2005. Interview by Ramon Parramon. ROSINA GÓMEZ BAEZA

Your contribution to and participation in Madrid Abierto is undoubtedly based on your point of view of director of ARCO, but also as a member of the selection committee which a few months ago proposed a series of projects to be produced in Madrid Abierto. In this respect, in this interview I would like focus on issues relative to both the Art Fair and to the city, on which Madrid Abierto bases its structure and raison d’être.

What are the current functions of ARCO? (From the social, cultural and market point of view and other relevant aspects).

ARCO’s current function is the result of a work in progress which began several years ago, when Spain had no real infrastructure in place for contemporary art. From its condition of Fair, and its ephemeral nature, ARCO had no other option than to become a meeting point for this country’s contemporary arts. Today, Spain has in place a real network of centres which promote cultural programmes which ARCO has always been willing to collaborate with, going beyond its function of Fair, and always aware of the importance of creating a work context.

Normally, the media tends to analyse ARCO's success by sales volume and number of visitors. In your opinion, what aspects should be taken into account when measuring the outreach of the Fair?

It is obvious that sales and number of visitors are a priority when talking about a market structure, but it is also important to consider how the necessary atmosphere to generate this is created. ARCO has concentrated on, and I think that we are pioneers in this, distinguishing the visitors to the Fair through specialised programmes for collectors, gallery owners, theoreticians, journalists etc. addressing their needs and ensuring connecting links between them. No doubt, one of ARCO’s main achievements, which I consider fundamental when measuring the outreach of the Fair, is the increase in the number private collectors in this country, a sector which was inexistent a few years ago. Giving a voice to collectors is crucial if we want to build a contemporary art heritage.

Let us imagine a situation that has already occurred on more than one occasion: a minister comes to ARCO and buys a work of art. What is the message given? What should be the role of institutions with regard to ARCO? (I am referring to institutions whose work is associated with contemporary art, whether programming or organising a collection) What do you think should be the role of the institutions with regard to contemporary art?

To establish the base for a solid contemporary art heritage, institutions and their representatives should and must get involved in the process.  For several years now ARCO has been engaged in a programme called Proyecto Salas, with the participation of some of the main institutions of this country, to ensure a real link for interchange and a common exhibition space. We have also seen a progressive increase in the number of institutions that come to ARCO to purchase art, enriching the national heritage and ensuring that the fabulous architectural spaces that have proliferated in Spain in the last twenty years house international collections and that they establish an itinerant circuit of exhibitions with other foreign institutions. These spaces also contribute to the public’s appreciation of and education in art.

Neither ARCO nor any other international art fair reflects what is currently happening. Because the primary objective of the galleries that come to these events is to sell as many works of art as possible. This commercial vision of art often goes against current creative proposals. ARCO is an event for visitors to go and see the work of well-known and consolidated artists, those highly valued in the market, but far removed from a space for promoting or launching new talent.

This comment by Rafael Tous, published in the magazine, Lateral, I think underlies various aspects that you could perhaps explain, comment or challenge:

ARCO has promoted artists that are now already part of the international mainstream as rising talent. Yes, art is sold in ARCO because it is a Fair, but it is also a very diverse exhibit of what is happening in no less than thirty-five countries. ARCO organises a series of programmes curated by some of the most important international curators, apart from the general programme of galleries, where there is room for different kinds of projects with alternative supports, highlighting the Fair’s interest in current creations.

This combination and display of commercial activity and cultural activity; how do you think it is perceived by the community of gallery owners and artists who participate in the Fair?

ARCO strives to ensure that the cultural activity that necessarily surrounds the Fair is directed and approached with the highest respect for the gallery context by ensuring that it interferes as less as possible with their commercial activity and that the space which they undoubtedly are the stars of is a quiet space and lends itself to their activities. However, we are also aware that the more attractive the Fair’s cultural programme, in harmony with what is happening in the city, the more professionals and collectors of contemporary art will be attracted by our cultural and commercial offer.

For artists it is of course extremely positive, given that ARCO tries to make sure that all its special guests, from curators to gallery owners and museum directors, become familiar with this country’s production and that a cultural interchange is activated to facilitate the promotion of artists abroad. Because, let’s be honest, one of this country’s main pending issues is the qualified promotion of the image of Spanish contemporary art outside our borders. Everyone knows that the majority of our artists are forced to leave Spain to promote their work. This is why ARCO seeks to become a window for tendencies with own names, displaying this country’s immense artistic panorama, and the persistent efforts of Spanish gallery owners, who have taken on a role that should rightfully be shared with government institutions.

Let us go one step further with regard to the activities included in the scope of ARCO. In relation to the city, how do you think Madrid’s socio-cultural activity is affected by the event?

February has become the cultural month par excellence in Madrid, and this circumstance is directly associated with the action process initiated by ARCO. In just a few days hundreds of outstanding persons of the art world arrive in Madrid and find themselves involved in an endless number of activities and inaugurations of the highest level, which transform the city into the cultural capital desired by all.

It has sometimes been suggested that ARCO absorbs so much energy that the city of Madrid becomes a cultural desert the rest of the year. This image of desolation continues to be mentioned in art circles. How would you rate the city’s activity after ARCO? To what extent does it revitalise or burden the activity of the city over the year?

Indeed, ARCO’s pulling power as a brief event and an important meeting space gives rise to inaugurations and cultural programmes of great magnitude taking place that month, but this frenetic activity leads to agreements being clenched, people getting to know one another, and co-operation links being created between different institutions for possible future collaboration.

The initiative Madrid Abierto, headed by Jorge Díez, emerged a year ago with the aim of working within the real context of the city, but associated with this energy field generated by ARCO. What does Madrid Abierto mean to you? To what extent is it associated or disassociated from the Open Spaces that used to be organised inside ARCO’s exhibition site?

Street art is no longer the transferral of the museum to the street as exhibition space but a means of interacting with the public/passers-by to establish reciprocal reflection. It is a way of relating to everyday spaces and offering different points of view of our own existence in the city. It proposes that what is public is not just confined to what we can see but it also forms part of that abstract space of public domain. In this respect, Madrid Abierto is set out as a question mark directed at the space of the city, a city like Madrid, which makes daily efforts to become more habitable, within the complexity of a growing metropolis.

The Open Spaces developed during the different editions of the Fair have been the detonating factor and the initiative that have inspired intersections between the artistic object and the city.

The majority of the projects selected for this second edition require some explanation to understand their meaning and their position or relationship with the mechanisms of the city, i.e., transport systems, advertising devices, etc. In fact, they evidence a certain dematerialisation or deobjetivisation. How does this fit in into the framework of a fair that is based on the sale of art objects?

I think that we must understand that contemporary art is plural and diverse, and cannot be subject to a single category. In the Fair we try to ensure that all these possibilities are contemplated from different standpoints; for example, in the International Forum of Experts in Contemporary Art we have a session that specifically addresses the Collection of previously uncollectible art, which will address the ways art fairs will have to assume, among other things, that new quality of contemporary art within the dematerialisation of the artistic object. However, the traditional circuit will clearly continue to exist because, as I said earlier, the Fair is and seeks to continue to be a window for illustrative options of contemporary aesthetics.