Arco Madrid goes Dutch

The Netherlands is the guest country at this year’s edition of the contemporary art fair The big-name collectors remain the real VIPs

Dutch artist Gabriel Lester’s 'Melancholia in Arcadia (memory of my dear friend)'.
Dutch artist Gabriel Lester’s 'Melancholia in Arcadia (memory of my dear friend)'. GALERÍA FONS WELTERS

Surprising as it may sound, artists are not the main thing at a fair like Arco — much less the visitors. In fact, not even the gallery owners are all that relevant at Spain’s most important contemporary art showcase. No, the people to watch out for are the collectors. They are the bread and butter of this type of event, and their numbers provide a fair estimate of just how interesting any given art fair really is.

By this rule of thumb, Arco 2012 seems ready to rise to the challenge, even in such a financially dark year as this one. Shortly before Wednesday’s opening session, 280 foreign collectors had confirmed their presence, including several very prominent ones.

Most of them come from Europe — increasingly, Russia — and the American continent. In fact, the lack of a strong domestic market means that artists and galleries’ hopes are pinned on the visitors from abroad, who are carefully catered for during their Madrid stay. This “most-wanted” list features names that normally only turn up in the business section of the papers, while others occasionally appear in the media showing off their possessions.

This year’s collectors include Farhad Farjam from Dubai; Mera and Don Rubell from Miami, whose collection is currently on display at the Santander Foundation in Boadilla del Monte, Madrid; and Joop van Caldenborgh, from the Netherlands, this year’s guest country at Arco.

Multiplicity is the chief trait of artistic life in the Low Countries, and as such, the Dutch contribution to Arco covers a broad spectrum of styles.

To speak about Dutch painting, in Spain at least, is to bring to mind the work of Hieronymus Bosch, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Two of Madrid’s leading museums, the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, own splendid pieces by the Dutch old masters. Much less is known about the country’s newer artists, although little by little they are making a name for themselves among the Spanish public.

One case in point is René Daniëls, the most respected of the Netherlands’ new breed of artists. His work can be appreciated at the retrospective that the Reina Sofía museum has organized at the Palacio de Velázquez in Madrid’s Retiro park. The other great figure of Dutch modernity is Iran-born Navid Nuur, whose work is on display at Matadero de Madrid. His eclectic installations, featuring little figurines made with Plasticine and neon, investigate new fields of light.

What do these and other Dutch creators have in common? The recent history of the country is a leading example of peaceful coexistence among different cultures, races and ethnic origins. And even if that banner of tolerance is under threat from the far-right political representation in government, it is not likely to disappear from the free, open way in which the Dutch look at art and culture. The 14 participating Dutch galleries at Arco and the artists they represent are a perfect example of that.

Every year, the Dutch government awards 25 grants to Dutch artists and as many again to foreign artists. Selected candidates get a working space and the material they need to carry out their project over the course of a year. In the case of the foreign artists, their own governments typically contribute to the scholarships as well. This hotbed of talent has produced most of the artists who have represented the Netherlands at all major cultural events, such as the Venice and Istanbul Biennales. Meanwhile, Dutch galleries cooperate with these young artists by displaying their work.

The budget cuts announced for 2013 for prestigious Dutch cultural institutions have people in art circles expressing their concern over the future of initiatives such as this.

Arco Madrid 2012. February 15 to 19 at IFEMA, Madrid.

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