The art supermarket. ARCO&Co

In 1982, Juana de Aizpuru, probably the most important and influential gallery owner in Spain today, decided to create a contemporary art fair in Spain. Before this, the Movida had awakened the country from a cultural lethargy that had lasted too long. But on an international level, and especially in the art world, we were still in line in many aspects.

After several years managing her gallery in Seville, supporting and acting as patron of young artists (she created a scholarship for this purpose), Juana de Aizpuru decided that Spain deserved and was capable of managing an international contemporary art fair to the height of the circumstances. It is her. She is Juana de ARCO.

Preferably consume before…

What is contemporary art? Sorry, a better question: when is contemporary art? Although the start and end dates of most artistic periods are always blurred, they are framed within events or artists’ lives that make them easily located. Contemporary art, however, carries with it the handicap of being “today’s art”, so its definition and dating varies with time.

We can call contemporary art (there are authors who do it) to that developed by living artists, but it is difficult to say that the works of Basquiat or Juan Muñoz are not contemporary art. At the other extreme, there are those who even consider that this art is the one developed in the Contemporary Age, which, let’s remember, began with the French Revolution. This would mean that Goya’s “La maja desnuda”, for example, is contemporary art.

arco basquiat
Self-portait, 1984, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Source: Flickr

When ARCO was born, it exhibited pieces ranging from the interwar period to those made in the recently released 80. Even today, in contemporary art fairs and museums you can find many works of the twentieth century, but if you want to remain faithful to its name, for these fairs everything done before the year 2000 begins to have near its expiration date.

Art Weekend

It is evident that it is no coincidence that most contemporary art fairs in Madrid take place during the same days that the IFEMA hosts ARCO. This year on 27 and 28 February and 1, 2 and 3 March will take place in the capital of Spain, in addition to the already named ARCO, the least media Just Madrid, Art Madrid, Flecha, Drawing room, Hybrid Art and Urvanity Art, among others.

But what can we find in these fairs, can we see what is being done, nowadays, in the world of art? Are they a faithful and representative sample of emerging art? Probably not. Because yes, evidently there is current art (although not everything is) but with certain characteristics. Not all current art is valid for a fair. There are two objectives that art fairs have above all: to sell (offer), and to instill in potential buyers the idea that what is sold there, and nothing else, is what they have always wanted to buy (generate demand).

A few years ago, in the midst of the crisis, the need for fairs like ARCO to sell was so pressing that emerging art was conspicuous by its absence, in favour of small works by established artists. Thus, sketches, drawings and small pieces of the Picassos, Chillidas, Mirós… crowded the stands, as collectibles, a safe investment guaranteed by the firm at a price not too excessive because they were not large-format works.

Quarter and a half kilograms of Warhol

The truth is that if the value of a product in any market is subjective, in the art market it rises to maximum power. Everything is clouded between the interests of artists, buyers, curators, curators, gallery owners, critics…

arco warhol
Andy Warhol. Source: Wikipedia.

Andy Warhol is the clearest exponent when it comes to the production of artistic objects. He called his studio “The Factory” and lubricated to perfection a machine that he produced tirelessly. He eliminated from the works of art two concepts that had traditionally defined them: exclusivity and manufacturing. Instead, he created serial works of art. In 2013 in Sotheby, one of his works, “Silver car crash [doublé disaster]” was sold for 105.4 million dollars. The paradox is that Andy Warhol himself left written phrases like “an artist is one who produces things that people don’t need, but he – for some reason – thinks it’s a good idea to offer them to them” or “I like money on the wall. Suppose you’re going to buy a two-hundred thousand dollar painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up and hang it on the wall”.

The bill, please

In 2011 the art fair Just Madrid, in one of its first celebrations, was nurtured by a special spontaneity, you could see truly contemporary artists, in innovative formats. It took place in an empty flat in the middle of the Salamanca neighbourhood, like a cry of rebellion in a too civilised world. In 2012, Just Madrid moved to a 5-star hotel garage, that is, the basement where high society keeps what it doesn’t need. And the items were again hung from the walls and climbed onto pedestals.

The installations and works that dialogue with the space and with the spectator to become objects disappeared. Because objects can be weighed, touched and wrapped as gifts. The objects can be put into a plastic bag that costs 0.05€, and the fuller the bag, the more you feel like you’ve made a good purchase.

arco just madrid 2011
Just Madrid, 2011, Velázquez, 29. Author

But how much does a work of art cost? Galleries today differentiate between the primary market (works by current artists, whose value is determined by the progression and projection of the artist and the size of the piece) and the secondary market (already established art, whether old or modern, and whose value is strongly linked to the impact of the author, the number of his works that are on the market …), but in both markets there is a basic rule: price and value are not the same. The value of a work of art can be a fascinating subject, but here, regretting it very much, it is not too much of a case… And determining its price is as simple as it is obvious: the price of a work of art is what someone is willing to pay.

It is not stipulated or regulated in any way. The most expensive painting ever sold today is Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, sold in 2017 for 450 million dollars. And it is because someone paid that money for it. Is the Mona Lisa, by the same author, more valuable? Probably yes Does it have a higher price? No, not at the moment, because nobody has paid it; but also because pricing paintings like these is practically impossible.

arco da vinci
Salvator Mundi, Leonardo da Vinci. Source: Wikipedia.

Can you put a price on the Meninas? There is no insurance company in the world capable of insuring this painting today, because the value we give it is incalculable. However, in 1834, in the will of Fernando VII, the Meninas were valued at 400,000 reales, which is an incredibly low price even for the time, as this painting was not as valued then as it is today.

And it is that the time in which we live is another factor at the time of valuing economically a work.

Welcome to the 21st century

Although there are several versions of the story, the most widespread is that Anna Boch bought, in February 1890, an oil painting entitled “The Red Vineyard” for 400 francs, exhibited at the annual Los XX exhibition. One hundred years later, in 1990, someone paid $82.5 million for “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” at an auction at Christie’s in New York. Both works were painted by the same author: Vincent van Gogh.

What was known in 1990 that was unknown in 1890 to value the same author in such a different way? Did we learn so much about art in 100 years? Or is it, rather, that art is intimately linked to a society and an era?

In 1982 ARCO was a breath of fresh air and we somehow got the art world to notice us a little bit. By the way, the ticket was worth 200 pesetas. Today it’s worth 40 euros. Today, in 2019, perhaps we should ask ourselves if it makes sense to have a fair in which the art of business takes precedence over the business of art.