Santiago Sierra Denounces Censorship After His Portraits of Spain’s Political Prisoners Are Removed From ARCO Madrid
The controversial work features the partially obscured faces of jailed Catalan separatists.
Spain’s most important art fair – ARCO Madrid – opened today to major controversy. A work by the Spanish provocateur Santiago Sierra was removed from Helga de Alvear’s gallery stand hours before the VIP opening.
Titled Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain, the work consists of 24 black-and-white photographs of politicians, activists, artists, and journalists whose faces have been obscured. Although they are not named in the work, the subjects are identifiable. They include politicians and activists supporting Catalan Independence who are under arrest and face charges of sedition and rebellion, according to Spanish sources. Their features are somewhat recognizable, and descriptions of their titles and organizations appear at the bottom of each photograph, along with their criminal charges and sentences.
Sierra’s work sparked controversy ahead of the art fair’s opening, with Spanish media reporting that Political Prisoners had been visited by the police on Monday evening.
The fair, which marks its 37th edition this year, has had its share of polemical works in the past, but this is the first time that a work has been removed. The request came from Eduardo López-Puertas, the president of IFEMA – the organization that manages the fairs and congresses in Madrid and in which the Community of Madrid, Madrid’s city council, and the Chamber of Commerce participate. López-Puertas asked the veteran Spanish dealer as a “personal request” to take down Sierra’s work to “avoid controversies,” de Alvear told artnet News.
The Madrid-born artist responded on Facebook: “Acts of this type give sense and reason to a piece like this, which precisely denounced the climate of persecution that cultural workers are suffering in recent times.” In addition, Sierra says, “it constitutes a lack of respect for a gallerist like Helga de Alvear, who participated in the launch of the fair, as well as to the maturity and intelligence of the public.”
The office of the mayor of Madrid has criticized the request. In a statement, it said that the fair’s management acted without the city authority’s knowledge, stressing that artistic freedom and expression “must be fundamental” to ARCOmadrid.
The Madrid-based dealer de Alvear insists this is not an act of censorship, however. “IFEMA and the government must not want conflict, and it’s less complicated to remove it,” she said. She is “completely used to these situations” with Sierra, whom she considers one of Spain’s best artists.
Currently, the work is being held by IFEMA, de Alvear said, but she appeared unconcerned. She had already sold Political Prisoners for €80,000 ($98,000) to an unnamed collector. Meanwhile, a 500-edition booklet featuring the work is still on show and has been selling like hotcakes for €10 each ($12).
IFEMA said in a statement that it acted responsibly as an organizer “to try to take away from the development [of] controversies that divert attention from the whole of the fair.” It insisted that it acted “with the utmost respect for freedom of expression.”
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artnet News, February 21, 2018
Retirada de Arco la obra de Santiago Sierra
Retirada de Arco la obra de Santiago Sierra que define como “presos políticos” a Junqueras y los Jordis La dirección de Ifema, donde se celebra la feria, pidió a la galería Helga de Alvear que dejara de exhibir las 24 fotografías para “evitar polémicas”. El creador denuncia “la censura” de su pieza La dirección de IFEMA remitió a los medios el siguiente comunicado para explicar su decisión: IFEMA ha solicitado a la Galería Helga de Alvear la retirada de la obra del artista Santiago Sierra, petición a la que ha accedido. La institución ferial, desde el máximo respeto a la libertad de expresión, entiende que la polémica que ha provocado en los medios de comunicación la exhibición de estas piezas, está perjudicando la visibilidad del conjunto de los contenidos que reúne ARCO Madrid 2018, y por tanto, es su responsabilidad, como organizadora, tratar de alejar de su desarrollo los discursos que desvíen la atención del conjunto de la feria. IFEMA persigue con ARCO Madrid configurar una feria comercial de alcance internacional, con un objetivo de fomento del coleccionismo, primando garantizar el retorno de la inversión y esfuerzo que hacen las galerías participantes.
Spain: Art Fair Removes Piece Titled ‘Political Prisoners’
Santiago Sierra – Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain (detail)
Santiago Sierra – Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain (detail)
Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena called the decision a “regression in democracy.”
The work by Santiago Sierra, a prominent Spanish contemporary artist, has been removed Wednesday by the International Fair of Contemporary Art in Madrid, or ARCO, to avoid “controversy.”
IFEMA, the fair’s organizing entity censored the piece arguing “the controversy in media outlets generated by the exhibition of these pieces is affecting the visibility of… ARCO Madrid 2018.” IFEMA nevertheless claimed they acted “with the utmost respect for freedom of expression”
The artist’s studio counters the claim, arguing in a public statement “acts of this nature give sense and truth to a piece like this, which precisely denounces the environment of persecution that cultural workers are enduring in the last years.”
Sierra’s piece, Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain, consists of 24 portraits of people “condemned for their ideas.” Among them are artists like two puppeteers detained for a presentation during Madrid’s carnivals and environmentalist activists.
Political pro-independence figures were also represented, including Oriol Junqueras, former Vice President of the Government of Catalonia, and Jordi Sanchez, member of the National Catalan Assembly and political party Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), and businessman Jordi Cuixart all of whom were imprisoned in 2017 for supporting a popular referendum on Catalan independence, held on Oct. 1, 2017.
Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena did not attend the inauguration of ARCO Madrid Thursday in protest against the decision to remove Sierra’s piece, calling the decision a “regression in democracy.”
On Twitter Carmena expressed her disappointment. “Art helps us understand what’s around us. We don’t agree with the decision made by IFEMA in #ARCOR2018. Freedom of expression is the air that #Democracy breaths,” she wrote from her social media account.
The decision by IFEMA surprised Mayor’s office, which was not consulted in spite of being one of the entity’s stockholders. Rita Maestre, a spokesperson for the city of Madrid said they have summoned an urgent meeting to “rectify the decision.”
teleSUR, 22 February 2018