During the last week of February, Madrid has become the international capital of art. From February 20 to 26, Spain lives its art festival and as the director of ARCOMadrid, Maribel López, affirms, “art is always a reason for celebration”. And it is that in addition to ARCO, which is celebrating its 42nd edition these days, six other fairs are held in parallel in Madrid. Flecha, Art Madrid, JUSTMAD Contemporary Art Fair, SAM–Modern Art Salon, UVNT Art Fair and HYBRID Art Fair. All of them define Madrid as the epicenter of contemporary art internationally.
And if we add to this that the Spanish capital has three of the main museums in the world such as the Prado, the Reina Sofía or the Thyssen, Spain could become a world power in terms of art. However, the country barely accounts for “0.5% of the world art market and 2% of the European one”, points out Jaime Sordo González, president of 9915, Association of Private Collectors of Contemporary Art’. “The contemporary art market in Spain is irrelevant worldwide,” says the president of the Spanish private collectors.
For her part, Juana de Aizpuru, a veteran gallery owner who created ARCO four decades ago, in 1982, puts the dots on the i’s: “You have to have a hero’s vocation to do this work in Spain. Economically we continue to be very weak And it is that, according to Sordo González, in Spain there are barely “about 300 collectors who make purchases, in general, that exceed with difficulties 300 million euros per year.”
It is necessary to start from the basis that the contemporary art sector in Spain is “a supply market”, the president of Spanish private collectors tells La Información. It is a market with thousands of artists – only in Spain there are 25,000 registered, although only about 1,000 can live from their work -, with a large supply, many artists and many gallery owners, against a market of “very little demand”. “It is a market in crisis, where the survival of all the actors that work in it (artists, cultural curators, galleries, museums…) is deteriorated”. Thus, the crisis in the art market in Spain has been exacerbated by and after the coronavirus pandemic, basically “it is permanent”.
All this despite the figures provided by this edition of ARCO, in which 211 galleries from 36 countries participate -66% of the participating galleries are from the rest of the world- and 400 international collectors attend, “more than ever”. In addition, the fair has already reached pre-pandemic figures with 90,000 visitors. An event in which the most expensive work is a sculpture of more than 1.5 tons of steel made in 1998 by Eduardo Chillida (San Sebastián, 1924-2002), with a price of 3.7 million euros, and which shows the Carreras Múgica gallery (Bilbao). The Osma gallery (Madrid) is also selling a piece by the Basque artist for 2.4 million euros and the Mayoral Gallery in Barcelona has brought another of the most expensive pieces. ‘La femme et l’oiseau’ (The Woman and the Bird), a painting by Joan Miró (Barcelona, 1893-Palma de Mallorca, 1983) from the 1960s, whose price amounted to two million of euros. But ARCOMadrid 2023 is not just for millionaires, as works by emerging artists can also be purchased for 300 euros.
“Making money is an art”
The iconic Pop Art artist, Andy Warhol (Pittsburgh, 1928-New York, 1987) was clear: “Making money is an art, working is art, and good business is the best art.” One of those ‘lucky’ 1,000 artists who can live in Spain from his creations is Juan Francisco Casas from Jaén (La Carolina, Jaén, 1976), whose work is present in this Madrid art week. A Spanish photographer, painter and artist who, among other things, recreates large-scale photographs in oil paint on canvas, as well as in ink using only a blue pen. Drawings and paintings are hyper-realistic in style and most of them are in large format. “I am one of the lucky ones who can make a living from art, but our percentage is tiny. It is very difficult to make a living from art in the country,” Casas acknowledges.
The situation of this market in Spain “could be worse, but it is difficult”, he considers. “And also, the pandemic is the only thing we were missing, since it has slowed everything down.” countries and, furthermore, the institutional support is very small”.
“There is no collecting in relation to other countries and also, the institutional support is very little”
In this sense, beyond the media collectors and those with great fortunes -such as the Masaveu family, the Marches, Carmen Thyssen or Juan Abelló-, there are barely 300 people who maintain a commitment to art, buy works from time to time and visit national and international fairs. The collector, says the president of private art investors, “works with Maslow’s pyramid.” First there are the basic needs: to eat, to live, the education of their children, to buy a car, a house… And in the end, if they have any money left, “buy one or several works of art”. This is without counting the collections of the Foundations of large companies such as CaixaBank, Santander or Endesa, which also “have greatly reduced their artistic appetite”.
In addition, the crisis in the art market in Spain has intensified because “we have spent a few years”, after the financial crisis of 2008, “in which institutional and political collecting is equal to zero”, says Sordo. Before, in ARCO was present in the seventeen autonomous communities plus Ceuta and Melilla, “now there are none or almost none left. There are other needs.” The purchase of works of art by regional governments and city councils “has disappeared. There are hardly any continuity public institutional investors left in ARCO, CA2M, of the Community of Madrid, or the Reina Sofía Museum, dependent on the Ministry of Culture, in addition to the appearance , “sporadic”, of some Community, county or town hall.
According to the report ‘The Spanish art market in 2021’, carried out by Clare McAndrew, Marta Pérez Ibáñez, Isabel Niño Alfonso and Beatriz Niño Alfonso for the La Caixa Foundation, in Spain barely 310 million euros a year are ‘moved’ in the sale of works of art. According to the report by Claire McAndrew, a British economist specialized in the art sector who founded Arts Economics in 2005, the art market moved worldwide in 2019, before the pandemic, 57,730 million euros and there were 310,000 companies and almost 300,000 of art those operating in the sector. Of these 57,730 million euros, 44% of the total corresponds to the United States market, followed by 20% from the United Kingdom and 18% from China. However, Spain represents less than 1% of this market.