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    Letter from Madrid
by Ysabel de la Rosa
 
     
 
ARCO catalogue
ARCO's catalogue, 600+ pages
 
Rosina Gomez Baena
Rosina Gómez Baena
 
Soledad Lorenzo
Soledad Lorenzo
 
Squabble at ARCO
ARCO 1999 director Rosina Gómez Baena told the Spanish press that the 8.5 percent drop in visitors to this year's ARCO art fair was all part of the plan. "The number of visitors is fewer," she explained, "because we have tried to define ARCO as an event dedicated to art sales and cultural encounters among experts. We want ARCO to be primarily for professionals."

As it happens, some of those professionals are complaining. Of the 382 galleries that applied to participate in ARCO, a grand total of 149 were rejected. And a certain number of protests from excluded dealers have landed in the office of Fermín Lucas, director general of IFEMA, Madrid's trade-fair governing body.

The protestors are arguing that the selection of exhibitors was tainted by "amiguismo," with gallery owners on the selection committee serving their own interests. As a consequence, Lucas has promised a re-evaluation of ARCO's procedures -- a "period of reflection," he called it -- leading many to believe that he may replace Gómez Baena with someone who, in Lucas' words, "is a person who believes in the new project."

Gómez Baena's supporters, who include some of the leading dealers at the fair, say that they might not return next year without her at the helm. "If ARCO broadens its selection criteria, I wouldn't participate," said Madrid dealer Soledad Lorenzo. "And many other gallery owners feel as I do." What Gómez Baena wants is assurance that "artistic" and therefore "subjective" criteria can be considered part the "regulations" used in selecting galleries for future ARCO fairs.

Lucas seemed unruffled when he replied, "I would like for the prestigious galleries to be present at ARCO, but we cannot prevent them from deciding not to come, based on their personal considerations."

"I don't like to be threatened," he went on to say.

Although the fair's visitor count was down, reported sales were up 10 percent from last year. Marlborough, for example, sold a Picasso, two Manolo Valdés works, one each by Juan Genovés and Lucio Múñoz and 20 by Juan José Aquerreta. Spanish institutions bought art worth slightly more than $1 million.

Rosina Gómez Baena has influence. Fermín Lucas has power. Time will tell which has the greater effect on Spain's next national contemporary art fair.

     
 
Santa Rufina
Diego Velázquez
Santa Rufina
 
Las Meninas (Maids of Honor) or The Family of Philip IV
Diego Velázquez
Las Meninas (Maids of Honor) or The Family of Philip IV
ca. 1656
 
Prado Museum
Prado Museum
A good year for Velázquez
Christie's January Old Masters auction in New York is still having repercussions in Spain. It was there that the previously unknown Diego Velázquez painting of a young girl holding a palm, Santa Rufina, sold to an anonymous English buyer for an impressive $8,912,500.

Before the sale, considerable agitation by the city of Seville (Velázquez' birthplace) led the Spanish national government to announce that it would bid a "reasonable amount" on the painting as an important object of "national patrimony." With the help of private businesses, the government arrived at a limit of $4,200,000. At the same time, it was made clear that no one else from Spain should bid on the painting. And no one else did.

So 1999, "the Year of Velázquez" in Spain, began with the government allowing a trophy work to "defect" to England.

But who needs the painting, when you can claim the painter? 1999 is the 400th anniversary of Velázquez' birth. Benigno Pendás, director general of the fine arts division within Spain's ministry of culture, stated that the year's dedication to the memory of the artist will "serve to promote Spain as an important cultural force, given that Velázquez is the best painter in history." Art aficionados will have enough Velázquez viewing opportunities in 1999 to decide if they agree with Pendás.

The Prado has remodeled its Velázquez galleries and will open them to the public this summer. The museum hopes to borrow Venus of the Mirror from London's National Gallery for the re-opening, but such a major loan may not be possible. In October 1999 the Prado will send its exhibition "Velázquez, Rubens and Claudio de Lorena" to Bonn, and in December will open in its own galleries the exhibition "Velázquez, Rubens and Van Dyck, Court Painters of the 17th Century." The fine arts division of the culture ministry will sponsor smaller shows throughout Spain of Velázquez's religious paintings, unfinished works and works by his teachers.

Next to the Prado, Sevilla will be the second-most concentrated locus of Velázquez, where a fall show, "Velázquez and Sevilla," will hang in the Monastery of the Cartuja. This show will highlight paintings from the artist's younger days, such as Old Woman Frying Eggs and the Aguador of Sevilla.

     
 
Mariano Rajoy
Mariano Rajoy
 
Changing of the cultural guard
Nearly every Spanish minister changed or left his or her post in late January as President José María Aznar continued his shift from political right to center in preparation for this year's elections. In the Ministry of Education and Culture, Esperanza Aguirre is out, succeeded by Mariano Rajoy, who becomes Aznar's second appointee as culture minister.

It is a little too early to guess how Rajoy's m.o. will differ from that of his predecessor, if at all. Rajoy, formerly Minister of Public Administrations, has even less cultural experience to bring to the post than his predecessor (see Kim Bradley's article in ArtNet Spain archives). Rajoy has yet to make a major official statement, only a few "necessary" appearances. With not even a month in office, he has already been criticized by the press for his absence from cultural events.

Rajoy will most likely keep the art purchasing budget level. Since the Socialists were voted out of power, Aznar has shrunk the cultural budget, although the overall Spanish economy has steadily recuperated during his time in office. Aguirre's new job is President of the Congress.

     
 
Reina Sofía National Museum
Reina Sofía National Museum
 
Acquisitions and arrests
On the subject of purchases, Aznar gave his "year-end savings" of $3.8 million to the Reina Sofía Museum, which in turn used the funds to purchase an early Joan Miró work, La Casa de Palmera (1918). In an unintentionally comic turn, the outgoing culture minister, Esperanza Aguirre, mistakenly announced that the museum had purchased Miró's even earlier, even better-known painting, La Masía ("masía" is Catalán for country home), painted in 1918. This work is actually in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Aguirre attributed her mistake to having been ill-informed by Secretary of Culture Miguel Ángel Cortés who, rightly or wrongly, silently and publicly endured Aguirre's verbal slings and arrows.

The Reina Sofía made other important acquisitions at year's end, including three paintings by Juan Gris: El violín (1916), Guitarra con incrustaciones (1925) and Les raisins/Nature morte avec compotier et journal (1916). The three works cost slightly more than $2.6 million total. The museum also acquired Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam's painting Navitité for $882,000, and Dora Maar's photos of Picasso painting Guérnica.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Bilbao, recently acquired Julio González' Mujer llamada los tres pliegues (Woman called the three pleats) (1931-32), as well as other González works. Mujer is one of the first large works the artist created. Considered "the father of iron sculpture" in Spain, González (1876-1942) is said to have introduced Picasso to the medium. "This is better than Christmas," exclaimed museum sub-director José Julián Baquedano. "This piece forms a bridge between the iron sculptures created early in the 20th century in Spain and the contemporary works of Oteiza and Chillida."
     
 
Stolen art on display
Stolen art on display
 
Another type of art acquisition, however, did not go so well. Long-time tobacco-smuggler Cladis R. P., 53, and his cousin María Luisa were recently apprehended in Valencia with a "botín" of stolen art works valued at $85 million. The "botín" (Spanish for booty) included 32 pre-Colombian pieces, a Giacometti sculpture, two Miró etchings, and Braque and Picasso lithographs. Other works appear to be by Rembrandt, Goya and Chagall, although authorship of the paintings is not confirmed. The art was apparently stolen from the collection of Anne Marie Graf in Cevigny, Switzerland, in 1997.

The arrest was the culmination of an extensive joint investigation by police in Barcelona, Valencia and Geneva. Cladis and his cousin were apprehended 21 kilometers outside of Valencia -- after a dramatic chase -- with all but three of the works of art packed in the trunk of their Renault 21. Also implicated in the operation were Cladis' daughter and an unidentified woman in Alicante.

The work was reportedly to be exchanged for cocaine. Valencia police believe that Cladis and company represent only the tip of the iceberg of the operation and that more stolen art may surface as the investigation continues.
     
 
Mankind's Struggle for a Lasting Peace
José Vela Zanetti
Mankind's Struggle for a Lasting Peace
United Nations Bldg.
1952
 
UN muralist Zanetti dies
Spanish muralist José Vela Zanetti died in January at the age of 85 after sustaining a head injury from falling down stairs in his home. Best known for his murals in the United Nations building in New York, Zanetti went into exile in the Dominican Republic in 1939. He also left his artistic mark on this Caribbean country, which he considered his second home: more than 100 murals, some larger than 200 square meters.

In his 30s, Zanetti received a Guggenheim Foundation scholarship which permitted him to travel to the U.S., where he won the commission for the UN mural symbolizing human rights in 1952. His work shows a decidedly Latin American influence, a result of his years spent not only in the Caribbean but also in Colombia and Mexico. Zanetti returned to Spain in the early 1960s. He was awarded numerous honors, including the medal of arts of Castilla y León, an honorary doctorate from the University of Burgos, and the Eugenio D'Ors prize for best exhibition in 1963.
     
 
Eduardo Chillida's medal design
Eduardo Chillida's medal design
 
Prado honors patrons
Spain has a new art award, the Prado Museum Medal of Honor. This award is a tribute to Prado patrons, with the first in the annual series going to King Juan Carlos. Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida has designed the medal. Chillida's simple abstract design is an interesting choice for this medal coming from Spain's oldest national museum.

Gugg Bilbao portrait in numbers
Spain's oldest national museum, the Prado, may have the highest visitor count, but the country's newest museum is close behind. In its first year, the Guggenheim Bilbao entertained 1,360,000 visitors, three times the number forecasted before the museum's opening. A Peat Marwick study on the museum's first-year economic performance revealed: 32 percent of the museum's visitors came from abroad, 68 percent from Spain. Guggenheim visitors spent a total of 24 billion pesetas. Eighty-five percent of the visitors went to Bilbao specifically to see the museum or stayed longer in order to see it. The museum expects more than 800,000 visitors its second year, but those forecasts, too, are likely to fall short of the mark.
     
 
Penelope Cruz as Maja
Penelope Cruz
as Maja
 
Goya: The Movie
Catalán cineast Bigas Luna has woven Francisco de Goya and his supposed love, the Duchess of Alba, into the plot of his latest movie. Now being shot in Madrid with a budget of $8.5 million, the film is the most expensive ever produced in Spain. The movie leads viewers to believe that Goya's famous and controversial Maja Desnuda was not a portrait of the Duchess after all, but of another woman who was another man's lover. Who was she? Watch for the film, titled Volaverunt, to be released later this year.

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