An Art Fair for the Costa Del Sol: Why Not?

Mónica de Miranda, Arquipélago, installation view, 2014-15, Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporânea. Courtesy of Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporânea, Lisbon. Booth D-04.

Art/Marbella 2015: An Art Fair for the Costa Del Sol

Marbella: a wealthy, Spanish seaside resort town with a picturesque historic core, high-class marinas, and sunny, palm dotted beaches. The popular summer spot is now enticing the cadres of international contemporary art collectors to its shores for the first edition of Art/Marbella, the first international art fair in the Costa del Sol. In the run-up to the opening of the fair we spoke to a few of Art/Marbella's key players about their ambitions for the fair, its curatorial direction, and highlights for collectors and visitors to look for.

Rodrigo Oliveira, À procura da utopia (estado actual), 2014-15. Courtesy of Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbon. Booth B-02.

After founding the Latin American art fairs PINTA New York and PINTA London, Argentinian art entrepreneur and director of the Collection Mundus Novus, Alejandro Zaia set his sights on the Costa del Sol of Spain. "Art/Marbella was born after a thorough study of and research into many topics: demographics, multiculturalism, collectors in the area, etc.," he says, "We put together all of these and thought, why not?"

Misha Bies Golas, Untitled, 2012. Courtesy of AdHoc, Vigo, Spain. Booth G-03.

Establishing a new art fair in an untested (albeit popular) region is no small task, especially considering the proliferation of art fairs and biennials in recent years adding to an already packed art calendar. To make the new fair "a premiere stop in the international cultural calendar," Art/Marbella has brought in a group of curatorial advisers, including New York-based Omar Lopez-Chahoud of the critically acclaimed UNTITLED fair in Miami Beach, Italian curator and critic Maria Chiara Valacchi, London-based art consultant and advisor Neri Torcello, and Stockholm-based curator Aura Seikkula as senior artistic advisor. Along with these various advisors, Art/Marbella has invited a number of independent curators to produce solo exhibitions and other projects, such as Portuguese curator Bruno Leitão, who is curating a special section of the fair devoted to showcasing the diversity of the current Portuguese art scene, and Rolando Carmona, who is curating a solo presentation of multimedia and interactive works developed between 1949 and 1963 by French artist Nicolas Schöffer.

Nicolas Schöffer, S.E.C. (Sculpture à Eléments Combinables) N° 15a, 1974. © Eleonore de Lavandeyra Schöffer.

While Marbella itself is not particularly well known as an art hotspot, the neighboring city of Málaga has a rapidly expanding cultural sector, particularly with the announcement of the opening of the Centre Pompidou Málaga, the first pop-up outpost of the important contemporary art museum to open outside of France. Art/Marbella's VIP program takes full advantage of the art museums in the area, Zaia told us, with "a full calendar of activities with curated visits to the CAC and the brand new Centre Pompidou in Malaga. Both are deploying a wide cultural offer in the area, and this has become a great attraction for our collectors." In addition to the museum offerings of the Costa del Sol, Art/Marbella is wooing international collectors to the Spanish shore with "an aggressive collector's program," which includes luxury accommodations and exclusive parties for a select group of internationally known collectors. Not to mention the fact that Marbella itself is an enticing and attractive location: as Omar Lopez-Chahoud put it simply, "it's a nice place to go in the summer."

Erwin Olaf, Shenzen. Portrait 2. Waiting., 2014. Courtesy of Espacio Minimo, Madrid. Booth B-05.

And while wider cultural offerings and the location's amenities are surely important, first and foremost is the art on offer at the fair itself. Lopez-Chahoud, as founder and director of UNTITLED in Miami, is distinctly aware of the importance of presentation, curation, and vision when it comes to art fairs. "I'm not involved in [Art/Marbella] the same way as I am with UNTITLED," he told MutualArt over the phone one afternoon, rather he is part of the advisory committee, "advising on what I think they should do to make it successful fair." While Lopez-Chahoud is not directly involved with the curatorial side of Art/Marbella, his recommendations and counsel will surely be felt in the way the fair is arranged and what art is on view. Quality is paramount, as well as strong projects and "a cohesiveness to the fair where you can see connections amongst the galleries and amongst the artists," he says.

Dionisio Gonzalez, Dauphin VII (from the series Dauphin Island), 2011. Courtesy of Galería Yusto/Giner, Marbella, Spain.

As one of many satellite fairs in Miami Beach, UNTITLED has the benefit of being able to offer a focused, curated selection of contemporary works. Art/Marbella, on the other hand, is the only fair in town, and therefore must offer a wide selection for the many different types of collectors that will come to the fair. To that end, modern masters will be on display along with works by emerging contemporary artists. Zaia gave us some idea of the diverse kinds of works that will be shown at the fair: "a solo show of [work by] Nicolas Schöffer, also one of Magritte, both in modern art," he says, while "in the contemporary field I may highlight a Dionisio Gonzalez show, and the new and fresh 'Madrid Now' ([a section highlighting] Madrid's emerging spaces), and 'Portugal, Contact Zone,' both curated by Bruno Leitão." This intermingling of modern and contemporary promises to prompt new connections between a diverse array of artists. For instance, the kinetic, interactive, "cybernetic" sculptures and films by French artist Nicolas Schöffer, made during the mid-20th century, may provide a fresh counterpoint to contemporary abstract paintings by, say, Spanish artist Rafa Forteza, or the experimental sculptures by Norwegian artist Anders Holen.

Rafa Forteza, Espera Sosegada II, 2014. Courtesy of L21 Gallery, Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Booth A-01.

This diversity is also reflected in the special projects on view, particularly in "Portugal, Contact Zone," curated by Leitão. "It is very unusual to find trends when it comes to art practices in Portugal," Leitão told us via email. "This is particularly interesting especially if you take into account the small dimensions of this country and its population of [just] 10 million people." A wide geographic area--"USA, Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, Australia, Spain just to mention a few"--cross-pollinate in Portugal. "There are several reasons for this to be so," Leitão continues, "firstly, Portugal's historical relation to several African countries, Brazil, and more remote places like Macau or Goa; the fact that it has been a country of both emigrants and immigrants; and that it is both the end tip of Europe but also the closest [European country in relation] to the Americas." As a result, he says, "The artist scene in Portugal is and has been very diverse; each and every artist has a very specific and idiosyncratic approach." The artists in this special section of the fair are represented by the Lisbon-based galleries Carlos Carvalho and Filomena Soares, and include Portuguese artists Rui Chafes, Rodrigo Oliveira, Manuel Caeiro, and Monica de Miranda, along with international names like Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, American Slater Bradley, and German artist Roland Fischer.

Shirin Neshat, Rapture Series (Men Seated On Circle, ablution), 1999. Courtesy of Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbon. Booth B-02.

The emphasis on curatorial activities at Art/Marbella also manifests itself with the first gathering, on July 31, of the Curatorial Program for Research (CPR), "a global, intensive research program for international curators," co-founded by curators Aura Seikkula and Carmen Ferreyra. Seikkula is also working with the Norwegian independent venue Elephant Kunsthall at this year's Art/Marbella. "Elephant Kunsthall's spatial practice is fascinating," Seikkula remarks, "The main space is a 1920s gas station but it is connected to ever-expanding sculpture park." At Art/Marbella some of the "Elephant Sculpturepark relics," by Anders Holen, Mikael Hegnar, Marte Johnslien, Fredrik Berberg, will be on view. Seikkula, who has worked with various fairs in the US and Europe, considers Art/Marbella a "valiant initiative." "As a curator I am intrigued by the fair context," she says, "which has kept on developing into artistically and curatorially more hybrid forms [for the last few years]. Art Marbella takes now its first edition directly as such a composition."

Anders Holen, installation view, Elephant Kunsthalle. Courtesy of Elephant Kunsthall, Lillehammer, Norway. Booth E-03.

"The first year of a fair is always a bit of test ground. That is obviously exciting," says Leitão. Whether Art/Marbella will become an essential destination on the international art calendar remains to be seen, but it seems that as long as the sun shines and the money flows, the fair can count on seeing a measure of success that will ensure growth in the future.

Carlos Noronha Feio, Native People of The Pacific World: dispositif XXV, 2014. Courtesy of Narrative Projects, London. Booth E-09.

Art/Marbella runs from July 30 - August 3, 2015, at the Palacio de Ferias in Marbella.

--Natalie Hegert