Art, two points
The MACBA in Barcelona currently has an exhibition which is running over two venues, the MACBA and the CaixaForum. It takes into consideration two art forms, modernism and the avant-garde. Makes reference to two years when Barcelona presented itself to the world, 1888 and 1929. And you can get your picture taken twice, once before seeing the exhibition and again after to see what effect it has had on you.
Barcelona in 1888 and ‘modernisme’
Before 1888 there was a fortress in Barcelona, a fortress built by the Catalan people and much hated by the Catalan people. It was built at the behest of Philip V of Spain to prevent the citizens of Barcelona from rebelling. For three years the Catalan people were forced to work building the fortress and during this time residents of the La Ribera area were made homeless.
In 1888 Barcelona held the ‘Universal Exposition’ and took the opportunity to rid itself of the hated fortress and create the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’ for its citizens and to house the ‘Universal Exposition’ in which Barcelona would present itself to the world.
At the entrance to the ‘Universal Exposition’ stood the ‘Arc de Triomf’. The arch is inscribed in Catalan with the words ‘Barcelona Welcomes the Nations’. The arch is now part of the ‘Passeig de Lluís Companys’ leading to the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’.
The arch was designed by ‘Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas’ a Catalan architect who formed part of the ‘modernisme’ movement.
The ‘Universal Exposition’ was a huge success for Barcelona and invigorated it’s economy, architecture, technology and development and showed it as a world class city.
At the beginning of the MACBA exhibition is Oriol Vilanova’s ‘Copia (2000)’ which is made up of hundreds of postcards of Triumphal Arches including the ‘Arc de Triomf’ of Barcelona.
‘Modernisme’ is Catalan for modernism and is a type of modernism peculiar to Barcelona. It is represented by the work of Antonio Gaudi whose architecture can be seen in Barcelona in magnificent structures such as the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, Park Güell and many more. ‘Modernisme’ may have been a well accepted art form in Barcelona but it was always subject to change from exponents of the avant-garde.
Barcelona in 1929 and the ‘avant-garde’
In 1929 Barcelona held an ‘International Exposition’ to show how far Barcelona had came and showcase Catalan industry. It required massive urban design and renewal and a movement away from the ‘modernisme’ style architecture that was predominately Catalan towards a more international ‘avant-garde’ style.
In setting up the 1929 ‘International Exposition’ Barcelona invited many countries to create a pavilion. There were ten pavilions in all including, Germany, France, Sweden and Italy, all built in one or another of various ‘avant-garde’ styles. One of the most successful was the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’ designed by the ‘Bauhaus’ architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
In the MACBA exhibition there are images by the German photographer Thomas Ruff of the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’. The images are slightly blurry and could to the observer give the impression that a U.F.O. has landed and a photograph has been taken quickly before it takes off again. In 1929 a Mies van der Rohe building like the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’ probably looked like a U.F.O. had landed amongst the ‘modernisme’ buildings.
The 1929 ‘International Exposition’ was again another huge success for Barcelona not only in presenting itself to the world as a city that was moving forward with its industry and technology, the improvements it made to its infrastructure but in it’s acceptance of international avant-garde art forms.
Barcelona after 1929 and two more things
The MACBA exhibition shows us two more things. One is Barcelona’s history and the other is how Barcelona has accepted the ‘avant-garde’.
In relation to history we see amongst other things the Spanish Civil War with a short film showing Franco coming to power and the destruction that the Civil War caused. Next to it is a painting that appears to be Picasso’s Guernica wrapped up in brown paper, tied up with string and with the upper right corner torn off showing a horse with a dagger in its mouth.
Barcelona has came to accept and revel in the ‘avant-garde’. It’s own Catalan born artists or those who have studied and worked in Barcelona have been held in high esteem. While artists from around the world have been invited to create some fantastic works in Barcelona.
Joan Rabascall, born in Barcelona in 1935 and a well known Catalan artist is there with amongst other things ‘Atomic Kiss’, with it’s bright red lips having bright red lipstick applied while an atom bomb explodes above them, the image is used to advertise the exhibition. And again with images from his series ‘Spain is Different’ such as ‘Kultura’ with its TV screen filled with soccer balls.
Antoni Tàpies, born in Barcelona in 1923 has his piece ‘Rinzen’ hanging at a great height in the stair well of the building. The piece comprises a bed with it’s feet against the wall so as to be hanging vertically with it’s bedding hanging from it as if in the act of falling. The word ‘rinzen’ is apparently Japanese for sudden awakening.
Miquel Barceló, studied fine art in Barcelona and was part of the ‘avant-garde’ ‘Taller Lunatic’ group. Barceló’s ‘Saison des Pluies No. 2’ is part of the exhibition. The painting has rain slashing diagonally across it and is made up of greys and whites and some kind of earthy colour. The painting itself seems to contain earth, the paint is risen so far off the canvass you can get a different and wonderful interpretation of it from every angle. Barceló is also the creator of ‘Gran Elefant Dret’ a physics defying elephant that stands on it’s trunk in Barcelona.
Antonio Miraldi, who is from Terrassa in Catalonia and has worked in many mediums is represented with the ‘Brides Chest’. Which is a brides ‘bottom drawer’ with hundreds of toy soldiers, all painted white, spilling out.
Of the non-Catalan artists in the exhibition there is Claes Oldenburg who is an American artist born in Stockholm and is well known for his oversized replicas of everyday objects. His piece ‘Mistos (Match Cover)’ is there and is a large replica of a book of matches, some matches burnt out, some bent and one erect and in flames. It is a smaller version of the 22 metre high version he created for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Another non-Catalan artist is Craigie Horsfield a British photographic artist. There are a number of photographic collections in the exhibition but this one by Craigie Horsfield shows mostly pictures of the citizens of Barcelona rather than it’s buildings. The photographs are very large and are in most cases a head and shoulder shot. The selection is a wide representation of Catalan people and many are beautiful and if not conventionally beautiful they are full of character. All the images are a joy to consider and dwell on but one stands out. The image is of a woman, black hair, dark eyes, strong nose, no make up. She is called Monica and appears to be a Catalan everywoman. So much the Catalan everywoman that Monica could be the woman that served you at lunchtime, the teacher with a crocodile of children on their way to the park, the driver who brought you from the airport, the pharmacist who advised you, the art gallery curator who brought you ‘Art, Dos Ponts’ and all of these things while also being very strong, very beautiful and very Catalan.