In preparation for ARCOmadrid, one of the most anticipated events on the art world calendar, artbahrain’s Joe Schwarz caught up with director Carlos Urroz to discuss ARCO’s current state of affairs and his plans for the Spanish capital’s International Contemporary Art Fair’s 35th anniversary.

You’ve been the director of ARCO for five, almost 6 years now. When you were appointed in 2010 you spoke about a new direction for the fair. The challenges you face in an ever changing economic environment and competition with online art fairs. Now that you’ve had reign over the program for a little over half a decade, how do you think you have faired crafting ARCOmadrid into the organization/event that you envisioned when you began?

Over these last 35 years, ARCOmadrid has been a meeting place, a market and a space for dialogue that helped to generate and promote the national art scene and to recognise more distant, emerging scenes at the hand of the curators; it has been a commercial fair that has brought business to galleries; a singular meeting point for critics and theorists, curators, collectors and museum directors; and a space to discover artists. Throught these last six years we have worked to bring a good mix of European and Latin American galleries while inviting more and more private collectors but also museums and institutions, while presenting a program that promote modern and contemporary art as well as Madrid as a top destination for the arts.

Over the years ARCO has never failed to disappoint, are there any programs going on that you’d like to bring light to?

This year we have an exciting program of events in place to celebrate ARCOmadrid’s 35th anniversary. The new program Imagining Other Futures, devised by curators María and Lorena de Corral, will showcase an extraordinary grouping of leading and historic galleries, celebrating those whom have contributed to ARCO over the years. The fair will spread into the city with Año 35. Madrid, curated by art critic Javier Hontoria, and will highlight Madrid’s public institutions using both typical and atypical contemporary art spaces, underlining the identity of each setting. ARCOmadrid has always devoted special attention to curatorial research and has managed to make room within the commercial sphere for thought by active intellectual agents from the art scene. On Saturday 27th February a forum has been set up to thank over 160 curators for their generosity and their legacy in their working with the fair, which is marked to be a special occasion.

This year is going to be celebrating the 35th anniversary of ARCOmadrid, and this is also going to be the first time in 20 years there will be no guest country. What are you aiming to achieve by making this decision?

This year, the program aims to a be a forum for the last 35 years of international contemporary art in Madrid and its future through an open dialogue between the Fair’s past and present. This tribute will also be reflected in the guest program which is to include renowned collectors, critics and professionals who have formed part of ARCOmadrid’s history. Instead of focusing on one region, this year the fair focuses on curated sections and activities around the city highlighting Madrid as top cultural destination.

Through your Imagining Other Futures section you explore 35 different galleries that have had strong ties to ARCOmadrid over the better half of 3 decades. What went into the decision making process behind the artists chosen?

This year the project will involve many of the leading figures who have contributed to bringing content to the Fair over the course of its history inviting art galleries, institutions, professionals and collectors who have taken part in the last 35 editions to celebrate this unique event that seeks to combine a look back over the past and, at the same time, a vision of the future and the new generations of contemporary art, and this is why the project is called ‘Imagining Other Futures”. This new section is directed by Maria and Lorena de Corral and by the curators Catalina Lozano and Aaron Moulton, who studied the programmes of the selected galleries analysing their quality and contribution to ARCOmadrid over the years, and their role in the international contemporary art market. There will be two artists highlighted from each gallery, often from different generations, providing a unique content and opening space for dialogue between artists who are part in the fair’s history and others that envisage their future.

As technology becomes more prevalent with its involvement in the art world how has ARCOmadrid adapted to this rapidly changing environment?

ARCO has always been creative in terms of producing new models for the development of the fair and to provide access to all. That is a very important aspect of the fair for us. We keep growing and investing in its online presence and digital communication, especially with its international audience. As with previous years, Artsy will be exclusively hosting the online preview, working as the go-to destination for collectors to research and enquire on the works before the physical doors open to the public. With a strong social media presence, not only around the times of the fair but throughout the year, we can effectively distribute online catalogues and all related information on our website, making everything more accessible. We also work closely with online platforms to create mobile access to the content and the program of the fair. This engages people, motivating them to travel to Madrid and get to know our fair, galleries and artists.

Despite ARCOmadrid’s emphasis on 35 years of excellence this year, the “Opening” section consists of galleries all under 7 years old. This creates strong imagery when you talk about “Imagining Other Futures” which is, as I understand it, the emphasis of this year. There is obviously considerable thought that goes into the gallery selections and the messages you are trying to portray. Would you say that art fairs like this are just as much an art form as the art works themselves?

In the development process, ARCOmadrid, apart from being a very well known and established art fair worldwide for 35 years, is constantly working on new, different and more innovative ways to present and promote art. By highlighting new artists and galleries through the Opening section we are creating further links in the industry while opening spaces for further dialogue and exploration by welcoming these younger galleries in the ‘ARCO’ family, selected by Juan Canela and Chris Sharp. Hence, we can say this innovative process and approach can be as creative and engaging as an art form itself. Art fairs are a platform for exploration, participation and promotion. We, together with the galleries present at the fair give artists and curators the space to discuss and explore their practices while creating a scenario that is inclusive to the public and collector.

ARCOmadrid is known for being a creator-centered research fair. What measures are you taking this year to reinforce or cement this perception?

Since 2014, we have created a program throughout the fair’s main section called Solo/Duo. With this we are encouraging galleries to present only one or two artists to encourage the exploration and discoveries of artists while getting in-depth knowledge of their work. Also, ARCOmadrid has always devoted special attention to curatorial research and has managed to make room within the commercial sphere for thought by active intellectual agents from the art scene. The celebration of the Fair’s 35th anniversary provides an opportunity to thank over 160 curators who have cooperated with the fair throughout these years for their generosity and legacy through a forum that will be celebrated on Saturday 27th of February. Also, as in previous years we will have different discussion and network panels and spaces, some open to the public, in which art professionals will be able to discuss and exchange knowledge and expertise.

You’ve put a lot of emphasis on educating collectors and want-to-be collectors about the art market and how to start or enhance their collections. Tell me about some of the initiatives you’ve begun and how that theme will carry through into ARCOmadrid.

ARCO always provides an independent service offering professional advice on buying art at the fair including a personalised visit plan specifically designed to suit the needs of collectors who are just starting out. This year, through the First Collector Program, those that are new to collecting and investing will have personalised access based on their profile with the opportunity to learn more about artists’ newest creations. ARCOmadrid is also launching a series of video pieces by ARCO Foundation, protagonised by contemporary art collectors and professionals giving their keys to building an art collection. The objective is to create a training platform that will raise awareness and knowledge about collecting, along with the new online courses on Collection made available by ARCO Foundation.

Last years ARCO brought in 50% more new collectors as well as 29 new galleries. These advances despite struggling in years prior are incredibly impressive. Obviously you’re aiming to go even bigger with the 35th anniversary. Could you describe the environment/atmosphere of ARCO as we approach the launch of the fair on Feb 24?

Due to our long term dedication and interest in helping new collectors grow and investing in contemporary art, we are always searching for ways to engage with more important collectors and also help new collectors to start buying. ARCOmadrid attracts over 300 international collectors which we plan to build on this year by inviting new emblematic collectors and with our endeavour to incentivise acquisitions by the main collections and foundations.

Looking forward, as ARCOmadrid continues to grow, where do you see the program heading in the future and where would you like it to go?

ARCO aims to strengthen the relations and ties within the art market globally, from investors to galleries and curators to visitors as well as expanding its reach, with the next step being the launch of ARCOlisbon, taking place from 26 to 29 of May in Lisbon, with more than 40 international galleries on board, helping to raise the value of the Portuguese cultural scene. In the meantime ARCOmadrid continue to strengthen its position on the international art calendar. We are working more now than ever to bring international institutions, collectors and and galleries to Spain as well as supporting and promoting the local art scene.