Top 10 Things to Do in Madrid During ARCO 2017

Go beyond the world’s best attended art fair.

Madrid is one of the great art capitals of the world, and more so during the city’s bustling ARCOMadrid fair. The 36th edition takes place from February 22-26 and features 200 galleries from 27 countries, including this year’s guest: Argentina.

The world’s best-attended art fair—the event clocked 92,000 visitors in 2015—brings the international art world to Madrid’s IFEMA convention center in late February. But Spain’s capital city is also a treasure trove of year-round art riches. Besides three of the world’s best art museums—the Museo del Prado, the Thyssen Collection and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía—Madrid boasts less well-known cultural attractions that put most other global cities to shame.

The following is a not-for-tourists selection of the city’s 10 best specialist art destinations, hand-picked for ARCO visitors.

Francisco de Goya Self Portrait in studio (1793-5)Photo: © Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid courtesy National Gallery, London

Francisco de Goya Self Portrait in studio (1793-5).
Photo: © Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid courtesy National Gallery, London.

    Established by royal decree in 1744, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando is among the best, least visited museums in Madrid. Its collection includes Old Master treasures by, among others,Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Giovanni Bellini, Peter Paul Rubens, Francisco de Zurbarán, and a raft of gems by Francisco Goya (who was one of the academy’s directors). As part of the ARCO’s Focus Argentina, the Real Academia is also hosting a show of modern and contemporary pieces from the personal collection of Eduardo Costantini, founder and president of the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA). Curated by Estrella de Diego, the exhibition includes works by Lucio Fontana, Diego Rivera, Víctor Grippo, León Ferrari and Xul Solar.
    Madrid’s two main gallery barrios save the year’s best shows for late February, and this year is no exception. Among the shows on view are Julian Rosefeldt at Helga de Alvear, Fernanda Fragateiro at Elba Benitez and Francesco Jodice at Marta Cervera. For more information check
Palacio Cibeles in Madrid, home to CentroCentro art space Photo via: Siente Madrid

Palacio Cibeles in Madrid, home to CentroCentro art space
Photo via: Siente Madrid.

 DE CULTURA Y CIUDADANÍA (Plaza de Cibeles, 1)
    The soaring old Cibeles Palace, once home to the city’s telephone company, is now a massive multi-floor cultural center that combines the ambitions of a community-programmed cultural space and the soaring galleries of the Tate Modern. In February it plays host to three major thematic shows, the most important of which is “24/7,” an investigation of the raucous overlap that exists today between art and social media. It includes works by artists such as Cory Arcangel, Sophie Calle, Harun Farocki, Cristina Garrido, Ana Riaño, Martha Rosler, Francisco Ruiz de Infante and Superflex.
    Located in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park, the Palacio de Cristal is one of Madrid’s most dramatic exhibition venues. A massive greenhouse in the shape of a Greek cross made of glass and iron, the venue currently presents Lothar Baumgarten’s two-hour sound piece The ship is going under, the ice is breaking through (2016). Using audio recordings the artist made of ice thawing on the banks of the Hudson River in upstate New York, the work produces the sonic illusion that this particular crystal palace is breaking up and about to fall on the viewer.
Courtesy of

Courtesy of

    The Spanish telephone company’s main cultural center—they have others in Spanish-speaking capitals such as Buenos Aires, Lima and Santiago—boasts four floors of top shelf exhibitions in a landmark 1930s building. On February 22 it launches “Ephemeral Certainties” by Argentine sculptor and installation artist Leandro Erlich. The exhibition consists of two of the artist’s best known eye-tricking, mind-bending works: Changing Rooms (2008) and Nest of Clouds (2012).
  1. CENTRO DE ARTE ALCOBENDAS (Mariano Sebastián Izuel, 9, Alcobendas)
    Among the best kunsthalles in Spain, the mission of the Centro de Arte de Alcobendas is to bring the best of Spanish and international contemporary art to one of Madrid’s largest blue-collar suburbs. During ARCO, it will play host to “The Idea in a Sign,” an exhibition that combines African art and contemporary pieces by, among other artists, John Coplans, Richard Deacon, Imi Knoebel, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, Jane Simpson and Jessica Stockholder.
Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema 214 (1957). Courtesy of the collection of Isabel y Agustín Coppel.

Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema 214 (1957). Courtesy of the collection of Isabel y Agustín Coppel.

  1. SALA DE ARTE SANTANDER (Ciudad Grupo Santander. Avda. Cantabria, s/n. Boadilla del Monte)
    One of Spain’s largest private collections, the Fundación Banco Santander also runs a large Madrid exhibition space. Starting February 21, it will present “Starting Point,” a selection of works from the Isabel and Agustín Coppel Collection. Organized by curators Magnolia de la Garza and Patrick Charpenel, the show features Mexican and international artists, among them Leonor Antunes, Alighiero Boetti, Ulises Carrión, Jimmie Durham, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Mario García Torres, Gary Hill, Pierre Huyghe,
Bruce Nauman, Helio Oiticica, Gabriel Orozco, Cindy Sherman, Superflex and Wolfgang Tillmans.
  1. CA2M—CENTRO DE ARTE DOS DE MAYO (Avda. de la Constitución, 23-25. Móstoles)
    One of Madrid’s most impressive contemporary arts spaces, CA2M is the home of the Madrid regional government’s art collection (it possesses some 1,700 artworks). It also routinely hosts art exhibitions that could perfectly well be slotted into New York’s best contemporary art museums. Among the shows opening during ARCO 2017 are “Perspectiva,” a survey of 25 years of the work of Argentine artist Jorge Macchi (the artist also has a terrific show on view currently at Alexander and Bonin in New York).
  1. CASA DE AMÉRICA (Po de Recoletos, 2)
    This 19th-century palace houses a Latin American cultural center that routinely serves as a home for major art exhibitions during ARCOMadrid. This year it houses a special exhibition organized within the purview of the fair’s Focus Argentina. Titled “The Decisions of Touch,” it includes works by, among other artists, Bruno Dubner, David Lamelas, Eduardo Costa, Eduardo Navarro, Karina Peisajovich, Mariana Ferrari, Marie Orensanz, Mariela Scafati, Paola Vega, Sofía Böhtlink and Tiziana Pierri.
    Housed in one of the handsomest buildings in downtown Madrid, the Círculo de Bellas Artes was founded in 1880 as a major multidisciplinary center with one of the city’s most active cultural programs. Among other recently inaugurated exhibitions, it currently presents “Francis Bacon: The Question of Drawing.” Curated by Fernando Castro, the exhibition includes works given, it is claimed, by the Anglo-Irish artist to Italian journalist Cristiano Locatelli Ravarino. (Because the authenticity of the Ravarino drawings is contested, they were not included in the recently published Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné.)

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.