February 26, 2017
Between the 22 and 26 of February, Madrid is the place to be for those who love contemporary art. There are at least five different art fairs taking place simultaneously, plus many other art-related events that make this one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The only downside of it is that it is virtually impossible to see everything, and so this year we have chosen to visit Art Madrid, the second biggest art fair in the Spanish capital.
In its 12th edition, Art Madrid maintains its multidisciplinary character and puts the emphasis on the quality of the artworks exhibited, as well as on the international appeal of the 43 galleries selected. These are mainly Spanish, but there is also a good number of them that come from all over the world, including Portugal, China, Latvia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Italy or Lebano.
This year the focus is also on the individual work of emerging and mid-career Spanish and Latin American artists. Next to the General Program, the ONE PROJECT Program -curated by Carlos Delgado Mayordomo- presents eight solo-show projects that reflect on the concepts of territory, displacement and identity.
In addition to this, the relationship between art and technology shapes the fair’s Parallel Program of activities, which includes talks, round tables, workshops and other actions. We attended the last event of the series, the presentation of “FILE_GENESIS”, a multimedia project by artist and founder of Harddiskmuseum Solimán López that revolves around the meaning of the image in the digital era, showing how necessary it is to generate a conversation about the ways in which technology affects the art world.
However, painting and sculpture, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, still predominated at Art Madrid this year. Here are some of the highlights from this edition.
Espacio Olvera (Sevilla)
The booth of this Sevillian gallery was one of the first to catch my attention. Selected as a ONE PROJECT, Espacio Olvera showed the work of Mariajosé Gallardo, a fascinating combination of symbolism and a very realistic depiction of plants and animals, painted over golden surfaces that give shape to very powerful artworks. It’s a pity the small space of the booth did not provide enough room for visitors to really appreciate the works.
Galería BAT Alberto Cornejo (Madrid)
Galería BAT presented a really interesting mix of artists working in different media, including bright paintings on an unusual support like methacrylate by Pablo Lambertos. I was particularly drawn to José Ramón Lozano’s oversized celebrity portraits and Byeonghee Bae’s curious series of wooden sculptures entitled Citizens above of building. A few works from the series El Jardín de Fukuoka by Rubén Martín de Lucas -who we recently interviewed– were also present at the gallery’s booth, but he was also one of the best represented artists at the fair thanks to having been selected for the ONE PROJECT program, which allowed him to show the latest developments of his investigation regarding borders and the behaviors of the human population.
3 Punts (Barcelona)
Another gallery with a wide selection of artists was 3 Punts. In this case I particularly liked the intersections between the diverse approaches to sculpture of artists Alejandro Monge, who cracks the perfectly innocent appearance of regular objects to criticize different aspects of society; Gerard Mas, whose wooden figures seem to have a life of their own; and Samuel Salcedo, especially his hyper-realistic, sinister little humans made of resin.
Marc Calzada (Barcelona)
Also from Barcelona, Marc Calzada brought something different to Art Madrid: the work of modern Spanish masters like Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Miquel Barceló, or Joan Miró. The gallery’s selection of works encapsulated some of the best exponents of Spanish art from the twentieth-century, and included rare items such as a doodle by Miró on a torn piece of cardboad.
Galeria Kreisler (Madrid)
The work of Madrid-based multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel, shown by Galeria Kreisler, stood out as one of the most visually compelling in this edition of Art Madrid. Combining elements of Urban Art and Pop Surrealism, San Miguel has created a very personal, rainbow-colored universe using a huge range of techniques, including mural painting (check out how he transformed a 100-year-old church into a skate park). One of his most interesting works at the fair was ‘Mom’s Bird’ (2016), made of wool on canvas.
Yiri Arts (Taiwan)
The booth of Yiri Arts, a gallery from Taipei, was one of my favourites this year. It featured pieces by four artists, two Spanish (Mónica Subidé and Núria Farré) and two Taiwanese (Chen Yun and Wang Guan-Jhen). Their figurative paintings and small-scale sculptures were among the subtlest and most captivating in the whole fair, and they left me hoping to see more from this gallery in the next edition of Art Madrid.
Art Madrid ’17, Galería de Cristal, CentroCentro Cibeles, 22 – 26 February, 2017.
September 7, 2016
The Prado, the Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you are travelling to Madrid, those are the museums you will most likely visit. They are, of course, a must-see. But the city is packed with interesting museums and galleries outside this so-called Golden Triangle of Art. There are hundreds of things to see, but today I am focusing on a small exhibition in one of my favourite spots, the ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration.
The museum building, a former beer factory built in the nineteenth century, hosts the ABC Collection, which includes nearly 200,000 artworks that sum up a century of graphic art in Spain. One of their exhibition programmes, Connections, invites artists linked to the world of drawing to develop a project for the museum, taking as its starting point works from the ABC Collection and the Santander Collection.
The latest edition of Connections presents the work of Madrid-based artist Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980), who exhibits Fate Lines, a project inspired by a tarot session with a Cuban “Santera”. The artist reinterprets nine tarot figures in her very original and well-defined vocabulary, in which different referents –such as Baroque, Pop, Surrealism, and Symbolism— coexist.
The exhibition only occupies one small room at the museum, where Vargas’s giant tarot cards (they are more than 2 metres tall) are the main attraction, capturing the viewer’s eye with their intricate details. The works the artist has taken for inspiration are a pair of eighteenth-century ornamental ceramic vases made in the Royal Factory of Alcora (Valencian Community) and a 1930 cover of the Spanish magazine Blanco y Negro. Both the vases and the cover are linked to the designs in the Spanish playing cards, which are mixed with those in the Tarot de Marseille in Vargas’s works.
Marina Vargas studied Fine Art at the University of Granada, and her work has been shown, among other places, in New York, Mexico, La Habana and Milan. She uses different media to explore her many interests, which include religion, symbolism, and identity. I am particularly fascinated by her sculptural work around the idea of classical beauty, such as the pieces featured in her 2015 exhibition Nor Animal Neither Angel, at CAC Málaga.
In the case of her tarot cards, everything starts with a digital drawing where Vargas combines different images. She then transfers this to a wood panel using graphite and proceeds to apply paint. However, she returns to drawing over and over during the process, as can be seen in a couple of cards which the artist has left unfinished.
That is precisely the most interesting aspect of Fate Lines: that it offers the viewer the opportunity to learn more about the artist’s process. Besides the aforementioned works, the exhibition also includes a video of the tarot session that inspired the series, the images and documents that Vargas used during her research, and a collage that developed in her studio walls while she worked on the pieces.
Georges Braque, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and Leonora Carrington are some of the artists that were inspired by the Tarot de Marseille. For Marina Vargas it becomes the perfect medium to explore her interest in symbolism. But her own language is so powerful that it not only modifies, but completely transmutes the traditional images, while at the same time the signs of her destiny are assimilated into her own particular language.
Marina Vargas. Fate Lines. Museo ABC (Amaniel 29-31, Madrid). 17 Jun – 20 Nov 2016.
August 7, 2016
Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.
This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.
In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.
The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.
The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.
Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series ‘POETS‘. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.
As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.
A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!
I first heard about artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah last year, when her installation Silence was removed from the exhibition “Femina ou la Réappropriation des modèles” at the Pavillon Vendôme in Clichy, France, after receiving threats from a Muslim group about the possibility of a violent reaction to the piece. A similar incident surrounding California-based artist Mark Ryden and his painting Rosie’s Tea Party, currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, has brought Bouabdellah’s work back to my attention, enabling me to rediscover her often ambiguous point of view. As it turns out, the timing could not have been more perfect: her work is currently featured in three different exhibitions across Spain and will be the object of a solo show in the autumn as well.
Her controversial piece Silence can be seen until June 12 at MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) as part of the group show “Lucy’s Iris”. Bouabdellah usually adapts her works to the different contexts and spaces where they are exhibited, and in this case the installation has been titled Silence Noir. Composed of nine prayer rugs and the same number of pairs of golden shoes, perhaps the colour black has been chosen because of its historical association with Spain and particularly with Castile, the region where this exhibition is taking place. In the Spanish context, I cannot help but associate it with the traditional black outfit –composed of a lace veil (the mantilla) and a high comb (the peineta), as well as the mandatory high heels— still worn today by some women during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter), bullfights and sometimes even weddings (a great example can be found in Francisco de Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba).
Black lace is used as a sort of camouflage in the series of drawings and prints Afrita Hanem, where the artist reproduces stills from the 1949 Egyptian film of the same name. Filled with double entendres, this film perpetuates the stereotype of the femme fatale, omnipresent both in Eastern and Western traditions.
Born in Moscow in 1977, Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers and moved to France in 1993. Her work explores cultural dualities and identity issues, and although it can be linked to feminist theories, one of its most characteristic qualities is its ambivalence. As the artist herself states, she seeks “to push forward boundaries, to create interactions between them”. She claims to be a “«second sex», a free-thinker sex” who oscillates between a dominant and a submissive position, constantly alternating between claiming and defying pre-established codes and rules.
This leads to many of her works not having a direct, clear message. Such is the case of her collage series Nues Endroit/Nues Envers, where the artist cuts two of the most iconic female nudes in art history into oriental, decorative shapes and combines the resulting pieces to create two different images. These kaleidoscopic visions both appeal to the viewer’s curiosity and frustrate any attempt to reconstruct the female bodies, consequently reinforcing their power of attraction. Bouabdellah seems to be visually exploring the Orientalist veil through which many male artists have looked at the female body in order to create the perfect object of desire, whose appeal lies in its inaccessibility.
“Objets de désir” is precisely the title of Bouabdellah’s current solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid), which includes the aforementioned collage series as well as a video, a sound installation and several drawings and photographs that investigate the distance between the individual who desires and the object of desire itself.
The show focuses particularly on how women have been, and still are, objectified in visual culture. Perhaps one of the most fascinating works present in the exhibition is Venus au miroir, an enigmatic photographic series where the canon of occidental female beauty confronts its own image, leaving us wondering which goddess is the object and which the reflection.
If you happen to be in Spain, don’t miss the chance to see some of Bouabdellah’s works! Objects de désir runs at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid) until 3 June 2016. Lucy’s Iris. Contemporary African Women Artists runs at MUSAC (León) until 12 June 2016. She also participates in the group show Wastelands, curated by Piedad Solans at Es Baluard in Mallorca (until 19 June 2016), and in late October the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno – CAAM (Las Palmas, Canary Islands) will also host a retrospective exhibition by the artist.
Usually exhibited in a corner, near a large painting by Francis Bacon, Andrew Wyeth’s My Young Friend (1970) is often overlooked by visitors at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Looking a bit too sober among its neighbours, and being the only work by Wyeth in the collection, this austere portrait has always had a certain alien quality. This is perhaps due to the public’s lack of acquaintance with the work of the legendary American artist, a situation that the exhibition Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio, organised by the Thyssen-Bornemisza in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, seeks to end.
More than sixty works by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) and his son Jamie (1946), some never previously exhibited in public, shape this first retrospective of the Wyeths in Europe. It is, therefore, a unique opportunity to discover the multiple points of connection between the lives and work of two of the main representatives of twentieth-century American Realism.
The exhibition was conceived by curator Timothy J. Standring as an intimate artistic conversation around shared subjects and interests, such as friends, neighbours, animals, familiar settings in Pennsylvania and Maine, and the nude figure.
The strength of the display lies precisely in this decision of grouping the works thematically, juxtaposing both artists’ perspectives and thus allowing visitors to question the commonplace notion of Realism being an objective and detached image of reality. The continuous dialogue between father and son highlights not only their joint sensibilities, but also the originality of their individual visions. While Andrew’s images show his interest in everyday themes, Jamie’s gaze seeks the bizarre and the unexpected. They are both deeply engaged with their immediate surroundings, but retain their own personal points of view and approach the blank surface in radically different ways.
This becomes particularly evident when comparing Andrew’s solid, more naturalistic depictions of his neighbours-turned-models with Jamie’s expressive use of white to create his ghost-like portraits of celebrities such as Rudolf Nureyev and Andy Warhol. The latter is perhaps one of the most beautiful and poignant depictions of the late artist, a haunting image that stays with you long after you leave the museum.
This journey through the Wyeths’ lives, interests and places that inspired them is complemented by The Secret Sits (Wyeth Wonderland), a display of photographs by Joséphine Douet, who followed Andrew Wyeth’s steps in his native city of Chadds Ford (Pennsylvania, USA) and captured her own vision of the artist’s reality.
This comprehensive retrospective, which risks being overlooked like the portrait of Andrew Wyeth’s young friend, is not only a rare chance to see the works of these two artists in Europe, but also an unmissable event for those who regularly visit the Thyssen. By contextualising this delicate female portrait, the Spanish museum has successfully illuminated an obscure corner of its collection, enabling future visitors to evoke the whole universe that the Wyeths wanted to express through their art when they see the painting.
March 3, 2016
Last week was Art Week in Madrid. Although the main event this year was the celebration of the 35 anniversary of ARCO, Spain’s biggest and most famous contemporary art fair, there were so many interesting alternatives (ArtMadrid, JustMad, Room Art Fair, Drawing Room, We Are Fair! and Casa Leibniz) that it was tough to choose among them.
I usually find regular commercial fairs quite overwhelming, with their endless corridors and lack of space between stands. So, this year I decided to visit those that promised a different experience: Room Art Fair and Casa Leibniz.
Both of them took place inside splendid nineteenth-century buildings located opposite each other in the lively district of Chueca. I was able to visit them in the same day, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the works exhibited and the radically different concepts behind them.
Room Art Fair put the emphasis on the active role given to the spectator. Each gallery or curatorial project occupied one of the 36 rooms of the Petit Palace Santa Bárbara Hotel, where visitors could find the works of emerging artists from all over Europe, as well as those of the three winners of the New Curators Project.
One of these was Texturas Sonoras (Sound Textures), curated by María Castellanos, which consisted on a site specific interactive installation by artist Alberto Valverde. Inside a dark room, a luminescent structure projected onto the ceiling and bed developed in response to the sounds produced by the visitors’ presence. I was mesmerised by the changing patterns that were created by a spectrum of frequencies that our brain ignores, and it was great to talk to both artist and curator about the different environments in which they had recorded ambient sounds resulting in incredibly colourful and intricate images.
Photography also had an important presence in many of the rooms. I was particularly drawn to a series titled I called her Lisa-Marie by young French photographer Clémentine Schneidermann, represented by Galerie Huit Arles. Schneidermann explores the legend of Elvis through images of his fans and doubles taken during an annual festival held in his honour in a small town in South Wales, which she combines with photographs of the King’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, blurring the lines between document and fiction in the viewer’s mind.
Another project involving photography that I found particularly interesting was the one presented by Març Rabal and Kiko Navarro at Galería Artara. Both artists work around the theme of boxing through the lens of gender: Rabal uses collage to create subtle but powerful images in which she merges the bodies and attributes of ballet dancers and male boxers, while Navarro’s black and white photographs situate the viewer inside the world of female boxing, where the contrast between the masculine and the feminine is brought to the surface.
Perhaps one of the rooms in which the works exhibited were better integrated in the space was the one occupied by Mad is Mad, a local gallery located minutes away from the fair.
Assaf Iglesias and Frédérique Bangerter’s fine drawings and Berta López’s carefully arranged objects and embroidered messages occupy every corner of the room as if they were meant to be there. The dark grey tiles in the bathroom seem particularly fitting for the subtle colours and enigmatic forms in Iglesias’ works.
Although the constant flood of people entering and exiting the rooms was a bit stressful and made the experience feel a bit like speed dating, I was very impressed by the way artists transformed the space and made it their own.
Walking along the corridors and peeking through open doors accentuated the embarrassing yet exciting feeling of invading people’s privacy over and over. To me, the most interesting aspect about Room Art Fair was the intimate atmosphere created inside the small hotel rooms, which facilitated the interaction between the artists and the general public.
Visiting Casa Leibniz was a completely different experience. In its second edition, this small art fair coordinated by Sara G. Arjona brought together 13 galleries and 23 Spanish artists whose works were displayed in the high-ceilinged rooms of the Santa Bárbara palace.
The main purpose was to “create an inhabitable space to enjoy, understand and talk about new art”. It felt more like an exhibition than a commercial art fair, which made it easier to connect to the space and the works selected. These were accompanied by a group of 8 panels with texts by contemporary Spanish writers and philosophers, including Félix de Azúa and Chantal Maillard, which were purposely difficult to skim through. Visitors could decide whether or not to stop for a few minutes to read them, but they were meant to be as important as the artworks.
From the moment I entered the building, its nineteenth-century architecture and cracking wooden floors made me slow down and forget about the noisy street outside. The experience resembled that of slowly turning the pages of a carefully illustrated book. The rooms were almost empty, giving visitors the chance to move around the artworks and observe them from different perspectives, while the open windows served as blank pages where one could pause and breathe before moving to the next object.
Some of the projects seemed to fit this unique environment particularly well. This was the case with Julio Falagán’s Way Of Escape, an installation composed of several pieces of old landscape paintings. Falagán uses the old to construct a hopeful view of the present, which is nevertheless fragmented and held together by visible threads. He is interested in the sky as the last remaining free space, owned by no one in a world full of borders and restrictions.
Falagán’s work was not the only one to deal with territorial frontiers. Rubén Martín de Lucas’s Minimal Republics, for instance, dealt with the artificial and ephemeral nature of our borders. The artist intervened in three different landscapes and drew three temporary spaces that he inhabited for 24 hours. These experiences were shown through a video installation whose strange power of attraction kept me glued to the screen for a good ten minutes.
Ignacio Canales Aracil’s Ver a través made visitors literally see the space around them through the fragility of time and nature. It is easy to get trapped in the delicate web of pressed flowers that he uses to create his sculptures, which he has exhibited in several countries including the UK and Australia.
In the same room I was drawn to Gloria Martín’s figurative paintings. They were part of her project Réplica, through which the artist establishes links between her hometown, Seville, and Brussels, where she has been working recently. Her images transport us to a different realm where artistic objects from different provenience and cultures can coexist, which was precisely the aim of Casa Leibniz: to create a different time.
The longer I stayed inside the Santa Bárbara palace, the more it felt like a refuge from the outside world. Those lucky enough not to be in a hurry could enjoy the incredible experience of letting go of time to give each work and piece of literature the attention it deserved.