The mechanisms of mercantilism of the ‘80s: the role of ARCO

Course directed by Alberto López Cuenca
7 to 10 February 2005, from 7 pm to 9 pm
Optional practical session: Saturday 12 February at ARCO (Madrid)

In Spain in the early ‘80s new institutional structures began to develop for the diffusion of contemporary art based on criteria associated with the boom in the art market. Over the intervening years, we have seen that these structures, one of the most emblematic of which is the ARCO contemporary art fair, have widened the chasm between art and social life and have contributed to the creation of a self-referential ghetto, isolated from any ethical or political reflection on the role of art and culture in a complex social and cultural setting.

The aims of the course are:

1) To put ARCO in context within the process of the symbolic reworking of the national imagery that accompanied the so-called ‘transition’.
2) To underline the media presence and impact of ARCO, out of which the true influence of the event on the Spanish art scene is explored.
3) To examine the Spanish art scene in terms of what has been happening on the international level.
4) To offer some criteria on which to reconsider ARCO and the artistic practices it has given rise to.

This course forms part of Desacuerdos. Sobre arte, políticas y esfera pública en el Estado español (Disagreements. On art, politics and the public sphere in Spain), a joint research project by the Arteleku-Diputación Foral de Gipuzkoa, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona-MACBA and the Universidad Internacional de Andalucía-UNIAarteypensamiento and an exhibition project jointly produced by these three institutions and the Centro José Guerrero-Diputación de Granada.


MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY The “transition to democracy” and the urgent construction of new symbolic imagery.
• The victory of the PSOE and institutional support given to the internationalising of national art: CNE and PEACE
• The political economy of the plastic arts: from modernity as cultural resistance to art as a commodity.

TUESDAY 8 FEBRUARY ARCO and the construction of reality by the media
• Simulacrum and the mediation of experience through the media
• ARCO and its repercussions in the media
• ARCO as phantasmagoria

WEDNESDAY 9 FEBRUARY Spain in the international art scene of the ‘80s
• The art gallery as exhibition format
• The mercantile strategy of the museums and art centres
• Art as a consumer good. With the participation of Miguel Cereceda

THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY Rereading and remaking: mechanisms to open up a debate
• The holes in ARCO: removals and concealments in the historical narrative.
• Proposals for dismantling ARCO as an artistic model
• Strategies for getting into and getting out of ARCO. With the participation of Daniel García Andújar


Alberto López Cuenca is lecturer in the History and Theory of Contemporary Art at the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla (Mexico). He is a member of the research team of Desacuerdos.

Miguel Cereceda is a critic and lecturer in Aesthetics at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Daniel García Andújar is an artist.