As the airy CAN fairground reverbed with a spontaneous round of applause at cocktail hour on the closing evening featuring resident DJ Looka Barbi on Sunday 17th July, it seemed a fitting end to what had been a truly effervescent inaugural exposition on the hedonic island.
Although not completely new territory for the Balearic islands with Hauser & Wirth having opened their art centre on Menorca in 2019, Ibiza was definitely overdue the cultural touchpoint the inaugural Contemporary Art Now fair is poised to instigate. With the fair showcasing work represented by 36 galleries from 13 countries and attracting 250 international collectors the fair’s conservative size is actually pretty impressive given the fact that curator Sasha Bogojev only started contacting galleries in November of last year.
Sergio Sancho, the charismatic director of the Fair and founder of UVNT art fair in Madrid (now in its sixth year), was inspired by the location’s rich history of international creative communities and by the relatively low traffic of art fairs over the summer season. His emphasis on visitors engaging with the island as a whole and having a true Ibiza experience was encoded into the festival with opening hours strictly limited to the late afternoon and finishing early evening so that the island could be appreciated by gallerists and collectors alike.
CAN – fittingly taken from the local Ibizan dialect meaning “house of” – showcased a tightly knit cohort of young international galleries ( including The Hole, WOAW, Cob Gallery, Johansson Projects, Afternoon Gallery, and Plan X) and emergent artists reflecting the curator Bogojev’s own network that he has built up after years of association with Juxtapoz and operating as an independent curator since 2016. With works conservatively priced between $1,500 and $200,000, the commercial success of the fair was very persuasive with reports of sales of up to 80 per cent on the works on offer.
Speaking with Bogojev, his insistence that the fair’s galleries, cultural agents and associated collector base were not simply “parachuted in” to the island played an important part in the staging of the fair and his vision for its future development with a considered and comprehensive fringe schedule of events and programs running alongside the main event which were designed to integrate the visitors and start to form a strong dialogue with local cultural and creative communities. The new influx of creatives ( arriving before the pandemic but certainly accentuated in recent years with second homes quickly becoming primary abodes ) deciding to settle on the island is just the latest in a long history of creative community building on Ibiza. However, this new demographic is wealthier, less embedded in the hippy-craft past, with a stronger professional profile and is arguably more attuned to supporting the young international art scene CAN is poised to continue to promote in its future iterations. Including a Gucci-sponsored dinner at Alonso Colmenares’s organic winery and functioning farm, The Farmers Club, visits to Ibiza’s Contemporary Art Museum Museu MACE Eivissa and Ses 12 Naus foundation, an open studio with ceramicist Laura De Grinyo, and culminating with the Private View of newly discovered artist Eva Beresin at the spectacular old salt store of the collector Lio Malca’s La Nave de las Salinas, the forging of relations with the vibrant cultural Ibizan scene is well underway.
The CAN fair itself was an ode to the recent return to the figurative, with representations of the uncanny, surreal and unexpected figuration winding a strong and vibrantly coloured pathway through the fair providing an assault on the senses that very much beckoned the painterly and human, non-human and interspecies forms back into the room.
There were specially developed pieces that artists had made either consciously or unconsciously in response to the Ibizan surroundings with surreal beach-like scenes, celebrations of the hyper-sexualised human form and technicolour hedonism alluded to throughout. However, this is not to say that the fair’s aesthetic was endemically tied to its location. Perhaps as the inaugural edition, the works were naturally simply paying homage in some way to the island’s spirit and offering up a gesture of entering into an aesthetic dialogue with the location. The assault on the senses that forms the rising star of digital art Jacolby Satterwhite’s practice took the form of a wallpapered, Virtual Reality installation of queer-club Kid abandon showcased by Lundgren Gallery, Palma. 1969 Gallery’s presentation of works by Kate Meissner arrest you with their grotesque and abject human figures that somehow suck you into the surrealist vortex. Elsewhere, Jake Clark’s sardonic collection of provocative ceramics presented by Alluche Benias Gallery unsettle iconic brands such as Chanel and Prada and render the cycle of luxury consumption often writ large in the traditional, elitist art market into a nebulous handmade craft session. Milan’s Plan X showed Kalman Pool’s blow-up biological mutation Lion King as part of their booth. With an emphasis on the cute-creepy continuum the inflatable animal-emoji hybrid hovers and towers above you as a symbol of virtual embodiment and a reminder of how the physical figurative sculpture demands your undivided attention regardless of its metaverse roots.
Speaking to Bogojev about his theme of figuration that, in his words he wanted to “obnoxiously stick to” he describes his process of choosing galleries and artists mainly from his network, consisting of friends and collaborators he has built up strong relationships with over the years. His conviction around representing exclusively figurative work and being bold in his choice around this consolidates his curatorial vision as he concedes that he was also reflecting the critical mass of collectors gravitating towards this type of art. Walking around the fair and speaking with gallerists, this approach comes as a breath of fresh air to traditional rigid regimes of gallery representation as the project seems to have been built on this collaborative spirit with Bogojev entering into lively and close dialogue with the galleries and artists around which specific works to bring and develop for the fair. This is a rare, bespoke and carefully constructed format that perhaps the moderate scale afforded, but certainly, an element Bogjev aspires to retain for the future:
“From a market perspective perhaps this will not be tenable in the future but this specific type of curatorial moment of figuration is something I want to keep as the fair’s focus for as long as possible”.
For Bogojev, the unique brand of figuration edges on the surreal, the bizarre and is not rooted in reality or realistic representation but in his terms reaches a point of the odd or the scary and swerves literal representation before “going off” somewhere new or unexpected. This is certainly evident across the breadth of works on display with pieces by artists such as Mai Blanco, Arjen, Aleksander Todorovic and Stickymonger being standout examples. This patchwork of young and up and coming galleries across the globe also reflects another key curatorial penchant for highly colourful and vibrant hues, and as you enter the fair your senses are stimulated as every site line you turn to encounter is a celebration of jolting colourways, saturated pigment and unapologetic high frequency chroma. Bogojev’s generous play of juxtaposing not only contrasting and oppositional colours against each other but also of rotating well established and less established artists throughout the fair’s experience serves to propel under-exposed artists and works into the consciousness of the artworld and is a consistent strategy he deploys in all of the shows he has curated as he says :
“mixing and matching and acknowledging the artist spirit of sharing the spotlight with others”.
As we speculate around future iterations of the fair Bogojev confirms that a substantial number of galleries who were not able to participate this year due to the tight timeline have expressed interest in being involved, and with the imminent return of the galleries featured in the inaugural edition already confirmed the fair is set to take on an augmented and heightened profile. However, regardless of this predicted surge around the fair, Bogojev is committed to continuing his unique approach of bespoke, artist-led curating and hopes to champion working directly with artists, driven by studio visits, to retain the vibrancy and playful spirit of testing the boundaries of figuration alive. The inaugural CAN fair certainly left a sense of a new frontier being forged for the format of the art fair itself, and Ibiza as a site of continuously morphing creative communities seemed the perfect locus for the recasting and celebration of the new figuration pervading artistic practices today.
Rachel Falconer is an independent writer, curator and researcher operating at the critical intersections of contemporary art practice, feminist technoscience, immersive technologies and networked culture.She has curated a broad portfolio of exhibitions internationally and is regularly invited to speak at public events at art institutions including Tate, Barbican, ICA, V&A, The Photographers Gallery, The Lumen Art Prize, The Whitechapel Gallery, Rhizome, Arebyte Gallery and Gazelli Art House. Her writing has been published across a wide range of platforms including The Guardian, Frieze, Dazed Digital, The British Journal of Photography and The White Review.