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Ella Fontanals-Cisneros: “Lately I’ve been going to Carabanchel a lot because a lot of artists are settling there”



“Maximum authorized overload 1,500 kg/m2”, is read on the wall when leaving the elevator. The building is brick on the outside and inside it looks like a garage, painted white, red and gray. But when crossing a black metal gate, a black and white photograph of the Japanese Hiroshi Sugimoto surprises the visitor. In the same room there is a sculpture by the Portuguese Bruno Cidra and another by the Venezuelan Emilia Azcárate. As you progress through the different rooms, works by Elena Asins, Esther Ferrer, Alejandro Campins or Karina Skvirsky hang on the walls. Meanwhile, through the window you can see the traffic of Malaga’s busy roundabout and the mass of the 12 de Octubre hospital. “I didn’t know this district, I discover that there are a lot of things happening in the city that you can’t even imagine because it’s in the downtown bubble, it’s very interesting”, explains the collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros (Cuba, 79), who now has this new space for her work in the Usera district.

‘Compositions’, 2022, by Cristina Lucas, an artist who has her studio in the same Usera building. Photo: Antarctica

There, almost without thinking, he created a warehouse of contemporary art which will open to the public for the first time coinciding with the celebration of the contemporary art fair. ARCO Madrid. He specifies that on the 600 m2 of premises he only allowed “half, more or less” of exhibition space, always maintaining the industrial style of the installations. He will show it to gallery owners, artists, other collectors… People from the art world who will be able to see the small exhibition he has organized with some of the pieces that make up his private collection, which totals more than 3,500. “I have a file that I’m trying to update and this is one way to start doing that,” he says. In the Usera warehouse are some of his latest acquisitions, such as a painting by Cristina Lucas; works created especially for her, such as the masks of The three sisters by Xavier Corberó, and pieces that he mainly buys from Spanish and European galleries. His idea is to open this space to the public coinciding with the celebration of artistic events or exhibitions related to the work of some of his artists: “I will do specific art things here, like now with ARCO”. She wants to be surrounded by this growing artistic movement taking place in the southern districts of the capital, promoted last year by openings such as the Factory of Dreams space, by urban artist Okuda San Miguel, next to the metro. Will use. or the Veta de Fer Francés gallery in Carabanchel. “Lately I’ve been going to Carabanchel a lot because a lot of artists are moving there and I like to explore that, I always think that being close to where these movements are produced pushes you to do new things”, he argues. Christine Lucas, who has a store in the same building, is the one who discovered the neighborhood, where Marco A. Castillo (one of the founders of the Cuban artistic collective Los Carpinteros) also has his studio. “Hopefully other artists will start coming,” wishes the collector, “I think it would be fantastic to have a whole building of art people.”

‘Heteroglossic City’, 2019, a book-object by the Cuban artist who lives between New York and Miami Rafael Domenech. Photo: Antarctica

Already in 2003 Fontanals-Cisneros chose to promote other artistic scenes with the creation of the MAC in Florida (United States). “It was one of the first collectible spaces in Miami,” he says. He opened it when the Art Basel fair landed in Miami Beach (the first edition took place in 2002) and in 2005 he inaugurated the CIFO in the same American city, another large exhibition space which closed in 2018. closed before the pandemic, with the idea that we were going to open the museum here in Madrid. And then everything we talked about in Madrid came on the air and then I decided not to reopen the space in Miami. Because I still believe that Miami misses, the almost 20 years that we were open, the visits were few compared to Madrid or places where art is really important”.

The masks of ‘The Three Sisters’ (Blanca, Rosa, Bruna) and ‘El Diablo’, 2005, by Xavier Corberó, and next to them, ‘Burundi’, 2019, by Fernando Sánchez Castill Photo: Antarctica

With “what happened in Madrid”, the collector evokes the succession of agreements and disagreements with the Ministry of Culture to create a cultural center with part of her collection. The project was negotiated for years, it even had a name – Contemporary Art Collection of the Americas – and there was talk of a location, at La Tabacalera in Madrid. Just three years ago, Fontanals-Cisneros summoned the press to his apartment on Calle Fortuny in Madrid to announce that his negotiations with Culture had failed. “It’s a big disappointment because we have spent a lot of time, effort and resources to make this museum a reality,” he said then without closing the door on a new location. A year later, Fontanals-Cisneros left this apartment – ​​she is immersed in the construction of her new house – and also advanced in her idea of ​​​​the future museum: “At the moment, there are other opportunities. We are talking to several towns that have called me and are interested. I have spent so many years negotiating that I know that the problem of negotiations with the political party is very difficult, because things change. I got fed up and said I’m ready when a city is ready to have everything it needs to open up. I don’t want a long-term process or having to deal with political issues.”

The collector, photographed in front of a painting by the Argentinian Tomás Espina (“Untitled”, 2015). Photo: Antarctica

The latest published news suggests that the talks with the Provincial Council of Bizkaia are prospering and that the final destination of the museum could be Bilbao, more precisely the district of Zorrotzaurre. Another reconsidered periphery, in this case following the urban project of the late Zaha Hadid, winner of the Pritzker Prize. “This year I plan to do other interesting things, I’m going to open an art fund, I want to work to democratize art a little more at other levels,” he explains. She is not the only collector to have seen her museum project abort in recent years. Also in 2020, Italian Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo announced that she would not be showing her collection in warehouse 9 at Matadero Madrid. But neither has she stopped exhibiting art in the city, the foundation that bears her name inaugurated on February 1 the first exhibition of the Brazilian artist Lucas Arruda in Spain, which can be visited at the ‘Ateneo de Madrid until March 8. “When you say you have to cut spending, what’s the first thing that gets cut? The Ministry of Culture. Politicians see little importance in it. They don’t think it’s part of growing a city and people. But any collection, mine, Sandretto, brings a series of peripheral things that improve situations, bring tourism, people interested in art, work… It’s like a wheel that keeps growing, but often they don’t know how to value it,” the Mint. He also considers that the collections can contribute to increasing the international projection of Spanish contemporary art, which for Fontanals-Cisneros is having a good time, with Reina Sofía as an international player. The museum faces a new stage, after the departure of Manuel Borja Villel after 15 years leading the project. “I’m so sorry he’s gone because he really did a fantastic job and put the Queen on the international stage. I hope that the person who comes will be up to what Manuel has done and that he will be able to carry out a second stage, which will have the challenge of being innovative,” he reflects.

The painting ‘No ginger k’, 2006, by Hubert Scheibl, and ‘Art on the mat’, 2006, by Pepe López. Photo: Antarctica

She also faces a challenge now: to analyze her personal evolution as a collector. So far, looking through his archives, it’s become clear to him that showing the works he’s cherished over the past decades gives meaning to his legacy. “I believe that art was made to teach it, not to keep it. I am against savings”, he points out, “I am revising my case, because at a certain point I would not like to accumulate and accumulate. I want to do things where the art can come out on the street. For me, lending art, exhibiting it, promoting artists, is a priority”. Without giving details of what his art fund project will be — he only says that “there will be two types of funds, one more for businesses and another for a lot of people who can’t spend a lot for art can participate” — adds that he is interested in exploring the digital world. “We made a strategic association with Ars Electronica, the biggest festival in the world, and in 2022 we gave it all the CIFO awards for digital art, and all the winners were Latin women,” she points out. . He believes that NFTs have yet to be defined, “which are really just a certificate of authenticity” and he would like to investigate the possibilities of the metaverse: “These are things that have been strange to me so far because they don’t come from my generation, but they are interesting and I want to see how we can enter this other world which is opening up and will end up being to integrate. New generations see art differently from what we have seen and experienced. And that’s the future.”

An image of space, with works by Gustavo Pérez Monzón, Karina Skvirsky and Esther Ferrer. Photo: Antarctica

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