MADRID, SPAIN.-On the verge of its silver anniversary, the International Contemporary Art Fair, ARCO, is at the top of its form, giving proof of its consolidation as one of the worlds top art exhibitions. A long career that has culminated this year with high marks from its participating galleries and art professionals, who have hailed ARCO as a rising star on the international art market. Indeed, ARCO05 is closing with all-time record sales, with an increase over previous editions of around 10%. Key factors here are the volume of acquisitions by international collections invited to the show for the first two days of exclusive viewings, especially notable in sales by Spanish artists; the satisfied sales reports from major foreign galleries; the growing interest on the part of Spanish collectors in work by artists from outside their country; high sales at the curated invitationals; and also the commercial splash made by work from the special guest country, Mexico. All of this has made the 24th International Contemporary Art Fairwhich closes today after being visited by an estimated 180,000 peoplethe most solid success in the events history.
These positive results all confirm three of the art fairs major achievements over its 24 years of existence: supporting the creation of a professional art market in Spain; promoting contemporary art collecting, an effort which is now showing signs of consolidation; and positioning Madrid as a major player within the art world.
Indeed, just hours after the shows official openingundampened by the events of that very morning aimed at overshadowing itpresided by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, along with the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, the Mexican First Lady, and other dignitaries, the art fair had already started to rack up its first major sales to collectors. Sales that only grew over the days to come, according to reports from the art galleries themselves as well as from private collectors, institutions and corporations; the galleries also noticed a significant number of first-time buyers.
These dynamic sales have been the biggest story at this edition of ARCO, which has confirmed the art fairs potential, not only as one of the main international venues for contemporary art, but also, and very specially, as a bellwether of a market on the upswing. The art market is now one of the better options for investors, whose stability has consolidated over the past two seasons, with an overall annual growth of 17%.
This commercial side, so important to a successful art fair, was alsoand this is nearly an exception to the rulejuxtaposed with the events cultural impact, which has characterised ARCO since its beginnings. Precisely its cultural importance has undoubtedly been one of the prime movers behind this event, which continues to play an important role in bringing to the public, first hand, the latest on the international contemporary scene, and introducing new collectors to the art market. This is confirmed by the large crowdsespecially the young and the artistically hipthat have thronged to the event over the last five days, and which make ARCO, year after year, the most-visited art fair in the world.
Another factor in ARCOs consolidation is its prominent professional slant, which has made it a unique meeting place within the art world. Sufficient illustration of this can be seen in the more than 200 visiting art professionals, museum directors, experts, critics, curators, and other prominent specialists from 32 countries who have made this years ARCO a great forum for exchange, making contacts, and forging agreements on the highest level.
Buyers optimism - A good barometer of the art fairs sales is its Major Collectors programme, which this year has brought together more than 200 collectors from around the world, and whose visit to ARCO05 has been marked by the buyers optimistic spirit. Their private visits during the first two days of the event resulted in the best sales figures of recent years, with many acquisitions made from a large number of galleries. This optimism was marked by growing interest in Spanish artists, not only established figures, but also young artists, who showed healthy sales over the course of the fair.
Together with these private collectors, whose area of influence extended this year to Eastern Europe and Russia, ARCO has also welcomed international institutions, with such high-profile organisations as the Trustees of Museo del Barrio, the New York museum directed by Julián Zugazagotia, curator of Mexico at ARCO, and the Friends of the Musée National de la Ville de Paris, which sent a contingent of more than 20 of its members, including important collectors. All of these have had the opportunity to visit the great international galleries as well as to get to know the new Spanish art scene, meetings which have generated significant acquisitions for their respective collections.
Spanish institutions have also had their eye on ARCO as their main source of acquisitions. For yet another year, institutions such as the Galician Centre for Contemporary Art (CGAC), the León Museum of Contemporary Art (MUSAC), the Unión Fenosa Museum, the Domus Artium of Salamanca, the City of Pamplona, the Regional Government of Cantabria, the Province of Malaga, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the ARCO Foundation, and the Picasso Foundation, amongst many others, have earmarked large chunks of their acquisitions budgets for ARCO05.
Mexico, the star of the show - ARCO has, once again, put Spain at the vanguard of the art market with work by more than 2000 artists from around the world. A wide-ranging, fresh look at the latest new art, with Mexico as the undisputed star of the show. The dynamic spirit, colour, and vitality of Mexicos art scene have been enthusiastically received by collectorsboth Spanish and internationaland the general public alike, with a pavilion that has gone beyond a merely promotional effort to rack up major sales, and important professional contacts. This unprecedentedly ambitious special guest country programme has offered visitors a historic tour of Mexicos 20th-century Modern Masters, including Rufino Tamayo, Vicente Rojo, Francisco Toledo, and Gunther Gerzso. Added to this was the great success of the avalanche of Mexican art exhibitions around Madrid, making this an exceptional opportunity to put Mexicos art scene, previously only known in a fragmented way in Spain, in its historical context. Another star turn was the result of Mexican authorities decision to bring in a modern Mexican icon: the Frida Kahlo self portrait Las dos Fridas (The Two Fridas), one of the most admired works at the entire art fair this year.
Curated invitationals well received - ARCO has had another successful edition of its PROJECT ROOMS section, one of the most brilliant curated invitationals at the event over the course of nine years of existence. This programme, the result of promotional and research efforts in new realms of artistic creation, is now a unique reference point on the international scene. Its exploration of new creative models and innovative exhibition methods has helped to make ARCO one of the most prestigious art fairs in the world.
This invitational, one of the best known, has made manifest the latest new aesthetics in art, along with another consolidated invitational, NEW TERRITORIES, which has, for yet another year, met its goal of proposing a space for emerging art from around the world. A mission that has not clashed in any way with the market, since the positive reception of both invitationals has resulted in healthy sales.
A new curated invitational was another success story this year: THE BLACK BOX @ ARCO, which presented a compact overview of new media art and the latest generation