While Madrid gets its share of celebrity dripped, red carpet sightings at ARCO and Miami’s Art Basel has become a three-ring circus of sex, drugs and masterpieces, Swab has become the cool, understated cousin with sun-kissed skin carefully vying for its undisputed place on the Mediterranean art circuit. Now in its fifth year, Swab returns to the Fira de Barcelona bigger and stronger with a brand new program and a focus on emerging artists. The formula is simple: use Barcelona as a backdrop, mix together the art world’s most impressive young artists and shake up with a fair share of music, street art, curators, fashionistas and bloggers.
This year Swab offers a more creative take on what an art show is supposed to be by presenting Swab Urban, Swab Off and Swab Music. These satellite shows hope to attract a younger crowd and a different type of visitor looking to enjoy art rather than to be intimidated by it. Swab also hopes to appeal to the more experimental collectors looking for a break from the severity of some of the other contemporary art shows worldwide.
Yet this same commitment to keep Swab relevant and embrace Barcelona’s contemporary art scene has also managed to paint the festival into a corner. How do you define a city’s art scene when the urban tribes which roam our streets – who often become the trappings of our own SoHo by the sea – are so diversely drawn? In a city where locals burn through trends so quickly, is it really possible to define which galleries have their pulse on the contemporary art scene? Over the last few years we have seen a creative tug of war between the clinical spaces with pristine white walls of the galleries north of Diagonal or on Consell de Cent and the ever-evolving roster of artists of the painfully hip galleries of the Born and the ethnic street scene of the Raval.
Despite rumors of high-end galleries placing pressure on Swab to focus solely on promoting “official” galleries, Swab has managed to appeal to both high and lowbrow collectors by offering a wide selection of activities allowing a cross-pollination of styles. This includes Swab Urban, devoted to Barcelona’s urban art scene, and Swab Music, an initiative organized in collaboration with Razzmatazz that will serve as a sort of indie soundtrack for festival. Confirmed artists so far include Arponera, Boreals, Doble Pletina, Hidrogenesse, Lasers, Internet 2, Sölna, That Girl With Dark Eyes. A new section this year, Swab Off will see a program of activities organized with collaborators around the city which aims to increase the visibility of contemporary art and bring it closer to the general public.
This year the festival will also present a panel series aptly called Talking Artists, an open table discussion of some of the most relevant and challenging issues facing today’s contemporary art scene, both locally and globally. The series, presenting ten artists selected by curators specializing in emerging art, will allow artists to explain their work, connect with a wider audience and focus on how to make Barcelona the place to turn to when looking for the next big thing.
This edition also marks the return of My First Art Fair, an area of the show embodying the spirit of Swab which invites a handpicked selection of galleries committed to showcasing the newest, most original artists putting brush to canvas. Here you will definitely not find gallery representatives dressed only in black with tiny eyeglasses and no smiles. Participating in MYFAF this year will be Barcelona’s new kid on the block MUTT, the city’s most artistic showspace and bookstore, showcasing a capsule collection of ten of their most interesting artists. MUTT’s curator Juanjo Fernández tells us, “I think Swab is an amazing platform for emerging artists as well as a fantastic concept which represents Barcelona,” but point outs that “it is important that the festival keeps growing and maintains its youthful appeal and nonconformist attitude; the great thing about Barcelona is its passion for design, music and art and these are the things which set this festival apart from the others.”
Echoing the importance of the festival’s evolution, Swab co-founder and director Joaquín Diez-Gascón is proud to inform us that this year Swab expects “over 20 thousand visitors and a selection of 65 galleries from more than twenty countries.” Not bad for a festival which started out five years ago with six thousand attendees and not so much of a second glance by the press.
This year will see Swab slowly coming into its own. According to Diez-Gascón, “This is a festival which has caught the art world by surprise. Swab has managed to distance itself from the parameters of what an art show should be.” When asked to comment on current trends in the art world, Diez-Gascón’s answer is quite simple: “Youth – right now it is all about young artists. Most of the artists at the festival were all born after 1980.”
While the rest of the world focuses on the established, it is great to see a festival reaching out to a generation which has come of age with the Internet and should have plenty to say in a post-digital age.
Inaugural concert: €8 (advance) / €10 (door), 1-day: €10 (advance) / €20 (door), 2-day: €15 (advance only), 3-day: €25 (advance only)
La Fira de Barcelona– s/n Av Reina Maria Cristina , Barcelona
Phone 93 233 21 98
Originally Published in : MINIGUIDE (MAY) by David Naveira