It’s Springtime in Spain as Dealers at ARCO Madrid Fair Say the Art Market Is Emerging From the Pandemic Healthier Than Ever

The fair, which is said to expect 70,000 visitors before it closes this week, was busy on its opening day.

A visitor at the 41st International Contemporary Art Fair (ARCO) on bruary 23, 2022. (Photo by Samuel de Roman/Getty Images)

It felt like the sun was shining yesterday inside the windowless halls of the IFEMA Madrid congress hall, where ARCO—Spain’s premier contemporary art fair, in its 41st year—was off to a rollicking start. 

The steady reports of big-ticket sales and buzzing throngs of collectors were almost enough to make attendees forget the woes of ARCO 2021, which saw less than half its usual turnout and a marked absence of key international galleries due to Covid restrictions. This year, a branded face mask and a digital Covid certificate are required for entry. 

ARCO is back. This edition, which runs from February 23 to 27, is expected to welcome more than 70,000 visitors, exceeding 2020’s numbers, according to the Spanish daily El Pais.

Visitors at ARCO Madrid 2022. Courtesy of ARCO Madrid.

Visitors at ARCO Madrid 2022. Courtesy of ARCO Madrid.

Those with tickets (€30 apiece for the general public) can meander among 135 galleries from 30 countries.

On display are artworks ranging in style and subject matter, from Joan Miró’s Flock of Birds Surrounding Yellow Lightning to Karin Sander’s Kitchen Pieces, consisting of vegetables nailed to a wall, in various stages of decay. Of course, it wouldn’t be an art fair in 2022 without NFTs, which are on offer from four galleries.

“Ahead of the fair, I had more international collectors calling me than ever before,” said Sabrina Amrani of the eponymous Madrid gallery.

That eagerness, she added, translated into sales: she reported selling works by Paloma Polo (Dulcinea 5A for €10,000 [$11,194]), Manal Al Dowayan (The Emerging for around €25,000 [$27,986), Anastasia Samoylova (four works from the artist’s “Floridas” series at €7,000 each [$7,836]), and mentalKLINIK (two works for about €25,000 each [$27,986)). Amrani said she also sold an edition of Edison Peñafiel’s video Mare Navis I for around €6,000 ($6,763) to the Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo (CA2M) museum in Madrid. 

Visitors at ARCO Madrid 2022. Courtesy of ARCO Madrid.

Visitors at ARCO Madrid 2022. Courtesy of ARCO Madrid.

Other gallerists on the fairgrounds echoed Amrani’s good spirits. 

“Today felt like a Friday,” said Belén Herrera Ottino of Marlborough Gallery’s Madrid branch. And Juana Aizpuru, owner of the namesake Marid gallery and an ARCO founder, said the day exceeded her expectations. She chalked it up to everyone having been “oppressed for too long.”

At the Knust Kunz booth, a representative in town from Munich for the gallery’s sophomore edition said they sold every one of their David Moses paintings, including, apparently, works stowed away in Berlin that didn’t make it to the fair.

“We feel very lucky,” the representative said. 

Sustainability and social justice were through-lines, too. In a special section spotlighting Latin American art (titled “Never the Same”), visitors could ponder works by Argentine artist Mauricio Poblete that, according to Poblete’s gallerist, explored gender, identity, queerness, and the body through images of the artist’s indigenous Bolivian ancestors.

Yet without a doubt, the most head-turning work on display was found at the booth of Ginsberg gallery from Lima, Peru. 

Wynnie Mynerva next to her work 'Closing to open', at Feria de Madrid IFEMA, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo By Alejandro Martinez Velez/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Wynnie Mynerva next to her work ‘Closing to open’, at Feria de Madrid IFEMA, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo By Alejandro Martinez Velez/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Cerrar para abrir (“Closing to Open”) is a video art piece by young nonbinary artist Wynnie Mynerva that shows, at close range and without commentary, the artist’s illegal sex affirmation surgery. Graphic and contentious by design, the €15,000 work sends a powerful message: “Freedom only exists when it’s leveraged,” Mynerva told El País

That kind of artwork makes sense to the fair’s director, Maribel López. “What sets ARCO apart is the way we help galleries take risks,” López said. But were there any worries about the post-pandemic economy?

“Galleries, because of their peculiar business model, are used to adapting to crises,” she said the day before Russia invaded Ukraine. “As everyone will see at ARCO, they are emerging from the pandemic with even more strength and resilience.”   

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