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Letter from Madrid
by Ysabel de la Rosa
  Bourgeois remembrance
Louise Bourgeois has invaded the ground floor of the Reina Sofía Museum with a 90-piece retrospective, titled "Memory and Architecture," which is on view through Feb. 14, 2000. One could find many titles for this French-American artist -- Spider Woman, Mother of Installation Art, Architect of Memories. In any case, the show is obsessive, brilliant and absorbing. It includes sculpture, drawings and lithographs, as well as installation works, some quite well known, such as her group of 20-foot-tall spiders hovering over cages that enclose various objects. The show also includes recent holograms.

Bourgeois believes that memories, particularly those from childhood, form the internal architecture of the self. We cannot change this architecture, according to Bourgeois, although we can work with it in a spirit of transformation. Her 1999 tabletop sculpture Topiary gives evidence of the artist's philosophy. A woman's body forms the trunk of a small tree. She has one wooden leg and holds one crutch. Branches sprout from her head bearing abundant turquoise-blue fruits -- her memories. The crutch supports one of the fruit-laden lower branches, indicating the capacity to flower and bear fruit in spite of injury.

Bourgeois' large set pieces, which she calls "cells," are installation art at its architectural best. One cell is a replica of her parents' bedroom, titled Passion and Tragedy. Another cell, Dangerous Passages, is a wire cage almost large enough to be a small studio apartment. Objects of passage fill it and cover it (an old electric chair, an abstract stone sculpture, clothes).

In more than one instance, remnants of antique tapestries hang outside or within these "memory cells." Bourgeois' family ran a tapestry repair business, and some of her earliest artworks were sketches of the tapestries' missing parts. This piece of her past fits ever so tightly with the symbol she uses to portray her mother -- the protective, web-spinning spider.

In 1996, the Reina Sofía purchased one of the artist's giant spiders for slightly under $500,000 from her show at Soledad Lorenzo gallery.

Samba Gug?
Guggenheim Foundation director Thomas Krens was in South America in November, laying groundwork for the exhibition "Brazil: 500 Years of Visual Arts," slated to appear in New York in 2001 and Bilbao in 2002. Brazil wants more. In fact, word is that Brazil wants its own Guggenheim outpost.

But where? São Paolo, because it's the "cultural capital?" Salvador de Bahía, because the Portuguese "discovery" of the country occurred in its state of Porto Seguro? Río de Janeiro, because it is the "tourism capital?" Brasilia, because it has no major museum at all?

Krens is being prudent and non-committal for the time being. Chile and Argentina have also made known an interest in hosting South America's first Guggenheim.

Spain's two art fairs
Organizers of Spain's celebrated annual art fair, ARCO, recently announced details of its next installment, scheduled to run Feb. 10-15, 2000. A total of 250 galleries have been invited, 96 from Spain and the rest from 25 other countries. More than 450 galleries applied. ARCO 2000's featured country is Italy, which will have 24 galleries present. And despite complaints from last year [see Letter from Madrid, 3/5/99], Rosina Gómez Baena still has her job as ARCO director.

ARCO's "Cutting Edge" section is divided into six new programs: "Conosur," works from Argentina, Chile and Peru; "East Wind / West Wind"; galleries from Central and Eastern Europe; new art from the U.S.A.; new art from the Low Countries, featuring photography and electronic art; emergent art from Germany; and "Cutting Edge Open,: an international sampling of vanguard art.

As usual, there will be much discussion in the "Mesas de Debate," a symposium whose subjects include "Collecting Italian Art" and "The Politics of International Contemporary Art Museum Acquisitions."

Spain's second most important art fair is Estampa 99, which hosted more than 60,000 visitors in November in Madrid's Casa de Campo. Known for its accessible prices, Estampa 99 featured approximately 100 booths with works by 1,000 artists. Prices ranged from $140 to over $100,000. A 1955 Braque sold for $15,500. A Picasso portrait of Dora Maar was the highest-priced item at the art fair, at $105,000. Special interest was also shown in the prints of Rafael Alberti, a poet and artist who died just days before the art fair.

The contemporary scene
Although ARCO and Estampa do a brisk business, no one has to wait for an art fair in Madrid to purchase good contemporary art. A few of the places with art by "rising stars" are:

Galería Estampa (Justiniano 6, 28004 Madrid, The gallery's 1999 shows have been intelligent and varied. Isabel Baquedano's exhibition this spring was a striking example of contemporary art with Christian subject matter, done with a refreshing, substantive and unsentimental approach. José María Cuasante's show, titled "Rojo" (Red), was technically impressive and highly evocative, as though the paintings were a Pedro Almodóvar movie about to be filmed.

Galería Fúcares (Conde de Xiquena, 12, 28004 Madrid) celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. This year's shows at Fucares were a wild assortment. One of the most interesting was Anne Deleporte's photographic work done on "decoplax."

A very successful show at Galería Angeles Penché (Monte Esquinza, 11, 28010 Madrid) was Ángela Cabrera's "La mirada del Corazón" (The Gaze of the Heart). This 30-year-old art teacher is clearly influenced by Chagall. Her own personal sense of poetic enchantment, however, keeps her from being an imitative painter. Her work, priced in the $1,500-$3,000 range, sold extremely well, due certainly in part to its quality and freshness, but likely also due to the gallery's consumer-friendly purchasing terms.

Battles and books
The family of Antonio Saura, the expressionistic modernist painter who died in 1998, has the international art world on its side in its battle over control of his legacy. Eighty artists and art experts from around the world have signed a declaration against the maverick Saura Foundation in the town of Cuenca [see Letter from Madrid, 8/25/99. The declaration, titled "La Impostura de Cuenca," denounces the formation of a "mediocre foundation not desired by Antonio Saura." Signers include Antoni Tàpies, Eduardo Chillida, Georg Baselitz, Maya Andersson, and Thyssen Collection curator Tomás Llorens.

On a happier note, an exhibition of 500 of Saura's literary collages, drawings and sketches formed the inaugural show for Barcelona's new Centro Cultural Centro del Arte, located in the heart of the city's Rivera de Barcelona neighborhood. Saura approved the show's content just three days before his death.

The exhibition is central to understanding the artist, who was as passionate about literature as he was about visual art. Saura illustrated editions of Don Quixote, Kafka's Diaries, Pinocchio and the poetry of St. John of the Cross, among numerous other books.

Goya gets the action
1999 is the official year of Velázquez, but Goya gets all the movies. Carlos Saura directed the second major Goya film of the year, Goya en Burdeos, and dedicated the film in memory of his brother Antonio Saura. Paco Rabal, one of Spain's most famous actors, plays Goya. He found the role difficult, he said, due to the contradictions in the painter's personality. But then, the actor commented, "if Goya had been a more cultivated person, he wouldn't have been such a great painter." Food for thought?

The Dalí Foundation has paid $6.3 million for 39 works of jewelry and preparatory drawings by the artist. A pulsating ruby heart and an angel that moves its diamond-covered wings are two of the pieces sold by collector Owen Cheatham to the foundation. The purchase is the largest ever made by a Spanish museum from its own funds.

Another recent acquisition, this time made with Spanish government funds, was an untitled work by American artist Cy Twombly for $3.9 million, destined for the Reina Sofía Museum. The Reina Sofía has been doing some acquiring of its own, and now has an additional 14 paintings by Juan Gris, making a total of 20 in its permanent collection. Seven were donated by Telfónica, and the museum paid $12.6 million for the seven others, including Las uvas, El violín (1916), Garrafa y libro, Molinillo de café (1920), La ventana abierta (1921), La guitarra con incrustaciones (1925) and La mesa del músico (1926).

YSABEL DE LA ROSA is an artist and writer living in Madrid.