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16 February 2013
ARCO 2013

What functions ought an art fair to fulfil in the 21st century? Are the galleries redefining themselves at the same speed as other art agents? And the institutions? Are art fairs and galleries becoming one of the few remaining platforms where independent/multidependent curators can work?

This is a time when art, culture and the economic system that we know, of the world, are being redefined. Each and every one of us has to reconsider who we are. A few days ago I read the book Funky Business that had some very graphic details: “Inevitably, new roles demand new skills. Thirty years ago, we had to learn one new skill per year. Now, it is one new skill per day. Tomorrow, it may be one new skill per hour. Skills like networking – in 1960 an average manager had to learn 25 names throughout his or her entire career; today we must learn 25 new names every single month. Tomorrow, it may be 25 new names per week (and half of those are likely to be names from different languages)”.

This is our present. And it is the present of ARCO. ARCO was born in 1982. It was the start of the eighties and the beginning of the mental and cultural opening of Spain. Several generations of artists, critics, curators, gallerists and collectors have grown up with ARCO. Internet has not always existed (though it’s hard for the very young to imagine it) and we’ve not always had access to what happened on the other side of the world. It was at ARCO where I saw, for the first time, an amazing installation by Thomas Hirschhorn (at Chantal Croussel’s stand) and it was at ARCO where one could listen to Harald Szeemann participating in a round table discussion. Over these years, ARCO has fulfilled an important social and educational role.

But it’s also true that it has had difficulty re-defining itself amidst the proliferation of all the other types of fairs (that are more exotic, more emergent, more powerful and more sexy) all across the world. In the meantime, the frontiers between fairs and biennials are increasingly blurred (on one occasion we even talked about ferienales).

We don’t know if the team directing ARCO 2013 has asked itself these questions. Quite probably, but we also know how hard it must be to try to adapt to new requirements when dependent on limited or fairly inflexible structures. It must be something like what happened in the car industry. It’s clear that the future lies in electric cars, but meanwhile, who dares to dismantle the car industry, as we know it today?

So what stands out about ARCO 2013? There is the sensation that there have been sales and purchases. Despite the 21 % VAT. And, lets not forget, selling is one of the main objectives of a fair. ARCO is still a meeting place and a good reason to travel to Madrid. As happens every year ARCO is the media moment par excellence for contemporary art. For better or for worse. It appears in the media, but in a fairly banal way. No problem with banality, as long as it can coexist with a broader range of approaches.

Subjects announced with much fanfare such as the QR codes with which to obtain more information about the artists or online sales end up being barely relevant. That the catalogue has a widely distributed online version is however significant.

There haven’t been any memorable stands, but there is a very balanced level of quality and rigour that is worth highlighting in those of ProjecteSD, Ellen de Bruijne, ADN, Àngels Barcelona, Nogueras Blanchard, Maisterravalbuena, Chantal Croussel and Esther Schipper, to mention just a few.

One aspect that distinguishes ARCO from other fairs is the emphasis on curatorial proposals. Here it’s particularly worth highlighting the section Opening, curated by Manuel Segade and Veronica Roberts, that works in two directions: making it possible for young galleries to enter the fair, while bringing a breath of fresh air to the fair, new ways of seeing and doing.
As an example: the work of Sander Breure and Witte van Hulzen presented by the Dutch gallery tegenboschvanvreden. Three actors play the role of gallerists, in a fictitious gallery called Ansgar Lund. All the internal dynamics and tics of an art fair, as well as a few distortions, are reflected. And one detail that is important, the performance doesn’t end with the professional visiting days, it lasts until the end of the fair.

Montse Badia has never liked standing still, so she has always thought about travelling, entering into relation with other contexts, distancing herself, to be able to think more clearly about the world. The critique of art and curating have been a way of putting into practice her conviction about the need for critical thought, for idiosyncrasies and individual stances. How, if not, can we question the standardisation to which we are being subjected?

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