A court of first instance in Madrid has come to the conclusion that there is a lack of transparency in the selection process ofas participating galleries in Arco, the contemporary art fair that takes place every year at the Ifema fairgrounds in Madrid and whose 2019 edition starts on the 27th. Last November, Judge Carlos Ceballos determined in his ruling, which EL PAÍS had access to, that there is neither transparency nor equality in decision-making about the more than 150 galleries that form part of the tour of national and international art every year. "It is evident" that the "principle of transparency of selection" that should govern a public body such as Ifema is not met (its majority control is in the hands of the Community and the Madrid City Council), says the ruling.
The cause started during the preparation of Arco 2016, when the gallery My Name's Lolita Art, of Madrid, was not admitted as a participant. That year, 258 applications were submitted and the last exhibitor to be admitted occupied the 163rd position, following the evaluation of the selection committee. The applicant gallery was ranked 247th. When the owners of the trade asked to know the breakdown of the score of their candidacy, Arco refused, because "it is not possible to know the score awarded by each member of the committee," says the ruling, which is silent on whether it should have been selected to the denouncing gallery.
There is no trace, then, of the vote given to each candidate. Because each member (up to 14 gallerists chosen by Arco management, who participates with voice but no vote) issues its verdict on the project presented each year in a terminal through a computer record and from that vote nobody keeps proof or trace. It simply reaches the chairman of the committee, which adds up all. The members deliberate individually about the presented project, the program of the gallery, the exhibitions they have done in the year and the collections in which their artists are. Applicants must pay 300 euros for choosing to be selected. Carlos Urroz, director of Arco, signs the minutes of the scores, without the breakdown of the points awarded. Of that, the judge determines that "there is no concurrence or equality or transparency if the breakdown of the points is hidden".
In their lawsuit, the people in charge of My Name's Lolita Art assure that the decision of Arco and Ifema "suffers from an absolute lack of justification and transparency" and are "arbitrary and discriminatory". In fact, the magistrate points out that, "without the breakdown of points obtained and awarded by each member of the committee, it can not be controlled, even if there has been a simple arithmetical error in the sum of the points". And what is worse, "with the scant information given to the applicant, it is impossible for him to know if his project has been judged fairly," adds the judge, who recalls that in 2001 there was another similar judgment against Ifema for exclusion of exhibitors in Arco 1999 (directed by Rosina Gómez Baeza).
The Arco management has appealed the ruling that ensures that its procedures are not transparent. "The normative [que regula la contratación pública] it does not apply to the selection of the galleries, "they pointed out last night to EL PAÍS, sources of the fair's management, who claimed that they were" impeccable "in the selection. They do not share that the principles of publicity, competition, equality and non-discrimination are violated. For now, they will not rectify the process. "Do not break down the score awarded is not to violate transparency. We will review this situation if it is considered necessary to know such a breakdown, "said the sources.
Danger of censorship
This form of selection – without reasoned explanations on the exclusion – indicated by the magistrate opens the possibility of a practice of pressure against the most daring exhibitors in their proposals, according to some artists complain. Yann Leto, who in 2014 assembled Congress Topless – that is, the Congress in balls -, where he denounced the anti-abortion policies of the PP (then with all the control of Ifema), assures that the following year the direction, through the committee, decided exclude its historic T20 gallery. And they expelled her for two years. "They returned to participate with the condition that I did not expose. So I had no choice but to discretion. Now I have returned, but with pictorial work ". For his part, Eugenio Merino, who in 2012 mounted in the DNA gallery the famous Franco in a soda fridge, said that in 2013 he was expelled from the fair in retaliation. Last year, "Political Prisoners" of Santiago Sierra was removed from the stand of Helga de Alvear.
For the judge to be invited in a sentential manner to foreign galleries, without going through the committee, it seems to be skipping the rules because "they do not foresee any exception". "They must submit to what everyone submits to," he concludes. As if that were not enough, he says there were personal conversations between committee members and some galleries. "That is discriminatory, because it allows only some of the gallerists to have that personal contact to influence the meaning of the members' vote," he concludes. "There was no equal treatment", he finishes.