Up until quite recently Madrid has been mostly known and celebrated for its scorching summers, endless parties and friendly locals with a penchant for siesta. But there is more to the capital of Spain than meets the eye and slowly but surely the city has developed an exciting contemporary art scene just as worth cheking out as its many charming hidden spots and tapas places. Here are the six essential stops than you shouldn't miss when you hit this sunny city:
Madrid's best contemporary art institution opened its doors in 1992, so not a new spot in the circuit. However, with the arrival of Manuel Borja Villel in 2008 the museum went through a profound re-thinking of its ethos -permanent collection and exhibition programme- resulting in a spectacular new phase that has seen some of the best shows ever staged there. Also, with its sleek extension courtesy of the star architect Jean Nouvel and completed in 2005, the museum now compets with international landmarks such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris or even Tate Modern in London. This summer its programme offers highlights such as two retrospectives of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and the Brasilian Ligia Pape, both of them stunning and thought-provoking.
Just behind the Reina Sofía museum, right the in the centre of the city, you can find the commecial space of German-born Helga de Alvear, Spain's most prominet gallerist. She is also a masive collector herself and has recently opened a foundation in Cáceres (also in Spain) to host and show her impressive collection of contemporary art that includes Rober Smtihson, Gordon Matta-Clark, Dan Flavin and pretty much any big name from the 1960's onwards. But back to the gallery, which is a pristine space where she sells work by ambitous roster of artist incluing Santiago Sierra, Jane & Louise Wilson, Isaac Julien. Axel Hütte, Elmgreen & Dragset or James Casebere among others.
Located in the same street of Helga de Alvear (you got it right, this is the area of Madrid where most art things happen) this young gallery, only open for business since 2007, is doing a fantastic work in terms of promiting and supporting an exicitng group of international emerging artists including Kate Gilmore, Regina de Miguel, Paloma Polo or Karmelo Bermejo.
Barely five minutes walk from Reina Sofía museum and Doctor Fourquet street we find La Casa Encendida. This space forms part of the cultural foundation of the bank Caja Madrid and it offers exhibitions, festivals of experimental music, performances and theatre plays and a thorough educational programme all under one roof. A varied approach to culture than ensures that no mattter what time of the year and of the day (it opens daily till 10pm) you pop by, you will surely find something to please your mind and senses. Every summer La Casa Encendida hosts the exhibition Inéditos, that features the three winners of Spain's most prestigious curatorial competition. Not to be missed!
In Móstoles, an area of suburban Madrid, the Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo opened its doors in 2008 to fill a very specific void in the Madrid art scene: institutional-sized exhibitions of emerging artists (both national and international) and shows with more 'alternative' curatorial framings. Up until that moment these could only be found in small shows within galleries or artist-run spaces. CA2M is indeed a little out the way, but really worth a visit for those interested in a less commercial appproach to exhibition and art making.
Last but never least. Not a contemporary art museum indeed, but the very jewel of the art scene in Madrid. El Prado is internationally renowned and adored and considered to have one of the finests collections of European art from the 12th to the 19th century. Its opulence and magnitude are breath-taking; it can only be compared with the Louvre in Paris and even so, they are very different. Expect masterpieces of Goya, Velazquez, Bosch, Titian, Rubens, El Greco... This is the real deal, all these amazing paintings you've only seen in those history of art books are there waiting for you to be celebrated. If you truly love art, this place will bring tears to your eyes.