Drawing Room Lisboa 2023: Interview with Mónica Álvarez Careaga
Paper as a support and drawing as a means of restlessness, meaning and fado. These are Drawing Room Lisboa‘s chief hosts, who recognise the act of drawing as a loyal companion of Humanity. Every year since 2018, the Art Fair has been held at the Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes, where national and international galleries and artists gather to offer a glimpse into artistic creation and the contemporary outlook of its authors.
The year 2023 is also the one in which long-time friends will meet: from Brazil to Spain and even Germany, totalling 23 galleries and 65 artists, including Paula Rego, Ana Vidigal and Helena Almeida. The programme also features an exhibition of works by the FLAD Prize finalists, a programme of Millennium Art Talks, the usual editorial space and the Foco section, this year with artists from the Balearic Islands and curated by João Silvério.
From October 25 to 29, drawing is celebrated, the gesture is asserted and its place as a contemporary artistic discipline is upheld. Striking a balance between continuity and renewal, the sixth edition arrives not to fulfil or complete itself, but rather to reflect on the evolution of the act of drawing, which is permanently changing and has endless aspirations, just like the Fair that makes it a centrepiece.
What are the roots of the Drawing Room Lisboa project?
I founded Drawing Room Madrid in 2016. I had already set up several drawing sections at Art Beijing, Swab Barcelona and Bologna as a guest curator, and I wanted to offer several Spanish gallerists a fair specialising in drawing during ARCO week. The response from critics and collectors was excellent.
I realised two years later that the fair would work well in Lisbon, since Portuguese artists work extensively with drawing, and I had the wholehearted support of our president Ivânia Gallo, with whom I had already collaborated on ARTE LISBOA. She suggested the Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes and from then on everything was thrilling. We formed an entirely Portuguese team and secured the participation of the best galleries and major institutional backing, starting with Lisbon City Hall and foundations such as Millennium bcp, FLAD, Carmona e Costa, among others. It has been a path trodden with much passion, one that has led us to the sixth edition in a firmly established manner. I think we have already established our place on the Portuguese art scene and have contributed to the growing appreciation of drawing. Now all that remains is not to rest, but to keep searching for new ways to emphasise and promote drawing and its artists and galleries.
And why drawing? Is this project willing to merge with other forms of artistic expression?
Drawing is a rather primitive action, connected to the imprint our bodies leave on the world. Certainly, as an artistic discipline, it is the first way of manifesting the creator’s thoughts and, therefore, of producing images.
However, fairs aimed at contemporary production ought to be a reflection of what artists are doing at any given moment. Meanwhile, there is also a tendency to question old hierarchies and look for hybridisations. Artists recognise drawing as a prime medium for expressing their concerns, blending it with photography, installation or performative devices and pictorial issues and techniques. Expanded drawing already offers a wide range of fusions and the Drawing Room has shown fusion formats from the first edition to the present day, looking for that broad representation of Drawing.
Briefly, how can we describe Drawing Room Lisboa’s objective, priority(s) and target audience?
The fair pursues two objectives: to support gallery owners in their endeavours to display and enhance artists’ creations, and to promote contemporary art collecting by appealing to new buyers who, through drawing, may acquire new works and keep them with care, so that they may become a future asset. Drawing provides a means of gathering emerging and established artists in the same field and this is one of Drawing Room’s key features, a kind of platform that welcomes everyone equally, intended for all people with an interest in contemporary art, from artists, curators, programmers, collectors, students and anyone who wants to visit us.
With each edition of Drawing Room Lisboa, is there an attempt to address the most prominent current issues and narratives?
The artists’ work is so varied and rich, reflecting so many aspects of the present day, that we have no intention of confining the fair to a single theme or proposing any kind of guidelines to the participating galleries. The Drawing Room is meant to be the point and counterpoint of artistic diversity and a showcase for artistic creation and the artists’ approach to contemporaneity. This year, for example, we are presenting a section dedicated to the Balearic Islands and one of the pieces selected is Catalina Julve’s site-specific installation, inspired by military images to generate a discourse on the grief caused by wars, or that of Cristòfol Pons, author of a fanzine with a critical reflection on the macro-structures of power. Could it get any more up-to-date than this?
Throughout these six years, and six editions of Drawing Room, were there any breakthrough or more significant milestones in its history that have moulded it into what it is today?
I would emphasise the fact that there have been six years and six consecutive, non-stop editions (2018 to 2023… and ongoing). The first edition was a landmark and set the course for us to continue and then, of course, as the most disruptive moments, I would highlight 2020 and 2021. During the pandemic, we were the only contemporary art fair to be held in person in Portugal, something highly significant due to the positive response from gallery owners, artists, curators and the public, and the hope we all felt at the time. These editions were almost exclusively Portuguese, as foreign gallerists were unable to travel. We simultaneously set up a very ambitious online fair, with galleries from all over the world.
These efforts made it possible for us to organise an extraordinary edition last year and to think about the future and the continuity of Drawing Room Lisboa.
What does this year’s programme include? Any new features to highlight?
We always focus on what’s new in the parallel programme, comprising the finalists of the FLAD Drawing Prize, an exceptional programme of talks, called Millennium Art Talks, curated by Maria do Mar Fazenda, the editorial space selected by Filipa Valladares or Foco, this year showcasing works by artists from the Balearic Islands and curated by João Silvério, but the quality of an art fair always depends on the galleries it manages to attract. Our General Programme, made up of 23 Portuguese and international galleries, is inevitably highly selective and this year includes the return of amis de longue date.
These include the Lisbon galleries Graça Brandão, 111 and Balcony and the Brazilian gallery RV Cultura e Arte, which have requested new proposals for our fair from their artists. Newer, more essential friends have also done the same, such as Vera Cortês, Jahn und Jahn, Pedro Cera, No-No and Monitor, who join us in welcoming Lehmann + Silva from Porto.
Do you think the project has reached the point you had always hoped for, or are there any wishes yet to be accomplished?
Drawing Room was extremely well received in Lisbon from the get-go, but last year, at the fifth edition of the fair, we felt that the project had been strongly consolidated. Sales were strong and the turnout was huge. We are looking forward to the sixth edition from October 25 to 29.
Each edition comes with different challenges and we feel that there are still many aspirations to be realised. It is our belief that we need to constantly reinvent and adapt, and we are aware of this. A fair like Drawing Room is never fully completed, in fact it should mirror the evolution of contemporary design, constantly changing with new desires.
On the subject of changing, we live in a complex, multi-layered reality, which is also constantly transforming. How do you see drawing responding to this?
Drawing is a faithful companion of humanity, a great conduit for its concerns. I was born quite close to the Cave of Altamira and I was told from a very young age that we can be drawn to a particular work of art for aesthetic motives, but also because of the surprise or understanding factor. Artists often ask us questions with their work, they puzzle us in a certain sense. Many times, we find the best answers from these questions.
Drawing Room Lisboa happens from October 25 to 29 at Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes. All the essential information and programme can be found at drawingroom.pt.