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One of the more festive parties celebrating ARCO ’06, Feb. 9-13, 2006, was thrown by the hip Spanish art magazine, Art.Es, at a hip Madrid nightclub called Alegoria. The décor was Baroque potpourri, with overscaled ship models and copies of famous paintings sharing space with ornate clocks and wooden medallions carved with the Stations of the Cross. Early in the evening, a classic flamenco troupe performed, complete with guitarists, dueling dancers, singing, clapping and foot-stamping, enacting the traditional battles of sexual jealousy, possessiveness and revenge. The hip art-world crowd loved it.
Obviously, Spain’s rich cultural traditions provide a unique setting -- and substantial raw material -- for the country’s vibrant contemporary art scene.
For instance, one of the triumphs of ARCO was to be found at the booth of Galería Ferrán Cano from Palma de Mallorca. A long-time ARCO veteran, Cano took the opportunity of the fair to show art that tweaks both the army and the church. The team of Martín & Sicilia, a pair of young men who met at school and have been working together since 1995, had installed a life-size crèche of some Spanish military officers toasting the art-fair visitor with champagne -- an all-to-familiar image of swaggering military triumph, in this case parodied by cutouts that feature the artists themselves in leading roles. The installation was €15,000, but less expensive work was available -- small paintings started at €700.
Considering the state of the world, you’d think military imagery would play a larger part in contemporary art. And so it does in Spain. Also at Ferran Cano were the paintings and dioramas of the 46-year-old Madrid artist Oscar Seco, whose current obsession is the Spanish Civil War, a battle which in his eerie vision is joined by superheroes and monsters as well as the usual cast of characters. "There’s No Place Like Home" reads a sign in one diorama, in which an oversized Fascist dragon menaces troops lead by a polar bear marked with a red hammer and sickle. Dioramas are priced at €3,000, while Seco’s large paintings are €15,000.
It was a Seco diorama, by the way, that provided the tabloid press with a frisson of art controversy in connection with ARCO ‘06, when it was discovered that the work included a tiny statue of Jesus holding a toy missile up like the Body of Christ. The "sensation," if that is what it was, is rendered absurd by the actual object, which is three or four inches tall, and clearly an updated image of the Son of God clearing the moneylenders from the temple.
Let it not be said that Ferran Cano is lacking a more delicate sensibility. Also in the booth was a wall of 24 drawings by Amparo Sard (b. 1973), an artist who lives in Barcelona, where she is a professor of fine art. Her "drawings" are made by punching a needle through white paper, and show dream scenes of a beautiful woman in traditional Spanish lace, trapped in a room of rising water. "Digital imagery done with a Neolithic tool," said Cano. "A mark that is sensuous and painful both. I like it."
He’s not the only one, as all the drawings were sold at €1,300, to buyers who include the Institut Valenciá d’Art Modern. "Now the price goes up," said Cano. The artist was on hand, greeting fans. She admitted that the lace dress in the drawings was actually inspired by a tablecloth she bought during a visit to New York. About the imagery, she said it is like a nightmare. "The water level is rising," she noted with a smile. "You have to make a choice!"
Spain’s revolutionary heritage was also in evidence at the booth of Windsor Kulturgintza, a gallery based in the Basque capital of Bilbao, where a dramatic, large photograph by the 45-year-old Pamplona artist Paco Polán commemorates the dramatic death of the Fascist sailor and architect Jose Manuel Aizpurua, who was stood against a wall of San Sebastian cemetery in 1936 and shot. The photo shows a model boat, marked with the name Aizpurua and placed on the wall, which is shot (by the camera) at a steep angle.
Titled Polloe San Sebastian 1936 (2006), one print of Polán’s photo was bought by the Coca-Cola Foundation for its collection. The work exists in an edition of three, and two were sold at the fair, priced at €5,500. The photographer has a whole series of works marking the violent deaths of Le Corbusier (who drowned in the Mediterranean), Francesco Borromini (who committed suicide after completing the Falconieri Chapel in Florence) and other architects.
Also at Windsor Kulturgintza were a series of small sculptures by Dora Salazar, a 43-year-old artist from Pamplona who also runs a women’s art workshop in her studio. Usually Salazar works with female figures. In her new series of untitled sculptures, made in tin, she has turned to the masculine form. The works, which are unique, are €1,800.
At the booth of Galería Tomás March in Valencia was a large painting by José Ramón Amondarain (b. 1964), a Spanish artist who has made a specialty of doing paintings about painting. In the late ‘90s, he made large photorealist-style paintings of tiny abstract sculptures made from small bits of paint peeled from a palette, while in 2000-01 he made a series of works based on the palette itself, including a painting of his hand holding a palette that was a silhouette self-portrait. More recent works have included a series of large paintings of the artist’s hand holding flat the pages of catalogues of shows by abstract painters.
Amondarain’s newest series, of which the first example was on view in March’s booth, shows an anonymous art student with his easel in the Louvre, copying a painting on the wall. The artist is caught bending down in a blur -- clearly, the image is based on a photograph -- but the image of the painting on the museum wall and the copy on the artist’s easel are essentially the same. The painting was sold to a private collector for €21,000.
March was not always an art dealer. He only opened his own gallery in 1992, after operating poet and artist’s bar Malvarosa in Valencia, holding readings and publishing translations in Spanish of ee cummings, Wallace Stevens and the like.
One of Madrid’s top dealers (and a member of the planning committee for ARCO ’06) is Helga de Alvear, whose gallery works with non-Spanish artists like James Casebere, Elmgreen & Dragset and Katharina Grosse as well as Prudencio Irazabal, a Spanish artist who lives in New York, and whose beautiful color abstraction was irresistibly titled Leda and the Swan. The price? $24,000.
One large wall in the booth was taken up by a group of ten untitled photographs by Monserrat Soto, images of archeological and entomological collections -- groups of books, butterflies, insects, ancient artifacts, presented at super scale, as if remnants of a race of giants. The works are €24,000 for the set.
Stopping the crowds in the aisles on the outside of the booth were a group of videotapes by the Spanish artist Alicia Framis, who lives and works in Amsterdam. The brief videos show large groups of women from all walks of life, all wearing bright red gloves, frozen in mid-stride in public spaces -- and in crosswalks in the middle of busy roadways -- in the artist’s dramatic "secret strikes," demonstrations against violence against women. Framis’ work is the subject of a show this spring at CAPC in Bordeaux.
The Toronto dealer Christopher Cutts was invited to sponsor one of ARCO’s smaller booths devoted to installations by single artists, and selected the single-named artist Salustiano (b. 1965) from Seville. Salustiano, who also shows Begoña Malone Galería de Arte in Madrid and the Ángel Orensanz Foundation in New York, travels the world in search of subjects for his painstaking and sensitive portraits. Salustiano uses natural pigments -- cochinea for red, lapis for blue -- and as many as 30 layers of glaze for his vibrant red backgrounds. "Painting is a kind of sanctuary, like architecture," he said. Small tondos are €6,000, while larger paintings are €14,500.
A new generation of Spanish art dealers -- call them the "global generation" -- is reaching out beyond Spain’s borders as part of an effort to shake off the insularity that can sometimes characterize the Spanish art world. At Vacío 9 in Madrid, opened in 2002 by Marta Moriarty (who is the sister of the veteran Spanish art dealer Lola Moriarty), are a large contingent of non-Spanish artists, including Don Brown, Agnus Fairhurst, Mark Tichner and Simon Periton (plus, the website, at www.vacio9.com, is bilingual).
For the visitor from New York, however, the prize was the small but luminescent paintings by Julio Jara, humble scenes done on scraps of found wood, depicting things like a flower sprouting in an alley against a graffiti-marked wall. The 30-something artist works as a concierge at a conference center, and keeps his home open to the poor and the homeless. "He is like a contemporary monk," said Moriarty. "Each painting is named with an address in his neighborhood, like a Book of Hours." Most of the paintings were sold halfway through the fair, at modest prices of €600-€900.
Another one of the younger Madrid galleries is Travesía Cuatro, opened by Inés López-Quesada and Silvia Ortiz, and representing an impressive group of mostly young Spanish artists -- from Tomás Vaquero, who does large gestural abstractions, and Juan de Sande, who photographs derelict structures, to the lyrical abstract sculptor Gloria García Lorca and the multimedia artist José Dávila.
One of the younger artists in the gallery, Carolina Silva, who attended the San Francisco Art Institute on a Fullbright and is now studying in Japan, recently showed her slightly demented figurative paintings at the gallery in an exhibition titled "We the Lost." The mournful paintings -- they resemble somewhat the spirit of Edvard Munch, whose retrospective has just opened in New York at the Museum of Modern Art -- are priced at €1,600, while smaller watercolors on paper start at as little as €400.
Another new Madrid gallery that seems to have grown to full strength already is Distrito Cu4tro Galeria de Arte, opened only a few years ago by Margarita Sánchez, Isabel Yanguas and Damián Casado. The gallery program includes a range of international artists -- Daniele Buetti, Richard Deacon, Pia Fries, Guillermo Kuitca, James Rielly -- as well as plenty of native-grown talent. The 40-something abstractionist Dario Urzay, for instance, has developed his own unique technique, mixing photography, paint and resin into uncanny photo-like abstractions that create a space that is photographic, real and painterly, all at the same time. A large, unique Topograma, as they are called, is priced at €13,800.
One work that was drawing a lot of attention in the Distrito Cu4tro booth was Jorge Macchi’s Time Machine (2005), a room installation consisting of a table inset with several television sets, each playing a different old black-and-white film -- but only the final frames, where "The End" is ostentatiously splashed across the screen to the sound of dramatic movie music. With is cacophonous yet single-minded loop, the piece is strangely hypnotic. The price: €25,000, in an edition of four.
Another young dealer -- though the gallery is not so young -- is Nacho Valle, who runs Valle Ortí in Valencia, a gallery that was founded in 1973 by his father, and launched anew with a new program in 2001. Among the younger artists in the gallery is the 25-year-old photographer Vanessa Pastor, who touches on themes of solitude and loneliness with her "Rag Dolls" series of video performances and photographs.
For these works, which use her mother and father as models, Pastor makes fairly exact, life-size cloth dolls of her parents, and poses the real person with his or her doppelganger in real-life situations. The comic photographs, done in editions of five, are €1,200 each.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.