“This was the best ARCO opening I can remember in a long time,” Guillermo Romero Parra, from the Madrid-based gallery Parra & Romero, told artnet News. “We sold half the works in the booth within three hours,” he beamed. A Thomas Scheibitz painting (€40,000), a Rosa Barba floor piece (€35,000), two panels from a series by Stefan Brügemann at €30,000 a pop, a Lara Almárcegui sculpture (€20,000), a Florian Pumhösl painting (€10,000) … all flew off the walls as soon as the fair’s doors opened on Wednesday. Austerity? What austerity?
“We sold to Spanish collectors so far, but the range of important collectors from all over the world is remarkable,” Romero Parra continued. “Aaron and Barbara Levine are here, and so are Patricia Phelps de Cisneros and Estrellita Brodsky, as well as important Spanish ones like Paloma Botín and Jose Manuel Entrecanales. I think ARCO has reached a fantastic level of maturity.”
The team at the Paris-based gallery gb agency, which is showing works by Ryan Gander, Roman Ondák, and Hassan Sharif among others, had works for up to €50,000 on hold. “It wasn’t a manic opening, as is the case at other fairs like Frieze. Here the pace is slower, but we had fantastic conversations with curators from institutions like the Museo Reina Sofía,” explained the gallery’s Eglantine Mercader, as the Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf passed by, unnoticed.
Director of Air de Paris, Florence Bonnefous, echoed Mercarder’s sentiment. The gallery is showing works by Leonor Antunes and Adriana Lara, and by Thursday noon, no works had sold but panic was not in the air. “We have come to ARCO a few times before,” Bonnefous told artnet News. “We like its low-intensity. It’s like slow-food. Things happen throughout the fair, like in Artissima, not just during the first two days, which allows you to have proper conversations with collectors and curators.”
ARCO’s strategy of inviting an A-list selection of curators and museum directors to hold round tables and even private meetings at the fair has certainly paid off, creating a tingling sense of expectation in the aisles. Although this doesn’t necessarily translate into sales, it creates professional opportunities that also benefit the exhibiting artists. This year some of the guests include the ubiquitous Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Galleries, Juan A. Gaitán, director of Mexico’s Museo Tamayo, and Simon Castets, director of New York’s Swiss Institute, to name but a few.
Meanwhile, the Berlin-based gallery Esther Schipper, was among those which started the fair with a bang. By the end of the first day, a generous selection of works had been sold, including a Tomás Saraceno sculpture (€60,000), a Gabriel Kuri sculpture nearing €30,000, a couple of Philippe Parreno lamps from his Palais de Tokyo show, retailing for around €10,000 each, and a Daniel Steegmann piece in the region of €15,000.
“We’ve sold to a few collectors from China and Indonesia in this edition of ARCO, but so far, the majority come from Madrid,” Jose Castañal, director of the gallery, told artnet News. “After a few years during which Madrid-based collecting had slowed down noticeably, it seems to be picking up again at great speed,” he explained. “In this particular edition, moreover, the number of strong collectors from Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil is phenomenal. They are really activating sales.”
The choice of Colombia as a guest country this year was a smart one, creating a vibrant synergy between Latin American and European artists, galleries, and collectors. “In the last few years, we’ve identified a strong and growing interest of Colombian collectors in both Spanish galleries and artists,” Maribel López, ARCO’s deputy director, told artnet News. “And vice versa: Spanish galleries are participating in ArtBo [the Bogotá art fair] and working with Colombian artists. So this year’s collaboration with Colombia was a natural continuation of that trend,” she explained.
Fostering links with Latin America is, after all, well within ARCO’s historical remit. Since its launch in 1982, the fair has endeavoured to bridge the art markets of the two continents. This role was seriously challenged by the arrival of Art Basel in Miami Beach ten years ago. But ARCO is willing to put up a fight.
“ARCO has been the meeting point for galleries, artists, and curators from Latin America for a very long time,” Pablo León de La Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Latin America Curator and director of the cultural center Casa França Brasil in Rio de Janeiro, told artnet News. “ARCO predates the hoard of new Latin American fairs like ZONA MACO in Mexico, ArtBo in Colombia, ArtRio in Brazil, Art Lima in Peru, etc. It also provides more neutral ground,” he explained.
One aspect clearly distinguishes ARCO from Art Basel in Miami: its price point. It’s within the middle range that the Madrid art fair excels. Madrid’s MaisterraValbuena sold a series of nine gouache drawings by the Spanish artist Néstor Sanmiguel Diest to a Colombian collector for a total of €9,000, as well as a marble sculpture by Maria Loboda for €16,000. Meanwhile, at Helga de Alvear, a large Katharina Grosse painting changed hands for €54,000.
The younger galleries in the Opening section were selling briskly, with works by Pia Camil and Ola Vasiljeva selling for €5,000 and €4,000 respectively at the shared stand of the Parisian galleries Antoine Levi and Sultana. The Madrid-based García Galería sold a pair of paintings by the young Danish-born, Barcelona-based Rasmus Nilausen for a total of €17,000.
All in all, it has been a very successful edition of an art fair thus far, but many more surprises might be yet to come in the next few days. As a German dealer told artnet News, “we’ve sold pieces at ARCO on the Sunday afternoon, so you never know when the sale is going to come. It certainly keeps you on your toes!”