Action art as an independent art movement dates back to the 1960s. At that time, there was an explosion of creative proposals in which the entry of new media, the moving image and live interventions wanted to overcome the traditional barrier of a more static and objective art anchored in classicism. The trends of the beginning of the century focused on the representation of movement and three-dimensionality, such as Cubism or Futurism, did not reach the impact that the artistic experience achieves. Among the experimental video, the installations of sound artefacts, the integration of television and radio devices in the works and the personal activities of the authors, the last-third-of-the-century artistic panorama was plagued by experiential actions where the essential thing was to participate in art live and to enjoy the messages that this type of speech, direct and personal, gives.

Performance by Arturo Moya & Ruth Abellán at ArtMadrid'20

With the evolution of this movement, subspecialties and specific terminology to designate them also emerge. Performances and happenings begin to be distinguished depending on the open and spontaneous participation of the public, or by being a scripted and established representation by the artists. The participation of the spectators can be foreseen within the performance, and even be the very essence of the action; but when this intervention escapes the author's control and is generated autonomously by the public, a happening takes place, an event with its own internal and unpredictable pulse in response to an initial trigger, which is the artist's original approach, already transformed otherwise, in a new work intervened by these spontaneous actors and actresses.

Performance by Eunice Artur at ArtMadrid'20

The movements that create new artistic realities, that break the patterns established in the already consolidated relationship between object and idea, pose numerous challenges in various spheres, from exhibition to acquisition. Once the trend is established, performance enters the creative scene in a situation of equality with the most traditional disciplines, however, it continues to be at a disadvantage for issues related to its commercialization and economic exploitation, something that also affects the professionalization of the creator that wants to be a performer. We can ask ourselves, how is a performance profitable, how can it be collected?

Olga Diego in the performance "The bubble woman show". ArtMadrid'20

At first glance, a performance is assimilated to a theatre play, so that, when it takes place in a museum or an exhibition centre, it can be treated as a contract of services under the payment of a caché. This is the method chosen on most occasions when the performance takes place in the context of an exhibition or within the programming of a centre, which wants to incorporate action art into its calendar.

It also happens that many performers decide to record their actions to get a tangible result. This is a way of transforming the work from its original conception to incorporate it into a medium. In this way, the performances become video creation pieces, whose distribution or commercialization is easier.

Performance by Marina Abramovic "The artist is present". MoMA 2010

But the real problem arises when one wants to collect the performance itself, as a live-action that happens only once, at a specific time and place, and is never repeated identically. At this point, we must take into account a distinction between the performances starring their authors and those with actors. In this second case, the authorship of the action is identified with the design, script and staging of the proposal, as well as with the description of its execution, timing and implementation guidelines, and it can be understood that the choice of the person involved it is not determinative. In the first case, on the opposite, when it is the artist himself who stars in his/her performances, despite having a script and a detailed description of the project, it can be concluded that we are dealing with a very personal act and that this action will not be the same if carried out by a person other than the creator. A clear example of this would be the intervention of Marina Abramovic in the framework of the exhibition that MoMA dedicated to her in 2010 with the title “The artist is present”. The nature of this action requires that Abramovic herself participates in it because the essence of the proposal is to sit in front of her and look her in the eye. Although it is an activity of simple description and easy execution, we are before a very personal act where the author would be irreplaceable.

Today, most of the performances that are collected are previously captured on video, as a documentary record of the event, or the script is sold so that the action is reproducible.


Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.