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Interview with Lourdes Fernández, director of ARCO

AfN: After one year of hard work, being the center of attention, and, no doubt, under a lot of pressure, the first ARCO under your management finally began. How do you feel?

Lourdes Fernández: I am already quite satisfied, yesterday I would have said "overwhelmed"... Today everything was running fine, the opening of the first professional view was very good, and I hope that it continues this way the rest of the day.

AfN: How did you come to the art world and how did your career develop until ARCO?

Lourdes Fernández: I studied History of Art and afterwards a master's degree in Museology. After my studies I was more related to museums, but not that long. I finished my degree in Museology in Florence, and worked for one year in Musée d'Orsay in París. Then I began to have contact with galleries, I used to come to ARCO, and collaborated with some of them... From 1989 to 1994 I worked in Marlborough Gallery in Madrid, then in Galería DV in San Sebastián, and after that I ruled the Manifesta biennial.

AfN: When you became the head of ARCO, the fair was already 25 years old, and had an outstanding position in the international contemporary art scene. In your opinion, which has been the main contribution made by your predecessors to the fair, Juana de Aizpuru y Rosina Gómez-Baeza? What would you like to be yours? Which is your main challenge?

Lourdes Fernández: Well, I think their contribution was absolute, as a whole. The fair exists thanks to both of them. To Juana, because she started it, and especially to Rosina, who continued the little work already done, and brought it to its current position. So the main challenge for me is to maintain the fair at least as it is in this moment.

AfN: Which is no small thing

Lourdes Fernández: I agree, no small thing.

AfN: As main objectives and focal points of ARCO you have mentioned the focus on professionalization, and three main issues: internationalization (towards Asia and Latin America, in fact, Korea was the invited country this year and Brazil will be next year), collectors and content. What will be your strategy in each of these points?


Lourdes Fernández: We have already began with the internationalization, as ARCO always did. We have 50 new galleries, among them 47 foreign galleries. We are encouraging collecting activity through agreements with corporations that own fantastic collections of contemporary art, and we hope this will have a multiplier effect. Now we provide the professional collectors with two days, because we believe it's important for them to have the chance to see the works of art with calm, buy them, etc. We are open as well to the general public, as we want to transmit a wider knowledge in art.

AfN: Regarding the content in the three sections: General Program, Projects and The Black Box, would you like to add something else?

Lourdes Fernández: We are working on a different structure. We will have new pavilions next year, so that will lead to a new structure of the fair and therefore of these sections. We are working on it. I expect I can give more information about it soon.

AfN: Within the internationalization, will ARCO keep on increasing the proportion of foreign galleries?

Lourdes Fernández: I never talk about proportion between Spanish and foreign galleries. To become internationalised means not only that having foreign galleries, but also foreign collectors, and relationship between all the galleries taking part in the fair. That means, to be an "international" art fair, an open market, not exclusively focused on the spanish scene. Thus, it is not a question of quota, but a question of quality. If one day the spanish galleries become better than many foreign galleries, there would be a bigger proportion of Spanish ones. But this question of quality should be asked also on the other hand if we achieve the maximum quality with less Spanish galleries. Our criteria is, above all, the quality, the excellency.

AfN: Do you expect to surpass the growth in sales of 13% from last year?

Lourdes Fernández: I am very optimistic, so I told everyone yes. The market is going fine, but I'd rahter be prudent and wait until we see how did everything went to answer categorically. People seem to be satisfied today, and the professional schedule of the fair runs until tomorrow. There are very important purchases to be hold... and in addition there will be many collectors at weekend buying art at a different level, I mean not 100.000 or 200.000 or a million euros priced pieces, but a collecting that helps pretty much the fair to be maintained. However, we must be prudent.

AfN: 2007 will be a transition year and in 2008 some changes will take place. What innovations are to be seen in the next ARCO?

Lourdes Fernández: There is a lot of work to do, because it's very easy to talk in general terms, but we have to work the detail. For example, the work that must be done with the corporations is a very hard, intensive, slowly process of conviction that art has an important role also in the business world. The internationalisation process of the fair is also complex, and it has to be done slowly but surely. You know, first I say something, then, people must believe me. I am not a sprinter, but a long-distance runner. Rosina did the same with the institutions. Spain was once a country without institutions. But slowly they started to be involved in the market. Each region in Spain created its Art Center, each Art Center its collection. This institutional open process has to be enlarged with the corporations. That will encourage a private collecting. But this is not a work for the next ARCO edition, or the one after the next. Hopefully in 2008 we can say "there are ten new corporations collecting art". But as I said, this is a work to be done slowly, as a long-term objective. That is the future of the art market.

AfN: ARCO belongs to the most outstanding fairs around the world. Lately many new fairs have been created, and some of them, like Basel Miami or FRIEZE, have displaced the rest. How do you intend to face this strong competitors? What are ARCO's chances to remain in the front row?

Lourdes Fernández: ARCO has to remain as a first rate fair. It is true that ARCO is not Basel, but comparisons are odious, and I'd rather say that we are a high level fair. I also assume, without being humble or pessimist, that it is true: Not only art fairs are increasing everywhere. This discussed globalized world brought many changes. Art Fairs have an increasing prominent role, because they constitute a meeting point. Everyone wants to organise an art fair, because lots of things happen here, it is worth for the galleries to go to several art fairs, even more if the gallery is not placed in an big city. The scene has completely changed. As you may know better than me, internet has changed the way of knowledge and cultural exchange among the people. We have to face up with this great challenge: how to re-establish ourselves to remain in this privileged position. That is why I insist in mentioning the Latin market. I think that we have now a couple of working fields and we have to focus our biggest efforts on them. I will do my best to achieve it, although this world is changing so fast that what I tell you know can be replaced with other strategy in three years.

AfN: In many cities, it is being increased the formula consisting in a main consolidated art fair complemented by additional art fairs focused on other points of view (as it is seen in Berlin, Miami, London or Basel.). They cooperate among themselves and even the city throws itself into promoting them together, expecting to be the thematic focus in the art world. In Madrid a new art fair called Art Madrid has emerged simultaneously to ARCO, but we haven't seen so far what I would call collaboration among themselves. Why didn't it work here fluently? Is there enough market for more art fairs? Can you imagine this scene in Madrid in the nearly future?

Lourdes Fernández: I don't want to go into this subject in depth. For example it is not the same to establish a relationship between Art Basel/Volta Show and ARCO/Art Madrid. Volta show is a parallel art fair, more radical or contemporary in some sense. Art Madrid is not about that. It seems very good to me that Art Madrid exists, they know it. There is a free competition market, and ARCO is the excellence. Art Madrid is a concept that has nothing to do with us. And it is not about being interest, it is just that Art Madrid covers a sort of gallery and a sort of art that it is unlikely to be seen at ARCO. I am happy that they created an Art Fair of such characteristics. And regarding the question about how an art fair would encourage other proposals to be held in parallel with the show, I think it would have to be done in the same terms of quality and level of ARCO. Sounds commercial, but we have to offer the same product.

AfN: So you mean they wouldn't work together.

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Lourdes Fernández: That's it. Art Madrid is not a complement nor a competitive element for ARCO. It has nothing to do with us, but I mean it with all my respects. It is good that they exist, it is good to have another market. But there is no point of comparison with Art Basel/Volta. Volta is a small, wonderful, exclusive art fair, with a small group of fantastic galleries.

AfN: Have ARCO received any offer from one of these new "satellite art fairs" taking place around the main fair in different cities?

Lourdes Fernández: No, ARCO is following its own strategy. As I told you, slowly but surely.

AfN: How do you see Spain in an international context, regarding to art market, production and art trends?

Lourdes Fernández: This question would need a very complex analysis... I think Spain is in a very good position, maybe because we needed to prove our capability and therefore we made a bigger effort than other countries such as Germany or France, that rest on their laurels. I think Spain is in a fantastic creative moment, its economic situation is very good, and it seems that our need to claim a position in the international scene made ARCO stronger than other fairs. But regarding the art market, we live in a very young country, and we still have a lot of work to do, starting from me, as the new Director. We have to promote private and corporate collecting, our museums have to be even more serious… I think we still have a long way to go, but there's also much that is already done. We are in an enviable position if we take a look to other European neighbours who have always been a step ahead. France for example is in crisis, whereas Spain is now very strong. As I told you, that need of achieving a good position required us to work double.

AfN: Do you have a personal definition of quality in art? Which requirements must an artwork fulfil to make you call it "good"?

Lourdes Fernández: I have always said that art is knowledge and passion. As long as you know more, you become more sensitive. You know why this passion is caused, and therefore you feel if there is or not an idea behind the artwork. There were a lot of artists in the gallery who told me "I could paint since I was a child", and I used to tell them "Ok, you need to know how to paint but also what to paint ". There are brilliant artists regarding technical skills and brilliant artists regarding ideas. I think a great artist combines both characteristics, that's the greatness of art.

AfN: Thank you very much, Lourdes.

Lourdes Fernández: Thank you.

Interview : Patricia Blasco
Translation : Manuel Caballero & Raúl Molín López

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