Fairs Market Spain

Arco’s ‘animo’ appeal

Madrid fair marked by improved mood, as well as confusion over VAT rules

The 33rd edition of the international contemporary art fair, Arco Madrid, opened last week to what the Spanish were calling “animo”—an improved mood. The veteran fair is considered the most important commercial event for Spain’s galleries and has historically been well-supported by the state. However, the difficult national economic environment in which Arco has operated for the past few years means its organisers have had to be aggressive in developing the fair’s appeal more internationally.

As such, Ifema, the fair’s organisers, invested 20% of their €4.5m budget to bring international collectors, curators, museum heads and journalists to this year’s event. As a result, contemporary art galleries from London to Peru came to Madrid to take advantage of the fair’s network. Giancarlo Scaglia, the director of Peru’s influential Revolver gallery, said that he came to Arco “for all the interesting people” it attracts. He brought an installation by Elena Damiani, Excavaciones, 2013, to the separately-curated #solo projects section and his gamble seems to have paid off: the work sold for $36,000 on the first day of the fair to a private collection in Asia.

In truth, the fair has always had an international appeal. Arco began to build a bridge between Latin America and Europe long before Art Basel Miami Beach entered the scene, says Victor Gisler, the director of Zurich’s Mai 36 Galerie. His gallery has exhibited at the Madrid fair since 1989 and Gisler considers his booth at €7,500 very affordable: “Every year I make a [new] introduction [to an artist] and build up something. I am not under too much commercial pressure. You can’t do that in Miami or New York.”

This lack of pressure means that galleries could be more adventurous. Felipe Dmab, one of the directors of Mendes Wood, a four-year-old São Paulo based gallery, said that the fair “is not for selling but for building relationships” (as seems to have become the trend these days.) Many of the videos by their star artist Paulo Nazareth that they brought to the fair were not even for sale. For Dmab, Arco is about “talking to curators and museums”. And she did sell too: a set of five small pencil and watercolour drawings by Daniel Steegmann (Sprout, 2014) sold for $18,000.

Local support was also back. Héctor Zamora’s three-channel video installation of a performance at last year’s Istanbul biennial was available for €12,000 at Brazil’s Luciana Brito gallery booth. The work won Arco’s young artists award and will become part of the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo’s permanent collection. Funded by the Regional Government of Madrid, the Centre also houses its contemporary art collection.

This year’s fair was also marked by confusion over the country’s recently changed tax rules surrounding art. The Spanish government’s announcement that it was lowering VAT on art sales to 10% from 21% a few weeks earlier did not apply to gallery sales to the public, as most Spanish newspapers originally reported, but only to the first transaction, from the artist to the gallery.

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