Having the Pocket Art Connoisseur is like keeping the most rigorous art critic in your pocket. With this app for iPhone, based on the augmented reality of neuronal networks, you no longer need to have an opinion.
It is often the case that someone will ask you what you think of this work or the other, and you feel obliged to reply: “Oh, don’t ask me, I have no idea”. Or even worse, when a show-off friend comes out with “all the existential angst of the artist is summed up in this brushstroke” and all you can think of in response is “yes”.
Pocket Art Connoisseur, by Micro/Macro Studio.
With Pocket Art Connoisseur the problem is over. You just aim the mobile camera at a work of art and its algorithm, based on millions of images from the best museums around the world, combined with reviews from the Culture section of La Vanguardia, provides an opinion.
For example, if your partenaire, in front of a painting by Miró starts off with: “it is a powerful criticism of a situation of suffocating repression, a furious cry for freedom”, just by pointing your mobile at it Pocket Art Connoisseur will come back with: “my four-year-old could paint that. Shall we go the bar, then?”.
Pocket Art Connoisseur is a freemium app. That means it is free, but you can pay for a certain series of extras, such as famous critic filters. The only filters available in the lite version are: “Anti-Inlaw” and “Hubermann”. The latter does not yet give summaries and so is not suitable for tweets.
“the algorithms were confusing Plensa’s sculptures for alphabetti spaghetti”
Pocket Art Connnoisseur Version 3 will be available from 2019 with a market filter. In front of any work it will give you an approximate valuation for twenty years’ time. Work is also being carried out to develop a catastrophes filter, where you take a photo of the work and the app allows you to see what it would be like if treated by the restorer of Borja’s Ecce Homo, or if it went through Banksy’s shredder.
Pocket Art Connoisseur is the result of five years’ intensive work by the Micro/Macro Studio in Barcelona. “Art is not an easy field for augmented reality. At the start, the algorithms were confusing Plensa’s sculptures for alphabetti spaghetti”, affirms Magalí Minguet, telecommunications engineer from the M.I.T. and a graduate in art history from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
But… how accurate is Pocket Art Connoisseur? The programme precision is so high that we have discovered one of the contributors to Mirador de les Arts passed its opinions off as his own when he went to exhibitions. We promoted him to director.
Update: We are sure you already know, but just in case: this article is an inocentada [typical joke of Spanish April Fool’s Day]! But we wouldn’t be surprised if something like the Pocket Art Connoisseur app appeared…or did you think your opinions are your own?
From a quote from The Rebel, an essay by Albert Camus, written in 1951 in which “from rebellion awareness is born”, the Mayoral Gallery is exhibiting some of the most jarring and representative works to have been labelled under Spanish Informalism.
In the Mayoral it would be normal to wander around the disaster zones of Manuel Millares where the surface has been especially tortured and spoiled, inundated by dripping black and deep blood red paint (Quadre 72, 1959). It is a place to tremble before the reduction of female figures in the chaos of dark automatism (Antonio Saura, Ángela, 1959) and feel both enclosure and the need for meditation (Antoni Tàpies, Forats i claus sobre blanc, 1968) or to come up against the thanatotic in the transcription of coagulant, physical and spiritual matter (Luis Feito, No. 260, 1961).
In fact, every one of these pieces in the exhibition is held up as a paradigmatic example of the progress of Spanish painting in investigating matter, capable of converting the canvas into a multidimensional battlefield. Of course, to remain only with the successes and qualities of these works would be to remain precisely on the surface, and somewhat redundant. So, inspired in the title of the exhibit, we can dissect the homunculus and slip through the cracks in the walls.
Implicitly, two diagnoses can be made from this exhibition: one in terms of the profiles of collectionism, and the other in the possible rebel consequences of the language of pictorial abstraction as rebellion.
Antonio Saura, Ángela, 1959.
In the main text of the catalogue, Itineraries of the Spanish avant-garde at the midpointof Francoism, curator Tomàs Llorens insists on these qualities of Spanish abstraction in the post-war period that we have mentioned, and talks of a series of important international prizes and events: the prizes awarded to Oteiza and Cuixart at the Sao Paolo Art Biennial in 1957 and 1959 respectively, and the organisation of two exhibitions in New York in 1960, presented as “the culmination of this series of international successes for Spanish avant-garde painting”, the exhibition Before Picasso; After Miróorganised by the Guggenheim and New Spanish Painting and Sculpture, curated by Frank O’Hara at the MoMA. Both of these exhibits included worked by Millares, Saura, Tàpies, Canogar, among others. In fact, the Mayoral Gallery includes a vitrine with documents relating to these exhibitions and insists in the catalogue on their exemplary nature, even including the appearance of a painting by Feito in one of Visconti’s movies.
However, my question is, what is not being told to the collector which we in barcelona know very well? First, that these series of exhibitions between Spain and the United States balance on a tightrope which goes well beyond heroic tales. On the one hand, remember the American dream of setting itself up as the greatest exponent in the history of contemporary art, having robbed Paris of this position after the Second World War; and how this style was consolidated thanks to huge government investment which involved sending American exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism to other western countries, among other things.
Two examples are the exhibition El arte moderno en los Estados Unidosorganised by the Palau de la Virreina in 1955, and LaNueva Pintura Americana, at the Museum for Contemporary Art of Madrid in 1958. The country which presented itself to the world as a model of freedom and democracy exported artistic tendencies with characteristics similar to those in a country run by fascist army officers. On the other hand, we should not forget that the good relations which were established subsequently between Spain and the United States revolved precisely around anti-communist alliances in the context of the Cold War, without too much heed as to whether these countries were democracies or dictatorships.
“Excellency, this is the hall of the revolutionaries”
Similarly, it is difficult to ignore the organisation by the Tàpies Foundation of the exhibition Contra Tàpies, curated by Valentín Roma and extended through the foundation’s blog in a series of materials rescued and critically set out by Jorge Luis Marzo. Each and every one of these materials, among which is an interview with Luis González Robles, Foreign Minister under Franco, highlight the slippery relationship of Spanish matter painting and the dictatorship, for many reasons.
First of all, there was the suspicion involved in allowing the art to be promoted internationally by the Franco regime, relying on the reception abroad being capable of understanding the “rebel” nature of the pieces. Secondly, despite the specificity of Spanish matter painting which weaves a more than stimulating tale from the Golden Age to Goya, via the Valle-Inclán’s esperpento, these pieces were also read as components of a rank, folkloric Spanish nationalism, both at home and abroad. And finally, because both figures such as González Robles and the artists themselves rather than considering the work rebellious, explicitly saw it as inoffensive. In an extract from his Memòria personal published by Seix Barral, Tàpies himself wrote: “I have a photograph in which Franco, surrounded by a group of important people, is standing in front of one of my paintings in one of the Hispanic Biennials. At one side of the group is Llorens Artigas, half hidden, covering his face to avoid the photographers. They are all laughing. According to Artigas, somebody (I think it was Alberto del Castillo) said to Franco: ‘Excellency, this is the hall of the revolutionaries.’ And it seems that the dictator said ‘While their revolutions are like that…'”
This brings us to the second diagnosis in terms of the rebel potential of abstract painting. In the Mayoral catalogue there is also a text by Bea Espejo asking, “what does it mean to be a rebel?”. Starting out once again from Camus, the answer assumes that the rebel is he “who turns against something”. The question here is, what exactly is the Spanish matter painting turning against? If the answer is against forms, in an attack on the previous and contemporary artistic tradition defended by the regime, the rebel nature of these works is unquestionable. But if we suggest a single rebellion exclusively against the Franco regime, the answers are not so clear, although no less thought-provoking.
The works are not just their intentions, but also luckily their uses. And in that sense, the exhibition at the Mayoral Gallery encourages us to open up to the possibility if multiple cracks: does the collector always need a story of heroic simplifications? If we position ourselves as rebels, can be stimulate the awareness of collectors through other curatorial narratives? Are the components of the apparent rebellion of language always of a meta-artistic character? Does abstract painting lend itself especially to tendentious manipulation? Is that a problem? After exhibitions such as Contra Tàpiesor documentaries such as Katallani, what is the sense of ignoring the problematic, and often banal and regrettable uses of these works?
We need to open our eyes and insist on the possibility that in presentations of Spanish Informalism, all the cracks are multiplied and emphasised, the gaps can be explored, and we can stand in front of the coagulation without falling into reading of triumphant reductionism.
“Museums are their collections”. Pepe Serra, director of the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) is very clear about this, and has repeated it often, just as Maite Ocaña, his predecessor at the MNAC and the Picasso Museum, did before him.
But what he also has very clear is that the time when museums exhibited a fixed and permanent collection are over. For decades British and American art galleries have understood this and now the museums here are doing the same, pressured by a number of factors: the slashing of budgets which has meant museums have to share and cooperate if they are to avoid cultural starvation; the need to offer experiences and knowledge to a broad public; and obviously the entry of new ideas and ways of management that are creating more flexible dynamics in the showing of the works.
Norman Narotzky, Webs,1956. Dipòsit de la Generalitat de Catalunya. Col·lecció Nacional d’Art, 2018.
The MNAC is currently at an ideal moment to “rehearse” these new relations and ways of exhibiting since it has been working on the collection of work from the post-war and second avant-garde periods. Despite the financial constraints, and also, and especially, the current lack of space, the museum has just opened two new rooms dedicated to Catalan art from 1940 to 1980, which offer a small taste of what will be, in the not too distant future we hope, this latest period of the MNAC. Àlex Mitrani is the curator at this exciting time when we are looking at a whole field to be reviewed, with the rediscovery of new artists and a display of the diversity of Catalan post-war art, well beyond the centrality of the work of Tàpies. Evidently, he is present, with three works: two small format fantasy murals and a portrait of Joan Brossa from 1950, manipulated two decades later.
Albert Ràfols Casamada, El balcó, 1947. Dipòsit de la Generalitat de Catalunya. Col·lecció Nacional d’Art, 2017.
The rooms offer dialogues which cleverly link the works with the artists, despite the fact that the whole exhibition has to be summed up in 40 pieces. Next to the Tàpies sits (finally!) the most nocturnal of Amèlia Riera’s work in a painting from 1963; the daring abstractions by Manuel Duque come into the MNAC for the first time, recovered from an exhibition at the Vila Casas Foundation; and there is talk of an influential exhibition to recover the 1943 show at the Sala Reig, described by Alexandre Cirici as the first to reintroduce modernity after the Civil War.
Public art collections, seen as though they were one.
Among the other works to see the light are The Ironing Woman, by Ramon Rogent, which dialogues with an interior by Ràfols-Casamada preceding his later abstraction; an expressive vanitas by Guinovart and the sculpture The Circus, by Moisès Villèlia. The whole collection has been put together through donations, deposits, loans and some purchases, such as the piece by Guinovart. One of the main origins of pieces, especially those from the collection of the Government of Catalonia, is Barcelona modern art museum, Macba, in a collaboration which from now on will be completely normal. Public art collections seen as if they were one.
Similarly, at the start of the rooms for modern art there are three Picassos, loaned by the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. In the rooms of the MNAC, the works by Picasso fit like a glove: one self-portrait, from when the painter was 14 years old, which dialogues with the room dedicated to self-portraits next to the only oil by Juli Gonzalez; and two academies, in the room about the artist’s learning process at the end of the nineteenth century. One of these is an excellent choice, being a partial copy of the Study by Arcadi Mas i Fondevila, from 1878, which the young Picasso must have copied at the Academy of Fine Art. Picasso’s copy and Mas’s original, which is the property of the MNAC, have come together after so many years.
Habitació, Txeka, un projecte de Pedro G. Romero al Museu Nacional. Foto: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Marta Mérida), 2018.
Further along the tour of modern art in the MNAC, next to the room showing republican posters from the Civil War, there is a temporary exhibition by contemporary artist, Pedro G. Romero, which can be seen until 28 April. Again, the works fit perfectly into the route with one of the three reconstructions made by the artist of a checa (a room for interrogation and torture used during the Civil War), belonging to the uncontainable Archivo F.X project, on iconoclasms and profanity in relation to art. It is a copy of the Saint Ursula checa in Valencia, in which the precepts of Alphonse Laurencic on the use of iconographic elements of modern art for the purpose of torture are perfectly applied.
In the retrospective of Lorenza Böttner at the Virreina Centre de la Imatge, there are images which show her dressing herself and making herself up.
These are two routines which are normal daily events, but she executes them with such extreme delicacy that in our fascination on observing them we forget that she is actually carrying them out without her upper limbs.
Lorenza Böttner and Johanes Koch, Untitled, 1983.
In the work of this Chilean-born German artist it does not occur to us that she has no arms or whether she is a man, a woman or a transgender person. What might, at first glance, seem the key to her work ends up becoming diluted. Also, it shouldn’t matter to us that she is the Petra of the Barcelona 92 Paralympic Games.
Böttner makes it clear that everyone wears a mask
Lorenza Böttner (1959-1994) achieved what she wanted to say in a short documentary which was shown at the exhibition “I wanted to be accepted in the extreme”. The radicalism of her character goes beyond any talk of overcoming physical disabilities (or functional differences, if you like) and the acceptance of a transgender body. Böttner goes one step further in rejecting prothesis which would “normalise” her body and does not submit herself to a sex change operation. This is where she is at her most radical, where which paternalism is eradicated. We do not see her as a courageous artist (even though she is) but as just another artist. Overused words like “overcoming” or being “resilient” to her personal situation lose all meaning here. That fact that that they do not exist in her world mean that there is no political correctness. Paul B. Preciado, the curator of the exhibition, explains that Böttner’s work is a “celebration of body and gender”. And it is true that Lorenza Böttner is so far on the edge of the edge that she manages to turn everything on its head.
Lorenza Böttner, Untitled, n.d.
From here we can begin to assess a work, based on self-portrait and the experimental construction of the body and subjectivity. This is the recurrent theme in contemporary practice, especially when we are talking about gender and feminism, but unlike artists such as Cindy Sherman, who takes on different characters in a rejection of female stereotypes, Böttner presents herself in a series of characters in which she is also herself. In that sense, her spirit is closer to the surrealist photographs of Claude Cahun. There is a room in the Virreina which justifies the entire exhibition with a series of photographs in which Böttner presents herself in a dozen different identities, although to be more specific she reveals a split identity, showing her beauty both as an elegant woman and a bearded young man in a tie. Even when she makes up as a cabaret artist Böttner makes it clear that everyone wears a mask.
Lorenza Böttner, Face Art, Kassel 1983.
Despite her excellence in drawing, Böttner also brazenly produced work in very different artistic disciplines: painting, drawing, performance, photography and dance. Ever flexible, always delicate in her approach, Böttner did not recreate herself in injuries or the effects of any kind of illness, like some of the other artists of the 1960s.
Even though beauty is still such a taboo word in contemporary art, it was this that Lorenza Böttner sought with the same intensity as when she was small – she climbed onto a high tension electrical tower just to be able get a closer look at the birds. Her fall then changed her life forever, but she continued to fly and flow through her art.
The exhibition Requiem for the Norm, by Lorenza Böttner, can be seen at the Virreina Centre de la Imatge in Barcelona until 3 February.
Is your childhood really yours? Is it how you remember it? What do we retain of the past: the memory or just the memory of the memory? And above all: who would we be without this little-known mechanism that is memory?
Concha Martínez Barreto’s gatecrashed photographs are a great deposit of memory. Or rather, acts of memory. In fact, they are presented as small but poetic acts of memory. Her recent work can be seen at the Víctor Lope Gallery in Barcelona.
Concha Martínez Barreto, Estratos. El álbum.
Concha Martínez works from black and white photographs, especially from the forties and fifties. They are scenes of family Sundays, children on the beach and other daily moments which in themselves contain a social portrait of a certain time while posing questions about certain practices which, although they seem to be private and very much our own, demonstrate a surprising degree of commonality. Why do all families immortalise their get-togethers? Why do children play the same games in every household? Why do we all make the same gestures in front of the camera?
Even though this opens up a possible line of enquiry, Concha Martínez Barreto is not interested in sociology. Her interest is more phenomenological than social. She like to show the mechanisms which go to construct memory. What model does she follow? How does she use vision to stitch together her own past? Using this conceptual compass, the artist gatecrashes period photos using very subtle resources, sometimes even imperceptible, which call into play the compositional logic of memory.
Concha Martínez Barreto, Birds, 2018.
She either omits some presences, ensuring she leaves some indication of the absence, or she inserts one photo inside another in a kind of Russia doll of memories. Or she will turn a photograph into a drawing, changing the dimension of one of the elements in the scene to make it seem gigantesque; or she will simply reduce the line of the horizon from a period photograph. Some of these interventions are carried out like photographic collages, while others involve a careful exercise in drawing. But in all of them her work with images explores ways, which are not always obvious, in which the past is constructed from the present.
It is not a question of looking back but of ensuring that the past forms part of the present
There is a second element which concerns this artist from Murcia: her commitment to beauty. All her compositions entail great concern for form. The beauty of Concha Martínez Barreto is lyrical and fragile; it is a climatic and somewhat melancholy beauty. A landscape of emotions which, despite perhaps not evoking a past that we have experienced (we are none of us the child, adult or young girl of the photograph) invites us into it in a certain way.
Concha Martínez Barreto, De la serie El viaje, 2018.
The Order of the Days – this is the title of the exhibition – also offers three-dimensional works and an installation. Two ancient Roman weights have been worked into a sculpture that describes a family scene: literally father and mother. A worn model of a ship sails on the sealess surface of a plexiglass urn. Finally, there is a light installation – a white neon with the word ‘Birds’ – concentrates this strange sorcery of the proximity and distance with which memory operates. Each time somebody approaches the neon light it switches off. Just as you arrive, the bird takes flight.
Concha Martínez Barreto, Ajuar (Flores para un principio y final).
“It is not a questions of looking back but of ensuring that the past forms part of the present”, is what the artist has written in the texts that accompany the works, alluding to that intangible line that unites the past with the present- The work of Concha Martínez Barreto calls to mind the distortion, inflation, changes of scale, things forgotten and empty spaces on which we build our own story of the past, and in doing so, our identity. Maybe that is why these acts of memory which are the gatecrashed photographs of Concha Martínez reach us so easily, because they put us all in a common place: that of the fundamental questions of whether we are who we say we were.
The exhibition by Concha Martínez Barreto, The Order of the Days, can be seen at the Víctor Lope Gallery in Barcelona, until 26 January 2019.
I receive a strange telephone call from a woman who, by the sound of her soft voice, seems young. She tells me that her father has an important collection of drawings and invites me to see them Argentona.
I go there by train along the coast where the sea is a flat expansion of silver foil. When I get there, a female voice tells me through the interphone that she cannot see me. It is midday and I she asks me to return at four in the afternoon. Her voice sounds different – deep and authoritarian.
Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. CC0 1.0.
After lunch I return to the house – a sad sixties flat. It smells of broth. The woman is at least sixty and looks like she’s had a hard life. Only her voice makes her seem younger. The TV is on too loud (I don’t know why she doesn’t just turn it off) and is spewing out images of some reality show. She shows me through to the living room, full of dark, heavy furniture and a Bacarra lamp and she picks up a beautiful album of drawings bound in green leather while we wait for her father to arrive.
The father talks to me about the drawings, bought from the best antiquarian shops in the world
I hear footsteps in the corridor and the man arrives, walking with difficulty – his feet played like a snowplough. He is blind. The shape of his head reminds me of Rembrandt’s Homer. The daughter flicks through the pages of the album quickly and I notice that the drawings are missing and there is a feint shadow where the ink has been in contact with the paper.
The father talks to me about the drawings, bought from the best antiquarian shops in the world, works by Cano, Guercino, Conchillos, Tiepolo, which are no longer there, substituted by now by white sheets of laid paper. The blind old man strokes the pages and touch the papers as he carries on talking about the past while I look at his daughter and the help, two figures who have now turned into pillars of salt.
I do not know what to say, and so I jot some things down in my notebook and I say that I will be in touch soon with an estimate of the value. The man says his goodbyes and whispers to me “you’ll never see drawings as good as mine” and I notice his empty eyes. His daughter accompanies me to the front door. While I am waiting for the lift she says in a little girl’s voice: “We had to live off something…”.
For seventeen years now, the Barcelona art gallery Esther Monturiol has been offering DelicARTessen, a large group exhibition of art in small and medium formats.
And every year, around these dates when autumn becomes winter, I get the impression that DelicARTessen is a great occasion for those who want to see a significant part of current art being made mainly in Barcelona, but also in other cities.
This show connects directly with recent art, without the filters that the art market, institutional routines and aesthetic trends tend to impose upon it. This is due to the fact that the gallery owner’s criteria are open, free, anti-sectarian and pluralist while also being selective and demanding. The panorama offered in DelicARTessen in this, its seventeenth year, does not attempt to be exhaustive but it is broad and generous: 450 works by 90 international artists, many of them resident in Barcelona or Catalonia, are exhibiting and expanding like constellations of images in the two floors of the gallery. This initiative may appear modest, but at the same time it is also prodigious, especially in a city like Barcelona where collections of contemporary art do not abound.
The Three Sub-worlds of Art
The art world, or the contemporary art world is often spoken about in a general sense and I think this is the cause of some unfair misunderstandings. I believe that if we want to offer a fair and undistorted image of the art world, we need to recognise that within this world there are various sub-worlds. The first sub-world – I am afraid that right now it is the first – is represented by the big art market, high budget collectors, where the art does not matter in itself but mainly as an economic investment. In the first sub-world, anything that had been the expression of the spirit and personality of being human takes second place.
Xevi Solà, Useless Camouflage, 2018.
The art itself is displaced to a secondary and inferior position and its meaning is reduced. It becomes something like a stock market gamble or a lottery ticket. So, Van Gogh’s starry night shoulders up against any bibelot premium (outrageously expensive) work by Jeff Koons. It doesn’t matter how much or little the contribution of the artist or the work to the history of culture, knowledge, imagination or even the wisdom. What is more important is the investment in heritage, satisfied greed and possible returns on the investment. In this sub-world we see the kind of idiot that Antonio Machado spoke of in his poetry: those who mistake price for value.
Now many of those incredibly expensive paintings are embarrassing
The second artistic sub-world is represented in the art centres and museums. The hierarchies that exist in them established their star directors and curators. Their projects may be good or not, but what is decisive in all of them is that their directors and curators act as aesthetic leaders who are far too often dogmatic, almost to the extent of being the Pope before the faithful. For some time thanks to Catherine David’s Documenta, many people seem to have placed themselves in the exclusive programme known as critical art where most visual arts are considered to be either taboo or ideologically or aesthetically sinful.
Fum, Tres, 2018.
However, within this institutional and neoacademic sub-world there exists a fluctuation, a solemn vanity, and an ideological or aesthetic trend with a sell-by date. I remember in the 1980’s the artistically correct consisted in extolling neopainters in general (including those who were preferably forgettable), while some of the best experimental film makers were deemed to be nobodies and could not raise funds to make their projects. Some of them even committed suicide. Now many of those incredibly expensive paintings are embarrassing, while the visionary cinema of Paul Sharits and José Val del Omar is now in the best museums.
And finally, there is a third sub-world of art: made up of the artists, gallery owners and other genuine agents who are only exceptionally granted access to the privileges of the first and second sub-worlds. This is the area of the private galleries and also that which can be seen in this exhibition. There is a place for artists who survive precariously or well, or even with a degree of success, to those who have live in homeless misery in order to persist with their artistic vocation in times which are not good for lyricism nor for accessible and non-speculative collectionism. When the gallery critic is independent and non-sectarian, the art in this third sub-sector manifests itself in all its diversity.
Marcos Palazzi, Where the Hell is San Paulino.
In this year’s DelicARTessen we can find almost all the modes, formats and styles offered by art today. Painting is the most-represented discipline, with an international selection which includes Japanese artist Mari Ito, different artists living in Barcelona such as Sabine Finkenauer, Nicole Gagnum and Silvia Hornig, and other European artists such as Thomas Edetun and Tamara Müller.
Marcos Palazzi’s painting are incredible: clothed characters placed in a night-time sea or a river, seeking something with the use of flashlights, or other characters surprised by their own phosphorescent, mobile hands. Other excellent metarealist painters are Xevi Solà and Jabi Machado.
Víctor Pérez-Porro, Woody Diary 1, 2016.
Abstract painting is represented in its most geometric from by Víctor Pérez-Porro and Sarah West and in a more organic register through the lines of Juan Escudero and the colours of Matías Krahn.
The sculptures by Cesc Riera are highly poetic with the use of infra-minimal and ultra-poor media. This is a poetry which is both pop and anti-solemn, tainted by a surrealist sense of humour.
Drawing by Fum are also situated on a unique borderline which synthesises different poetic styles: minimalist, surrealist, comic underground and pop.
Manel Rubiales, Montoro.
Jordi W. Saladrigas is showing poetic objects and scenarios among which are a series of nocturnal miniatures and a portrait in which Napoleon Bonaparte seems to be affected by a solitary disorder of the kind every aspiring emperor must suffer.
You can’t miss the sculpture by Manel Rubiales entitled Montoro, possibly a portrait of a Spanish former minister, in the form of a fighting dog with a strong sense of the ridiculous. The canine character has the same name as the Minister for Finance who invalidated his cultural colleague and aborted the project for the law on Patronage which was necessary then and continues to be now.
Cesc Riera, Aparato.
Other works which should also be highlighted are those by Teresa Gómez-Martorell, Matilde Grau and Rosó Cusó, as well as the different figurations of Plácido Romero, Dani Ensesa, Leonard Beard, Jaume Roure, Paula Leiva, Tomás Morell, Bartolomé Montes and Oriol Arisa, among others. This last artist includes reference to the black Spain of the twenty-first century, with the famous or infamous article 155 as the corrector of the democratic “putchist” consultationsand “mistaken” Catalan voters.
Photography is represented by Aleydis Rispa, Espe Pons, Lluís Carbonell and others, and video in a piece by David Ymbernon. And there is a lot more. When you leave this exhibition, you cannot help asking yourself a few questions. For example, what would David Hockney have to say about those characters with illuminated hands or night lights by Marcos Palazzi? What would Goya think about Jabi Machado’s dark paintings of throats? Why aren’t some of the artists in DelicARTessen included in a collection like that of the MACBA, etc!
The exhibition DelicARTessen 17 can be seen in the Esther Monturiol Gallery in Barcelona until 12 January 2019.
At a moment in humanity when time has never been so difficult to find and keep, Polish artist Alicja Kwade (1979) invites us to pass through, listen to and observe space-time in an exhibition at the Blueproject Foundation in Barcelona.
Alicja Kwade combines the mind of a precision engineer with that of an artist. She is obsessed with time: she wants to measure it, capture it and turn it into a physical object. It is all too common to find ourselves, at one moment or another, uttering the words “I haven’t got time”, or stressing out thinking about how many more hours a day should have to make us feel better. If you are not on a tropical island or on a mountain top, it is hard not to become an addict to the most slippery substance in the world: time – which slips through our hands and robs every last second from us.
This Polish artist, who has recently exhibited in the Hayward Gallery in London and in the last Venice Biennale, seems to want to trap time and explore space, and even go beyond it. Time, space and astronomy make up the triad of her main interests. She works with sculptures and installations using a variety of materials in a dialogue between light and heavyweight objects, playing with sound and light.
a kind of symphony made up of the sound of the artist’s heartbeat and the ticking of a clock
In her first solo exhibition in Spain, Glances, Kwade has made an immense site-specific sound contraption called Clout-Count, in the middle of Il Salotto in the Blueproject Foundation. The circular installation simulates a huge 24-hour clock. Each of the hours in the circle corresponds to a speaker which emits a kind of symphony made up of the sound of the artist’s heartbeat and the ticking of a clock. The hourly sequence combines the organic with the mechanical.
Kwade’s obsession with time is evident in her series of drawings and collage, In-Between, where the position of tiny clock hands marks the intensity of the days’ activity, in a kind of artist’s diary. These are delicate drawings with a highly emotional content.
In silence and with a will to experiment is probably the best way to enjoy Alicja Kwade’s exhibition. If viewers feel obliged to listed to the sound piece whether they like it or not in the case of the three sculptures of Between Glances, which are also adapted to be site specific in the Blueproject hall, they can also choose to remain completely still to contemplate them or walk around or into them. The three pieces are made up of panels in the form of windscreens, some made of glass and others of mirrors and a third kind which is empty. Lightbulbs, some of which are on and others off, help to create curious reflections between the light and the figure of the viewer, like unexpected divisions. Nothing here is stable. Everything is fragile. Like space-time might be. Like the human condition itself might be.
The exhibition Glances, by Alicja Kwade, can be seen at the Blueproject Foundation in Barcelona until 21 April 2019.
Among all the foreign artists that art dealer Josep Dalmau exhibited, Mela Mutermilch (Warsaw, 1876 – Paris, 1967), or Mela Muter as she was known, was the one that had the biggest impact in Catalonia.
Although her visits were only occasional, she left a great mark. In fact, apart from the Uruguayan Rafael Barradas, she is the only artist to be represented in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art of Catalonia (MNAC) with two magnificent paintings: the portrait of Dalmau himself and La Santa Família.
Mela Muter, La Santa Família, 1909. MNAC, Barcelona.
In 1911, Dalmau invited Mela to have a solo exhibition in his gallery and this initiative had a huge impact. Among the other journalists and art critics, Carme Karr wrote a long review in the magazine Feminal, for which she was the editor. A year later, Mela exhibited again in the Dalmau gallery in a group show of Polish artists.
While she was actually living in Paris, she made several visits to Catalonia, Castile and the Basque Country. As Cristina Masanés explains in her review of the magnificent exhibition of Mela in the Museum of Art of Girona, in 1914 she spent just a couple of months in the city of the River Onyar, where she painted some unforgettable works and, just as in Barcelona, her work and her presence make a big impression on the intellectuals of the city. Rafael Masó and Xavier Montsalvatge offered her a solo exhibition in the new Athenea gallery. There she met the painter Pere Farró and Manolo Hugué, who was also in the area at the time.
Mela Muter, Leopold Gottlieb, c. 1908-1911. Private collection, Barcelona.
And it was thanks to her time there – short but fruitful – that Girona came to know her. Her first retropective, although relatively small was organised in 1994 by Mercè Doñate. And in Barcelona, a couple of years ago, the MNAC, under the directorship of Juan José Lahuerta, commissioned the historian of Polish art Monika Polinska (partner of Juan Manuel Bonet) to curate a new and more complete review of her works.
Unfortunately, this initiative was curtailed when Lahuerta left the museum and it was, once again the Art Museum of Girona which took up the idea again under the curatorship of Glòria Bosch, Susanna Portell and Artur Tanikowski. I have to say that this exhibition is highly recommended, and it is a shame that it has not also travelled to Barcelona to complete the circle. In any case it is certainly worth making the trip to the Onyar to visit it.
Antoni Vila Arrufat, Joan Trias Fàbregas, 1918.
Unknowingly, and apart from the interest from Girona and the complete acknowledgment of her talent by Dalmau, Mela had a disciple in Sabadell who fell in love with her painting so much that he followed her for almost a decade and her name was always present on his lips. That person was Antoni Vila Arrufat (Sabadell, 1894 – Barcelona, 1989). In fact, the young Vila wanted to be a musician and for his whole life he was frustrated that he did not manage to become one, but his parents wanted him to be a painter following in the footsteps of the family patriarch: Joan Vila Cinca, and they did everything they could to that end. From his father’s studio Antoni went on to study at La Llotja, where he was taught the delights of Costumbrismo and southern Luminism, which, much later, when he began entered a phase of academicism would serve him well. As a boost to his educational training his parents sent him on a municipal grant to the Madrid, to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
The spirit and the palette of Mela spilled over into all aspects of his work
When he returned in 1917, the young Vila left behind all his ideas of domestic Zuloaguism, and moved towards the work of Joaquim Mir, who was also living very close to Sabadell, between Santa Perpètua and Mollet del Vallès, and who had become the beacon for two other local young painters: Joan Vila Puig and Rafael Durancamps. We do not know if Antoni ever visited Mela’s 1911 exhibition when he was studying at La Llotja, or if he saw her work in Girona in 1914, but what we do know is that he knew the work of this Polish artist in great detail and in 1918 made a radical change in his own work.
Antoni Vila Arrufat, Ricard Marlet, 1919. Marlet family collection, Sabadell.
It was then that he declared himself a true follower of Mela and, thanks to his new path, he achieved one of the greatest moments of his artistic career. His exhibition in 1919 in the Galeries Laietanes was an exceptional reflection if his new direction. The spirit and the palette of Mela spilled over into all aspects of his work. His portraits of friends from Sabadell such as Francesc Armengol Duran – the promotor of the Terramar urban development in Sitges – the engraver Ricard Marlet, the writer Joan Trias Fàbregas, the illustrator Josep Sanllehí, and Rafel Durancamps, among many others, are the evidence of this inspiration, as well as the landscapes of the banks of the River Ripoll, with clear connotations of Mela’s Onyar. There are also the figures, pregnant women and murals, made in the style of the time with fragmented and vigorous brushstrokes, leaving some part of the canvas empty and the use of blue, ochre, brown, green and yellow tones, applied with an assurance and strength. This splendid and prolific production would end up being protected by the very maternities and sleeping beauties of which it was composed from the 1930s onwards, and become a clear hit with the clients of the Sala Parés.
Antoni Vila Arrufat, Rafael Durancamps, 1919. Private collection, Sabadell.
At the height of Muter’s success, in 1920, Antoni travelled to Paris, just as Josep Togores, and Joan Miró, had done. Vila spent a time in the French capital but did not really find his feet, even though he did make contact with Mela, who he so admired, and he was rather shocked to find that she had such a great admiration for Picasso, who had become the bad boy of Catalan art due to his return to tradition and his distancing from the avant-garde. The mark of Mela, however, continued in the work of Antoni, although it became weaker over the years, blurred into the background of scenes which toed the line with the established order.
The catalogue of Mela Muter published by the Museum of Art of Girona not only contains the other Polish artists which were exhibited by Dalmau but also offers very interesting information about the artist herself and a detailed account of the mark she made in Catalonia. It is a shame, however, that the name of Antoni Vila Arrufat does not appear given that, here, he was probably her greatest follower.
The exhibition Life? Or Theatre? by Charlotte Salomon at the Monastery of Pedralbes is destined for success.
Partly because we are always more attracted to biographies with lives full of action or tragedy, such as Caravaggio or Van Gogh, than the steady, quiet lives of Miró or Vermeer.
The stones which Virginia Woolf carried in her pockets to make sure she drowned properly when she committed suicide exude poetry. The drugs which do not cease to take away singers and musicians, seem to us the consequence of a lack of adaptation to a hostile society by sensitive and highly creative spirits.
Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) is an artist marked by both family and collective tragedy. She was born into a Jewish family and it was her misfortune to experience and suffer the height of Nazi Germany. She was just 26 years old when she was deported and exterminated in Auschwitz. With her strong artistic vocation, Salomon came up against another of the difficulties of the time in developing as a professional artist: she was a woman. So, just as in other cases, Salomon’s work contains the legend of the female artist rediscovered long after her death.
Life? or Theatre? Is a collection of almost 800 gouaches which Salomon painted from 1941 to 1942, obsessively, with the aim of achieving catharsis or therapy. But this is not just a series of paintings. It is her entire work, with a narrative-autobiographical thread which she conceived to exorcise her family demons after she had discovered that many members of her family – especially the women, such as her mother, her aunt and her grandmother – had committed suicide. And all the time the figure of the grandfather in the shadows like one of Murnau’s monsters. I won’t go on otherwise I will give away spoilers to this narrative work.
Gouaches that often look like storyboards or comic strips
Of all the works, the curator of the exhibition, Ricard Bru, has selected 237 pieces from the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. The entire exhibition could well be a contemporary graphic novel, a theatre piece and even a musical given that the artist thought up a soundtrack for the gouaches, which often looks like storyboards or comic strips. They are accompanied by texts which can be found in small booklets at the entrance to the exhibition. In fact, there is already an opera, a novel and a film in progress about the artist.
But the most important thing is that in this exhibit we can see Salomon’s original gouaches, and even setting aside the powerful story they tell, we can appreciate her extraordinary talent as an artist. Using just three colours – yellow, blue and red – she creates a solid artistic work, coloured and impregnated with the aesthetics of German expressionism. As the narration progresses this becomes simplified towards a more gestural art which finally ends in strokes which only form words. It is a wonderful lesson in hope – despite the terrible ending – and of life, and a palpable demonstration of the curative nature of art.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has launched in Barcelona, “Megalodemocrat”, the documentary following the last decade of his extraordinary career.
Meanwhile his works are being exhibited around the world. With a solo exhibition in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, and a powerful presence in Untitled Art Miami he has shown his ability to overcome the atavistic suspicion of the big art fairs for electronic art.
There was never such a good name. I mean Megalodemocrat – the film that covers the last ten years of the career of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Mexico City, 1968) while sketching out a multifaceted portrait of the character and working method of this artist, who is famous for his interactive works of enormous dimensions that are capable of involving the public in the transformation of urban spaces, historic buildings and huge expanses of sky.
That is where the ‘megalodemocrat’ comes in – from the capacity of involving absolutely anyone, independent of their age, culture or technological knowledge, in an artistic event full of meaning and great fun to boot.
Lozano-Hemmer takes political art to a new level, utopia becomes reality and ideas are converted into practice. Far from the pedentery and masturbatory practices of so much art self-defined as political, from his beginnings Lozano-Hemmer has concentrated on giving the power to the people, who become the users of the works which they can both control and enjoy as both viewer and protagonist.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Alzado Vectorial [México]. Photo by Martin Vargas.
It is impossible to forget the sky of Mexico City transformed into a huge canvas for the change of the millennium thanks to Alzado Vectorial. This installation, which has been presented in many cities, offer an intuitive interface so that anyone, using their computer, can create a light sculpture in the sky, controlling the giant robotic projectors whose rays travel for miles. Information about participation is included on his website so you can see that people are creative and take part in these enriching activities given the chance.
he turns the urban space into a giant stage
The shadow play used in different projects such as the iconic Body Movies, shows how the artist manages to turn the urban space into a giant stage, allowing hundreds of by- passers to abandon their stressed and self-absorbed path for a moment to show their comical or dramatic side, becoming the protagonists in a series of improvised gags between complete unknowns.
Rafael Lorano-Hemmer, #6 Body Movies.
The number of times these pieces have been set up in different cities around the world only goes to confirm another extraordinary side of this artist: using new media art, linked to technology or as some like to call it, the cliché as novelty. A piece can be either good or bad, but who would call Boltanski old? The works of Lozano-Hemmer are already atemporal, however innovative is the technology used to create them. For that reason, they form part of the most important collections of contemporary art museum in the world, constantly selected for their group exhibitions and recognised in exhaustive solo exhibitions.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Pulse Index, 2010. Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2011. Photo: Antimodular Research.
This is the case with Pulse, which can be seen in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington until the end of April, where biometric technologies are used to involve visitors to participate through their heartbeats and fingerprints.
All of this is seen in Megalodemocrat by Benjamin Duffield – the sold-out event for the Dart Festival, which is the beginning in Barcelona of a journey through numerous festivals and museums. Filmed in 30 cities over ten years this 90-minute documentary demonstrates the success of participation, but also the tension and fear of it all going up in smoke, when something doesn’t work, either because the security cameras which have become the tools for the creation of the work are put out by the wind, or because the internet connection fails.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Under Scan, Relational Architecture 11, 2006. Humberstone Gate West, Leicester, UK. Photo: Antimodular Research.
The first stop was in London’s Trafalgar Square with Under Scan, which allows interaction with characters which emerge from the paving stones when the passers-by cover them with their shadows. The second was in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico, in Voz alta, an audiovisual speaker where people could leave their memories and statements in commemoration of the massacre of Tlatelolco in 1968.
It is not hard to imagine the pressure involved in opening up the tunnel in New York’s Park Avenue for the first time in a hundred years to install Voice Tunnel, a work which allowed people to fill it with their voices, songs and messages.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Voice Tunnel. Photo: James Ewing.
Resolving the problems of the most sophisticated technology with the most surprising low-tech fixes involves many hours of experimentation and a team of highly dedicated and brilliant minds. So it is excellent news that Lozano-Hemmer is now in Untitled Art Miami with smaller but equally committed works from two galleries: bitforms in Nueva York and Max Estrella in Madrid. Hopefully this also means that something is also changing, albeit slowly, the wary art market.
The recent death of Bernardo Bertolucci has had a significant secondary effect: the proliferation of journalists who, among the entire contribution made to the world of cinema by the director of movies such as Last Tango in Paris (1972), 1900 (1976) and The Sheltering Sky (1990), what they most chose to highlight was… guess? Correct: that. The ghost of the butter scene haunts Bertolucci even in death.
None of those texts mentioned the moving ending of The Sheltering Sky, or the history of fascist violence to hold back the rise of socialism in 1900, nor even the splendid and heart-rending existential portrait in Last Tango in Paris. No. What they chose to focus on was the use of a milk derivative as a sexist and sexual lubricant, in the famous scene in which the character of Marlon Brando springs a disagreeable surprise on the character of Maria Schneider and also –even more disagreeably– on the young actress herself.
Last Tango in Paris scene.
We should make it clear here that, according to the director, the actress was not actually raped, that she was aware of the script and that the “only introduction” was the use of butter –a surprise which she experienced as a humiliation. These days it was somewhat predictable that that sordid filming episode should be associated with the very necessary –although at times exhibitionist– #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment.
However, I am going to take a different path. I think that sometimes, or even often, we only see what we are. In the sense that those who, out of the entire filmography of Bertolucci, only thought of focusing on that episode, actually have a problem themselves. And not just with Bertolucci’s films, but if they rummage through the biographies of many other creators – both old and new (Picasso, Dalí, Joyce, etc.), I fear that they may have to repudiate a large part of the history of the arts.
In my opinion Last Tango in Paris is Bertolucci’s masterpiece. And also that of his main collaborators. The crepuscular and brightly-lit photographic poetry of Vittorio Storaro expresses very well the essence of the story, as does the moving and yet vital music of Gato Barbieri. In the same way, part of the collective authorship of this film is the unconscious existential and autobiographical confession of Marlon Brando, who often improvised and changed the script, by Bertolucci himself and the film editor Franco Arcalli. Bertolucci was grateful to him and thereby managed to sap the most unconfessable part of Brando’s life. When Brando saw the movie, he was shocked and didn’t talk to Bertolucci for fifteen years.
The impression that I got after the death of Bertolucci is that there has been an excessive number of articles published by people who have frequented Wikipedia more than the film and book libraries. It perplexes me that a major newspaper can dedicate a double page spread to this great director without even mentioning his excellent director of photography Vittorio Storaro, who Bertolucci considered to be his brush and his painter, which is saying a lot. And no mention either of the scripts of some of his best films that were inspired by Jorge Luis Borges (The Spider’s Stratagem) or adapted from stories by Alberto Moravia (The Conformist) or de Paul Bowles (The Sheltering Sky).
The first days after Bertolucci’s death reminded me of a phrase by Jean Cocteau which nailed it: “Success is a misunderstanding”. Tango was a huge audience success, but I doubt that many people made the most minimum effort to try to understand its sense or its meaning. Beyond the obvious, what I see in Tango is a version and a cinematographic vision of the duality that was painted so often by Francis Bacon: sexual, carnal desire and its dark, monstrous or empty flipside.
The protagonist could endorse the first lines of Dante’s Inferno
The beginning of the film brings to mind Edvard Much’s The Scream. The star’s partner has committed suicide. In the beginning there was death. Right away we find ourselves in a time of destruction, away from earthly paradise. The protagonist could endorse the first lines of Dante’s Inferno: Nel mezzo del cammin’ di nostra vita / Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, / Ché la diritta via era smarrita (When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, / I found myself within a shadowed forest, / for I had lost the path that does not stray).
Very soon after, follow the initial scream, comes the apparition of a woman like the promise of a new life. She represents, if not exactly the innocence of Eden, at least the innocence of youth. And if not love, precisely, then sex. Beyond the fantasy of having sex with a stranger, the themes are those of Dante. But the tone oversteps the mark and is not harmonious – closer to Bataille than to courtly love.
In earthly paradise there no names or roles or social classes, or frustrated professions, or identities fixed in sad tick-boxes. Bertolucci presents in Tango the possibility of a relationship radically unhinged from all social conventions; a wild relationship in an absolute moment in time, which is, above all, sexual and carnal. His earthly paradise, isolated from the outside world and a previous life destroyed, is like a spatial-temporal oasis with the aspect of an empty apartment, illuminated by the twilight. This desired paradise is the colour of skin.
In that film Bertolucci proposed a relationship which was sexual, isolated and antisocial. But that did not work either. First because the aggression of the male and second because of the resentment and fear of the female destroyed any kind of interpersonal utopia. And when the male star decides to move into a social logic, he is rapidly annulled. The nameless sex and the final dance were the possibly the final gestures before the ultimate farewell. The outcome contains Freudian and political connotations which the director develops further in other films.
Last Tango in Paris is a poem in the form of a cinematographic story. The fluidity of the camera, the fragmented frames and the figures duplicated in reflections are forms which both express and signify the meaning of the story and the rhythm of the poem. In written poetry, it is the only soul of the poet which is exposed, either masked or unmasked. But in a film like Tango the actors are also exposed. Bertolucci was not afraid to introduce elements of cinéma vérité in a fictitious story based on a theme which was as extreme as it was delicate. In some ways, this work is also profound and true thanks to the sordid episode drawn from the biographical experience of the actor and the vulnerable innocence of the actress. Sometimes the directors of narrative movies are like vampires. And that it perhaps why others prefer –or maybe we prefer– to write stories or poems.
We already knew the life story of Mela Muter (born in Warsaw in 1879 with the name of Maria Melania Klingsland and married to writer Michel Mutermilch) and we liked it.
An exhibition in the Art Museum of Girona brings us the visual and written work of this Polish artist who made her mark on Girona at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Portrait of Mela Muter with a group of Polish artists in Barcelona. From left to right: Witold Gordon Jurgielewicz, Elie Nadelman, Leopold Gottlieb, Mela Muter and Michal Mutermilch, 1912. Photography: Francesc Serra. City of Girona. Archive Library Rafael i María Teresa Santos Torroella (Galeries Dalmau collection).
A first exhibition, also in Girona, allowed us to discover her in 1994. Since then, we have come to know that Mela Muter was a pioneer in dedicating her life professionally to painting. We found out that at the age of twenty-five she arrived in Paris and stayed there. And also, that the quality of her work and the fact that she was a woman “who painted like a man” set her up well in the press. We knew that in 1914 she had spent a period in Girona and made an impression. Since then, and as Eva Vázquez wrote four years ago “the Gironan myth around Mela Muter has not yet had the attention it deserves”.
Mela Muter, Portrait of the painter Leopold Gottlieb, c. 1908-1911. Private collection, Barcelona.
The exhibition in the Art Museum of Girona aims to clear that pending debt. Glòria Bosch and Susanna Portell, together with Polish art historian Artur Tanikowski, have managed to bring together almost sixty paintings by Muter from collections and museums in Paris, Berlin and Warsaw.
Mela Muter and polish Artists in Catalonia places the emphasis on the link between Catalonia and Poland, with works by other avant-garde Polish artists who were present at the 1912 exhibition in the Galeries Dalmau and who Mela Muter mixed with: Leopold Gottlieb, Elie Nadelman, Olga Bozanaska and Eugene Zak.
Mela Muter, Portrait of the dealer Josep Dalmau, 1911. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
On the recommendation of Anglada-Camarassa in 1911, Josep Dalmau went to see Muter in Paris to bring her work to Barcelona: 33 paintings for a solo exhibition. “A great surprise awaited me when I returned to Paris: a visit by a gallery owner from Barcelona”. In Barcelona, as in Paris, the pictorial intensity of Muter’s work and the force of her post-impressionism and expressionism were even able to convince the competition of the noucentisme movement.
her elegance and her ways left the provincial city open-mouthed
The following year, she exhibited again in the Galeries Dalmau, this time with 14 other Polish artists. Ors, Junoy and Folch i Torres gave her and her country of origin good reviews: “the heroic sister land of ours”, read La Veu de Catalunya in May 1912.
Mela Muter, The Onyar in Gerona (Near the river), 1914. Museu d’Art de Girona.
But Mela Muter returned to Catalonia. In 1914, just before Europe went to war, she spent two months in Girona, where her elegance and her ways left the provincial city open-mouthed. Muter was one of the first people to look at the old quarter of the city with modern eyes, to paint at an easel in the street and on footpaths, and to debate and share her opinions at the Cafè Norat with some of the most progressive names of the day such as Miquel de Palol, Rafael Masó, Xavier Montsalvatge and Joaquim Pla. The last two assured that in Muter’s landscapes “the light sang”.
A keen traveller with a great curiosity, Muter enlightens us with her notebooks and memoirs commenting on her own work, the landscapes she knows and the people she observes before painting them. Even though we read: “I don’t make psychological portraits”, their ferocious lyricism contains great human density. The strength is in the gestures, the expressions and the place from where her characters are looking.
Mela Muter, Amer Market, 1914. Collection of Marek Roefler. Photo: Marcin Koniak.
Muter paints maternal scenes continually, she paints groups of children who observe us with a terribly adult gaze, she paints the three ages of life in a reinterpretation of the holy family where Saint Joseph is pushed to the back of the scene where he stands beaten by old age.
A woman, Polish, Jewish, socialist and painter in Europe during the two world wars, Muter experienced the German occupation of France in hiding in Avignon. Shortly afterwards, having managed to get a divorce, she lost her only child and also her partner, the historian and politician Raymond Lefebvre. She was left sightless until an operation for cataracts allowed her to return to her painting. When she died, at the age of 91, she left the only work she had to the SOS Villages d’Enfants charity.
Mela Muter, Two Old Men, c. 1902. Jankilevitch Collection.
She was an attentive observer and chronicler of her time, and although the exhibition in Girona already offers a significant taste of her talents as a writer, on 14 December a second exhibition opens at Les Bernades in Salt. Lost Liberties is an epistolary documentation between Mela Muter, Raymond Lefebvre and their friend and poet Rainer Maria Rilke. We look forward to it.
In 50 Secrets of Magic Craftmanship Dalí writes that a painting has reached its definitive state when you can imagine it “in the course of a protracted dream, hung in a museum alongside your favourite Raphaels”.
Well, this little miracle has been realised thanks to the temporary loan of Raphael’s Madonna of the Rose (1517) by the Prado Museum, which will be hung next to The Ascension of Saint Cecilia (ca. 1955), by Dalí.
Picture of Raphael’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria, 1506-1507, in Dalí’s studio.
The exhibition Dalí-Raphael, a Protracted Dream, curated by Montse Aguer, offers abundant documentary material on Dalí’s admiration for the Renaissance painter, as well as on the creative process of his own Saint Cecilia. In this oil painting, the saint disintegrates – or rather is recovered – behind a cloud made up of semicircles, emulating the rhino horns which for Dalí represented a perfect logarithmic curve. Underneath, Dalí makes reference to the dry stone of the Cap de Creus landscape. He took inspiration for the work in Raphael’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1506-1507), which is in the National Gallery in London.
In this exhibition there is also a drawing of the face of Saint Cecilia, with a background grid which Dalí used to keep in proportion the perspective which was so important to him and closely linked to the beauty and mysticism that were keys in the works of the Renaissance artists.
Raphael, Madonna of the Rose, 1517. Museo Nacional del Prado.
Dalí’s initial admiration for Raphael’s work began with The Masterpieces of Raphael, published by Gowans Grey, London in 1906 and he returned to it later when the book Raphael was published by Hyperion in New York in 1941.
“I had let my hair grow and wore it long like a girl”
In fact, Dalí had already expressed his admiration for the work of the painter d’Urbino in Self-portrait with Raphaelesque Neck, from approximately 1921; and he explains in The Secret Life how at the beginning he consciously imitated features of the Raphael’s personality, intimately related to melancholy which, as conceived by Marsilio Ficino and Giorgio Vasari, was the light of the genius: “I had let my hair grow and wore it long like a girl, and looking at myself in the mirror, I often adopted the postures and melancholy aspect of Raphael, who I would habe like to look like more than anyone”.
We know from Anna Maria Dalí that her brother had a reproduction of the Madonna della seggiola by Raphael at the head of his bed. And he would later remember in an interview that d’Urbino had been present in his expulsion from the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, when he declared the evaluating panel incompetent since he knew more about Raphael than the three professors put together.
In the exhibition there is a large collage of photographs from the studios in Portlligat and Monterrey, showing the painter working surrounded by reproductions of works by Raphael, such as the Madonna del cardellino or Madonna of the Goldfinch, or the Deposition, but there are also works by Vermeer with The Lacemaker and Velázquez with the portrait of Margaret Theresa of Austria. This was the ranking that Dalí envisioned in his 50 Magic Secrets, also present in the show, in which only Vermeer supersedes the score of Raphael, who is followed closely by Velazquez.
The director of the Prado Museum, Miguel Falomir, who was present at the opening, highlighted the admiration that Dalí felt for Raphael, alongside Velázquez and Bosch, when he visited the Prado in the mid-twenties, and how in his Dali News, published in New York, he said it was the best museum in the world.
As Montse Aguer explains, Dalí wanted his own museum to become a space for dialogue among artists. Another dream come true: the day of the opening there was a round-table with the participation of Aguer, the director of the Prado, the patron of the Òscar Tusquets Foundation, and the painter Antonio López. According to López, Dalí was imprudent and had neither a sense of fear or a sense of guilt, and it was this which enabled him to go down in to the sewers of humanity and come face to face with the dark zone. Something he hammered home by saying “any work of Dalí’s contains the whole history of humanity”.
The exhibition is complemented by a special dossier, Salvador Dalí, Raphael, which is posted on the website of the Foundation, coordinated by the Centre for Dalian Studies with a series of articles, quotations by Dalí, documentary material and a tour through the works in the catalogue of works by Dalí with a Raphaelesque inspiration.
On 24 November, in an article published in El Punt Avui, the journalist Maria Palau uncovered a controversy affecting the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Sant Jordi. Basically, the conflict is the result of a disagreement – which worsened over time – between two academic sides that had suffered collateral damage, the main being the firing of Victoria Durá, curator of the institution’s artistic collection.
This division was the catalyst for a series of recent events that have led the academic sector, mainly, to call for the resignation of the president of the Academy, the architect Joan Antoni Solans. He has refused to give up his position following an extraordinary meeting of the board in which – having reached the required quorum – thirteen academics demanded that he step down against seen (including him) in support.
With the aggravating factor that before the extraordinary meeting was held there had already been two ordinary meetings in which the Academy had shown its unequivocal desire to maintain the curator. The president, on the other hand, failed to comply with that clearly expressed desire time and again – a particularly serious matter given that, according to the statutes, the primary task of the president is to act on the decision of the Academy.
Seen from the outside, the situation is even more lamentable and should be a cause for reflection by everyone, and in particular the president and the sector which supports him. The Academy is a dignified and longstanding institution, founded in 1850 but with roots going back to the eighteenth century, which does not deserve this kind of circus. Even though the statutes do not oblige Solans to resign, it is obvious that most academics have lost confidence in him and he should seriously consider whether he should continue in the position.
Unfortunately, recently we have become used to seeing people clinging on to their posts despite not having the confidence of those around them. It is an anomaly of the system which has impregnated several spheres of public life. A modern and democratic society calls for new kinds of leaders who can adapt to the new ways of connecting among us. So, despite the old school forms, we are experiencing important changes where social and political leaders are called on to be consequent and responsible in their actions.
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Sant Jordi is a microcosm which would struggle to compare itself to certain other movements in which assembleyism and the will of the people determine the decision-making process. It is an academy linked to a tradition and a set of values and, it has to be said, a way of being which is increasingly difficult to fit in to our society. Time will tell what will end up happening to this kind of institution in the future, but in the meantime, we need to try to ensure a civilised relationship for the sake of the prestige of the Academy and, above all, for the maintenance and care of the important art collection that it holds – something that is not happening today.
From the time that the Academy stopped playing a role in art education (remember that artists such as Fortuny and Picasso, among many others, received training there) the conservation and diffusion of the collection became the main raison d’être of the institution.
However, with the dismissal of the person who has worked most over the last few years to achieve that objective, irresponsibility and bad practice have come into play, and hence the academics have a perfectly legitimate voice to demand the resignation of the president. Solans should be consequent and give up his post, given that he has lost the support of the board. There is no possible excuse. The president cannot say that he is going to finalise the process of economic recovery that he has started: the Academy is not a company and he is not a manager.
A collection as important as that of the Academy deserves a full-time curator
In that sense, I am stupefied when I read that President Solans intends to announce a public competition to cover the vacancy left by Durá, according to article by Natàlia Farré published in El Periódico. The objective of the competition is to establish the job as a part time post instead of the full time one it has been until now, This is a major mistake.
A collection as important as that of the Academy deserves a full-time curator, just as it had before this conflict arose. If I can make a comparison, would anyone accept that the only doctor in a hospital worked part time? And as the oldest museum in Catalonia cannot allow that, I think it is time for a deeper reflection on the issue. And the first who should be doing so are the public administrations.
Law 9/1993 on Catalan Cultural Heritage stipulates that the Government of Catalonia should act on its behalf if the proprietor is unable to assume the conservation of items of national cultural interest or catalogued buildings. While I do not know if the collection of the Academy falls into these categories, the administrations have the duty and moral obligation to look after a collection which is absolutely referential in the Catalan panorama. Personally, I consider that from now on it should be more involved in the daily operation and management of the institution.
It surprised me, however, that the Catalan academies as legal entities – like the associations, foundations, political parties and professional societies – depend on the Department of Justice of the Government of Catalonia which is the public area from which they receive their main economic funding. This has an administrative explanation, but in the case of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Sant Jordi, it probably does not respond to any disciplinary logic.
The most normal and reasonable thing would be that the Department of Culture, together with the Diputació and the City Hall should take on the role of guardians of the institution, and this should necessarily culminate in new economic funding. Their mission would be to guarantee the survival of the institution and, especially, of an art collection which today provides the main reason for its existence. It would be a good idea for the administrations to take the bull by the horns in terms of the current problem of the lack of a curator for the institution. And given the importance of the collection, the new curator should be employed full time.
Al in all this requires changes in the organisation, administration and governance as a result of a series of drastic decisions. The first, and the most necessary, is the resignation of the current president, who has demonstrated that he does not know how to manage the institution on setting himself against the majority of the academics. The second, natural decision is the election of a new president and the constitution of a new board of governors, which constitutes the decision-making body of the Academy.
Finally, the whole process should end with the drawing up of new statutes and a change in the system of governors and patrons, which could include the public institutions mentioned above and, where appropriate, members of the private sector who could make economic contributions to the institution. From that point, it is certain that the situation would improve. The Academy and its collection deserve it.
If there was ever a Christmas tradition that attracted more followers than the others, at least in the city of Barcelona, it would be to criticise the nativity scene in the Plaça Sant Jaume.
There are several reasons for this, but I suspect that mostly it has to do with the fact that it is basically such a banal topic. Banality provides fertile ground for people who enjoy discussions or mouthing off in bars or on social networks.
Nativity scene in plaça Sant Jaume, 2018. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona CC BY-ND 2.0.
The truth is that nobody really cares about the nativity scene. Some people say it is for the children, but whenever I go there the children are always busy taking selfies beside it. Also, children get used to enjoying whatever is there – they are not weighed down by any kind of orthodoxy. That is the true Christmas ritual: go to the plaça, take photos, maybe stop by for a sandwich at Conesa and above all, go home saying that the nativity scene is a disaster, that it gets worse every year and, whoever is in government at that time, they never respect tradition.
The chair of the Child Jesus, 2018. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona CC BY-ND 2.0.
In fact, the tradition of the nativity scene goes back to Saint Francis of Assisi. Following his invention of the live nativity scene and seeing that he would not be burned at the stake for making a “human” baby Jesus, he noticed that people wanted to take home some memory of the scene. And from there we have the home nativity scenes. Since Saint Francis was here for several years as a result of different illnesses and problems, the tradition of the nativity scene took root in both human and model form. Possibly for that reason these traditions have persisted longer in Catalonia than in other places. Result: we will never be short of a traditional nativity scene.
Nativity in the Museu Marés, 2017. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona.
In fact, close to the Plaça Sant Jaume, the City Council organises a large nativity scene in the Marès Museum under the direction of the Association of Nativity Scene Builders of Barcelona. It can be found under the arcades, presumably to protect it from the rain. Also, very close by, another nativity scene is set up in the cloisters of the Cathedral, in pretty much a life scale model. On the ground floor of the Bethlehem Church on the Ramblas there is also a show of traditional nativity scenes, and another at the Mercader Palace and at the Diocesan Museum. I am sure there are more but in short, the range of classical nativity scenes on offer in the city centre is considerable. That won’t stop the criticisms of the Plaça Sant Jaume, though. That’s what happens when you have traditions.
The chair of the caganer, 2018. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona CC BY-ND 2.0.
So now I have to admit it: I am a nativity scene fan in the style of Perejaume. I thought it might be a bit cheeky to call Perejaume, who I admire, a nativity guy, and I only did so in my closest circles, until I read in his catalogue for the MACBA exhibition Deixar de fer una exposició: “Since the end of the seventies, when he started exhibiting regularly, the pictorial practice of Perejaume has been marked by his own search for methods of figuration and imagination: collage, nativity scenes, unpainting and oïsme”. Ever since then I have openly said that I am a nativity scene guy in the style of Perejaume. For me, the transformation of some cork oak bark into a mountain and some silver paper into a river seems fuller of symbolism than one of Duchamp’s urinals in an art gallery.
Nativity scene, 2011.
Having said that, let’s see what the installation in the Plaça Sant Jaume has offered (I don’t think the problem is calling it a nativity scene when obviously it isn’t). For quite a few years now the action carried out in this square has gone beyond the idea of a traditional nativity scene, with the understanding that anyone who wants an orthodox model has plenty of other opportunities to find one.
The critics called it the IKEA nativity scene
After racking my brains and doing a bit of research I found that the first example of an installation (what we might call the post-nativity scene) was in 2001 under the mandate of Joan Clos. On that occasion a group of architects created a kind of forest, with natural trees in sacks of earth. From then on there has been a bit of everything. In 2004 everything went mad. The typical human figures were substituted for normal people from the city and its professions. The shepherd turned calor gas man became quite famous. Hereu’s time was quite conservative but not without criticism. In 2010 there was a recreation of a family home with the nativity scene on top of a large chest of drawers. The critics called it the IKEA nativity scene.
Nativity scene, 2011. Photo: Ajuntament de Barcelona CC BY-ND 2.0.
The following year the language of the Romanesque expressed in papier mâché did not make an impression, and neither did the baubles of Xavier Trias. In 2013, a nativity scene on the rooftops was quite popular…but not with everyone. What followed was a Roman nativity scene which could be seen from a ship’s galley. But this didn’t escape criticism either. In 2015 the cut-outs based on Christmas stories were deemed to be too modern.
Nativity scene, 2013. Photo: Xavier Trias CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Colau’s team stormed in with a nativity scene of inflatable bubbles, simulating the property bubble that had become the running joke. Last year, conscious of the risk of large gatherings in the plaça an intelligent solution was sought: sticks – with the figures on top. It wasn’t popular, but it did turn out to be efficient in the frequent demonstrations.
Nativity scene, 2016. Photo: Teresa Grau Roig CC BY-SA 2.0.
Finally, we come to this year. A set table with a language which is set between the old window dressers of El Corte Ingles and a film by Tim Burton, surrounded by seats which are the characters of the nativity: baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the ox and the ass, the shepherd, the angel and the caganer.
Nativity scene, 2018. Photo: Ricard Mas.
All of them out of scale, as if we ourselves were small again. And in fact, it is the children who best understand it. They clamber onto the chairs and ask their parents to take photos. A poem provides both meal and menu. The hydraulic-tiled floor situates us in the Eixample of Gulliver’s Travels where we are the little people. This is a piece which demands interaction and the public responds with aplomb. Maybe afterwards they will go and have a hot chocolate in the carrer Petritxol while they slag off the nativity scene, just to keep up the tradition you understand.
Foto Colectania has returned to its original purpose, to enable the public to see the great collections of photography from around the world, with Structures of Identity, an exhibit that offers a panorama of the evolution of the portrait from 1840 to the present day, through the works of the Walther Collection.
Created by German Artur Walther, who began to acquire works systematically in 1990, the collection has two headquarters: one in Neu-Ulm and the other in New York, which opened in 2010 and 2011 respectively. It aims to analyse how different generations and cultures approach the question of identity in their works – a question which has been displayed since the first exhibition Events of the Self: Portraiture and Social Identity, under the direction of African curator Okwui Enwezor.
Thanks to the support of the Banc Sabadell Foundation, until 17 February Colectania will be showing a representative selection of this extraordinary collection, which includes iconic works by masters of photography such as August Sander, Richard Avedon and Seydou Keïta. The exhibition is complemented by contemporary visions by artists such as Chinese Zhang Huan, whose works became known through his impressive performances and Samuel Fosso, who multiplies his identity in fictitious self-portraits.
As a case in point African Spirits, shows seven images in which he becomes the leader of the civil rights and pan African liberation movements, such as Malcom X, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Angela Davis. Fosso’s audacity becomes emblematic in the use of portraiture to claim or disclaim stereotypes of gender, class and nationality.
Rotimi Fani-Kayode uses the camera to create new sexual icons
In the same way, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, one of the champions of queer culture among British artists in the 1908s, uses the camera to create new sexual icons, far removed from the normal western perceptions of black men.
Unfortunately, discrimination knows no boundaries. This is demonstrated in the work of visual activist Zanele Muholi, who is fighting against the invisibility and intolerance suffered by lesbians and South African transsexuals, with highly delicate images calling for the identity of those who are denigrated by their own society.
Almost all the photographs in the exhibition reflect the commitment of the social and political movements of their time, combining their natural artistic drive with a more anthropological focus. This is a strategy which is clear is Avedon’s Portraits of the Powerful in America, immortalised on a while background which emphasises their removal from reality.
Unknown photographers, [Workers with the tools of their professions], ca. 1865–1890. The Walther Collection courtesy.
The exhibition concludes with a fascinating selection of historical photographs by unknown artists, reconfirming how social hierarchies and stereotypes are rife in every field, from family albums to police mugshots.