What is contemporary art? Two-way conversation with Estrella de Diego and Dolores Jiménez-Blanco

An interview with conservator Estrella de Diego and art critic Dolores Jiménez-Blanco to talk about contemporary art. Conducted by Sara Valverde and translated by Ilaria Baratta.

We present an interesting interview conducted by Sara Valverde for Descubrir el Arte on the occasion of the thirty-fourth edition of the contemporary art fair ARCO in Madrid,which was held from February 25 to March 1: we talk about contemporary art. The translation is mine. Here is the link to the original. Happy reading!

Once again this year, galleries, collectors, conservators, museum directors, and citizens from all over the world gathered in the halls of Madrid’s IFEMA complex to discover contemporary art creation. However, an art fair such as this also serves as a showcase to sound out the directions toward which contemporary art will go in the coming years. Descubrir el Arte interviewed ARCO collection superintendent Estrella de Diego and art critic and essayist Dolores Jiménez-Blanco to gather opinions about some significant issues at the fair.

With the breaking of canons and the overturning of the traditional concept of beauty, what values nowadays define the aesthetic quality of a contemporary work?
DOLORES. This is quite a difficult question to explain, especially when in contemporary creation there is no definition of either art, beauty or quality. Perhaps one criterion to refer to is whether a clear narrative or idea is perceived in a work, conveyed in a way that makes communication between the work and the viewer effective. We must also take into account something impossible to quantify, which appeals to everyone’s sensibility and produces aesthetic satisfaction.
ESTRELLA. In my opinion, the criterion of aesthetic quality does not exist today, the canons are dead, and I would say that quality is conferred according to the work and the eye of the viewer. Certainly, the fact that certain conservatories choose different paintings than other conservatories depends on many factors. However, as Gombrich said, we do not know what the Baroque is, but we do know that it is not the Renaissance, and by that I mean there is always a something that says this is good and the other is not; it is a purely intuitive criterion.

At what point did Latin America, from being a periphery of the artistic avant-garde, become its nerve center?
ESTRELLA. It has long been that the center of the avant-garde has been Latin America. Europe and even New York are no longer crucial places for either production or buying and selling. I would even say that now galleries and the art world are looking around to consolidate in other places. Regarding the Latin American presence at the ARCO fair, it is a fortune that the fair has been banking on for many years; until the Miami Art Basel fair appeared, ARCO was the referent for Latin American art. This year Colombia as a guest country is very interesting because it was among the last countries to rise up and rightly now has what is not present in Europe: aid and grants for cultural creation.
DOLORES. Latin America has always been present at the ARCO fair, perhaps in a less obvious or less obvious way. And even in museums like the Reina Sofía in the 1990s, under the direction of José Guirao, there was already a clear working line with Latin American art. Perhaps the difference is that in the past it was less prevalent and now there is a boom.

Ola Vasiljeva, Last seen entering the Biltmore
Ola Vasiljeva, Last Seen Entering the Biltmore.

And about the presence of women artists in ARCO, why does it continue to be so minority in 2000?
DOLORES. We still feel the consequences of the years of inequality. And nothing more recent than the case of the new Greek government can show that; they want to hypothetically make a new policy and change the European paradigm, and it turns out that the ministry consists of twelve men and no women.
EXTRELLA. Exactly, and in 2015, on top of that, women are earning less than men: we have achieved almost nothing. And even art, as a reflection of today’s world, has introduced this preconception. It is clearly noticeable in ARCO, where the problem is not with the director or any particular office, but is a general issue; both gallerists, collectors as well as conservators must make an effort to bring women artists to light when choosing works.

What new collector profiles have arisen with genres like video art?
DOLORES. Nowadays collecting has changed in the sense that it is no longer a matter of aspiring to a work just to contemplate it, but now the collector accompanies the artist on many occasions in the production process. He helps him on his path and tries to insert himself in his biography. An obvious example is the Colección Jozami (exhibited last year in the Museo Lázaro Galdiano), in which the Jozamis, the collector couple, share the experience of producing video art with the artists; they even have a creative role in deciding what is the best medium to play video. One of the highlights of today’s collector is exhibiting his or her collection, and it is like laying bare one’s own criteria for choosing works, but the truth is that each time more is done and it is something very useful for society.
ESTRELLA. The paradigm shift is evident, especially when the collector is planning how to display the video, since it is largely disseminated on the Internet. It is a different approach that began to develop in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and is gradually gaining more importance. In addition, one must take into account that private collecting is increasingly tending to be public. Perhaps, the problem in Spain with regard to some public collections lies in the fact that they have been sequestered for 40 years in the midst of the progress of modernity; not having bought what one would have liked to acquire, so today we would not have these shortcomings, as happens with Picasso. Also, people started collecting video art for the same reason that people bought photography in the 1970s-1980s; they are cheaper and more modern works.

Is culture in general, and art in particular, changing with the moment of political and social transition?
ESTRELLA. I think the change has been One and Three Hammers (ed. note: title of a work by Joseph Kosuth), today’s exhibitions are not so different, nor so attractive (paraphrasing the title of Cristina Garrido’s work at La Casa Encendida’s #Generación2015 exhibition). I don’t think there has been a radical change; we keep going back to the ideas of the 1960s and 1970s. And that is not to say that there are no interesting artists, but I think we are more post-conceptual. For example, witnessing is in fashion, but it was already being done in the late 1950s. In my opinion, one of the fundamental problems is that often the exhibition discourse serves as a railing for making avoidable projects; you argue well for something that maybe as a work is not so interesting. But maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know.
DOLORES. I agree with Estrella, there seems to be a lot of changes, but actually not a single one. We have come to a fixed point and here we continue to move, even if you are more inclined still to combine art and life, as the avant-garde proposed, to be closer to the people; in spite of that, the public never understood this art and actually this tension between the viewer and the contemporary artwork continues. With this we return to the beginning of the conversation: it depends on the work and the viewer, but it is not all good, there is always something that makes a work distinguishable.

The interview ends with a positive prediction about ARCO; the slight improvement in circumstances has lifted spirits at the art sector.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.