ARCOmadrid is one of the biggest contemporary art fairs in Europe and the Spanish-speaking world. Finland was invited as the focus country for this year’s fair. The fair was held in Madrid from February 19th to 23rd 2014.
The Finnish participation consisted of 13 galleries and the #FocusFinland pavilion which featured two video installations by Heta Kuchka. Each gallery presented an artist’s solo exhibition at their stand. Additionally over 15 events and exhibitions were held in Madrid’s central art venues during the fair as part of the #FocusFinland collateral programme. The Finnish programme was curated by Leevi Haapala from the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki.
In international and Spanish media, Finland’s participation was described as bold, surprising and multifaceted. Overall, questions of the state of international art trade, European financial crisis and art pieces with shock-value were a hot topic in the international press.
ARCO in the year 2014 – Art fairs in an unstable economy
In February 2014 ARCOmadrid presented its 33rd edition. This year, the fair showcased over 200 galleries from 23 countries. During five days the fair was visited by 100,000 visitors, of which 24,800 visited the fair during the first two days of private view for art professionals.
Before the beginning of the fair discussion about the art fair’s relation to Spain’s dire economic situation circled in the press. In the year 2012 in Spain VAT percentage were raised from eight to 21 percent, thus bringing the taxation of cultural products the highest in all of Europe. When the VAT was lowered to 10 % in the beginning of the year hopes were lifted for the fair as being a refreshing boost for art trade.
Curator of ARCOmadrid Carlos Urroz commented in the Spanish daily paper Deia that this year’s fair attempted to be a revitalizing jolt for the art market and to bring more positivity to the art market suffering from global economic setbacks. Blouin Art Info’s Ashton Cooper writes in his article that the practical effects and application of the tax relief was still unclear, at least the fair’s artistic offering was not affected negatively by tight economic constraints. Galleries and other exhibitors luckily presented bold and high-quality art with no fear of taking risks.
Apart from the questions of economy and the state of the global art market eg. High-priced art works were the talk of the fair. Iker Seisdedos writes in his article All the Fun of the Fair (Feb 21st 2014), published in El País English-language edition, the priciest art piece in the fair was Pablo Picasso’s painting Bouteille et Verre priced at around 1,25 Million Euros. Seisdedos suspects that one of the most talked about work of the fair was Yann Leto’s performance piece Congress Topless in which behind a velvet curtain two strippers dancing “in protest at the Spanish parliament”.
Finland: home of bold and versatile contemporary art
Finnish artists and galleries gained a good amount of publicity in the Spanish and Portuguese-language press and international art publications. The local media dubbed Finland as being in the vanguard of contemporary photography and video art with examples illustrating of Heta Kuchka‘s video pieces and Perttu Saksa‘s photographs. On the other hand, for example Mia Hamari‘s original wooden sculptures gained a lot of interest, too. Finnish representation was overall described as bold, versatile and opinionated.
A number of Spanish newspapers paid interest to Riiko Sakkinen’s work, represented in the fair by Gallery Korjaamo. The artist who himself resides in Spain presented a collection of works commenting on consumerist culture and the timely economic crisis. One of Sakkinen’s pieces consisted of a large-scale neon-sign bearing a text advising the fair-visitors to “ask for Santa Claus for jobs” in Spanish. His works were covered in ABC’s and El País’ blogs and on the pages of Diario Critico. Ville Andersson was picked out in El Cultural as one of the 10 most interesting artists in the year’s fair. Andersson was described as a creator of silent, mystic images
Finnish artists gained also special recognition in the fair. Fundación ARCO’s collection of contemporary art acquired two works from photographic artist Elina Brotherus, who became the first Finnish artists in the collection. Helsinki-based artist Diego Bruno won the Illy SustainArt Prize for his video work Location. The piece, exhibited as part of ARCOmadrid’s #SoloProjects, dealt with Argentina’s recent history.
Also the extensive #FocusFinland collateral programme attracted the local media. Kaarina Kaikkonen’s large-scale installation made of second-hand clothes and Kustaa Saksi’s Hypnopompic exhibition, both exhibited at Madrid’s central cultural venue CentroCentro were covered on the pages of eg. El Economista and La Voz Libre. Also ¿FINLÀNDIA? group exhibition at Sala Alcalà and Mustarinda association’s exhibition at Espacio Trapézio were covered in the local press. Turku-based artistic duo IC-98’s Abendland exhibition at Conde Duque was selected by El País as one of the most interesting exhibitions during ARCOmadrid.
Finnish media interested in fair-goers and Finnish exposure
Helsingin Sanomat covered extensively the Finnish participation during the ARCOmadrid weekend. Kaisa Viljanen’s story Suomen taide lähti Espanjaan (Finnish art went to Spain) (Feb 20th 2014) dealt with the vastness of ARCOmadrid and also commented on the budget cuts considering Frame Visual Art Finland, the organizer of the Finnish participation in Madrid, which were announced simultaneously with the fair opening.
Aamulehti’s Teemu Järventie reported in his article Haluamme lisää valokuvia täydellisen valon maasta! (We want more photographs from the land of perfect light!) (Feb 23rd 2014) about international curators fond of Finnish photographic art and the hard work of artists and gallerists at the art fair.
Also the Finnish media covered the collateral events during ARCOmadrid: for example ,the Swedish-language daily news paper Hufvudstadbladet covered Kaarina Kaikkonen’s exhibition in the article Finlands konst en hit i Madrid (Finnish art a hit in Madrid) (Mar 2nd 2014).
Ilta-Sanomat, one of the leading Finnish tabloids, reported in Kuninkaalliset Suomi-fanit (Royal fans of Finland) (Feb 22nd 2014) on Felipe, the Prince of Asturias and his spouse Princess Letizia’s visit to the pavilion and gallery stands of #FocusFinland at the fair. The royal couple did a tour around the fair in the company of curator Leevi Haapala and Finnish Minister of Culture and Sports Paavo Arhinmäki. The couple was especially interested in Jiri Geller’s sculptural works at Showroom Helsinki’s stand.
Photos: Laura Boxberg
“Choosing Finland derives from the interesting emerging Finnish art scene, and that is what you will find at ARCO. Also the collecting of art is on the rise, thanks to Kiasma. All in all, in Nordic countries, which before did not have ahighly visible scene of contemporary art, there is a new wave of new museums and projects.”
The Finnish art seen at the fair is in line with the simplistic and unassuming national character of Finnish-ness. The art will not jump on you but trusts in its own subtle presence and draws attention of the interested. When the expectation of the ground-breaking use of techniques is added to this, one can say that there are a lot of very interesting pieces.
The Finnish participation at the fair and around the city was good quality and versatile. #FocusFinland was founded on good works and not on the cost of national branding or Finnish exoticism.
Each gallery brings something new to the table, from the intricate black and white ink drawings of Ville Andersson at Helsinki Contemporary, to Leena Nio’s massive, richly textured paintings at Galerie Forsblom, to Anna Rokka’s full-booth installation, “Mad Horizon,” at Sinne, which includes a dwelling-like structure made of burnt plastic and a floor littered with oyster shells, at once sci-fi-reminiscent and post-apocalyptic. If #FocusFinland shows us anything, it’s that Finnish art comes in all varieties — and that each of those varieties is well worth exploring.
The Finnish program provides an up-to-date and concise visual look into the country’s contemporary art scene. The works convey the knowledge of the artists on artistic traditions, as well as implications of global visual culture. The selected galleries represent an active and international vision based on an individual profile.