Arco: equality as a challenge for the future

It’s just a matter of time. It is a message from the artist Félix González-Torres that Arco has taken as its motto for the edition, opened yesterday and that will keep its doors open until Sunday. It could also define the hopes of women artists to participate on an equal footing in the contemporary art fair. In 2019, according to the data of the association Women in the Visual Arts (MAV), 73% of the artists with work for sale in the galleries were men. The rest, women. The Spanish represented only 6.1% (83 of 1,345 creators). According to the new director of Arco, Maribel López, this figure has grown up to 32% among Spanish and foreign artists. “They are still few, it is not a spectacular growth,” he acknowledges.

Although Ifema is public, López argues that “a quota system cannot be established in Arco.” But it aims to rectify the inequality that the fair has maintained in recent editions. “Years ago we didn’t talk about this in the committee. I think that the management of Arco could mark an editorial line, even if the galleries are private companies. I want to ask the committee. Not impose, but talk with the galleries. I aspire to equality and to normalize, “acknowledges Lopez.


Marian López Fernández-Cao, former president of MAV, says that the money has been in the hands of men and this is how patriarchy has been perpetuated in the market, in museums and in the “tailor-made” writing of history . “The galleries aspire to attract the great fortunes and the great fortunes are the ones that build the story, which excludes women”, this is how the expert’s cycle of invisibility summarizes. He regrets that artists like Aurelia Muñoz (1926-2011) do not leave the stores of the Reina Sofía Museum, “because they are guided by the market.” The gallery owner José de la Mano includes this artist’s work in his Arco stand. “MoMA has just bought Aurelia Muñoz’s work from the family and is exposed,” says De la Mano, who dedicates her pavilion to five female artists of the sixties and seventies and clarifies that collectors do not buy women “for profitability, no for quality. ” “But it is a mistake, because they are much cheaper,” he recalls. The works he exhibits range from 2,500 to 40,000 euros. “Investing in women today is an opportunity, because we are only at the beginning of what is coming,” he adds.


Performance 'Art Now', by Verónica Ruth Frías.
Performance ‘Art Now’, by Verónica Ruth Frías.

In Just Mad, a fair held in parallel to Arco, pieces of 87 women and 84 men will be sold. “This is not a coincidence. Feminism is changing the market trend,” says Semíramis González, director of Just Mad, who has not hesitated to react urgently in their favor. “Of course, the galleries have to apply quotas, to make the fair more democratic. They are necessary, because it does not happen naturally and women must be at the fairs. The direction of an art fair must be committed and positioned with the diversity and inclusion, “says González.

This is the line defended by the Chilean collector Alejandra Castro Rioseco, an engineer by profession, founder of the NGO Mujer Opina and president of the MIA Collection, which has been nurturing for more than a decade and already has about 900 pieces. He only collects women’s work and is passing through Spain to visit the two fairs: “It’s not that money doesn’t bet on women, it’s that the world fears women. And art is a very strong tool: fairs should being more sensitive to them. That’s why I’m worried and disappointed by Arco’s eyes, “he says. For the collector the quotas are fundamental in this change of tendency, but also the implication of the Government in demanding equality in the public institutions. “This is what the directors of fairs in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil are doing. If this director fails to impose equality we are lost,” he adds.

Arco’s management could mark an editorial line in favor of women, even if the galleries are private companies

Maribel López, director of Arco

Rising market

In the Fine Arts faculties students exceed 70% in the classrooms, but market preferences do not correspond to that percentage: between 2012 and 2018, there were sales of 2,500 pieces by some 500 female artists; In the same section, 55,700 pieces of 8,500 male artists were sold. That is what the report made by Sotheby’s Mei Moses, which draws attention to small steps: the market observes that there is a lot of economic margin to go in the low prices of women artists, while men could have stalled their path. In fact, their most precious works are already in museums and out of the market, but theirs are still to be exploited. Michael Klein, director of Mei Moses, says that women have begun to receive attention from museums and the market. Proof of this is that in the last six years they have increased their price by 72.9% on average.

De la Mano indicates another element that the market does not accept: women artists produce less throughout their careers. Why? “In most cases, they must bear family burdens. The arrival of their children means a break of a decade, which then has a hard time going back, ”he explains. The artist Verónica Ruth Frías investigates this issue in her actions. “Tracey Emin Y Marina Abramovic They don’t help by saying we can’t be mothers and artists. I want to be and that I am valued for what I do, ”says the artist, mother of two children.

Of course, galleries have to apply quotas to make the fair more democratic

Semíramis González, director of JustMad

“Collectors have never supported us, because they understand that at some point we will be mothers and disappear. It happens in all professions and, if we want to return, it costs us a lot. This remains the art of men for men and so it will remain until the economic power does not pass into the hands of women, ”says Ruth Frías. It won’t be in Arco, but in Just Mad, with a performance in which you climb a tower of art history books: “Women are not, but we want to be. And in the end, as I can, I conquer the tower of books and the story ”, reveals the artist.