If you have been following me for a while, you know by now that one of my favorite activities when traveling is to meet with local people and get to know a certain place or city from their perspective. And I find that, through contemporary art and a shared passion for this subject, it is incredibly easy to do so. Over the years, I have met several people while traveling, either through museum visits, galleries, artists, or just generally going to exhibitions and art events, that have turned into good friends and have ultimately made my trips memorable.
This experience is what inspired me to launch the new series, Ask a Local, where I introduce you to an art professional and discuss with them their favorite places in the city they live in. My ultimate goal here is to provide you with insights and tips that you wouldn’t be able to know otherwise, while also creating a community of passionate art lovers and travelers.
For the first issue of the Ask a Local series, we will talk to Polina Podgoretskaya, an art consultant and curator based in Madrid. One of my favorite cities in Europe, this chat with Polina helped me discover new places and a different side of Madrid, and now I cannot wait to go back there in a few months!
So, without any further ado, let’s meet Polina and discover her favorite spots in Madrid!
Polina Podgoretskaya (born in Minsk, in 1996) is a curator, art advisor, and consultant based in Madrid since 2015. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History from the Complutense University of Madrid, and a Master’s in Curatorial Studies from the University of Navarra.
During her work for an important Spanish online auction house in the Contemporary Art department, Polina saw a huge need for art-consulting services for artists. So, to answer that need, she decided to change her career path and started her own consultancy project, which aims to help emerging artists build and improve their professional and commercial artistic profiles.
Polina combines her consultancy work with her role as gallery manager for Le Mur Gallery, which specializes in emerging Spanish photography.
You can find out more about Polina and her work on her Instagram account @polina_artconsulting
How long have you been living in Madrid?
This July 2023 I will celebrate my 8th year in Madrid.
Let’s dive straight into our preferred topic. In Madrid, what is your favorite…
CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM?
Unfortunately, I don’t have one as I tend to prefer galleries or independent art spaces for contemporary or emerging art. However, if we focus solely on contemporary art, there are three major museums in Madrid – the Reina Sofia, CA2M, and Thyssen-Bornemisza – each with their own unique features.
The Reina Sofia, for instance, has an impressive free library, excellent educational programs, and an outstanding collection of Spanish Avant-garde artists. However, for my taste, it can feel a bit too institutionalized, cold, and politicized. As for the CA2M, it’s located outside of Madrid but accessible by public transport. Although it’s a bit far for me, they offer fantastic temporary exhibitions and rooftop parties during the summer, and they acquire art from contemporary living artists.
When it comes to museums, I prefer smaller ones located in 19th-century palaces, called “palacetes” in Spanish, such as the Museo Cerralbo, Museo de Artes Decorativas, and Museo de Romanticismo. Among them, my favorite is the house-museum of Joaquin Sorolla. I appreciate how they do an excellent job of introducing new audiences to their collections, organizing temporary exhibitions, and collaborating with others on a small budget. Alternatively, you can take a train to Cuenca, which is technically not in Madrid but close enough, to visit the first abstract art museum in Spain, the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, founded by Fernando Zobel in 1966. It’s a one-of-a-kind and exceptional place that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
CONTEMPORARY ART GALLERY?
I believe that Madrid sees a new gallery opening up nearly every week, although I may be exaggerating. There are simply so many of them, it can be challenging to keep up. I do have three favorites, however. First, there is Wecollect. I appreciate their business model and the fact that everything they showcase is trendy emerging art. Second is Swinton Gallery, which specializes in urban art. Goyo, the gallery’s director and curator, experiments with the space in unique ways, even at fairs. For example, both Olga de Dios and Andrés Senra’s exhibitions were curated with such freshness. You will never find just paintings hanging on the wall at Swinton Gallery. Finally, there is El Chico. They display very emerging Spanish art, with some of the artists just having graduated. I admire El Chico’s bravery in showcasing such artists. They are also very consistent in their vision, which is an important quality for an art gallery. Additionally, they produce a podcast in Spanish that I find valuable. They conduct insightful interviews with a variety of notable Spanish art figures.
This is a tricky question as the answer depends on the definition given to an art center. If we consider a center for temporary exhibitions, with special mediation or educational programs, I would suggest the Fundación Juan March as the best one. It offers incredible educational programs and amazingly curated exhibitions. Additionally, Sala Canal Isabel II is worth mentioning: it used to be a water pump, but now serves as a public center for photography. Last but not least, Matadero is another great option to explore.
ALL-AROUND CONTEMPORARY ART DESTINATION?
Again, this may be a bit challenging to say. In Madrid, you can come across art anywhere. If I had to suggest some places to explore, I would recommend the Huertas district and the area around Alonso Martinez, as they are both known to be hotspots for galleries. You can take a stroll along the streets and come across numerous intriguing galleries.
Where can travelers find local artists?
That is an interesting question. The art studio districts are Carabanchel and Usera (they are very close to one another). From time to time, maybe twice a year, they organize open studio weekends. Occasionally, they also organize exhibitions inside of their studios, for example at Le Batiment or Corner Gallery & Studio. But normally they are not open to the public regularly, only by appointment.
Is there any residency program, art school, or academy in Madrid that you would suggest checking out?
Do they have exhibitions or activities to present their students to the general public?
Yes, they do. You can check it on their websites. Also, Complutense University, one of the most important state universities in Europe, has its own fine art school. They organize their final year exhibitions. However, they promote it very poorly, if at all.
What is the best time to visit Madrid?
I would say definitely Spring, though avoid the Easter week. Also, September and November are good. In September there are a lot of art activities too. In terms of art, February, of course, is a great month because of the art week at the end of February with all the art fairs, but it is freezing cold. Do not even consider visiting Madrid in July or August because it is around 45°C outside and everything closes for vacations.
Is there any art festival, art fair, or art-related event you would like to suggest?
If visiting Madrid, where could we find you? What are your favorite non-artsy spots? (Cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, etc.)
This is yet another difficult question to answer as there are many places I love to go to. A great wine bar is De Vinos, located at Palma, 76. Another favorite is La Caníbal, located right next to the Reina Sofia museum. They offer natural wines and a great selection of food and seafood. When I want to have a good steak, I always go to Cannibal Raw Bar on Almte Street. Doctor Catello Street, next to Retiro Park, is the best district for dining out in my opinion. You can find high-quality yet still accessible Spanish cuisine that is not too touristy either.
Why would an art lover put Madrid on their travel bucket list?
Simply put, Madrid has it all. It is a very cosmopolitan city that resists globalization while preserving its essence and history. In the galleries, you will mostly find Spanish or Spain-based artists, which is perfect for getting to know the local scene that unfortunately doesn’t have that much international presence. If real estate weren’t so expensive and if there was a sea, Madrid would be the absolute best place in the world!
Lastly, what is the most artsy anecdote, story, or curiosity you can tell us about Madrid?
I do not know whether it counts as an anecdote or curiosity, but as people say here “Madrid es un pueblo” (Madrid is a village), meaning that despite its size, it has a close-knit community and everybody seems to know each other one way or another. In fact, the rule of 5 handshakes, which suggests that you can connect with anyone in the world within five people, reduces to just two handshakes in Madrid. This has its pros and cons, but it’s just one of the unique characteristics of Madrid.