ARCOMadrid 2023

ARCO, Madrid's premier contemporary art fair, has recently wrapped up its 42nd edition with an impressive turnout of 93,000 visitors, 211 galleries from 36 countries represented and an exciting new section dedicated to the Mediterranean art scene. This article will take a closer look at some of the standout works and artists from ARCO 2023.

The Mediterranean: A Round Sea program has been an exceptional initiative with artworks from 19 galleries from the region. Curated by Marina Fokidis, the program has sought to explore a collective identity and to facilitate dialogue between different points of the Mediterranean. The space, designed by architect du jour Andres Jaque, has wonderfully served the purpose with an agora-like central seating area, where visitors could gather and relax. Interestingly, this space was one of the few available to visitors at the fair, as the main seating area was by invitation only.

Highlights at the Mediterranean section included some powerful artworks by the multi-talented Semiha Berksoy (Istanbul, 1910-2004) and Sanja Iveković (Zagreb, 1949). Berksoy –an opera singer, actress, performance artist, poet, and painter– was a creative force whose approach to art was inseparable from her life, while Iveković's artistic practice includes photography, sculpture, performance, and installation, with a strong focus on gender, identity, and political issues. In her featured artwork The Right One (The Pearls of the Revolution), Iveković reflects on the gendered power structures that exist within political movements. 

Semiha Berksoy, My Mother Playing the Oud, 1958 (left)Family, Zeliha Berksoy, Yıldırım Aktuna, Oğul Aktun, 1972 (right) | Galerist Istanbul

Sanja Iveković, The Right One (The Pearls of the Revolution), 2007-2011 | 1 Mira Madrid

Another highlight at the Mediterranean section was Treasures by Berlin-based Silvina Der Meguerditchian (Buenos Aires, 1967), a beautiful mixed media installation, partly presented on the wall and partly inside a vintage table-vitrine. The artwork consisted of a notebook with a collection of Armenian folk health remedies that the artist inherited from her great-grandmother, and of objects that are building on the book like plants and seeds. The installation raises questions about issues of displacement, personal and collective memory, and healing processes. Der Merguerditchian is also the artistic director of the Houshamadyan project, an open digital archive reconstructing Ottoman Armenian village life.

Silvina Der Merguerditchian, detail from the series Treasures, 2015 | Kalfayan Gallery Athens

Two artworks in particular have left me pondering after my visit to ARCO 2023: Happy Places (2006-2014) by Sven Johne (Rügen, 1976) and Blowback / The Power by Teresa Margolles (Culiacán, Sinaloa, 1963).

Happy Places (2006-2014) is a sleek artwork that explores the topic of happiness through a collection of photographs and a supporting text. The artwork features a series of photos showcasing various islands for sale in Vanuatu, a South Pacific Island state. The text tells the story of how the artist, inspired by Vanuatu's top ranking at the Happy Planet Index, placed an ad in a local newspaper to learn more about the happiness of the people in Vanuatu. He eventually got the following response: “Hi Sven, you know what? 80 percent of our population can manage without money. Most people do not have money all year round. They still live their lives as successfully as anyone else. Money is not everything in life. Land is our life. Land is mother to us. Land provides us with life. Happy to help, Willie.” Years later, the artist found out that ten of the 83 islands in Vanuatu were up for sale.

Sven Johne, Happy Places (2006-2014), 2014 | Klemm's Berlin

Johne is a remarkable storyteller who captured my attention with his previous work, Heroes of Labour, four years ago. Klemm's gallery displayed other works by Johne including the 15-minute video On Vanishing, a captivating narration of an eleven-year-old about the island of Rügen and her ancestors there.

Blowback/The Power by Teresa Margolles is a reflection on societies where human life is deemed dispensable and the display of ill-gotten wealth is celebrated. The artwork features a glamorous evening dress reminiscent of those worn by young beauty pageant contestants in Mexico. While such dress is associated with power, Margolles warns that in reality it endangers beauty queens to fall prey to the drug cartel. The bejewelled right sleeve is a powerful symbol of this concern, as each gem is, in fact, a piece of broken glass collected by Margolles after a cartel-related shooting.

Teresa Margolles, Blowback / The Power, 2022 | Galerie Peter Kilchmann Zurich

Other artworks exploring pressing issues facing our society today included those by Alicia Framis (Barcelona, 1967) and Šejla Kamerić (Sarajevo, 1976). Framis reflects on invisible glass ceilings and veneration with Once Upon a Time There was a Woman (MALI), while Kamerić denounces prejudices and war crimes against women with her piece Bosnian Girl.

Alicia Framis, Once Upon a Time There was a Woman (Mali), 2023, Galeria Juana de Aizpuru Madrid | Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl, 2007, Eugster Belgrade


The fair has seen powerful stories conveyed through photography –see blow. Ayrson Heráclito's (Macaúbas, Bahia, 1968) wonderful shots reflecting on Afro-Bahian cultural issues have possibly contributed to earn HOA Gallery the best booth award in the Opening section dedicated to young galleries. Teresa Margolles has further documented violence with 21 photographs of small altars that honor victims of violence who have died along a 40-km stretch of road controlled by various criminal groups. Jorge Fuembuena (Zaragoza, 1979) equally documents violence with a recreation of Goya's notorious painting The Third of May 1808, while Dario Villalba (San Sebastian, 1939 - Madrid, 2018) explores homelessness. On a more cheerful note, Monica de Miranda (Porto, 1976) reflects on exploration and new possibilities with Astronaut, and Elger Esser (Stuttgart, 1967) on stillness and tranquillity with the capture of a seascape in soft light.

Ayrson Heráclito, Vodun Agbê I, 2010 | Hoa São Paulo

Teresa Margolles, 40 kilometers, 2014  | Galerie Peter Kilchmann Zurich

Jorge Fuembuena, El 3 de mayo en Madrid, 2021 | Max Estrella Madrid

Monica de Miranda, Astronaut, Path to the Stars, 2022 | Carlos Carvalho Arte Contemporanea Lisbon
Dario Villalba, Homeless | El Mundo
Elger Esser, Beauduc IV, France, 2009 | Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle Munich
ARCO 2023 has seen beautiful sculptures by Antony Gormley (London, 1950) and David Nash (Esher, Surrey, 1945) in cast iron and redwood respectively; a new hanging object by ARCO's regular Tomas Saraceno (San Miguel de Tucuman, 1973); and remarkable relief works by Olafur Eliasson (Copenhagen, 1967), Timo Nasseri (Berlin, 1972) and Pae White (Pasadena, 1963) who has exhibited further works as part of a solo artist project. A popular relief was The Kiss by duo Momu & No Es (Basel, 1982 & Barcelona, 1979), as evidenced by the large crowds gathered in front of the blown-up manga characters hairstyles.

Pae White, Middle Fauna A, 2021 | Neugerriemschneider Berlin

Timo Nasseri, Radiance #1, 2022, Sabrina Amrani Madrid | Sarah Morris, August, 2022, Galeria La Caja Negra Madrid

Antony Gormley, (left to right) Press (Block), 2020; Grasp (Block), 2019; Grasp II (Block), 2019 | Continua San Gimignano

David Nash, Figure Column, 2022 | Lelong Paris

Olafur Eliasson, Dew Solidarity, 2021 & Tomas Saraceno, GI 514 b/M+I, 2022 | Neugerriemschneider Berlin
Momu & No Es., Vesta & Pallas, The Kiss, 2022 | Joey Ramone Rotterdam
Lastly, a selection of paintings that have somehow moved me, either by the quality of the sketches, such as Robert Muntean's (Leoben, 1982) and Maki Na Kamura's (Osaka); by the choice of color by Andreas Breunig (Eberbach, 1983) –see cover, Matt Mullican (Santa Monica, 1951) and Marcus Oehlen (Krefeld, 1956); and by the unusual display of Ad Minoliti's work (Buenos Aires, 1980) that included a mural painted around the artworks.

Markus Oehlen, Untitled, 2021, Galeria Juana de Aizpuru Madrid | Robert Muntean, LJJW, 2020, Galerie Crone Viena

Maki Na Kamura, (unknown title), 2023 | Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin

Matt Mullican, Signs in the Elements of that Body (smell), 2018 | Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art Lisbon

Ad Minoliti, Tuiti, 2022; Space Cat Cafe Series, 2022; Galactic Gatoteca (mural), 2022 | Peres Projects Berlin

ARCO International Contemporary Art Fair | Madrid, 22-26 February 2023
| IFEMA Madrid Halls 7 & 9 

Previous Articles
Featured Artists
Sarah Morris 
Šejla Kamerić
Silvina Der Meguerditchian 
Sven Johne

by PS, ARCO and featured galleries. Cover picture Untitled (2023) by Andreas Breunig at Galerie Bärbel Grässlin Frankfurt

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