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Thirty years of the Marlborough in Madrid, the gallery that changed contemporary art

Francis Bacon had raised the hare during one of his last long seasons in Madrid. The great expressionist artist was not only walking around the city, but was also going to be the protagonist of the exhibition with which the London gallery Marlborough, founded in 1946 by Frank Lloyd, opened its headquarters in the Spanish capital at the end of 1992. Death he met Bacon earlier, in April of that year. Even so, he had already done his part so that a group of artists, among whom were Alfonso Albacete and Blanca Muñoz, would look up at their works for a moment, attracted by the curiosity of knowing how a gallery whose trajectory and projection was unprecedented in Spain.

Until that moment, Juana Mordó, Nieves Fernández and Fernando Vijande were some of the gallery owners who dominated the contemporary art market in Spain. His promotional work stayed within the country. For this reason, the landing of the Marlborough, which marks 30 years in 2022, was, at first, a shock. Pierre Levai, the manager of a gallery that had Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko or Robert Motherwell in his portfolio, arrived in Madrid.

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The embrace of Genovés and the Marlborough gallery

In the Orfila street gallery, Albacete, one of the creators who renewed figurative painting in Spain in the late seventies and early eighties, recalls the first meeting he had with Levai. “They had told me that he had a bad temper and I told him so. I explained to him that with a gallery I am willing to do anything but that I could not bear to be yelled at ”, says the painter. Levai “was surprised”, although it was well known at that time that his first meeting with Bacon was a blow from the artist.

That conversation ended with the signing of a contract and the purchase of a painting by Albacete for Levai's personal collection in early 2000. Around that same date, the gallery owner visited the studio that the sculptor Blanca Muñoz had in Puente de Vallecas , in Madrid. She was surprised, recalls the artist, that her hands were so well cared for, given the harshness of her work. “I told her that she needed all the fingers to stay alive,” she recalls. “On January 1, 2003 I signed the contract.”

The sculptor Blanca Muñoz before one of her works at the Marlborough. Kike For
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Levai did not land alone in what was the third stop of a brand internationalization trip that included New York and Tokyo. He created a team that serves as a safety net for many artists. “Most of the galleries in Spain cannot afford it”, Albacete points out, who assures that since then he has a support that “does not exist in the plastic arts, contrary to what happens in other disciplines, such as the industry behind of cinema or music ”. Muñoz shares the opinion, although he clarifies: “In Marlborough you have certain things, for example, a catalog, something that most galleries no longer do. But the investment depends on the artist. It is a lifetime risk. You are always on the tightrope ”.

This is how they felt when the confinement began in March 2020. Albacete began to review old projects. Muñoz moved to live in his workshop even though it was not conditioned: “I found myself a mattress and settled there.” Both, accustomed to working with the horizon of an exhibition, felt, once again, on the edge of the precipice. “The projects have continued and that has given me energy,” says the sculptor, who has premiered one of her pieces in the new Plaza de España in Madrid. The two knew that when everything passes they will continue to have the rooms of the Marlborough to exhibit, as they now do until February 5 within the exhibition Year Zero . To “reset”, explains Claudia Manzano-Monís, the gallery's sales manager, “with what was learned in the pandemic and forgetting, in part, what happened.”

Genoese and the advance party

Juan Genovés, the gallery's first signing before arriving in Madrid, was able to benefit from a different context and time. It was the sixties, full dictatorship, “the Spanish art scene was miserable,” said the artist in an interview in Newsfresh. It was his painting of a crowd reflecting the fear of a country at the Venice Biennale that caught the attention of international experts. “I was starving without a gallery owner. Frank Lloyd asked me if I wanted to work for them ”, recalled the author of The Embrace . From that moment, Genovés was able to live off his art and his family had a livelihood, recalls his son Pablo, also an artist: “Juan could not have endured with that painting against the regime, nothing commercial, very harsh.”

The artist Alfonso Albacete before one of his works in Marlborough in Madrid. Kike For

Then Antonio López and Lucio Muñoz would arrive. The latter “had been left somewhat helpless with the closure of Juana Mordó, about eight years passed before he exhibited again in Madrid. It was the second exhibition at the Marlborough ”, recalls his son Rodrigo, who defines the house as“ a gallery of artist friends ”. Muñoz also benefited from the tranquility of the exclusive contract he signed in the 1990s. “It may seem that it ties up an author because it prevents him from negotiating on his own, but at the same time allows him to focus on his work,” he says. “Also, it may sound very silly, but the other very good thing that he supposed was that he was able to exhibit in that wonderful place that is the Orfila street gallery, with soaring ceilings suitable for my father's work.”

That space that Rodrigo Muñoz remembers is a showcase that changes every few months and from which the work of artists on the payroll is projected, such as Soledad Sevilla, Luis Gordillo, Juan José Aquerreta and Juan Correa, among others. It is another of those privileges that new generations must necessarily look for in social networks. “This world has replaced galleries or the support of art centers,” says Albacete, who acknowledges that it is not his medium or his language. “Many younger artists promote themselves, visit studios, live together in workshops, get an audience thanks to the networks. The other test is the NFT ”, Muñoz accompanies. “If it weren't for these advances, artists wouldn't exist. As has happened throughout history. Living off art is very difficult ”, concludes the artist. “Art cannot be separated from the time in which it lives”, ditches his partner.

Year Zero

Collective exhibition. Marlborough Gallery. Madrid. Until February 5. Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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