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|Everyone in ARCO
by Walter Robinson
|Imagine waking up and saying to yourself, "I think I'll go to 258 galleries today!" Absurd? Certainly -- but such is the initial effect of a visit to ARCO 2000, Spain's famous fair of contemporary and modern art on view Feb. 10-15 in halls 5 and 7 at Madrid's spacious fairgrounds.
Fair organizers have gone all out to make the formerly parochial event a truly international gathering -- of the 258 dealers, 157 hail from 28 countries outside Spain. The fair boasts a special section of 24 galleries from Italy, selected by international supercurator Achille Bonito Oliva; a "Cutting Edge" section featuring new art from over 40 galleries from around the world; and an especially avant-garde group of 30 "project room" booths with installations by individual artists, dubbed "Other Worlds" and selected by globe-trotting curators Francesco Bonami, Carlos Basualdo, Hou Hanru, Rosa Martinez and Octavio Zaya.
After Spain, Germany and Italy have the strongest representation, with around 30 galleries from each country. Only one dealer came from Switzerland (Art & Public), two from England (Angela Flowers and Lotta Hammer), 11 from the Netherlands and 16 from France.
ARCO's internationalism is further bolstered by the participation of La Casona from Cuba, i8 from Iceland, Michelle Marxuach from Puerto Rico, Nev from Turkey and Sur from Uruguay. U.S. participation is small but respectable -- including Ramis Barquet, De Chiara/Stewart, Sandra Gering, Griffin Contemporary, Christopher Grimes, I-20, Florence Lynch, Sara Meltzer, Patrick Painter, Vedanta and Marlborough.
What's more, the fair has organized three days of panel discussions with presentations from assorted art-world big foots. Curators Germano Celant (Guggenheim), Kynaston McShine (MoMA), Marti Mayo (Houston CAM), Dan Cameron (New Museum), Declan McGonigle (Irish MoMA), Manuel Borja-Villel (MACBA), etc., are to hold forth on "Acquisition Policies of Contemporary Art Museums." New York poet and critic Carlos Basualdo leads a panel on "Mutations of the Exhibition Model," while AFA curator Susan Hapgood heads up "Artists as Generators of Change in Curatorial Practice." The list goes on, at great length!
And last but not least, the exhibition halls are dotted with computer kiosks connected to the Internet, dubbed "net.space@arco" and sponsored by Terra, the Spanish-language internet portal. All this is underwritten by national and local governments to the tune of perhaps 400 million pesetas ($1 = 165 pta) -- a generosity that goes hand in hand with the symbolic patronage of Spain's King Juan Carlos, who walked through the fair on its opening day, accompanied by throngs of paparazzi and security men.
ARCO receives considerable corporate support as well. The two-volume, 700 page catalogue is graced with a Coca-Cola add on its back cover ("Coca-Cola … con el arte contemporáneo"), and Renault sponsors a 2-million-peseta purchase prize that recognizes new work. Winner this year was a participatory sculpture by the 36-year-old artist Pedro Mora at Madrid dealer Soledad Lorenzo's booth.
Called Simultaneous Room, the piece consists of a sheet of dark reflective glass covering a thin frame, which apparently contains nothing except pairs of light tubes mounted on the inside of each section of the frame. The piece hangs on the wall like a picture and faces two plastic chairs. The effect, however, is one of infinite golden reflection and depth -- in which viewers also see their own images. It's both mystical and a trivial, incidental effect of common materials of modern architecture. Price: 1,800,000 pta.
ARCO is, of course, a place to seek out Spanish artists. One such is Concha Prada, who was born in 1963 and who in the past has shown large black-and-white photos that seem to document kitchen mishaps (breaking eggs, for instance). Valencia dealer Tomas March had a series of new photographs that show milk flying through black space like so many abstract brushstrokes. Unique prints are 1,000,000 pta; editioned ones are somewhat less.
March, by the way, installed work by two other photographers in his booth -- the Canadian Ian Wallace (a contemporary of Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham) and Spanish artist Begoña Montalban -- whose photos, though realist, have the same formalist, abstract quality found in Prada's images of milk-in-space.
At the booth of Madrid dealer Javier López, who works in partnership with New York dealer Sandra Gering, was a photograph by the young Catalan artist Tere Recarens. Showing her own rear end, this diaristic document of what the artist calls "my last underwear" is priced at a respectable 400,000 pta. Very interesting.
Another work at López is by Jose Antonio Hernandez Diez, who may not be Spanish-born but lives in Barcelona. His photograph of a Brancusi-like column of sneakers spells out "marx," a lighthearted emblem of Capital's conquest of Communism. "He had great trouble finding a shoe with an "R," said gallery director Yiva Rouse.
A brief meeting at the fair with a young artist from Barcelona, Patricia Dauder, drew my attention to several new (to me, at least) Spanish photographers. At the booth of dealer Toni Tàpies of Barcelona -- yes, he is the son of Antoni Tàpies, one of Spain's preeminent contemporary artists --- was a group of three photographs by Julia Montilla. Showing people in the woods, covered with goopy, greenish clay, the pictures almost look like stills from the X-Files to my Hollywood-saturated eyes. "It's paradise lost!" protested Dauder. In an edition of 5, the pictures are 300,000 pta.
Another Spanish photographer of note is the 30-something painter Susy Gómez. Her new work is in several booths (at that of Soledad Lorenzo and Giorgio Persano from Milan, as well as Tàpies) and combines two types of imagery with proven appeal -- the bold abstract brushstroke, here applied to glossy magazine photos of fashion models. The resulting montage is rephotographed and blown up to mural size. A particularly sexy one, with Pollock-like spatters on an image of a woman's face, was marked sold at Lorenzo for 1,200,000 pta, while two more restrained and formalist ones at Tapies were 800,000 pta.
At the booth of Madrid dealer Juana de Aizpuru, Patricia pointed out the work of still another young Spanish woman photographer, Ana Laura Aláez, who among her various other activities poses in a large and highly varnished photo self-portrait here with a phallic garden of red shapes inspired equally by Louise Bourgeois and lipstick. It's 750,000 pta. Alaez also makes Art Moderne-type sculptures of zinc, copper and plastic, as well as videotaped performances. One shows two young women who manage to be both exotically costumed and salaciously naked (à la the Marquis de Sade, perhaps?). Well, it has been almost 25 years since the fall of Franco!
One showstopper was the photos of Netherlander Erwin Olaf displayed on the outside of the booth of Espacio Minimo from Murcia. These large (100 x 80 cm.) color c-prints feature aging showgirls posing as famous supermodels -- in their 60s and 70s. Thus we have Cindy C., 78, Linda E., 62, Jerry H., 76 and Christy T., 66. Done in editions of five, each photo begins at 800,000 pta and increases in price according to how many remain.
Espacio Minimo also represents Madrid artist Rosalía Banet, whose paintings and clay sculptures (and photos of the same) make literal the all-important role of the phallus in human life. This is particularly true of her "penis family" series, in which doll-like little penises garden, play at the beach, dine and nap. "En carne viva," reads the title of a mini-catalogue essay on her work.
ARCO's "project room" section is perhaps the most exciting, with venturesome video projections, jazzy soundtracks and hyperbolic installations, and even a performance or two. Artist Francisco Ruiz de Infante, who shows with Elba Benítez in Madrid, built Gran Crudo, an assemblage of lumber, empty green wine bottles and a sink that offered fair visitors the opportunity to wash their hands (and then add their names to a list on the wall).
Another project, by artist Laura Lima, represented by Casa Triângulo from São Paulo, presented a performance called Doped Woman, in which a young woman wearing a long crocheted headdress and a white dress with a long tail seemed to sleep in the middle of the space. She is supposedly "doped with tranquilizers" and "connected to the exhibition space."
Still another project booth was filled with a large, pillow-shaped balloon made of newspaper by Franklin Cassaro, an artist who shows with Baró Senna in São Paulo. The thing is kept inflated by a fan, and open at the bottom, so that people kept scooting under to sit inside. In a failure of critical nerve, your correspondent declined to participate, but did note that exiting viewers seemed particularly rosy cheeked!
Baró Senna also represents Lina Kim, whose wall assemblage of a starched white shirt with a pocked filled with gold coins (they're the chocolate kind) seems like a good symbol of an economically resurgent Latin America.
At Brito Cimino, another São Paulo gallery in ARCO's "Cutting Edge" section, were photographs by Mônica Nador that combined social context with pattern and decoration painting, of all things. Nador works with poor people in Brazilian towns to decorate their homes and churches with colorful indigenous patterns -- a project she took to the last Havana Biennale and that she's bringing to the next "In/Site" exhibition in San Diego. Individual prints of her photos, which she produces in editions of five, are $1,000.
Among the South American galleries is Isabel Aninat from Santiago, in business for 20 years and coming to ARCO for three. Her booth featured Angela Riesco's wall of dried red peppers, which is a Latin folklore remedy for "malasuerte" -- bad luck. Riesco also had a cross fashioned from 20 panels, each covered with colored ribbons and small tin votives designed to carry prayers. A single one of these super ex votos is $400, with the entire set priced at $7,000.
The "Cutting Edge" section of the fair included Galerie Neu from Berlin, which featured a nice selection of animal traps by Andreas Slominksi, logo lightboxes by Daniel Pflumm, boxlike constructions by Manfred Pernice and paintings by Thilo Heinzmann. Slominski's $10,000 Hawktrap is designed so that when the bird lands on the bar and springs the netting, the cage holding the prey opens allowing it to escape. Very humane!
Pernice's boxes -- neat plywood and fiberboard constructions with slats, stenciled numbers and cleanly cut square and round openings -- have an esthetic appeal that is part architectural, part carpentry. What's more, they're mounted on casters and so can be easily moved about.
Another cutting-edge Berlin gallery is Luis Campaña, whose booth was dominated by a dramatic construction in lumber and cotton flocking by Bjôrn Dahlem. My attention was caught by two large, vertical paintings (290 x 170 cm) by Dirk Skreber, a 30-something artist from Dusseldorf. His paintings of buildings -- some seemingly based on aerial photos of floods, others looking as if the structures are at the bottom of a lake -- are rendered in viscous, lusciously handled oil paint in which abstract strokes come alive and function as a part of the realist image. Skreber has an interest in "evil" architecture, noted Campaña, and has done pictures of Columbine High School and the Shoah Foundation, for instance. The price: 26,000 DM.
Among the New York dealers, Ramis Barquet had a large painting by Julian Schnabel dedicated to the Sunday strollers in Cuba's Plaza de la Revolucion. On rough, raw canvas the artist smeared a swath of green before splashing on a dramatic expanse of white that resembles a ghost. All in all, it looks very … Latin, and I'm told that it relates to Schnabel's new movie about a gay Cuban poet who was martyred under Castro's homophobic regime. The next Paris art fair, FIAC, is requiring dealers to mount solo shows in their booths, and Ramis plans to take Schnabel's cycle of these paintings for his presentation. This particular work, which measures 8 x 10 ft., is priced at $170,000.
Over at Patrick Painter, the L.A. dealer had done his booth in monochromatic black, white and gray to excellent effect -- a large series of aerial photos of parking lots by Ed Ruscha, a gray figure by Juan Munoz, paintings by Christopher Wool and Mike Kelley. In a niche on the outside of the booth Painter has installed a good-looking Untitled Turkey Skeleton by Meyer Vaisman. What can I say about this, I asked the dealer. "It takes Brancusi to a new level," he dead-panned. It's a bargain at $25,000. Meyer is showing at Gavin Brown Enterprises in New York in May.
Other veterans of the 1980s New York art boom were in evidence as well. Leyendecker, the dealer from the lovely Spanish resort island of Tenerife, brought two circa-1984 paintings by Peter Schuyff that looked particularly good to Donald Baechler, also on the scene to deliver a work of his to the gallery. Donald has a good eye -- one of the Schuyff's had sold for $40,000.
Vedanta, the young Chicago gallery headed up by the dynamic duo of Kavi Gupta and Monique Meloche, brought a wall-full of color photographs by the Albuquerque photographer Matt Gray. Gray runs ads for models at $7 an hour, screens out the pros and then subjects those who remain to extremes of costume and makeup. The resulting freak-show is a surprising demonstration of the history of photography (Weegee, Arbus, Winogrand, etc) as well as the theatrical potential of all people. The photos, which are produced in editions of three, are $2,800 framed.
At I-20, dealer Paul Judelson has a work by the French-born New York artist Kiki Seror, who shares the next show at the New York gallery with painter Marina Kappos. Seror's piece -- a light-box photo-transparency of dramatic 3-D blue text spelling out erotic texts from online chat rooms, including the titular phrase Thrust into me Baby, done in sex-ready red -- suggests that however high-tech life might become, some things never change! The work is priced at $4,000.
I-20 also has a huge Spencer Tunick photo of hundreds of naked people lying like sardines in the desert at Burning Man. Hey, that cute one in the middle, could it be Ann Magnuson?
Also on the scene from New York is the peripatetic Rirkrit Tiravanija, with a bookshelf module at Neugerriemschneider's stylish booth (the hip Berlin gallery also featured interior-design-type stylings from Jorge Pardo, Franz Ackerman and Pae White) and large new silkscreen-on-aluminum works at Madrid dealer Salvador Díaz. The image comes from the poster for his show at Díaz's gallery, which is on the plaza just across from the Reina Sofia museum, and the technique, Rirkrit readily admits, comes from '80s art star Gretchen Bender, for whom Tiravanija once worked. At $10,000, "they're too expensive," Rirkrit said. "But that's okay, since they won't sell!" Don't be so sure.
Everyone loves Rirkrit -- "he's the art world's token nice person," commented one wag. Or perhaps it's the free food. Rirkrit himself cooked up beef sate and grilled eggplant during a Thursday night event at Diaz that was certainly a hit with the assembled international art scene. "I'm using my curatorial status to get seconds," said Rosa Martinez as she dashed towards the grill from the cook's entrance. Rirkrit's trademark house -- for once constructed of high-grade plywood rather than the rough stuff -- also included a room where a rock band played. There was space for the musicians, plus one row of spectators!
What can I say? "Te quiero ARCO!"
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.