pretty sure this petty calamity doesn’t really point to the continued economic distress of Spain and its capital city, where estimates suggest that more than a quarter of the population (and more than half of millennials) are out of work. But in the moment it felt like an illustration of that hard fact, the coil linking system to individual. (At the very least, it pretty much sucked for Tajima—and the three other people I knew who suffered the same fate over the weekend.)

Against all the economic odds, Madrid still puts on a solid show, as it has for more than thirty years, predating the era of biennialization and the parallel proliferation of competitive trade conventions. ARCO may lack the buzz of newer fairs in established art capitals and the novelty of smaller, boutique-y gatherings like Zona Maco in Mexico City or Art Brussels. Instead, ARCO seems to stake its identity on the debatable (if tenable) positioning of the Iberian Peninsula as the geopolitical crossroads for the twenty-first-century Western art world, in which Latin America is quickly emerging as a key player alongside Europe and the United States.

But Spain in and of itself remained a mystery to me. Most of the foreigners I spoke to, many of whom have been coming to ARCO for years, balked at the task of parsing the local scene. “Art is always, always about a place,” pontificated the itinerant Mediterranean curator Paolo Colombo at the preview. “And I think you can tell by the streets here what people are interested in”—referring, I think, to the well-ordered, leisurely core of the city. “Granted, I do only spend five days here every five years.” As a Brazilian dealer confessed to me, “I have some very good clients here, but beyond that . . . If you figure Spain out, let me know!”

Left: The Blanton Museum's Veronica Roberts with artist Mika Tajima. Right: Eliana Finkelstein of Galeria Vermelho.

Brazilian galleries in particular seemed interested in taking advantage of Spain’s unique position in the global marketplace. There was a high turnout from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba—ten altogether—who, via a private initiative called Latitude, organized an incubator project by which prominent dealers like Luciana Brito and Vermelho’s Eliana Finkelstein coached “baby galleries” like Emma Thomas on how to successfully carry off an international fair. They also hosted a big party capping off the week—Carnaval was just finishing up, after all, five thousand miles away (and next door in Portugal).

ARCO’s official “Focus” this year, however, was another national market: Turkey. The ten galleries included offered an uneven survey of work from the region (and beyond), with two notable highlights: Rodeo, whose booth included the history-saturated work of Banu Cennetoǧlu, and NON, which featured Asli Çavuşoǧlu’s Frieze Project, a video called Murder in Three Acts that mines the procedural crime drama.

But what was not on view at ARCO might have been just as interesting as anything that actually was. Around fifty directors and curators from many of the world’s leading biennials and museums were shipped in for a full docket of closed-door “professional meetings,” which in addition to being audienceless were also undocumented—a FOMO paradox! (Dealers, from their perspective, missed nothing: A parade of institutional power traipsed through the convention center all week.) “It’s rare that international colleagues have a chance to speak in such an intimate setting,” said the New Museum’s Lauren Cornell after an all-day session on biennials. In the hotel breakfast room, which also hemorrhaged curators, Hans Ulrich Obrist expounded on the fair’s long tradition of facilitating international conversations and the important role it played in introducing far-flung figures of his generation to one another. “ARCO is where everyone discovered Latin America in the 1990s. Latin America came to Europe through Spain.”

Left: SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib with New Museum curator Lauren Cornell. Right: Hans Ulrich Obrist.

By day, those not sequestered to these clandestine convocations were likely to bump into one another at (spoiler alert) the Prado—“an #artselfie of Las Meninas” would be a #metaartselfie, wouldn’t it?” posited SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib—or the Reina Sofía, which boasted a jaw-dropping exhibition of geometric abstraction highlights from the Cisneros Collection, curated by the collection’s director, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, and Manuel J. Borja-Villel. Nearby, the CaixaForum Madrid featured a group show on chaos, juxtaposing Basquiat paintings with ritualistic masks from Indonesia, along with many other cultural mash-ups.

A little after 10 PM on Thursday, the perfect time for an early Spanish dinner, I arrived at the home of Isabela Mora, the Fondation Beyeler’s director of international projects, for a promised “intimate” postfair meal. Inside the sixth-floor flat overlooking the Buen Retiro I saw instead (to my delight/horror) close to a hundred familiar faces. “I didn’t realize this was a Mendes Wood party,” said the New York collector Charlotte Ford, referring to the young and gregarious São Paulo gallery. “Which means that everybody in the world . . . ” continued Richard Flood, no doubt alluding to the festive gauntlet of guests and brusque waiters crowding the parlor and hallways. In any case it was a blast, and internationals like Hou Hanru, Mario Ybarra Jr., Patricia Marshall, and Pablo León de la Barra sipped champagne and nibbled on pasta alongside local luminaries like Cristina Iglesias and “the Spanish Kenneth Anger,” as the legendary filmmaker Adolpho Arrietta was introduced to me.

The witching hour arrived—still too early for a real madrileño to begin their night—and all the jetlagged ARCOites decamped to their nightly end point, Bar Cock, a refined, wood-paneled watering hole that, despite being located in Madrid’s gayborhood Chueca, has nothing in common with another seedy Manhattan dive whose name it (mostly) shares. There commenced more dialogues, which, under the cover of night, are also sure to go undocumented in the annals of art fairs.

Kevin McGarry

Left: Artist Witte van Hulzen (center) and dealer Jaqueline Martins (right). Right: Artist Ben Nathan (left) and dealer Rodrigo Editore of Casa Triângulo Gallery (center). (Photos: Iago Barreiro)

Left: Dealer Emma Thomas (left). Right: Monica Novaes Esmanhotto of Latitude (second from left) with dealers Luciana Brito (center) and Eliana Finkelstein (second from right). (Photos: Iago Barreiro)

Left: Future Gallery's Michael Ruiz. Right: Artist Sebastian Gordin and dealer Oscar Cruz. (Photo: Iago Barreiro)