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|Letter from Madrid
by Ysabel de la Rosa
|ARCO, the leading Spanish contemporary art fair, closed out its 19th edition, Feb. 10-15, with dizzying attendance numbers -- some 170,000 people in all. The show's popularity was particularly noticeable for those who found themselves in Pavilion 5 among the record-breaking Saturday crowd of 50,000. Of the 10,000 works for sale by the 2,500 artists from 28 countries, the most interesting number of all remains a well-guarded secret -- how much art was sold. ARCO never releases sales figures or even estimates the total.
Some isolated numbers, however, floated into publication here and there. Added together, they offer a sketch of this year's total sales. Madrid dealer Helga de Alvear sold an installation immediately after the fair opened for $21,000. Other early sales included two Pablo Picasso works for $420,000 and $476,000; a Miguel Barceló for $280,000; a Joan Miró for $315,000, an Eduardo Chillida for $105,000, and a Tàpies for $217,000.
The ARCO Foundation spent $140,000 on 15 works. Artists represented in this purchase include: Wolfgang Tillmans, $18,000; Margherita Manzelli, $13,000; Gregor Schneider, $11,000; Olafur Eliasson, $11,000; Vik Muniz, $13,000; and Efraín Almeida, $3,000. The Caixa Foundation's María de Corral and Dan Cameron, chief curator of New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art, selected the works. The Coca-Cola Foundation spent $280,000 on acquisitions, while the Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporáneo spent $112,000.
ARCO this year was more than big, however. It was also good. Here's a sampling of some of ARCO's rising art stars whose performance will bear watching throughout the upcoming year.
The 34-year-old Mallorcan artist Pep Guerrero received the annual painting award of the Spanish ABC newspaper. He was represented at ARCO by both Carmen de la Calle of Jerez de la Frontera and Ferrán Cano of Barcelona and his works sold briskly, priced from $275 to $1,600. In his "salad days," Guerrero lacked money to buy canvas, so he painted on actual objects, whatever was available: chairs, tables, baby shoes, suitcases, even discarded "flip-flop" sandals. He covers each object with a whimsical yet careful composition that is part 1950s kitsch, part Van Eyck landscape, and part animal pattern (most often zebra). I wanted one of everything. Guerrero has money for canvas now -- now that he doesn't need it.
In a time when many installation art pieces are loud and complicated, it's a joy to experience the quiet poetry of Hossein Valamanesh's work, on view in the Greenaway Gallery of Adelaide, Australia. Born in Iran, Valamanesh has made his home in Australia for many years. His work draws from a rich range of influences: his training as a miniaturist; his time spent living with Aborigines; Sufi poetry; the concepts of roots and of rootlessness.
Two of his installations at ARCO were particularly memorable. Falling Breeze reflects the Aboriginal influence, while Daily Bread alludes to the artist's past with a haunting yet peaceful stillness. In this work, a black cloak represents the artist's grandmother, a partial silhouette of rope represents Valamanesh, and the rough board (on which his grandmother baked bread) is hung on the wall above them both, like some other-worldly vessel heading for the sky. Prices for Valamanesh works at the fair ranged from $8,000 to $25,000.
Variety from Valencia
Valencia's galleries made a significant contribution to Spain's ARCO presence this year. Galería Egam offered arresting photographic work by Amparo Garrido Arce, priced in the $700-$1,400 range. This native Valencian studied drama as well as photography, which helps explain the palpable atmospheres she creates with the camera.
Galería I Leonarte brought a large sampling of works by Armengol from his 1998-99 series "Quattrocento." These paintings are reconstructions of works by Piero della Francesca, each created from a painstaking application of colored dots. This guy makes pointillism look easy. Leonarte owner Marita Maíques introduced me to the ambiguous figurative work of José Quero. These acrylic paintings evoke music, birds, time lapses and no small amount of mystery. They seem to emerge from the opposing worlds of ancient shamanism and 21st-century machinery.
The youngest artist to attract my viewing attention at ARCO was the figurative painter María Álvarez, represented by the Valencia gallery vali30. At 26, Álvarez already shows a mature ability to explore and sustain a theme without resorting to repetition or pictorial formulas. The paintings in her series "Animismos" series always inlcude a human figure, yet this cipher is more symbolic than representative -- without gender, age or ethnicity. Álvarez surrounds her figures with arcing trees and sharply angled white buildings or walls, as if to represent a human connection to -- and separation from -- the natural world. Prices range from $300 to $700.
In this same gallery space were figurative paintings by various artists depicting the likes of Persephone, Cyclops, and Isaac and Abraham. "Figurative 'classical' painting is a tradition we are losing in Spain," remarked vali30 owner Vicente García Cervera. "We pay a monthly stipend to several artists who paint in this tradition. We're swimming against the contemporary current, but we believe we're going in the right direction, all the same."
Some of these classical works looked young and tentative despite the style and subject matter, but others showed depth, a mature presence, and pure painterly skill. Prices ranged from $1,400 to $7,000. Not all the figurative, realistic works were of classical themes. Alfonso Galvan's junglescape, titled Platanera, had a luminescence and realistic detail. This work sold for $3,500.
Madrid, old and new
La Caja Negra made a quiet but classy first appearance at ARCO. Specializing in print editions and limited edition print books, their print offerings included editions of 50 lithographs by Antón Lamazares and etchings by Santiago Serrano, at $350 per proof.
This year's ARCO, unlike the 1999 fair, was accompanied by very little controversy. Last year, 150 galleries protested over the selection process, while this year, only six of the 250 galleries not admitted to ARCO filed grievances against the selection committee. The fair's one constant complaint was a unanimous hue and cry over Spain's art tax, a steep 16 percent. At least this was a controversy everyone could agree on.
YSABEL DE LA ROSA writes on art from Spain.