After a Saturday trying to see as many booths as possible at ARCOmadrid stepping into Urvanity Art was a breath of fresh air. A welcome break from the crowds and airplane hangar experiences that are a necessary evil of fairs around the world, Urvanity was housed in the beautiful Palacio Neptuno and brought together 17 galleries from around the world. Urvanity's manifesto is to create a platform for a New Contemporary Art that helps foster a dialogue, encouraging reflection on modernity and our place in contemporary urban life. Having at times trudged through ARCOmadrid the day before the bright spaces, and overwhelmingly bold, thought provoking, and engaging work on display ensured that I spent hours in what is essentially a very small fair.
Upon entering I was instantly drawn towards Vroom &Varossieau's fantastic booth. While probably best known as representatives for iconic artists such as Banksy and Blek le Rat, who were both on display here, the real star of their space was Belgian artist Jaune. Jaune is a stencil artist who builds streetscape compositions, celebrating the unsung heroes of our urban spaces, namely the street cleaners who keep our cities clean.
Having just held his first solo exhibition in Amsterdam, aptly titled I Wish You Could See it for Real, Jaune is on the up and up in the contemporary art world. Having seen some pieces floating around online I was aware of his work but they are a whole other beast in real life. Jaune playfully highlights the anonymity and invisibility of the teams of people cleaning the streets, suggesting that in your high visibility suit you are paradoxically invisible and free to turn the city into a playground.
Once I managed to drag myself away from Vroom &Varossieau's booth I was immediately pulled towards Montreal's Station 16 Gallery, and particularly the incredibly detailed cardboard sculptures of Laurence Vallières. Laurence's work skirts the politics of consumption in fairly traditional ways, encouraging the viewer to critically engage with the pieces and question, through the material process of gathering and making each piece alongside the overt imagery often present, contemporary consumption and cultural production.
While this approach in the art world is nothing new, and nor does it need to be, it is Laurence's skilled hand in making the pieces that is so captivating. Each piece is built from strips of cardboard, which are carefully wrapped around a frame and built up into their final shapes. One of the most interesting things about the way Laurence works is that she has the freedom to travel without art works, and by collecting cardboard in each city she visits her works are localised (Photo credit below - Alfonso Herranz).
One of Barcelona's most interesting and hidden art galleries, Fousion Gallery, were also present showcasing a number of their artists including two of my favorites in Miss Van and the amazing Peca. Peca's work, described as pop surrealism, transports the viewers into another world where her sculptures take on meaning, limited only by your imagination. I have loved her work for a long time, and I have to say Peca has a particular talent for giving the illusion of life to her sculptures, a talent that is sometimes lacking in the dead glassed eyes of many artists. But my god, Peca has got a natural talent for reproducing the soul of her creations through the eyes and her creations are recall the fantasy of childrens stories come to life.
A final port of call, and one of the reasons I decided to go to Madrid at the last minute, was at Urban Art Gallery Stuttgart's booth to see the works of Marc C. Woehr. Marc's works assume the perspective of the city planner, as layers of paper are meticulously cut by laser before being reconstructed as a topographical representation of space. While initially beginning his explorations on the streets, building on works of artists like Boris Tellegen (aka. Delta), Marc's studio work has seen his compositions develop, becoming more complex as they layers have built up.
The parallels with the urban environment are manifold in his work, and as some one who has always been fascinated with the ways urban planers abstract life our of the city, I feel Marc's works actually have a utopian quality that is transmitted through the more vividly colorful pieces, where I see the colours as the spaces where we find comfort and space to grow within the city. Sometimes this is at the outskirts, sometimes juxtaposed to a darker mass on the map. But there are always space. I find this comfort in Marc's works, though I suspect this is my anthropology/geography brain going into over drive.