Before the opening of ARCO in Madrid, on February 20, 2018
The Madrid fair of contemporary art ARCO opened its doors to professionals and collectors on Wednesday, in a day marked by a controversy caused by the installation of the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra on Catalan „political prisoners“.
The organizer of the fair, the Ifema company, said in a statement that he had „asked the Helga de Alvear Gallery to withdraw the work of the artist Santiago Sierra, a request to which he has agreed“.
Sierra, an internationally known artist who usually causes controversy with his works, described the fact of „censorship“ and estimated that „it seriously damages the image of this international fair and of the Spanish State itself“, in a message on Facebook.
„Acts of this kind give meaning and reason to a piece like this, which precisely denounced the climate of persecution that cultural workers are suffering in recent times,“ he added.
Ifema alleged that the work „Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain“, an installation of 24 photographs of people convicted or investigated in relation, according to the artist, for his ideas, generated a controversy that „is damaging the visibility of the set of content that gathers ARCOmadrid 2018 „.
Affirming to have „the maximum respect to the freedom of expression“, the society considered that it is „their responsibility, as organizer, to try to distance from their development the speeches that divert the attention of the whole of the fair“.
Ifema stressed that his priority is „guaranteeing the return of investment“ to the participating galleries.
The images are pixilated photographs of characters like the ex-Catalan presidents Oriol Junqueras, in provisional prison for more than three months, investigated for rebellion and sedition in connection with the failed secessionist attempt in Catalonia last October.
Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez also appear, leaders of two sovereignist associations, imprisoned also for their role in the independence attempt.
The installation includes other people outside the Catalan crisis, such as two puppeteers who were in police custody and in preventive custody because of a show for which they were accused of advocating terrorism, evoking the Basque separatist organization ETA and Al Qaida. The two artists were released.
Born in 1966, Santiago Sierra has produced controversial works, such as when he created a „gas chamber“ in a German synagogue or used prostitutes and migrants to denounce his exploitation.
A Catalan journalist recalled on Twitter, where the messages about the controversy were widely shared, that the artist was able to expose without problems a year before works with swastikas.
ARCO, the most important contemporary art fair in Spain, opened on Wednesday for professionals and on Friday it will be open to the general public. More than 208 galleries from 29 countries participate.