Courtesy Arco Madrid.

ARCO Madrid, the leading fair in the Spanish-speaking art world, opened on Wednesday for its 42nd edition with pre-pandemic levels of collector attendance and exhibitor numbers. Groups of curious prospective art buyers, primarily from Europe and Latin America, bustled among the aisles of the IFEMA conference center. The overall vibe was energetic and positive, and collectors and art lovers were seen engaging in deep conversations with gallerists at booths.

While some galleries—particularly the Spanish ones—had a successful opening in terms of sales, the high level of enthusiasm did not all translate into strong sales for every gallery right out of the gate, especially those presenting works that were made by unfamiliar artists and were more conceptual.

Although some gallerists jokingly agreed that “we need to sell more,” others did not seem to be too bothered by the slow moving sales. ARCO Madrid typically has a different pace to other fairs like Art Basel or Frieze, they said, adding that it was not uncommon to sell out the booth as much as two weeks after the fair had closed. Hence, they treated this fair as a meeting place and a platform for collectors and industry professionals such as curators and museum directors to discover new names and ideas.

Courtesy Arco Madrid.

Such was particularly true for Italian mega-collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, who has been a regular at ARCO Madrid for more than three decades, and has established a strong bond with the Spainish capital. She set up the Fundación Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (FSRR Madrid) in 2017, and earlier in the week received an honor from Queen Sofia of Spain at the Ibero-American Patronage Awards.

“It’s always a big fair. It always features interesting artists from Spain and Latin American countries,” said the president and founder of Turin’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. “It’s a good balance between the established galleries and some younger ones, as well as galleries from Latin American countries which you don’t see so many at other fairs in Europe.”

This year’s ARCO Madrid presents 211 galleries from 36 countries, where 71—or 34 percent of them—were Spanish galleries. Latin American galleries particularly from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru accounted for 21 percent of the international participation.

Jonas Englert, Declaration of Principles (2022). Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers.

While the fair’s scale has returned to its pre-pandemic level as Covid restrictions have eased in Spain, the number of collectors attending via the fair’s long-running international buyers and special guests program was also the largest to date, noted fair director Maribel López.

“Madrid is in a very good moment right now. It has good energy. Many Latin American collectors have moved to Madrid in recent years. It’s still rather inexpensive compared to other places in Europe,” López told Artnet News, adding that the fair has managed to maintain its reputation as a platform for discovery thanks to its relatively low fees compared to other top fairs in the region, allowing galleries to be more ambitious with their presentations and showcase more experimental works.

The politically-charged video installation Declaration of Principles by Jonas Englert at Galerie Anita Beckers from Frankfurt (which shared the booth with Galerie Kornfeld from Berlin under the booth name Beckers+Kornfeld), for example, was one that attracted a lot of interest. The complex work reflecting on how political events were staged with references to found images and footage sold one edition for €25,000 ($26,373). London-based gallery Hollybush Gardens presented a series of ceramics sculptures by the Palestinian-born, Berlin-based Jumana Manna in the curated “The Mediterranean: A Round Sea” section. Among the works on show priced between £5,000 ($5,970) and £30,000 ($35,818), some were sold to institutions in Europe, including TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary in Spain.

Sculptures by Jumana Manna presented by London-based gallery Hollybush Gardens, at ARCO Madrid 2023. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Other galleries that reported sales included Perrotin, which sold three paintings by Spanish artist Cristina BanBan, each for $90,000, and the work On Target by Elmgreen & Dragset in the range of $90,000 to $100,000. David Zwirner, which made its debut at the fair this year, sold the late Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz’s Blotter Figure with Shutter III (1999) to an institution in Spain, and multiple works by Marcel Dzama, Oscar Murillo, and rising market star, Brazilian painter Lucas Arruda. Arruda is also having his solo show presented by the Fundación Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Madrid and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Ateneo de Madrid. The gallery did not reveal the price but Arruda’s current auction record stands at $487,660, achieved in 2020 at a Phillips Hong Kong sale in association with Poly Auction.

First-time exhibitor Karen Huber from Mexico featured in the “Never the Same. Latin American Art” section, nearly sold out their solo booth of Mexican painter Ana Segovia, whose works were priced between €5,000 ($5,276) to €50,000 ($52,760).

Installation view of Ukrainian gallery Voloshyn at ARCO Madrid 2023. Photo: Vivienne Chow.

Also showing for the first time was Ukrainian gallery Voloshyn. It brought two Ukrainian artists, Nikita Kadan and Mykola Ridnyi (both had exhibited in the Venice Biennale) to the fair, which coincided with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Works on display ranging from sculptures to photography, paintings, and drawings were solemn and emotionally intense, a visual reflection of the state of mind of the artists living through the trauma of war.

“We already decided to do more fairs since our space in Kyiv closed after the war broke out and it became a shelter,” the gallery’s co-founder Max Voloshyn told Artnet News. The works were shipped out of Ukraine and took a complicated route to arrive to Madrid despite the high costs, “we must keep making our voices heard and our artists visible,” Voloshyn said. Prices of the works ranged between €5000 and €15,000 and some of them have been sold.

This year’s ARCO also saw some galleries returning to the fair for the first time in a while. Among them was the Munich-based Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, which is celebrating its 55th anniversary. Gallery director Yeliz Kaiser said this year was the gallery’s first show since 2009, and the gallery decided to return after reflecting on its strategic positioning, while hoping to meet European and Latin American collectors at the fair. The gallery presented a group show of 13 artists, priced between €4,000 ($4,226) and €130,000 ($137,351).

Installation view of Spanish gallery Alarcon Criado’s solo presentation of Cristina Mejías at ARCO Madrid 2023. Courtesy of the gallery.

A number of institutional and corporate acquisitions were made during the fair. Fundación ARCO purchased six works adding to its collection. Museo Reina Sofía acquired 26 works by 18 artists for a combined value of €400,000 ($422,700). The Madrid City Council has made its biggest investment in the fair in recent years, acquiring six works for a total of €226,000 ($238,825). The works will be incorporated the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MAC).

Vienna-based Galerie nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder sold a number of works including a work by French painter Bernard Frize to a private collection in South America for €182,000 ($192,637), a painting by Luisa Kasalicky and Siegfried Zaworka to the Perez collection in Miami for €15,000 ($15,876), paintings by the Düsseldorf-based South Korean artist Jongsuk Yoon to a private collection in Spain for €25,000 ($26,461) and a collector from East Asia for €23,500 ($24,873), as well as a large painting by Katharina Grosse to a collection in France for €400,000 ($423,380). “This year’s ARCO shows that it’s right back on the agenda of international art fairs for collectors and curators with one of the best VIP programs around. Corona is definitely over, and the new director Maribel Lopez has staged her first ‘normal’ edition excellently,” Schwarzwälder told Artnet News.

Spanish gallery Alarcon Criado also reported success, selling works priced between €30,000 ($31,660) to €40,000 ($42,213) by each of the 15 artists the gallery has brought to the fair, including works by the Jerez-born artist Cristina Mejías, who was awarded the XVI illy Sustain Art Award. The artist is also represented by Rodríguez Gallery from Poland, which also reported strong sales at this year’s fair.

“The feeling is great this year after the pandemic. People can travel now and they are happy and optimistic. The collectors this year are incredible,” gallerist Carolina Alarcon told Artnet News.

Arco Madrid is open through February 26 at Ifema Madrid.

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