ARCOmadrid is the focus but the city is packed with art

April 26, 2019Curated Art Trips

Reina Sofia, Prado and private collections are just some of the highlights for PIA members visiting Spain

By Sarah Belden

This February during ARCOmadrid’s 38th edition, SBFA lead our first major VIP group tour with Partners in Art – a volunteer-led charitable organization that funds contemporary art projects across Canada and around the world. PIA collaborates with Canadian curators, arts organizations and museums to fund projects featuring contemporary artists with challenging works and thoughtful perspectives. SBFA hosted 24 members from the Toronto-based, philanthropic women’s group, which is known as one of Canada’s most influential, trailblazing, contemporary arts organizations.

I spent one week in Madrid with this energetic and inquisitive group, visiting Spain’s most important museums and institutions including the Reina Sofia, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Prado, but also several of Madrid’s most interesting contemporary art galleries, artists studios, and private and corporate collections. We also spent two days at ARCOmadrid itself, Spain’s premier contemporary art fair, which has been touted this year as the “best edition in a decade” by fair director Carlos Urroz.

Most members arrived the Saturday before the fair began, extremely happy to escape the seemingly never-ending polar vortex in Canada and enjoy a week of unseasonably warm weather in Madrid’s already mild climate. Members spent the morning settling into their exclusive Boutique Hotel Only You, which I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Spain’s capital, as the beautiful historic building itself, the innovative interior design and the incredible staff who attended to our every need made for an impeccable experience. Once settled, members set out on foot to explore Chueca, one of Madrid’s most beloved and lively barrios, filled with galleries, concept stores and trendy restaurants.

Day 1: Special preview of Peruvian artist Jorge Cabieses

We began our tour on Saturday evening with a private visit to Galeria Fernando Pradilla in the exclusive and serene Serrano district, just a stone’s throw from the hotel. Fernando and his lovely director Elena Fernández Manrique gave us a private tour of the exhibition of the young, up and coming Peruvian artist Jorge Cabieses, whose work has just been acquired by Ella Cisneros for the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, which was founded in 2002 as a non-profit organization, dedicated to supporting contemporary, ground breaking Latin American artists.

Last year during ARCOmadrid, Cisneros announced she would be donating works from this private collection to Spain, boosting Madrid’s profile as the capital of Latin American art in Europe. Originally housed in Miami, the CIFO collection will soon be showcased in a dedicated exhibition space in the sprawling industrial and historic Tabacalera building, a former tobacco factory where hundreds of working class women toiled away, processing tobacco products during the Franco Era.

This distinctive venue, described by one PIA member as the “MOCA on steroids,” is located in Lavapiés, one of Madrid’s most culturally diverse, working class neighborhoods. Once renovated, it will host more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, including galleries for temporary exhibitions organized by the Museo Reina Sofía. The Fontanals-Cisneros collection includes more than 3,000 works by artists including Carmen Herrera, Cildo Meireles and Grete Stern with a focus on Cuban and video art.

Saturday evening at Galeria Fernando Pradilla, we were given a private walk through of Peruvian artist Jorge Cabieses’ (Lima, 1971) solo exhibition, which was beautifully installed throughout this elegant, historic and lofty gallery space. Featuring abstracted landscapes, geometric and collaged-based works, this exhibition proved to be a pleasant discovery for all of us, who weren’t previously familiar with the artist. On the gallery’s upper private floor in their project space, there was also a site-specific exhibition by Pepe Cruz-Novillo (Cuenca, Spain, 1936), a pioneering artist, well known for his diverse artistic practice and ubiquitous Spanish corporate logos.

After our visit to the gallery we walked around the corner to the home of Madrid-based collector Álvaro Rodríguez-Argüelles on Calle Claudio Coello for a private collection visit. This avid collector’s flat was literally covered from floor to ceiling with art works, mostly painting, some photography and a few sculptural works. Featuring Spanish and Latin American artists, Álvaro generously opened his home to us and we enjoyed a relaxing evening getting to know one another over a glass of wine before the following day’s busy schedule.

Jaume Plensa “Invisibles” at
Palacio de Crystal, Retiro Park

Day 2: Dierk Schmidt and art addressing colonialism

Sunday morning we walked to Retiro Park, the green heart of Madrid, a short 20 minute stroll from the hotel. Originally created as a retreat for the Royal Family and opened to the public in the late 1800’s, this magnificent park is filled with a plethora of historical monuments, multiple landscaped gardens, its own lake and outdoor cafés. It also features two of the Reina Sofia Museum’s must-see, off-site exhibition venues, Palacio de Velázquez and Palacio de Crystal. Entering at the majestic Puerta de Acalá, we met with KOW Gallery directors Christian Dominguez and Raphael Oberhuber for a guided tour through a prescient and important exhibition by German artist Dierk Schmidt entitled “Guilt and Debts” curated by Lars Bang Larson.

The retrospective held by the Museo Reina Sofía, assembled some of Schmidt’s most ambitious projects including The Division of the Earth (2005), a series of large-scale canvases focused on the division of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884 and the violence targeted at the African continent that the artist represented in a system of diagrams and chromatic codes to render the real effects of abstract, political and economic strategies in specific territories. Dierk Schmidt’s practice focuses on issues of colonial history; corporate greed stemming from capitalism; the resulting economic disparity and destruction of the environment; and restitution politics, much of it framed within the formal language of abstraction in painting.

This exhibition was just one example of a number of artists we encountered over the course of the week, whose work confronted issues of colonial history and institutional racism head on, commenting upon the repatriation debate, which has intensified with increasing calls for post-colonial restitution, particularly in Europe. Devised as a site-specific project for the Palacio de Velázquez itself, which formerly exhibited Spain’s own imperial spoils from the Philippines, this exhibition posed pressing questions about Europe’s colonial past and the complex issues surrounding museology, cultural heritage and restitution.

After an insightful walk through with the knowledgeable and charming directors from KOW Gallery (Berlin / Madrid), we visited world renowned Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa’s own site specific intervention, entitled “Invisibles,” at the gleaming glass and steel Palacio de Crystal. Jaume Plensa (Barcelona, 1955) lends weight and physical volume to the components of the human condition and the ephemeral. In this instance, the invisible forms the essence of his intervention in the Palacio de Cristal: a group of steel mesh sculptures which take the space to draw the incomplete faces of figures hanging in the air, intersected by light and suspended in time. He is also one of Spain’s foremost artists internationally, and has lived and worked in Germany, Britain, France and the USA. After this visit we we headed to El Florida, for a delightful lunch at the elegant El Pabellón, whose Michelin Star chef offers a unique gastronomic experience within Retiro Park itself.

Our tour, which originally began with a proposed four day experience, somehow turned into six days, as we decided to add on, not only Reina Sofia’s off site exhibition spaces in Retiro Park, but also Madrid’s crown jewel – the Prado. While not necessarily part of PIA’s focus on contemporary art education, no visit to Madrid would be complete without a visit to the Prado, one of the world’s most important collections of Western art.

The Prado Museum

We walked through Sunday afternoon with expert guide Teresa de la Vega, who gave us great insight into the dazzling display of works by the great European masters including Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, Roger van der Weyden, Dürer and Bosch, as well as other major Italian and Flemish artists. Opened in 1819, the Prado is now celebrating its Bi-centenial, which was a wonderful historical precursor for the rest of our week focussed mainly on Contemporary art.

Sunday evening we reconvened back at the hotel, in the chic and clubby Sala Azul, for our welcome cocktail party where I had the pleasure to get to know all the visiting PIA members one-on-one in a more intimate setting and enjoy cava and tapas together.

Day 3: Exploring the galleries of Alonso Martinez

Monday we were up early and off to the races with a visit to the neighboring barrio of Alonso Martinez and its many galleries just five minutes away, beginning with a visit to a solo exhibition of Raphael Lozano-Hemmer (Mexico City, 1967), at Galeria Max Estrella, a Madrid favorite, but red herring by name, as it is actually run by gallerist Alberto de Juan.

Canadian-Mexican artist Lozano-Hemmer, who studied at Concordia University in Montréal and is considered one of the “most relevant electronic artists of our time,” develops interactive installations that are at the intersection of architecture and performance art, and are characterized by the mediation between his spectators’ bodies and technological devices. Lozano-Hemmer’s main interest is in creating platforms for public participation, by subverting technologies such as robotics, computerized surveillance and telematic networks. Due to its’ interactive nature and thanks to our fantastic host, gallery director Gregorio Cámara Castellanos, this exhibition was quite a crowd pleaser and made for many instagrammable photo ops.

From Max Estrella it’s a short walk to Travesia Cuatro, an important nexus in the Contemporary art scene here, representing artists such as Donna Huanca, Asunción Molinos Gordo, Jose Dávila, and Jorge Méndez Blake. Founded in 2003 by the dynamic duo Silvia Ortiz and Inés López-Quesada, their goal was to create a tangible link between the artistic scenes in Europe and Latin America. With spaces in Guadalajara, Mexico and Madrid, the gallery now aims to reflect the polyphony and diversity of discourses that coexist between these two contexts. We visited Spanish born, New York based Elena del Rivero’s (Valencia, 1949), solo exhibition “The End of the World,” featuring delicate works on paper, found embroidery stitched together by hand and a floor covered in real grass. This important and poetic body of work, initially developed at the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New Orleans, focused on the trauma and recovery efforts in Southern Louisiana Post Hurricane Katrina. Elena del Rivero’s work has been exhibited at the MOMA, The New Museum, the National Gallery in Washington and the Reina Sofia.

Last but not least, we made our way to Galleria Elba Benitez, one of Madrid’s most important and pioneering galleries, established in 1990. We came to visit the gallery’s first exhibition with Argentinian artist Guillermo Kuitca, (who is represented by mega gallery Hauser and Wirth). Although Kuitca’s works are not overtly political, they explore themes of public and private space, memory and migration. Kuitca represented Argentina at the 2007 Venice Biennale and is well known for his paintings of geographical maps and architectural plans.

After our morning of gallery hopping we headed to Hotel URSO, an elegant and classic Five Star hotel around the corner for lunch in the beautiful, green and light filled restaurant The Conservatory. After a leisurely lunch in this private dining room we boarded our coach and headed to another barrio for a studio visit with the acclaimed Cuban artist, Carlos Garaicoa (Havana, 1967), who lives and works between Madrid and Havana. Elba, who had her hands full with the Guillermo’s first show, other artists exhibiting at the Banco Santander Collection and Sala Acalá, and her gallery’s installation at ARCO, graciously made time to join us for the studio visit with Carlos and gave us a preview of some of his brilliant new works….thank you Elba!

Carlos Garaicoa works in and across various mediums and disciplines — sculpture, photography, drawing, installation, architecture and text-based work. He became a prominent Cuban artist in the 1990’s after a mass exodus of artists who had played a decisive role in the Cuban art movement of the 1980’s. His work often carries social and political commentaries about life in Havana and draws on post-modernist theory to connect aesthetics to meaning within urban spaces and architecture.

After our visit with this important Cuban artist, we continued our afternoon with an amazing tour of the Reina Sofia Museum with the exuberant Spanish / American tour guide Andrew Shields, who swiftly and expertly walked us through the historical highlights of one Spain’s most important museums, including the country’s two greatest 20th- century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. We also made a requisite pilgrimage to Picasso’s Guernica, where Andrew gave us his own fascinating interpretation of this complex political and historic masterpiece. Along with its extensive collection, the Reina Sofia museum offers a mixture of national and international temporary exhibitions in its many galleries, making it one of the world’s largest museums for modern and contemporary art and another must-see while in Madrid.

There was also an excellent exhibition that I had visited earlier that month​ titled “Hospice of Failed Utopias” by Luis Camnizer, who is unquestionably a key figure in the development of twentieth-century Conceptualism. His work focuses upon the dematerialization​ of the art object and encompasses political and social commentaries on everyday life. It was unfortunate that we did not have time to fit this exhibition into our already packed day, as it would have nicely complimented the rest of our tour, learning about artists who are more focused on socio-political issues. But like every year during ARCOmadrid, there is simply too much going on in the city and its always a challenge to try to fit everything in.

After a much-needed siesta at the hotel we dropped in to visit the Sala Acalà opening that evening “Latin America in The CA2M and Fundación Arco Collections,” that was part of the regular ARCO VIP program. We then finally headed to dinner in typical Madrileño style at 10pm, to the theatrical and aptly themed Amazonico, one of Madrid’s hottest new restaurants, usually filled with Spain’s politicians, celebrities and socialites. The fair had not even opened yet and we already had three heady days filled with art, culture, fantastic Spanish gastronomy, late nights and too much wine under our belts, but I have to say, I was truly impressed with the energy and tenacity PIA members displayed as they (jetlagged and all), seamlessly acclimatized to Madrid’s lively and late night “ritmo.”

Day 4: Darya Von Berner studio visit and a secret bodega

The next day we boarded our coach at 10am to the historic area surrounding the Palacio Royal, Sabatini Gardens and the Teatro Real for a studio visit with the striking and fascinating Spanish multidisciplinary artist Darya Von Berner and her husband, Dr. Augusto Morillo, a soft spoken but brilliant history buff and collector, who graciously offered to guide members through one of Madrid’s most magnificent areas, while the rest of us visited Darya’s studio in the couple’s charming historic home across from the Spanish Royal Palace.

Mexican-born, Darya Von Berner, who began working with painting, sculpture and photography, now focuses mainly on public and immersive installations that she calls “Atmospheres.” She treated us to a fascinating walk through her practice, a video presentation, and a lively discussion about the individual works on view in her studio. More recently Darya has been staging operatic performances and public art “experiences,” for which she creates real clouds in monumental architectural contexts.

The first of these interventions took place in 2007 in Madrid, when she wrapped the Puerta de Alcalá in a real cloud. This artistic project had a

large media impact and since then she has received many invitations to create further ‘Atmospheres’ in places like Paris, Brussels, and Cordoba. Her most recent work from this series ‘Universal Cloud Flag,’ was installed in front of the Peace Palace in The Hague. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to see one of Darya’s immersive public installations in Toronto some day, a few enamored PIA members certainly seemed to hope so.

After this fantastic studio visit, we made our way to Bodega de Los Secretos for lunch. This secret underground bodega from the 17th century is one of the oldest wineries in Madrid, is only steps away from the Reina Sofia, and features a labyrinth of galleries and alcoves, cupolas and arches that has been hidden away for more than 400 years. Darya and Augusto joined us in this perfect setting and we enjoyed an unforgettable meal together seated at a lively imperial table set for 30.

After lunch we made our way to the Royal Botanical Gardens for a talk that I organized with the much beloved Spanish artist, activist and agroecologist Fernando Garcia-Dory and “superstar podcaster” and Serpentine Gallery Curator Lucia Pietroiusti for a discussion on “Looking at Art Practices engaged with Ecology.” Fernando García Dory is an exceptional artist whose life’s work has been devoted to promoting social justice in surprising and profound ways. His body of work focuses on the relationship between contemporary culture and the natural world, exploring the physical, psychological and social impact of postindustrial capitalism in life and upon rural landscapes.

While Fernando Garcia Dory’s works include sculpture and painting, his most recent projects extend far beyond the boundaries of traditional art practice, as he is an artist who has engaged and transformed one of the world’s most underrepresented widespread communities: the pastoralist and nomadic peoples (a population of an estimated 250 million). Dory organized a ground breaking conference that brought together almost two hundred representatives of nomadic and pastoralist communities from forty-four different countries, which resulted in the creation of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Pastoralists (WAMIP), a global organization that provides unprecedented representation and advocacy for these communities on an international scale. Set up in the beautiful Bonsai Room at the Royal Botanical Gardens, the talk was very well attended and we were honored to have a representative from the Canadian Consulate present, but also Gaëtane Verna, director of The Power Plant Toronto and curator David Liss from the MOCA- the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, Canada, which just opened in its massive new industrial space in the Junction this past Fall.

This enlightening talk was followed by a wine and cheese tasting with artisanal cheese from In Land- one of Garcia Dory’s rural initiatives- an abandoned village in Asturias that he is currently rebuilding as an “artist’s community of practice.” This was accompanied with a series of specially selected wines from Bodega Otazu, a vineyard owned by the Penso Blanco family, which also features a very impressive Contemporary art collection. A visit to Bodega Otazu in Pamplona, close to the French border is usually offered the weekend before the fair begins as part of the ARCO VIP program, but as PIA could not make it all the way to Navarra I thought I’d bring Bodega Otazu to them. You can checkout my coverage of the visit to Otazu last year in my Travelogue: Focus Spain. It is a must see if you can fit it into your schedule before the fair. We were also very pleased to have the lovely curator of Otazu’s private Collection with us – Sofia Mariscal, wife of Guillermo Penso Blanco, who runs the MARSO Foundation for Contemporary Art in Mexico City. She gave us an overview of some of Otazu’s wines, but also their art related activities, which includes a Biennale for a site

After the talk we headed over the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where, in addition to the Museum’s Permanent Collection that was gifted to the Spanish Government by billionaire and industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, there was also a major Balthus retrospective on view. There was a long-standing public dispute between the Baron’s daughter, the intrepid philanthropist Francesca Von Habsburg, and her stepmother – Carmen Cervera (the widow and fifth wife of the Baron), over how the Spanish institution should present contemporary art. This has since been resolved however, and Francesca Von Habsburg now organizes a curated exhibition coinciding with ARCOmadrid each year in collaboration with her Vienna based Foundation TBA21. I think Francesca is one of the most interesting and important philanthropists committed to supporting works of social practice focused on urgent socio-political and environmental issues and I look forward to seeing what she will be presenting in Venice during the Biennale this summer at her new Ocean Space Platform for Collaborative Research, which will be inaugurated with a large scale commissioned installation by Joan Jonas.

This year at the Thyssen she presented an important exhibition by Amar Kanwar (New Delhi, 1964) in the TBA21 temporary exhibition space. Von Habsburg has stated, “The works presented at TBA21 provide a sharp focus on such issues as social justice and environmental degradation and the collection is distinguished by works that convey a sense of the current social and political obligations that we face, both as individuals and as citizens of a world in transformation.”

While I thought that this exhibition, curated by Chus Martinez made for an interesting continuation from Fernando Garcia Dory’s talk that examined similar socio-political and environmental​ issues, only some of us saw this poignant and politically prescient show. TBA21’s presentation of this artist included “The Sovereign Forest,” a project focused on the conflict over the control of the land, forests, rivers and minerals in Eastern India, which has resulted in the forced displacement of indigenous communities and farmers, and “The Lightning Testimonies” a multi-channel video installation that reflected upon personal narratives and histories of sexual violence against women.

After such a long and rigorous day however, we had lost a few members, as Amar’s exhibition was a labyrinth of darkened rooms and some of the videos (of which there were several), were over 40 minutes in length and required one’s undivided attention. Several members also wanted to see the Balthus exhibition and we were pleasantly surprised when the curator of the exhibition, appeared out of nowhere and graciously gave us an insightful walk-through of the show. Some members did return the next day to see the Amar Kanwar exhibition, which certainly required more time…something to always keep in mind when seeing video works.

We were all pretty tired by that point, but thankfully just in time our bus arrived and whisked us away to the private home of the home of Norwegian / Argentinian, collector / dealer Aina Nowak, where we were treated to a private cocktail party and preview of her latest exhibition with Spanish painter Juan Ariño (Madrid, 1945), at her exquisite home hidden behind a massive concrete wall in El Viso, Madrid’s most exclusive residential community North of Retiro. Aina usually opens a new exhibition in her home (à la Gertude Stein) every couple of months to a private group of collectors. We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves at this salon style exhibition in Aina’s residence (worthy of an AD spread), while tuxedoed waiters served wine and tapas. PIA members seemed enamored with the exquisite architecture and décor, but also with Juan Ariño’s delicate and Impressionistic painterly works that border between abstraction and figuration.

After our cocktail at the home of the glamorous and gracious Aina Nowack, we made our way to Narciso, a classic cozy and elegant restaurant in Serrano for a dinner that seemed to be a parade of plate after plate in a never ending array of dishes. By the time the main course arrived, I could barely eat another bite and the waiter at our table was already offering us complimentary cocktails before our dinner was even finished…it was an epic evening…only in Madrid!

Days 5 + 6: VIP tour of ARCOmadrid

After four very busy days getting to know the vibrant art scene in Madrid, we were ready for the VIP opening of ARCOmadrid on Wednesday, February 23, located at the massive convention center IFEMA about 30 minutes from the city centre. As described by Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, “since its inauguration in 1982, ARCOMadrid has always played a key role in, the promotion and dissemination of Latin American art. Until 2002, when Art Basel launched its Miami edition, ARCOMadrid was the gateway between Latin America, the US and Europe, but with unstoppable rise of the Miami giant, combined with the major recession that hit Spain in 2008, ARCO went through several sluggish editions in the 2000s.” However, “since Carlos Urroz took the helm in 2010, reshaping and rescaling the fair, ARCO has been steadily recovering its place on the international art stage,” and this year was apparently the “best edition in the last decade.”

This year with Peru as the guest country the fair featured works by 23 Peruvian artists and 15 galleries, in a section curated by Sharon Lerner. While considered one of the most important international contemporary art fairs, one of the most established and well attended, it may be argued that ARCOmadrid is very different from the other top fairs such as Art Basel, Armory and Frieze. Since its inception, ARCOmadrid has defined itself as a “curated” fair, by offering solo and duo presentations, a guest country each year, a high level of curatorial programming in their main gallery section and their Open section, which is devoted to offering younger galleries and new voices a platform at the fair.

In the words of fair director Carlos Arroz, “ARCO is a discovery fair, collectors do not come to buy a Picasso for 10 million euros, (but instead) to discover new talents and listen to what the curators have to say. ARCO has thus, maintained its reputation as a fair to discover new artists, and to learn more about art from Spain, Latin America and all over the world.” At ARCO you will not see the same blue chip works by Koons, Warhol and Hirst that dominate the other international fairs, instead you will always be guaranteed to discover something new and this is exactly what we did over the course of the next two days.

Recently I attended the Talking Galleries Symposium in Barcelona in January, where Maribel Lopez who has just been appointed to take over as the new director of ARCOmadrid, discussed the current fair landscape along with The Independent Art Fair founder and director Elizabeth Dee from New York. They touched upon the main concerns affecting the current system—”fair fatigue”, the need to continue doing these costly fairs in order to keep ones “skin the game,” the pressure for the mid-level galleries, the gap between the mega-galleries and the smaller players, and the rising real estate costs that have shuttered many smaller and midsized galleries, in London New York and elsewhere.

Despite this “fair fatigue” the non-stop schedule of fairs seems to continue growing, with the inaugural addition of Frieze LA happening just two weeks before ARCOmadrid, the much hyped African Art fair 1:54 held a week later at the Mammounia hotel in Marrakech ​(an incredible destination in and of itself that I would highly recommend), and the The Armory Show in NYC just one week after ARCOmadrid…not to mention Frieze New York, the ​The African Art Fair 1:54 (NYC Edition) and ARCOLisboa…all happening just a couple of months later in May.

Despite the current climate of socio-economic and geo-political uncertainty, the mood at ARCOmadrid this year was buoyant and energetic and many sales were made within the first two days. There was clearly a major market recovery at the fair this year​, but perhaps because of the current state of uncertainty, we found there to be a very strong thematic thread related to socio-political and institutional critique and art as activism running through many of the works we saw at the fair and at other exhibitions throughout the rest of the week.

During our two days at the fair, reserved for VIPs only, we visited most sections in smaller groups, but also did a walk through of Dialogues with Spanish curator Agustín Pérez Rubio. Augstín, who I had originally met in Toronto, is the former director of the MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires, where during his tenure he raised the number of women artists represented in the museum from 17% to 46%. This trail blazing, Spanish curator is interested in dismantling the colonial idea of Art History as we know it from a Western, patriarchal perspective and he will be one of four curators at the upcoming Berlin Biennale​ in 2020. He has also been chosen to curate the Chilean Pavilion this year at the Venice Biennale​, that will represent Voluspa Jarpa.

Agustín, who is charming and wonderfully outspoken, gave us an enlightening walk through several galleries participating in the Dialogues section that he curated, which presents two artists in dialogue with each other. He introduced us Chilean artist Voluspa Jarpa’s work at Patricia Ready Gallery, from Santiago de Chile, whose political work is rooted in the meticulous analysis of declassified archives and leaked documents of foreign interventions happening mainly in Chile and other Latin American countries during the Cold War. By working with the materiality of these archives, Jarpa unearths painful truths about these often brutal interventions, while simultaneously reflecting on the nature of the archive and memory. One PIA member was so moved by Voluspa Jarpa’s work that she bought a piece for her pied-a-terre here in Madrid. It was wonderful to see how education in contemporary art plays such an important role in developing the tastes of burgeoning collectors and in supporting more emerging artists and new curatorial perspectives.

On our second day at the fair we reserved lunch in the VIP room for 30, which was beautifully appointed this year with a great ambiance, but in my opinion laisse a desirer, as the service was slow and the gastronomic offerings less than stellar. The day before however, we had some fantastic Japanese / Peruvian fare in the regular ARCO lunch section, which while not as exclusive, offers a multitude of different options that I would recommend. After lunch I walked a group through the Open Section, featuring younger galleries, where we visited another young Spanish curator – Pati Lara at her gallery The Ryder Projects, based in London. The Ryder, along with Revlover Gallery from Peru, represented Italian artist Andrea Galvani, (Vernona, 1973), who is known for work that draws heavily upon the scientific disciplines like mathematics and physics. Galvani, who is another artist to keep your eye on, uses photography, video, drawing, sculpture, sound, architectural installations and performance for his conceptual research, that straddles both art and science. Galvani won the prestigious 7th Audemars Piguet Award for the production of this work of art, titled “Instruments for Inquiring into the Wind and the Shaking Earth,” that he developed in collaboration with physicists and mathematicians at UNAM, NASA and the Imperial College of London.

We had a great discussion about Galvani’s works with Pati, while the performers painstakingly scrawled out complex mathematical equations from memory on the wall in chalk behind her. Pati was showing one of my favorite works by this very promising Italian artist, a strikingly beautiful photo of a jet plane breaking the sound barrier, which I had previously seen at Otazu’s private collection the year before and was taken with. This was the last edition available (from an edition of 3) and now priced at over 35K, it was sadly out of my price range. Another lesson learned which applies especially to art fairs…if you really love a work, don’t wait until the artist is out of your price range to buy, support emerging artists and young galleries who are taking chances now. This is much more rewarding than buying a work by an already established artist at a blue chip gallery for five times the price. The thrill of collecting contemporary art is always in finding new discoveries early on.

After The Ryder we made our way to the House of Egorn, where we saw yet another politically charged duo at this promising, young, Berlin-based gallery. Their booth fittingly showcased new perspectives on Latin American art, presenting the work of Andrés Pereira Paz from Bolivia, and Glauber Ballestero, from Cuba. Ballestero’s works examine intercultural narratives and folklore from his native Cuba and Paz’s work takes the form of textiles that explore indigenous myths in lieu of complex post-colonial narratives, continuing the reoccurring theme of post-colonial critique we started with, on our tour at Dierk Schmidt’s “Guilt and Debt’s” exhibition earlier that week.

Collaboration between Christie’s and Javier Lopez y Fer Frances

Wednesday after half a day at the fair we boarded our bus for a private visit to Galeria Javiér Lopez y Fer Francés in La Florida, an exceptional building designed by renowned architectural firm Vicens + Ramos, situated in a privileged location right at the edge of El Pardo national park, where King Felipe VI and the Royal Family reside in the Palace of Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid. This impressive gallery with a blue chip, top-notch roster opened in London in 1995 and later moved to Madrid in 2010. The dialogue between the architecture and landscape in this location creates a unique environment where exhibitions are planned with an approach along the lines of a Kunsthall. Since February 2011 the gallery has operated exclusively in this new space, with an aim to present a dynamic program of both emerging and recognized artists who are creating exceptional and innovative work such as Jenny Holzer, Liam Gillick, Alex Katz, Allison Shulnick, Eduardo Sarabia, Sarah Morris and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

On this occasion we were lucky enough to catch a unique collaboration between the gallery and Christie’s Auction House, “Xhibition: Antoni Tàpies,” a major exhibition showcasing an important corpus of work by the Post-War Spanish painter. “Xhibition” explored the relevance and versatility of the sign `X ́ – or cross, showcasing some of the most striking and significant examples of Tàpies’ Post-War oeuvre, some of which were important museum loans. Coinciding with ARCO art fair in Madrid and touring to London in June, this pioneering initiative is the first travelling, private selling exhibition organized by Christies.

After the ARCO VIP Collectors brunch at 10am that morning and the Antoni Tàpies exhibition at Javier Lopéz Fer Frances Gallery that afternoon, we made our way to the Banco Santander Foundation located in Boadilla del Monte, Madrid, inside Santander City. Santander City is the headquarters for Spain’s biggest bank, that includes multiple office buildings in a massive gated complex with security fit for Fort Knox, (don’t forget to bring your passport to get in), their very own golf course, a nursery for the children of their employees, 100 year old olive trees transplanted from the Mediterranean, their own bus line and a massive outdoor Richard Serra sculpture. The bank’s impressive headquarters also features the Banco Santander Foundation’s private collection, housed in a 20,000 sq. meter art gallery, which takes about two hours to walk through due to its massive size. This was an absolutely fantastic visit and probably one of the highlights of our tour. Located in the sprawling Sala de Arte Santander, their permanent collection is touted as one of the best and most complete private collections in Spain and contains works from the 3rd Century BC until the present. The Foundation curates an exhibition from an important international private collection each year during ARCOmadrid and this year it was the Colección Teixeira De Freitas from Brasil / Libson.

We were treated to a private walk through with the daughter of Luiz, Luiza Teixeira de Freitas who also happened to be the curator of the exhibition. This was by no means any form of nepotism, as this passionate and extremely knowledgeable curator was clearly the best person for the task. Luiza, who is young, unassuming and plainly dressed, walked us through this incredible collection of Contemporary art that she grew up with under the auspices of her father Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas. Taking its title from the first verse of the poem Labyrinth by Jorge Luis Borges, this exhibition brought together installations, drawings, sculptures, paintings, videos and books by artists belonging to the international collection of contemporary art of Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas. In order to reflect the wide variety of meanings that an art collection can achieve, the exhibition was organized as a labyrinth: with no beginning or end, no specific theme, and was not centered on any specific place, period or movement.

Among the selected artists, were important international contemporary art names such as Cildo Meireles, Dahn Vo, Damian Ortega, Gordon Matta-Clark, Jonathan Monk, Jorge Macchi, Julião Sarmento, Luisa Lambri, Nina Canell, Robert Kinmont, Sanja Ivekovic, Sofia Hultén , Tamar Guimarães, Thomas Ruff and Walid Raad along with many others. ​Titled “Colección Teixeira De Freitas – There Will Never Be A Door. You Are Inside. Pieces From The Teixeira De Freitas Collection,” was a wonderful way to conclude our ARCOmadrid VIP tour with this vast and extremely well curated private exhibition at one of Spain’s most important private foundations.

After a short siesta at the hotel we met at the cozy Murrillo Cafe just next the Botanical Gardens for our final good bye dinner which was a lovely evening filled with speeches, a wonderful dinner and ARCOmadrid’s after party held in Retiro Park’s only nightclub El Florida that continued on late through the evening. We all said our good byes and made plans to meet again soon…hopefully we will see a few PIA members back in Europe next month for ARCOLisboa in May. It was a fabulous and enlightening journey together and I look forward to seeing PIA again soon!!

This post was originally published on Sarah Belden’s website where you can find other blogs and learn more about her art advisory services.