Art Fair Madrid 2021
Post pandemic art fairs
With health and safety concerns, ARCO and JustMAD have made the decision to postpone to July when the others maintained their dates. Here are some impressions from visiting the art fairs in this year’s special art season.
This is the 40th edition of ARCO, the largest art fair in Southern Europe. It’s a special event for many people in the art world: it is the largest art part of the Spanish art market, as most transactions are done during this ARCO week.
This year ARCO opens in mid-July for the very first time. After almost 40 years of showcasing the most carefully selected artworks from all over the world, ARCO 2021 is facing some challenging circumstances – fewer galleries, more restrictions and summer heatwaves striking at 41 degrees celsius.
The continental weather does not make Madrid the most popular tourist destination in July. However, it is a peak month for many coastal locations like Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. Apparently, this year ARCO would not attract art lovers who plan to stay close to the sea.
Every coin has two sides. Because the competition to show at ARCO is less furious this year, some younger galleries get the chance. After opening for just over two years, the Beijing-Berlin based gallery Hua International was selected for ARCO 2021, making the fair more international and diverse.
This year ARCO is also presenting a selection of new galleries more than 2 years old but less than 7 years old in order to ‘boost its image as a fair for discovering national and international creative talent’. The wording on their official website is slightly odd, but I get the message. Throughout the general programme and curated sections, they allow younger galleries in, as a part of their ‘innovation and discovery’ plan.
Arco is known for the Latin American vibe:
- 33% of the galleries come from Spain.
- 22% from Latin America.
- 45% from the rest of the world.
Women in Arco
The presence of women at ARCO gains some strength in a fair that in its last edition left the usual data: only 7% of the artists at the fair were women. To balance this, ARCO has the “Artist Projects section” solely dedicated to women with p to 28 spaces.
The Drawing Room 2021
The Drawing Room is an art fair dedicated to drawings and sketchings. This 6th edition took place at the Santa Barbara Palace just like in the previous editions, bringing 13 art galleries from Europe and beyond. Among all the art fairs, it is the smallest art fair but also the most focused. The home-like venue makes the Drawing Room an intimate niche art event.
Niche Art Fair
Last year Drawing Room attracted more than 10,0000 visitors. This year due to the pandemic it might be less (data not released yet) but not by far. It is a popular event among local collectors who are passionate about works on paper. At the inauguration, a performance went live at nightfall, turning Santa Barbara into a live house.
Specification versus size
However, its size was well compensated by its ability to present itself as a niche art fair. As the name suggests, the Drawing Room is about drawings and other works on paper. It’s not about video art, photography or oil on canvas. This is very clear and very nicely presented. I believe going niche has better value than growing larger in size. The value of the Drawing Room lays in its ability to attract like-minded collectors who have a passion for drawings. I totally felt the click when I visited the Drawing Room.
Parallel to the main event, the Drawing Room also hosted a two-week-long online art fair. Due to the limited space in this two-story house, the Drawing Room might be considered a risky event for people with health concerns. Making the art fair available online is a smart move.
More International Please
8 out of 16 galleries participating in the Drawing Room art fair come from Spain. As a small art fair, you might not attract a lot of foreign galleries. Nevertheless, More international galleries would bring diversity and interest in this event. One gallery whose staff did not speak a word of Spanish. They had to run out to get materials translated on the same day in order to cope with Spanish-speaking visitors. If the fair has an official translator on site, it might attract more international galleries and visitors.
“Room” to Improve
Looking into the press area and found the contact of the press officer as an outsourced communication agency. The Instagram of this agency has only 661 followers, while the Drawing Room has 6799 followers. Followers don’t mean much, but not having many followers means that you are missing out on some great opportunities. It is a small fair, but it could have a big impact. The Drawing Room has a lot of space to grow in terms of an online presence.
Last year I was very impressed by the Drawing Room for the ‘best bang for your buck’ art fair. This stays true this year. It was only a little over 3000 euro to participate in this 5-day fair. Many old participating galleries returned happily, thinking it was a bargain. The Drawing Room had found its market segment among other art fairs by offering something special to both galleries and collectors.
The 5th edition of Urvanity was hosted at COAM (El Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Madrid), just like in 2020. It’s marketed as a ‘new contemporary art fair’, but it was often referred to as the urban art fair. Just like last year, it occupied two floors of the COAM school, a conference hall and the patio. 25 art galleries attended. Many of them were loyal supporters of the fair dating back several editions.
Urban art theme
Live DJ, art talks, outdoor sitting combined with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages from the sponsoring brands are the iconic elements of Urvanity. Thanks to the large outdoor area, it provided a relaxing environment that matches well with its urban art theme.
Safe and clean
The event organizers have employed some heavy security and cleaning staff. When you turn around, there is at least one person with a bottle of detergent and a cleaning cloth, ready to clean after the visitors. At first, it looked like it was some kind of performance art. The attempt to keep the place safe and clean was much appreciated.
Hotel Art Fair Madrid
Hybrid art fair is known as the ‘hotel art fair’, a disruptive art fair that takes place in the hotel rooms. You can appreciate artworks in a home setting and have a conversation with your favourite artists. Every year for 3 days, Hybrid brings us the most affordable, intensive and eccentric art event in town.
This year’s Hybrid had some major changes – its location. As a consequence, its entire look and feel also changed. Previously it was hosted at the boutique hotel chain, Petit Palace, just across the road from the Drawing Room. This year it moved to a brand-new legendary 4-star hotel, Hotel Riu overlooking the Plaza España.
The changes received both positive and negative feedback. On the bright side, Hotel Riu helped organizers clear some beds away, allowing more space for artworks and visitors. This was not possible in Petit Palace due to the limited storage room. On the negative side, it took away some of the intensiveness and intimacy of a hotel art fair. However, taking into consideration of the health and safety risks, Hotel Riu is a much better choice under given circumstances.
Artists don’t have to be represented by galleries
I met two art collectives in the fair, and I asked: how long have you been collective? One answered: just since this year (for two months), another one said: just for this weekend. I am sorry? An art collective made just for this weekend to share the cost of this fair?
It made me question the selection process: if a temporary artist collective could qualify, anyone who pays could qualify? In this case, if I were the organizer, I would save a few rooms just to make independent artist show. This way, artists don’t have to make fake groups just to come here.
If Hybrid wants to stand out, it needs to be edgier: such as allowing an independent artist to attend, or include more art activists… Or play with the fact there is a bed, to promote the idea of privacy and art… There are many possibilities.
The hybrid art fair doesn’t just stop after this 3-day event. There is an off-season art event called Hybrid Festival dedicated to hosting art exhibitions in alternative spaces. The 5th edition Hybrid Festival took place in March 2021 in 17 alternative spaces.
Art Madrid 2021
Like the previous edition, 2021’s Art Madrid celebrated its 16th edition at Galería de Cristal, just behind the iconic cultural landmark, the CentroCentro. It gathered 33 galleries from Spain and overseas. Due to the travel restrictions and safety concerns, mainly galleries from Spain participated in this year’s fair.
A Parisian Touch
When entering the Art Madrid art fair, I immediately thought of another art fair. The nice sunlight and glass ceiling reminded me of the good memories of visiting Photo Paris at Grand Palais in Paris. It was a very nice location, very spacious and bright. Many visitors were French-speaking, which gives the illusion to be in Paris.
Swimming pools and seascape
There wasn’t a defined theme from the organizer’s side, but the market has its own agenda. You can find artworks depicting water in various forms – from swimming pools, rivers, lakes to the sea. It’s not surprising – collectors in mainland city like Madrid are desperate to see some blue over the next few months. This answer to the market demand is a positive sign – ‘This is not a biennale’ said a participating artist, ‘we are here to do business.
Visitors were required to reserve their tickets and visit during their chosen timeframe. Thanks to the large venue with high ceilings and contactless ticket system, visitors surely had peace of mind visiting Art Madrid.
An Emerging Art Fair
Art Madrid has a long history and is sometimes considered the little brother of ARCO. It has artists from all disciplines and galleries from all over the world. The main differences would be: more affordable and more emerging.
Similar writing style to ARCO
The way of writing is just like the communication of ARCO. Art Madrid is trying to use the contemporary art language to communicate something young, emerging and affordable. The intention is nice, but I think there must be better ways to do it. If they could come up with a new way of communicating their message, Art Madrid could transmit a stronger message.
Art Madrid faces fierce competition as an emerging art fair. If emerging galleries want to grow online, they will have to cut their art fair budgets. Art Madrid has a solid history, but they can’t ignore many contenders who try to take its place.
JustMAD (July 2021)
With more than 50 galleries, they are bigger than the other art fair off, but yet nothing equivalent to the big daddy Arco. Their approach is dedicated to emerging artists and they merge it with art residencies.
Local art scene
While low-cost airlines are bringing geographical mobility to a larger population, affordable art fairs like JustMad are showcasing affordable contemporary art to local collectors. JustMad positions itself as the emerging art fair version of ARCO, following similar curatorial lines but featuring more local galleries (mostly Spanish, a few European). JustMad is a good opportunity to connect with the local art scene and source your favorite local galleries if you have recently moved to Madrid.
JustMAD art fair gives more attention to the people than the artworks. Go on its website and you will notice the portraits of the curators and its sponsors more than the artworks. If they want to support the emerging Spanish art, they should put art in the spotlight and sell it hard. Another problem is that JustMAD has put itself in a somehow awkward position from the beginning – as inferior to ARCO, instead of the alternative to ARCO. In 2017, their curatorial note said: ‘last year I was in JustMAD, this year I am in ARCO.’ This comparison would really hurt their potential in many ways. By the way, ARCO is already giving out an emerging art award sponsored by a large alcoholic beverages company. If you are fond of art or don’t have the time or energy to take a trip out of the city center for ARCO. Then yes, JustMAD is a good option. If you are already exhausted from visiting ARCO, you can skip this one.