Though Covid continues to force many art fairs around the world to postpone (like the London Art Fair or TEFAF in the Netherlands) or to cancel altogether (like 1-54 in Marrakech), ARCO Madrid went forward as planned this year. Earlier this week, it successfully opened its “40(+1) Anniversary” edition at the city’s IFEMA convention center, with 185 contemporary art galleries from 30 countries.
“Forty years plus one, because 2021, when we actually turned 40, was a time to be efficient rather than festive,” ARCO Madrid’s director Maribel López said in an interview on the fair’s opening day. Though the fair technically staged its 40th iteration last year, in July, when many Madrileños are out of town, that one included primarily galleries from Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere in Europe, as opposed to the more international gathering the fair usually draws. For this anniversary edition, the fair once again boasts a geographically diverse crowd, and it has also reclaimed its traditional dates at the end of February.
A major change to this iteration of the fair is what López calls a “contained format,” which López came up with as a way to give exhibitors a better chance to show off their wares and for visitors to feel less crowded in altogether. “It is big enough already,” she said. “More would be overwhelming. And I don’t want anyone to go unnoticed.” Down about 24 exhibitors from the 2019 edition, the fair cut down its curated sections, with Opening dropping from 20 galleries to 15 and the Latin American section going from 15 to 10.
Additionally, the fair is taking its Covid-safety precautions seriously. Inside, security guards loomed around at every corner to make sure not only that visitors were wearing face masks but also ensuring that they were donning the right ones. (This has not been the case at most fairs in the U.S., including two recently held in Los Angeles, Frieze and Felix.) If you are not wearing FFP2s (the increasingly popular medical-grade masks more common in Europe than N95s or KN95s), you will be asked to change. “Not everyone follows the rules to the letter, but that’s okay,” one of the fair’s guards told me as I was switching masks. “There are far more people than last year, which gives me more work, but warms my heart.”
Despite these new health protocols, dealers reported that this year’s fair felt like pre-pandemic editions. “Except for the ‘masquarillas’ and the orange bracelets letting security know you are fully vaccinated, everything is back to normal,”said Rocío Chacón, a dealer with Galería Elvira González, one of Spain’s oldest galleries and one of ARCO’s most loyal attendants. “We have not missed one edition since the beginning. So trust me when I say that last July was a totally different story.”
For its booth, located right at the fair’s northern entrance, Galería Elvira González partnered with Berlin-based, blue-chip gallery neugerriemschneider to show work by Olafur Eliasson, who is represented by both galleries. On either side of each booth are watercolors by the Icelandic-Danish artist. “There is a nice symmetry to our collaboration,” Chacón said. Added neugerriemschneider’s Burkhard Riemschneider, “Our display looks like it is ‘in brackets,’” referring to the booth’s symmetrical presentation. The narrower space in-between the two booths leads to the installation Your Accountability of Presence (2021), also by Eliasson, which projects viewers’ shadows onto a white wall. It is a pale copy, derivative of an Eliasson work shown at Tate Modern three years ago—pale in the sense that the colors are not as bright as in other versions of the work.
Nearby is a site-specific floor intervention by Brazilian artist Renata Lucas, which takes up the entirety of neugerriemschneider’s booth. The gallery, which is returning to ARCO after a ten-year absence, spent about six months preparing for the presentation. “We have a strong collectorship in Spain and South America—that’s why we often travel to fairs in Miami and Brazil—but we thought it was now time to go European again,” Riemschneider said.
Although travel from South America still proves to be difficult, López, the fair’s director, said that bringing back ARCO’s platform for Latin American art was integral to the fair’s history and future. The section, this year titled “Nunca lo mismo” (Never the same), was compelling. Among the 10 galleries invited is Buenos Aires’s Piedras, which showed a selection of works by Argentinian artist Jimena Croceri. “Last year was frustrating—we had her works delivered to the fair but could not be there physically,” said Santiago Gasquet, one of the gallery’s cofounders. “This new edition gives us the opportunity to interact physically with people interested in her art.” On view is a series titled “Propagation,” a dozen abstractions on paper that build on Croceri’s use of nature in her projects, whether it is a wave washing out her outlines or sand finding its way into her compositions.
This edition was also about paying a noticeable tribute to the galleries who have participated in (nearly) countless editions of the fair. “ARCO would not be ARCO without them,” López said. Paris’s Galerie Chantal Crousel has participated in every single edition of ARCO. Her gallery was only a year old when it was invited to participate in 1982, four days prior to the opening of the fair. Crousel recalled packing in her suitcases only works that could be dismantled and put back together, such as a plastic piece by Tony Cragg and a photographic installation by Gilbert & George, which she ended up selling at a very satisfying price. Ever since she has built on a strong network of Spanish collectors, who expect her to attend ARCO. In a special “40(+1) Anniversary” section, Crousel presented a selection of works by British-Palestinian multimedia and installation artist Mona Hatoum. Her resin and concrete sphere Inside Out (2019), the surface of which evokes our digestive system, takes center stage at the booth.
“Madrid holds a special place in my heart,” Crousel said.“In addition to the city itself and its culture, which I am particularly fond of, people here seem more open now to the idea of buying art they are not entirely familiar with.”
Marie Houssin, a director at Galerie Lelong & Co.’s Paris location (also a participant since 1982), concurred. “It is a very pleasant fair, which exhales spontaneity. I could not really say why. Everything seems to be coming together rather naturally here,” she said.
Galería Leandro Navarro, one of ARCO’s historic participants, is also part of the commemorative section. At the 1982 edition, the gallery brought a landscape by María Moreno called Entrada de casa, a birday’s eye view of a porch. Moreno’s future husband Antonio López bought it from her French representative Claude Bernard. It is now back in Madrid, on loan, to celebrate a milestone in the history of the fair. Unlike the other works on offer at the fair, which runs through Sunday, that work is not for sale.