Europe

Spain: Madrid art fair removes 'political prisoners' exhibit

A view of the artwork "Presos politicos" by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra during the ARCO Contemporary Art Fair in Madrid, Spain, 20 February 2018. Image copyright EPA
Image caption The exhibit pixelated the features of individuals jailed in Spain for politically controversial issues.

An art fair in Spain has removed an artwork which features photographs of jailed Catalan politicians.

The operator of the ARCOmadrid art fair said it took the decision as the work risked becoming a distraction.

The artist, Santiago Sierra, used pixelated photos of 24 people, among them separatist politicians, referring to them as "political prisoners".

He warned the withdrawal "damages the international reputation of the art fair and the Spanish state".

When asked about the move, the Spanish government said "in Spain, there are no political prisoners".

ArcoMadrid took the decision to remove the exhibit from a gallery stand at the fair on Wednesday.

Helga de Alvear, the gallery owner responsible for Mr Sierra's exhibit, said the artwork was taken down because the fair "[did] not want to have trouble over the issue of Catalonia", according to the La Vanguardia newspaper.

Madrid's left-wing city council tried unsuccessfully to reverse the decision, appealing to other stakeholders at the fair's state-owned operator Ifema.

In a statement, Ifema said Mr Sierra's exhibit was "damaging the visibility of [other artworks] that ARCOmadrid 2018 brings together" and that removing the photographs would "take away a discourse that diverts attention from the whole of the fair".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The gallery owner responsible for Mr Sierra's exhibit she was asked to remove the work by the director of ARCOmadrid and the manager of the publicly-owned convention centre.

Sierra said in a Facebook post (in Spanish) that the decision to remove the artwork "represents the atmosphere of persecution".

He is known for his provocative works.

Previous exhibits have featured the sound of kitchen-pan-banging Argentinean demonstrators and a 2002 exhibition showing a video of men performing a sex act came under fire when it was shown in Birmingham.

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