Madrid Scene

Transforming the city and its artistic traditions

October 27, 2014

MADRID - As a foreigner living for five years in Madrid, I’ve observed and participated in some important changes in the city’s milieu. When I arrived in 2009, the need for change in Spain was urgent. The 15-M Movement anticipated what would become the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street, and the millions of people who took to the streets clamoring for a new political system did not leave the art scene unaffected. It could be said that many of the changes that have happened up until today are due to the Spanish crisis, which forced both artists and cultural agents to go a step further from the established commercial circuit—that for decades had maintained an artistic production centered around the ARCO fair—to jump into the abyss in search of new experiences and a renewing energy.

Another factor that has motivated and continues to encourage change is the Museo Reina Sofía which, since Manuel Borja-Villel came on as its director, has clearly centered its interests on research, social movements and Latin America, looking from a madrilèna viewpoint toward a region that is characterized by success despite being presented from the worst perspective, and constructing artistic scenes despite its institutions and beyond any rules.

Next I would like to mention those agents, many of them foreigners, and projects that have emerged in the last few years that seem to be the most potent in terms of their capacity to transform the city and the art world’s traditions.

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Rodríguez-Méndez, Crece la cabeza. Subir. The Window, Madrid, 2014
Rodríguez-Méndez, Crece la cabeza. Subir. The Window, Madrid, 2014

Today in Madrid, there’s a sense that what’s really important for the artistic development of the city will not happen in large institutions, but rather in spaces on the street, between the market and the bar, or even in artists’ homes or studios that are opened up every now and then to receive colleagues. One of the main initiatives of this style is SALÓN, which takes its name from being the salon and studio in artist Ángela Cuadras (Spain) house; as she points out, the space is the last frontier between the home and the street. This exhibition space emerged from the idea to show proposals by artists and curators, establishing a closer and more relaxed link between them and the public than occurs in galleries, encouraging discoveries and conversation. In the time it has existed, a number of important and influential curators and a large group of intergenerational artists, such as Carlos Maciá, Misha Bies Golas, Antonio Ballester Moreno, Maria Cerdá Acebrón, Pep Vidal and Jose Luis Cortés Santander, have participated in SALÓN.

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Espacio Salón. The exhibition PRENSA DIARIA, curated by Daniel Silvo and featuring the works of María Cerdá Acebrón and José Luis Cortés-Santander. 2014
Espacio Salón. The exhibition Y ASÍ SUCESIVAMENTE featuring the works of Pep Vidal for Salón. Curated by Bernardo Sopelana. 2013

Another type of space that has appeared recently uses shop windows that face the streets. The pioneer was FRÁGIL, located on Espíritu Santo Street in the Malasaña neighborhood in the city center. From the start, it has been directed by different Spanish curators who change every season, among them Andrés Mengs, Virginia Torrente, Natalia Urbina, Giuletta Speranza, and Guillermo Espinosa. Currently headed by Cristina Anglada, FRÁGIL has invited dozens of artists to complete specific projects within the constraints of reduced dimensions and almost free-standing space, with only one wall and three glass panes. The recently opened ALIMENTACIÓN30, a storefront that also presents site-specific projects in accordance with its spatial limitations, is a box of no more than one cubic meter and takes its name from the warehouse at number 30 on Doctor Fourquet Street, the new gallery district in Madrid. This venture is spearheaded by the artist Valeria Maculán (Argentina), who undertook the initiative upon seeing the lack of playful and daring ideas in an area where mostly everything is aimed towards the commercial market, and who has invited unrepresented artists like Theo Firmo, Ignacio Chavarri and Hernan Paganini to participate. Both spaces function as oases from the tedium of viewing the same exhibition format over and over, the white cube with artworks on the floor or on the walls. The fact that there is no need to “enter to look” is always a democratizing option.

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Espacio Frágil. Work by Jorge Perianes. 2014
Espacio Frágil. Work by Jorge Perianes. 2014

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Proyecto Alimentación30. Work by Hernán Paganini. May 2014
Proyecto Alimentación30. Work by Hernán Paganini. May 2014

In a very different situation is OTR, an exhibition space tied to a private collection and directed by the Brazilian artist Marlon de Azambuja. This location has transformed itself into a great opportunity, as much for artists as for curators, to generate dialogues between new proposals and works in the collection. The group exhibitions tend to last for six months, two every year, and can only be visited on days during which some special event, open to the general public, has been scheduled. One of the interesting characteristics of this space is the way in which the collector is involved with the local scene, stimulating curatorial work while opening up his collection in a dynamic way that creates new readings. For many of us who interact directly or indirectly with this space, it is without a doubt a place that distinctly stands out from other gallery offerings; the exhibitions tend to be projects charged with freedom.

Many of these spaces have organized their projects based on the labor of a group of curators with a great capacity for management and response to the scene’s needs, and they are also the ones that are independently promoting interesting proposals through galleries, competitions and other initiatives set up by institutions. Among them, the work of Francesco Gavieri (Italy) and Tiago Abreu Pinto (Brazil) must be emphasized: while working for commercial galleries in Madrid, for six months they curated the project “Retroalimentación” at the Sala de Arte Joven of the Comunidad de Madrid, with the basic principle of transforming the place into a laboratory for constant experimentation. During this time, young artists, college students, curators and art critics met, giving life to the exhibitions with engaging conferences and portfolio viewings. Some of the artists who participated in the project include José Díaz, Julia Spínola, Miren Doiz, Abdul Vas, Alfredo Rodríguez, Karlos Gil and Elena Alonso.

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Retroalimentación. Exhibition view. Work: Karlos Gil, Paperweight quasicortex lentiform, 2014. Courtesy of Sala de Arte Joven de la Comunidad de Madrid. Photo by José A. Carrillo
Retroalimentación. Exhibition view. Work: Karlos Gil, Paperweight quasicortex lentiform, 2014. Courtesy of Sala de Arte Joven de la Comunidad de Madrid. Photo by José A. Carrillo

Another interesting figure, recently arrived in the city, is the curator Bruno Leitao (Portugal), who, besides circulating with artists in traditional Portuguese and Spanish scenes, is the founder of Curatorial Clube, an exhibition space that brings together curators who invite artists to create interventions in public spaces anywhere around the world. The intervention is documented and photographed in a defined format and presented with a descriptive text on their website. At the moment there are four artists whose interventions have been documented: Miguel Palma, and Joao Ferro Martins curated by Leitao, Fermín Jiménez Landa curated by Ángel Calvo Ulloa and Felipe Ehrenberg curated by Marta Ramos Yzquierdo (Spain).

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Curatorial Clube. View of web intervention by Felipe Ehrenberg curated by Marta Ramos-Yzquierdo in São Paulo, 2014
Curatorial Clube. View of web intervention by Felipe Ehrenberg curated by Marta Ramos-Yzquierdo in São Paulo, 2014

In this same vein of curators who seek to amplify the vision and landscape of the art scene in Madrid is Bernardo Sopelana (Mexico). He presented the ICEBERG exhibition at the Matadero de Madrid a few years ago, which was one of the most ambitious proposals to bring to light a group of Spanish artists, for example Nacho Martín Silva, Almudena Lobera, Cristina Garrido and Teresa Solar, who today have interesting careers. Sopelana is currently working on the creation of the CALOR residence in South Baja California, Mexico. His purpose is to generate, promote and foment contemporary art through transference, exchange and multidisciplinary research. We await the launch of CALOR in 2016 with anticipation; it will be, without a doubt, an extension of the work that the curator has been developing for years.

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Miren Doiz, Trampantojo. Tabacalera, Madrid, 2014
Miren Doiz, Trampantojo. Tabacalera, Madrid, 2014

Lastly, and indisputably, one of most interesting newcomers to the city is Ángel Calvo Ulloa (Spain). With a completely new vision, this Galician curator has connected artists with the most disparate characteristics, from different corners of Spain, in important projects like the recent exhibition Aprender a Caer, as part of the program Inéditos at the Casa Encendida, with artists like Mauro Cerqueira, Lois Patiño, Julia Spínola, Rodríguez-Méndez, Fran Meana, Emma Crichton, Ian Waelder, Ana Santos and Jeremiah Day. The title of the project signals the manner in which these artists use failure to research and start again. It’s possible that the title also winks at the current situation in which we live. The objective of Aprender a Caer was to provoke the line between works of different artists to vanish, creating the same space of experimentation between all the works and their diverse formats, in which gravity is temporarily canceled and the ephemeral moment of the fall can be analyzed.

The exhibition "Aprender a Caer" curated by Ángel Calvo Ulloa in La Casa Encendida, 2014

Logically, changes take time and work, and possibly what started a few years ago in Madrid still needs a few more years to show a strong effect on an art scene that competes internationally with cities such as London, São Paulo and Mexico City. There are many initiatives that aren’t included in this report, as well as details of the work of the many Spanish and foreign artists who form part of Madrid’s scene, and who are, we should not forget, the fundamental instrument that will make all these cog wheels function.