Yes, we made it through ARCO 05, Feb. 10-14, 2005, though Spains famous art fair felt a bit like a war zone. We started with a car bomb at breakfast on the morning of the fairs inauguration, courtesy ETA. Some days later, one of the few tall business towers in Madrid burned to the ground. Such events are sobering, to say the least, and cast ARCOs art debates in a more human light.
But everyone agreed that the level of enthusiasm at ARCO was high, and that the fair is a great place to see art and make contacts. Overall sales were reported to have increased by 10 percent over 2004. The price of admission, at 30 euros, is rather high, however. The fair seems to have re-focused on business, taking into account past years complaints about the avalanches of students crowding the aisles.
The lineup of galleries, along with the curatorial projects and booths representing museums and private collections, worked out very well. Mexico was the guest country for 2005, and ARCOs Mexican stalwarts, galleries such as Nina Menocal, Enrique Guerrero, OMR and Kurimanzutto, were very well accompanied this time by almost 20 other Mexican dealers.
Among them were Terreno Baldo Arte, with Javier Marn's huge, striking sculptures of human body parts made of polyester resin hanging from the ceiling by steel wire; Galera Oaxaca Quetzalli, with the expressively allegorical figure paintings of Guillermo Olgun; Alternativa Once, featuring Adrin Procel's neo-Pop acrylic paintings of swimsuit models on magazine covers; Art & Idea, with Mximo Gonzlez's funny shelf sculptures, fitted with casters and filled with artworks; and Galera Pecanins, run by sisters Ana Mara Pecanins and Mara Teresa Pecanins, with Pedro Friedeberg's Baroque, gold-leafed "Princess Mu Sofa."
Emma Molina, who is headquartered in Garza Garca outside Monterrey in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, presented the Ariel Guzik's Harmonious Resonator, a group of robotic spiders that play a mathematically calculated music, as if to discover the song of nature. Guzik's project has a scientific component -- according to the artist, it is inspired by experiments at the National University of Mexico in which sound waves are used to stimulate the growth of vegetables!
Steve Sacks, director from the New York based gallery Bitforms, a well-known pioneer in the fields of digital and robotic art, reported great success at ARCO. One standout in his booth was a software-based work by the Chicago artist Lincoln Schatz that mesmerized the ARCO audience. Titled Stitch, the work combines images from the past and the immediate present on a large plasma screen. Another work, Daniel Rozin's incredible Wooden Mirror, in which an octagonal array of square wooden pieces somehow reflect an enlarged portrait of the person looking at it, was bought by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Castilla y Leon. The Museum of the Moving Image of Astoria, Queens, also has one of Rozin's mirrors in its collection, this one featuring a reflective surface made of pieces of plastic packaging.
Another favorite of the public institutions were the densely textured, symbolic oil paintings by Arnaldo Roche Rabell at the Walter Otero Gallery from San Juan. Right in the next booth, Berenice Arvani Gallery from So Paulo was presenting an installation of soft humanoids by Vera Goulart along with photographs by Marcio Almeida and Flavio Emanuel from their video, Sacrossantus Eroticus.
Spanish photographers made a good showing. Pepo Salazar had several new works in the booth of Madrid gallery Oliva Arauna. Mayte Vieta had her bright color landscape photographs, which she mounts on aluminum, at the Barcelona gallery Dels ngels and at Palma Dotze Galeria d'Art in La Palma (and a sculpture of displayed butterflies at the booth of Maior from Mallorca). The digital magician Ixone Sdaba, who likes photographs in which classical themes -- the avenging female, for instance -- are given contemporary dress, showed her new work at the booth of Madrid gallery Fernando Pradilla.
Both the Barcelona gallery Alejandro Sales and Madrid's Galeria Metta, which show Spanish artists as well as artists from the international circuit, featured the ochre-colored paintings of devastated architecture by Simon Edmonson. Bores & Mallo, the gallery directed by Javier Castro that has branches in both Lisbon and Cceres, Spain, had in its booth a spare but sensuous work by Florentino Diaz, featuring lengths of slim rubber draped on a steel framework.
The Strasbourg gallery Ames d'Afrique brought several small wall-works -- small fragments of commercial signs, with lights like hot coals shining through the surface fractures -- by the Cameroon artist Salifou Lindou, a veteran of the 1998 Dakar Bienale. The Asni Gallery of Contemporary Art from Addis Ababa presented figurative clay sculptures by the Denmark-based artist Etiye Dima Poulsen, elemental shapes that clearly evoke the ancestral primitive art of her African origins.
The galleries from Norway seemed to specialize in 21st-century technology. Galleri MGM from Oslo featured 3D digital photographs with an otherworldly look by Sven Phlsson, while Galleri K brought the oil on aluminum paintings by Steinar Jakobsen, highly tweaked photo-based images of people on the street made almost unrecognizable by painterly explosions in their surroundings. Galleri Brandstrup featured Kjersti Sundland's artful digital drawings (one shows a black-eyed girl cozying up to a gorilla) and Galleri Wang's wares included a tiny sculpture by Snorre Ytterstad titled The Grin -- it is a death's head carved from a tooth.
Also on hand at the fair was Mixografa, the gallery of Los Angeles printmakers Luis and Lea Remba. Celebrated for its unique paper-pulp printmaking process, Mixografia has produced over 800 editions by artists ranging from Arman and John Baldessari to Ed Ruscha and Kiki Smith.
The Beijing artist Feng Zhengjie, known for phantasmagoric paintings of sugar-sweet space-age damsels, was impressively successful at ARCO 05, with works on view in the booths of several galleries, including Tokyo Gallery (from Beijing) and Christa Schbbe Gallery from Mettmann in Germany. Schbbe sold a work titled China to a Portuguese private collector for 16,000 euros. The most expensive painting at ARCO 05 was Pablo Picasso's Guitarre et Partition (1920), an oil on canvas that Barcelona's Galeria Oriol had priced at 11 million euros.
At the booth of Galera Sandunga from Grenada, the artist Carlos Miranda let his piece Loop City be interactive with the audience -- visitors to the booth literally walked on the work, in a brave move symbolic of the loss of the artists ego. Similarly, at the Pamplona gallery Moiss Prez de Albniz the artist Muntadas installed what he calls his CEE Project, a deep blue carpet with a circle of gold stars.
David Liss, director of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, selected several Canadian artists to take part in the fair's "New Territories" section. Toronto's Pari Nadimi Gallery presented the theatrical photographs of Rebecca Belmore, who has her subjects wrapped mummy-like in strips of cotton. The booth of Christopher Cutts Gallery featured a grid of nine realistic heads in painted resin, each making a dramatic expression, by Richard Stipl, who titles his sculpture (in an update of Dr. Frankenstein's appeal to his monster) Breathe, You Fucker. The offerings on view at Corkin Shopland Gallery -- veteran Conceptual Art dealer Jane Corkin has teamed up with Martin Shopland -- included a striking photograph by Frank Mdler titled Renault that shows a bird's-eye-view of a black car parked uncertainly in an intersection in the middle of nowhere. At Peak Gallery were the simple color photographs of objects by Michelle Bellemare, including the work Tease, a picture of wigs without a head.
Even Cuba participated in the fair. Galera Habana had works by Arturo Montoto, a Photorealist painter whose poetic subjects include a single scallion sitting on a primitive stone door stoop. La Habana was also showing the work of Manuel Mendive in Europe for the first time. This 62-year-old Cuban artist makes folkish mixed-media sculptures of fishermen talking to their fish.
Also from the Caribbean was Varelli Arte Contemporneo from the Dominican Republic. There, artist Jorge Pineda installed a sculpture of a small child, facing the wall, with a rage of scribbles apparently issuing from the figure's mouth -- a work evocative of the issue of child abuse.
Swiss dealer Mark Mller, who specializes in abstract contemporary painting, brought to ARCO the gestural, brightly colored works of New Zealander Judy Millar, who mixes oil and acrylic on linen canvases. New York dealer Caren Golden brought eroticized works to the show, including the figurative paintings of geishas in blackface by Iona Rozeal Brown and polymorphously perverse abstractions by Paul Henry Ramirez.
Works by the 40-something Spanish conceptual-art prankster Jordi Colomer could be found in two of the top Spanish galleries, Carles Tache from Barcelona and Juana de Aizpuru from Madrid. And Spain's toughest political artist, Santiago Sierra, had works at no less than five gallery booths: Helga de Alvear and ngel Romero (both from Madrid), Prometeo (Lucca, Italy), Enrique Guerrero (Mexico City) and Lisson Gallery (London).
Also in the political realm, Madrid's Galeria Salvador Daz featured The Themocracy Shop by the Spanish artists' group El Perro (the Dog), a realistic sculpture of an American soldier taking an Iraqi -- on his hands and knees like a dog -- for a walk. The gallery was selling t-shirts with the word "Democracy" printed on them in a Disney-style typography.
It was definitely a busy week for the international arts, with tons of things to think about and slowly digest. ARCO in Madrid is an appointment that should not be missed, so start making place in your 2006 agenda, and we will see there next year!