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Marbella aims to be the Golden Mile of modern art

Clío Yusto Giner, María Rodríguez Molero, Flor Reiners, Marifé Núñez and Isolina Arbulu, together in the Yusto/Giner gallery.
Clío Yusto Giner, María Rodríguez Molero, Flor Reiners, Marifé Núñez and Isolina Arbulu, together in the Yusto/Giner gallery. / JOSELE
  • Half a dozen private galleries have opened in recent years, multiplying the opportunities in an area which has a sizeable community of international collectors

When she announced her news, the response was nearly always the same: a couple of slaps on the back, a forced smile and the words "good luck", a sort of commiseration in advance. Time has gone by and her idea, far from fading, produced an art gallery with her name above the door: Isolina Arbulu.

"There are plenty of collectors in Marbella, but they have always bought works of art from elsewhere. If you go to someone's house there are usually some very important pieces there, so we have to work on our credibility so that clients in Marbella come to the galleries in Marbella," she says.

The luxury Costa resort has seen a significant increase in the number of private art galleries with a focus on contemporary art. Half a dozen have opened in the past three years, following in the footsteps of the Yuster/Giner, which has been in operation for around seven years.

"Juan Pablo (Yusto) has discovered many artists, and that is essential work," says Flor Reiners of Reiners Contemporary Art.

"We opened our gallery in February 2019. I had already worked beforehand as an adviser to museums and private collections in Brazil and Germany and I decided to open a place of my own," she says.

She has an international background. After studying Economics in her native Brazil, she expanded her training with art studies in Germany. Five years ago she moved to Marbella, and 18 months ago she opened her gallery which places a special focus on young artists.

"We need to have a good base now in order to have a good future. Many of our clients buy their first work of art from us, and that is very important. After all, we don't sell sofas, we sell stories," says Reiners.

Social media is also a crucial shop window for her business, especially Instagram. "It provides us with a very fast and agile form of communication," she explains.

The digital window

"During the lockdown it became clear that digital platforms are the present and the future. Applications like Instagram are ideal for small galleries like us, while a website tends to be more formal. However, the work people do online shouldn't make them forget how important it is to have premises as well, because a physical space is still a way of giving a gallery an identity," say María Rodríguez Molero and Clío Yusto Giner, when talking about Marbella's growing protagonism in the art world.

"In Marbella there is extraordinary scope for development," says Marifé Núñez, who runs Es Art Gallery, which opened in San Pedro Alcántara three years ago.

She says her clientele has an "international profile", coming especially from Scandinavia, Germany and the UK. "Although it is almost impossible to draw up a set profile of a Marbella collector, because there is such a wide variety," she says.

Nevertheless, all the gallery owners say that most of their clients are foreigners, many of them resident in Marbella or the nearby area.

Sholeh Abghari, of the gallery of the same name, agrees. She opened her business in the centre of Marbella a year ago. She previously worked in Teheran, Dubai, Milan, Paris and London, and has now settled in Marbella, where she met her husband.

"We decided this would be a good place to open a gallery," she says. "Firstly because my family are here, and secondly because Marbella is changing a great deal and it has great potential as an artistic destination. These days, people prefer to come to places like Marbella rather than those where there are more people and pollution. Especially with the Covid-19 situation," says Abghari, who trained at the Hotel Drouot in Paris and Sotheby's in London.

Women leading the growth

The new art scene in Marbella has a definite feminine aspect. Four of the six most recently opened galleries are run by women, with Juan Pablo Yusto at Yusto/Giner and Mattias Tonnheim at Wadström Tönnheim being the exception. Together, these six have completely revitalised the art scene in the Costa resort.

As Isolina Arbulu explains: "Ten years ago there were hardly any designer furniture shops in Marbella. People who lived here used to buy elsewhere for their properties here. That has changed now. What is happening with contemporary art is similar. The clients exist, but until a short time ago there was nothing for them to buy here."

Arbulu combines well-known Spanish and international artists with up-and-coming youngsters, from Javier de Juan to Pablo Mercado, Aixa Portero to Rosa Muñoz, to mention a few examples of the creators whose works have been on display at this gallery. The owner is of Peruvian origin but decided two years ago to "follow in the footsteps" of the Yuster/Giner in Marbella.

"Initially, you're so excited about opening a gallery because of the pure pleasure of discovering artists and sharing with other people what inspires you about their works. Then, when I saw how good the response was, I got hooked. So here we are," says Arbulu, whose eyes still shine with enthusiasm despite the crisis, the pandemic, the forecasters of doom and those condescending slaps on the back.