Churchill, Hitler, Eisenhower… painters

Churchill, Hitler, Eisenhower… painters

Everyone knows them as some of the most central characters in history, capable of pulling the strings during the Second World War, which decided the fate of millions of people, whole states and political systems.

But when they had a moment all three opened up their paint boxes, set up their easels and settled down to a spot of relaxing painting as if they had never hurt a fly. They were quite simply Sunday painters…painters of the armistice.

Winston Churchill, Self-portrait.

Sir Winston Churchill reserved his “blood, sweat and tears” for the war effort. Following the disaster of the British fleet in the Dardanelles strait during the First world War, he was relegated from his rank and took refuge in France where, out of sheer boredom, he began to paint using a box of water colours. Later he moved on to oils and in 1917, rescued to become the Minister of Munition, he imposed a new weapon – the tank – which would be decisive in the final victory.

In the interwar period he submitted a landscape painting of his house in Kent to an amateur painting competition and won. Later he sent five paintings to Paris, signed under the pseudonym Charles Morin… and sold four.

In 1947, having been rewarded for winning the Second World War with an election defeat, he continued to paint under the new pseudonym. And at the end of his life, as well as publishing the essay on aesthetics Painting as a pastime he sought the light in Sainte-Victoire (following in the footsteps of Cézanne) and often panted in Marrakesh. Result: 48 years of painting and more than five hundred works in oil.

Adolf Hitler, The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich, 1914.

The case of Hitler was completely different. He wanted to be an artist from a very young age but did not pass the entry exams for the Vienna Academy. For five years he earned a living in the Austrian capital selling painted postcards and small work at ridiculously cheap prices.. His clientele: people associated with the beer trade and frame sellers who needed to fill their products with some image or another. Once installed in Munich he would take part in the First World War as a trench messenger, and would paint the occupied territories in his free time. The last paintings by Hitler date from the time of his imprisonment in Landsberg, following the putsch of 1923.

Hitler cannot have been very confident about the quality of his art when in 1935 he ordered a secret operation to recover the thousand-odd works he claimed to have painted and sold during his bohemian years. On the other hand, in 1942 the German Home Office declared the works of the Führer to be of National Importance and they could not be sold without government permission. Today they are worth between ten and fifteen thousand euros each.

Dwight Eisenhower, House on the Hill.

And the third dissonant artist was Dwight Eisenhower, who did not begin to paint until after the Second World War, just before he became the President of the United States of America. He was 58 years old and decided to pick up the palette after being painted with his wife for a portrait, making his own version with the leftover oils. When he was President he reserved a room in the White house for his secret vice: he always copied from photographs and magazine cuttings: still life, bucolic landscapes, etc. He even used his own works for the official Presidential Christmas greeting cards.

A Brief Encyclopaedia of Forgers

A Brief Encyclopaedia of Forgers

If right now you were looking at a factitious “Encyclopaedia of Well-known Forgers of Art”, the contents page would include creators as famous as Michelangelo and Picasso, Picasso’s father, José Ruiz Blasco, and even the expressionist Manuel Viola.

Michelangelo sculpted and sold a Greek cupid to a Roman cardinal, Picasso used to churn out Toulouse-Lautrecs and  Steinlens, and his father painted Romanesque altarpieces. Viola worked for Camilo José Cela to produce a Miró which was later slashed by the genuine artist with great abandon.

Signatures of Steinlen… by Picasso.

Alceo Dossena (1878-1937) sculpted hundreds of compositions from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which were generously acquired by American universities.

During the 1930s, Otto Wacker was responsible for producing hundreds of Van Goghs; Han van Meegeren (1885-1947) reinvented the early period of Vermeer of Delft, which of course he was able to flog to no other than Göring, and was tried as a collaborator for his trouble. Cesare Tubino, who painted Leonardo’s “Madonna and Child with a Cat” for fun, was so successful in fascist Italy that he didn’t dare reveal his imposture.

Alceo Dossena, Madonna che allatta il Bambino, 1936.

In the 1950s, while restoring the frescoes in Lübeck Cathedral, Lothar Malskat added a few more for the hell of it, which were so good they were used on commemorative stamps. And in the 1970s, Elmyr de Hory was rumbled for the first time. Years later no other than the great Orson Welles dedicated a film to him – F for Fake. Not long afterwards David Stein (who was actually Michel Haddad) happily painted all kinds of works from the Paris School. While in jail he wrote his memoirs – Three Picassos before Breakfast. His last act of mischief was to paint an entire collection of Impressionist masterpieces for the Saudi trafficker Adnan Khashoggi.

Han van Meegeren, in jail, painting Jesus among the Doctors in the style of Vermeer, 1945. Photo: Koos Raucamp. © Nationaal Archief.

And Englishman Tom Keating, on leaving prison, set out to teach the techniques of the great artist he had falsified in a programme for the BBC. At almost the same time Giorgio Cegna, the director of a refuge for art forgers, was arrested. Eric Hebborn had better luck following the publication of his second book in which he described in great detail his work as a forger of Baroque paintings: he was found dead in the middle of the street in Rome with a blow to the head.

From a Cigarette Lighter to a Portable Lamp: the Design Museum revitalises its collection

From a Cigarette Lighter to a Portable Lamp: the Design Museum revitalises its collection

Inma Bermúdez (1977) is the only Spanish designer to work for IKEA, and she has designed products such as the Lilängen toilet, with massive sales for the Swedish giant.

But from her studio in Valencia this young designer has also created products for other companies such as the Catalan Marset Il·luminació lighting company with a portable and rechargeable USB table lamp called FollowMe – also a great commercial success. This ‘take-it-anywhere’ lamp is exhibited at the MOMA in New York and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Now it is also being exhibited at the Barcelona Design Museum. “It’s not often that you have a product in the museums”, beams Bermúdez.

Inma Bermúdez, FollowMe table lamp, 2014.

FollowMe is one of the 36 new pieces to appear in the permanent museum exhibition of product design – an exhibit which had not been updated since the opening of the museum in 2014. FollowMe is a relatively new object, also from 2014, but among the collection of new works which are on display now at the museum there are older pieces which have come to be household names. Did you know that the refillable plastic Clipper lighter, which is sold all over the world, was designed by Enric Sardà in the early 1970s? Or that the cuddly Tous teddy bear was created by Rosa Maria Oriol in 1985 with no intention of it becoming a jewellery icon? The teddy was in such great demand by young girls that it ended up becoming the brand image. These are popular designs which are now new pieces in the museum: one of the first models in the case of Clipper and the first bear pendant in the case of Tous, until now jealously guarded by Rosa Maria Oriol.

Enric Sardà, Clipper Classic lighter, 1971.

The museum’s product design collection is made up of 2,000 works and includes pieces from 1929 to the present day. It is the only public collection of industrial design in Spain, the museum director Pilar Vélez tells us. It is also a collection that is constantly expanding and is basically possible thanks to donations, but also some purchases, because the museum is painstakingly bringing together all the object that are representative of design today.  “We want to be a showcase for the design that happens here at home”, says Vélez. They also include, for example, the objects awarded with the Golden and Silver Delta prizes, in an agreement with the Fostering Arts and Design (FAD) organisation. Other pieces are also accepted because they have formed part of one of the museum’s temporary exhibitions in the past.

“We always try to exhibit the original work or the first off the production line”

Currently there are 250 works exhibited, which has allowed the inclusion of works by young designers, classical artists with a more grounded reputation as prototypes, one-offs, and an oil and vinegar stand designed by  Rafael Marquina  in 1961 for his famous anti-drip cruets – a piece that was never produced.

Javier Mariscal, Dúplex stool, 1981.

Other classics which have been included in the renewed presentation are the Llatina teapot, also from 1961, by Rogeli Raich, and the colourful Dúplex stool, by Javier Mariscal, exhibited in the “Do you Work or Design?” show at the museum.  In this last case the piece belongs to the first production, substituting the former, newer piece which has been moved to the  warehouse. “We always try to exhibit the original work or the first off the production line”, says Rossend Casanova, the curator of the collection. Another historic piece which has just been included in the exhibition is an original and futuristic spherical table light from 1971 by  Josep Maria Magem, who is showing in the museum for the first time.

Closca Design, Closca Fuga helmet, 2016.

And since design is synonymous with the solving of daily problems, how should we resolve the dilemma of where to place a motorbike or cycle helmet? Among the group of new incorporations there are two objects that offer different solutions. One is the first wall hook for helmets designed by Pep Llauraó in 1996. The other is the first foldable bicycle helmet from 2016, by Closca Design, which was awarded several prizes – among them the Gold Delta Award.  Then there is the Miele fridge which allows you to write your shopping or “to-do” lists on its blackboard door. Using craft methods there is also the reversible coffee glass by Ana Hernando which was exhibited in the Tapas exhibition at the museum. Turn it up one way or the other for either latte or espresso.

Curro Claret, ¡Por el amor de Dios! church pew and bed, 2010.

Another object which has already been seen in the museum in the Design for Life exhibition is the church pew For the Love of God! designed by Curro Claret, which can be turned into a bed for refugees or other people in need. The idea of this piece by Claret was in principle one of reflection and only for exhibition, but it has found a functional purpose in the Church of Santa Anna in Barcelona, which commissioned a dozen for use by the homeless.

From the World to the Museum. Product Design, Cultural Heritage,. Barcelona Design Museum.

Unknown sisters

Unknown sisters

Clichés about the affinity between Italy and Spain aside, it is true that cultural and artistic exchanges between the two countries are less intense than one might expect.

In Barcelona, an exhibition, an urban installation, workshops and other initiative are an attempt to redress this lack of reciprocal recognition.

Fundació Enric Miralles, Barcelona. Foto: Irene Pietrella.

The Apulia Region, the heel of the boot, is the protagonist in Italia Republica Creativa, the second multidisciplinary festival to disseminate the most contemporary of the Italian art scene in Catalonia through the ItmakES project, which has been active for more than a year now in the area of design. Italia Republica Creativa, an initiative of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, was launched last year and featured Sardinia in an effort to increase the cultural dialogue between the two countries. “We want to make a claim for the Mediterranean and place a spotlight on lesser-known territories such as Apulia, from the Tremiti Islands to the county of Salento, where tradition mixes with the avant-garde, history and research, says the consul Gaia Lucilla Danese.

Fabrizio Bellomo, Villaggio Cavatrulli, Archetype 1; Cursi, Melpignano (Lecce) 2016.

This year’s programme opened in the Filmoteca with a series of films made in that region, including the documentary 10YearsOn by Alessandro Piva with live sound by Fedele Ladisa, founder of the electronic musical trio Agent of Time. To offer a panorama of this emerging artistic scene and the territory it belongs to, there is a photographic exhibition open until 18 June in the Enric Miralles Foundation.

Erosioni. Exhibition view. Foto Irene Pietrella.

There, among the layers of boxes full of projects and models the works making up Erosions. Puglia: legends, utopias, visions are on view. “Erosion is an environmental phenomenon which tends towards the search for balance. When you see this space crammed with boxes and files, you immediately give up on the idea of hiding them behind false white walls and you start to look for a balance by which container and contents contribute to the composition of a multiform portrait of this ancient territory, populated by legends whose memory challenges a present in constant struggle between harmony and conflict”, explain Ilaria Speri and Massimo Torrigiani, curators of the exhibition and also the artists of the installation which shows the 864 pages of the book Cinema Territory documenting through the work of photographers from all generations and styles the 264 cinemas (both open and closed down)  in Apulia and tells of their importance for  the development of the territory and its people.

“It is a questions of creating synergies through a transnational language such as art.”

The collaboration with the Miralles Foundation is proof of the willingness of the Consulate. “It is not just a question of organising activities at the headquarters of the Istituto Italiano, but also collaborating with public and private Catalan institutions to create synergies through a transnational language such as art”, says Danese, who presented ItmakES a year ago in the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona – another of the centres involved in the initiative.

Giorgio di Palma.

This does not mean that there are not projects thought up specially for the Istituto such as Mutations, new forms of craft and design in Puglia, a permanent installation for the gardens of the Giorgio Di Palma Centre.  Well-known for works that synthesise dialogue between contemporary design and the traditional techniques of creations in ceramics, Di Palma explored the artistic side of everyday and trivial objects which acquire new meaning in his hands, albeit losing any functional sense. “I want to create unusable but essential objects, objects that you want but you do not need.”, says Di Palma, since that is how he can protect against the raging consumerism in today’s society, where what is considered necessary today will be relegated as useless tomorrow. Di Palma approaches ceramics, which is one of the typical crafts of the area, through irony and provocation as seen in the fifteen ice-cream cones which seem to be melting into the wall of the garden as if the pupils from the neighbouring Italian school had thrown them against the wall in play, protest or to let off steam.

Giorgio di Palma.

“We want to plan for a 360º view of current creation, alternating emerging young people with artists who are established in Italy, but not well enough known in Spain”, adds Angelo Gioè, director of Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Barcelona and responsible for ITmakES Art, which has launched a programme of artists residencies and is also planning a call for application for research travel grants to Italy, aimed at Spanish curators so that they can get to know young Italian artists and include them in their projects. Giving visibility to Italian artists and coordinating abroad is also the objective of a census which has already started in Catalonia ad will be expanded to other parts of Spain.

The peak of the festival will be on 2 and 3 June when there will be a big part on the Moll de Costa ferry port (Grimaldi Terminal) with workshops for different kinds of public, gastronomy masterclasses, live music, street food and DJ sessions.

Portraits by August Sander: appearances that don’t deceive?

Portraits by August Sander: appearances that don’t deceive?

The work of photographer August Sander (Herdorf, 1876-Colonia, 1964) has been the subject of retrospective exhibitions around the world.

The exhibition presented in Barcelona by La Virreina Centre de la Imatge is exceptional in its rigorous respect for the original structure of the major project the photographer worked on during the first half of the last century: People of the 20th Century (Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts).

 

Curated by Valentín Roma and Gillermo Zuaznabar, the show comprises 196 modern prints developed from the original glass plate negatives. Apart from the odd landscape, almost all the photos are portraits, made in Germany between 1910 and the mid-1950s. Taken as a whole they represent a reasonably complete portrait of the German people during that period, from the Weimar Republic to the end of Nazism after the Second World War.

We encounter the different social classes and professions, men and women of different ages, people from the country and from the city. At times it could appear to be a purely photographic reflection on the human condition, but it doesn’t set out to be one in the fullest sense, because it focuses solely on Germany and thus lacks the aspiration to universality of The Family of Man, the great international project Edward Steichen curated for New York’s MoMA in 1955. And I think it could never have become one anyway, because Sander’s rigour excludes many of the registers that are part of the human condition. Sander might take a dozen photographs of the same individual but in the final instance tended to pick the most neutral image and reject those in which a happy person was smiling, or an expressive person was expressing themselves. No one is perfect, and nor was Sander. Nor is perfection.

Sander made some exceptions – for example, a cheerful young actress – but as a general rule attempted to be as detached as an anthropologist and as objective as a camera, like an ideally neutral recording instrument. However, despite all the historical materialism and German austerity, his portraits are outstanding examples of a humanist photographic vision. His gaze was anti-sentimental, but never superficial or indifferent to the circumstances of those he portrayed.

In the history of photography, August Sander’s work is considered a benchmark for the photographic portrait, one of the first and most influential examples of the genre. In a more general sense, it represented a ground-breaking vindication of photography itself, of photography understood as a self-sufficient medium for representation, conscious of its own value as a medium and of the possibilities of its expressive qualities, as distinct from those qualities characteristic of painting, the most prestigious artistic discipline of the first half of the 20th century. Sander’s oeuvre is one of the first and clearest examples of a photography free of pictorialist complexes.

Although we also find industrial and natural landscapes in his work, Sander dedicated himself first and foremost to portrait photography. His specifically photographic vision of the human being – of his compatriots and contemporaries – could be compared to those of Karl Blossfeldt and Carl Strüwe. Their vision was different because it focused on different subjects: the first on portraits of plants, the second on portraits of microscopic organisms. But the three photographers coincide in their extraordinary combination of depth, objective neutrality and their apparent confidence in the viewer’s imagination. And it is worth mentioning other, later, equivalents. For example, Sander’s gaze anticipates those of Bernd and Hilla Becher in their well-known portraits of industrial architecture, also in black and white.

His son Erich was jailed in 1934 for his political activism against the Nazi dictatorship.

August Sander represents an exceptional case of self-commissioning on an extravagant, enormous scale, a rare case of a photographic mission impossible – or almost. In fact it was possible, despite everything. The value of his work also lies in his determination to create an exhaustive inventory, an encyclopaedic summary. On his death, in 1964, his photographic legacy amounted to 1,800 negatives. However, we should also remember that, in 1946, between 20 and 30,000 negatives and many prints were destroyed by a fire in his storeroom. And that ten years earlier, in 1936, many of his best photos had been destroyed by the Nazis: together with copies of his book The Face of Our Time, they destroyed the original plates.

People of the 20th century consists of 619 photographs organised into a preface (The Archetypes) and seven chapters: The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City and The Last People. The exhibition in La Virreina respects the original structure and has managed to capture in 196 photos – almost a third of the total in this series – a sense of the whole project. Where he was unable to venture on his own, August Sander was helped by his son Erich, who was jailed in 1934 for his political activism against the Nazi dictatorship, and was thus able to make portraits of a number of political prisoners, including himself. Erich Sander died in prison, in 1944, a victim of medical neglect and denial of care.

From the vantage point of a 21st century in which fake news and doctored and fraudulent images and audio abound, one is struck by the great trust Sander placed in the photographic image, which he identified with reliable, true representation. Are photographic appearances not deceptive? Is the face always the mirror of the soul? Are there not faces that are also masks? In the early 20th century, the old pseudoscientific beliefs that identified and judged individuals on the basis of their physical appearance were yet to be discredited. Criminologists and, to an even greater degree, racists were delighted with the theories of physiognomy. It was thus possible to speak of a “criminal jawline” – I imagine one similar to that of the brilliant director Quentin Tarantino – but the truth is that the annals of history are full of murderers both male and female who had smooth, well-proportioned features. In his portraits, Sander never succumbs to this superficial determinism. His trust in photographic appearances leads him in a more lucid direction, neither ethnic or discriminatory, but historical and biographical. It is true that lived experience leaves its expressive marks on the face, even when the subject attempts to be inexpressive. And this can be photographed.

Sander’s portraits allow you to play a photographic guessing game. I’ll give a few examples.

In the first room, I decide that the old man in a particular portrait has a noble gaze; he seems affable, intelligent and at peace with life. The caption reads The Wise One. Next to him, a stiff-looking character, apparently an academic, is described as The Philosopher (1913). Further on, a man in an alert, tense pose looks like a revolutionary. The title reads Communist Leader (1929). I interpret another portrait to be of a man of great power and thus very sure of himself, almost too sure, and the caption reads Banker (1929). Perhaps by 1930, after the Great Crash, he no longer looked so confident.

In some cases, the interpretation is obvious: the builder carrying bricks on his back, the stout pastry cook stirring a mixing bowl (both from 1928), or the philosophy student with his eyeglasses, who seems to be thinking so hard he might explode. In others, not so much. For example, a character in a bowler hat and the look of a card cheat turns out to be a Butcher’s Apprentice. And a woman, inscrutable as a statue, turns out to be a Dance Teacher.

We find a Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen in 1926 or 1927) who looks utterly liberated and defiant: attractive, dressed in men’s clothes and smoking. But the secretary of a radio station looks no less modern.

She seems eccentric, but perhaps not as much as an authoritarian-looking man walking a fierce dog: the man turns out to be a notary. No doubt a man of order, or rather one used to giving orders. Nearby, there’s a theologist who looks like an anguished heartthrob or stage actor. And a hypnotist; this time I’d say he looks like a theologist or Protestant pastor.

Those whose appearances do not deceive are the Nazis. The various National Socialists portrayed all have something in common: they look evil; bitter, aggressive characters, sadists who intend to get their own way by force. There are several variants, from the SS Captain in the sinister uniform of the authorised exterminator (on his cap, an imperial eagle spreads it wings over a human skull, I suppose that of a Jew, a Gypsy or a communist) to Member of the Hitler Youth, with the look of an ambitious mediocrity, one who thinks he’s finally going to be someone thanks to the powerful uniform he is proud to wear.

At the other extreme we find portraits of the victims of injustice, exploitation and genocide. The unbowed dignity of a woman accused of being a Jew, described as Victim of Persecution (1938).

Or the chronic suffering visible in the portraits of a laundrywoman or a beggar. Sander did not flinch from the sinister aspects of the human condition, those that the powers that be and the most hypocritical among the bourgeoisie tend to hide under rugs or words. And for the same reason he also trained his eye on illness (Children Born Blind) and death: a corpse called Matter.

As a show, Photographs from “People of the 20th century” is weighty enough to give rise to reflections on what the photographic portrait has been up until now, and what it could become in the future. How can a photographic portrait approach a more complete vision of the subject? I have some thoughts on the topic, but it is a big one. For the time being, I’ll simply jot down these three phrases. Every portraitist portrays themselves. Every portrait is the result of a dialogue between portraitist and subject. Every portrait is a partial image.

The exhibition on August Sander, Photographs from “People of the 20th Century” can be seen at La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, in Barcelona, until 23 June.

In Combat for the Love of Art

In Combat for the Love of Art

On entering the exhibition Cinc anys a les trinxeres (Five years in the trenches) a kind of phylacterical mirror hanging on the wall, the work of Jesús Galdón, reflects the person who has just stepped into El Quadern Robat gallery.

Galdón is an artist fascinated by the messages written on ribbons on medieval paintings, normally of religious origin. But in this work, it is we the viewers alone who only activate it with our gaze, which is what art basically demands of us: simply that we look at it.

Jesús Galdón, No dir res, 2006.

A gallery is an ideal space for the activation of art. This is something that Anna knows very well, having worked for a quarter of a century in the gallery world. Five years ago she decided to open a new gallery in Barcelona at a time when the art market was far from easy. Named after her personal blog, El quadern robat (the stolen notebook), the gallery occupies the first floor of a modernist building in Carrer Còrsega. The space, which is kind of cosy, has already seen 17 exhibitions and numerous other cultural events.

David Ymbernon, Trencaclosques, 2006.

The current exhibition in El Quadern Robat aims precisely to celebrate these five years of the gallery’s “survival” in a clearly combative attitude of defending local art. The group exhibit presents one work by each of the twelve artists who have had a solo exhibition in the gallery over that period. There is no particular link either semantically or aesthetically between them, but the great thing is that all together this little exhibition is as coherent as the gallery programme itself: the show is a commentary on the discreet adventure of a Barcelona gallery which is reflected, like the work by Galdón at the entrance, in the small daily and personal stories of its artists.

Jorge Pombo, New York 12-3-15, 2012.

This can be seen, for example, in the work of photographer Martí Gasull Avellán in an image of his father contemplating the horizon in the style of Friedrich. The father – also a photographer – has made delicate photographs of rain streaming down the window of his house. Similarly, yet another photographer, Jordi Casañas, has captured an urban landscape reflected in a car window. In a touch of great exhibition design, the photograph is exhibited next to a window, creating a dialogue with the real landscape of the city.

A fairly heterodox exhibition, but full of details.

David Ymbernon has subverted the concept of a puzzle in an ironic assembly and the small installation of Jordi Lafon denounces too much noise in the world using walnuts painted gold. Elena Kervinen paints in broken pieces of marble to highlight absences and missing elements. There is also a material missing in the small piece on wood with boreholes by Joan Furriols.

Oriol Jolonch, Carrusel, 2019.

A blurred view of Manhattan Island represents the personal adventure of painter Jorge Pombo in New York, while another, much more abstract painter, Jordi Martoranno, captures the world with a white line floating on a green background. In a very recent photograph, Oriol Jolonch, shows an apocalyptic scene with a merry-go-round as the central feature, and just a few metres away a marble head, very similar to those by Brancusi, rests on its side with an inscription by Baudelaire, sculpted by Salvador Juanpere. It is a fairly heterodox exhibition but one which is full of details – arms for artistic combat.

The exhibition Cinc anys a les trinxeres can be seen at the El Quadern Robat gallery in Barcelona until 28 September.

Portrait of a Venetian Lady

Portrait of a Venetian Lady

One of the dreams of any antiquarian-cronopio is to have a client-fama visit their shop and buy everything.

The possibilities are minimal but, in this business, like in life, it could happen. In fact it did happen to a colleague of mine the day that a client visited his stand at a large international fair and bought all his best paintings: a Portrait of a Girl with Dove by Simon Vouet, a Susanna and the Elders by Guercino, a View of the Grand Canal in Venice by Bernardo Belloto  and a Saint Sebastian by Ribera, if I am not mistaken. He will never forget the feeling of pure happiness that he experienced on closing the deal with that distinguished lady who could have been straight out of a Henry James novel. Slender, with a head the shape of Our Lady of Mechelen and straight, jet black hair pulled up in an old-fashioned bun, the grey eyes of an exotic cat and the kind of parchment skin which is only normally seen on the arms of a child. She was dressed as great ladies tend to dress: a plain tailored jacket, nothing fancy, grey tones, in the knowledge that the ostentation of luxury and the flaunting of brands is only for the nouveaux riches.

Anonymous, Venetian Lady, Mid XVII century. © Museo Nacional del Prado.

Experiencing a sale brings to us antiquarians a kind of spiritual comfort, a feeling of calm, the excitement of having renewed funds to make more purchases, which is what we most enjoy doing. In fact, for a true antiquarian a sale is nothing more than the natural consequence of a buying process but what really impassions us is doing the same as our fames-clients, building up a collection and what makes us different from them is that sometimes we take less time before we split it up.

The lady in questions noted her name down on a card – Caterina Prospero-Romallino – along with her address (a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice) while my colleague calculated the value of the ruby she wore on the ring finger of her left hand, left-handed as she was. They agreed that he would take the paintings to her house personally during the fair (he couldn’t make the lady understand that her capricious decision had left his stand bare and he had nothing at the same level to replace the works with). But the customer is always right and even more so when she is prepared to spend almost ten million euros in one fell swoop. So, they arranged on a meeting and while the lady walked down the central aisle of the fair leaving after her the sparkle of money and glamour, the antiquarian did not waste even a second before he was looking up the name of this mysterious client on his computer.  He went straight to images and the photos he saw were her for sure: the same wrinkled skin and cold eyes, he even thought she was wearing the same ruby although he couldn’t be sure that it was not a figment of his imagination. He asked a discreet colleague who confirmed that this was a wealthy lady who could buy all of that and more and he went on with more details that completed the portrait of the lady and left him feeling reassured.

Bernardo Bellotto, Venice: Upper Reaches of the Grand Canal facing Santa Croce, c. 1740s. 
Salting Bequest, 1910. National Gallery, UK.

He spent a few intense days organising the logistics of sending the paintings which was neither easy nor cheap. He found an efficient professional transport company which organised everything ahead of the transfer. And that is how our cronopio found himself on a water-taxi on the Grand Canal one sunny day at the beginning of spring, and right in the centre of the fair, after packing up his stand as best he could. It was then that he thought about how unpredictable our business is. Many colleagues began to protest at his lack of commitment to the fair, saying that it wasn’t professional to remove the paintings before it was over, that he could have waited, that they would never have done that and other curses typical of the trade where jealousy is the driver of all human relations. Some people were already running around collecting signatures to demand that the organisers expel him, with the vehemence of those cronopios who understand the trade as a was among competitors or with a Darwinian view of the species. These are the ones – believe me I know a few – who most revel in closing a deal.

Our antiquarian arrived punctually at the appointed time and place. The façade of the palace was impressive with its Palladian doorframe decorated with two lions’ heads reflected in the dark, oil-coloured waters of the lagoon. He knocked on the door impatiently, rang the bell three times, no answer. As he was taking out his mobile phone to call Davide, the lady’s butler, a girl of about twenty answered the door, anorexic, tears streaming down her face. She introduced herself as Mariana, the daughter of Lady Caterina, and told him that that night her mother had had a stroke and was in hospital. It had all happened very suddenly and they hadn’t been able to warn him. As she spoke, she could not stop crying and the antiquarian, paternal as he was, gave her a hug and told her not to worry, that her mother’s health was much more important than all the paintings in the world (a great antiquarian-cronopio is an expert in white lies); maybe all the paintings in the world but not his, which were on the point of arriving. And so it was, while she continued to weep almost without taking a breath and waving her hands as Italians do, the transporters arrived – giants who in just a moment had unloaded the perfectly boxed paintings and left them in the palace entrance where a Louis XV commode took pride of place, crowned by a mirror in homage to gold and the style rocaille.  You couldn’t see any beyond it except for a carved wooden door which looked original, from the eighteenth century, and beyond that the promise of a world of paintings, tapestries, furniture and other objets from the Prospero-Romallino collection which was one of the most valuable in Italy and Lady Prospero-Romallino one of the greatest collectors.

Simon Vouet, Portrait of Girl with Pigeon, 1615-1627. © Museo Nacional del Prado.

Our antiquarian was confused and without realising put on an expression of a cronopio – in other words a mixture of strange melancholy and incredulity. He had the delivery note in his leather case, more like an encyclopaedia salesman than a professional of the art world, and he took out another document with a description of the works and their values, asking the crying girl to sign it. Mariana did as she was asked and before saying goodbye, they agreed that he would stay in Venice until her mother had recovered and was able to transfer the cost of the paintings that he had left. They exchanged numbers and shook hands (the antiquarian wondered whether to kiss her watery face but then thought the better of it). When the door of the palace was closed, my colleague decided that he was a lucky man. He had made the sale of a lifetime and he was ready to visit Venice in the style of an eighteenth-century visitor on the Grand Tour rather than the poor tourists of today.

He went directly to the Riva degli Schiavoni and reserved a suite in the Hotel Danieli at three thousand euros a night (when you have a lot of money it becomes an abstract concept). On entering his suite, he stretched out on the linen sheets and gold counterpane and it pained him to be alone as he contemplated the Tiepolesque-inspired frescoes on the ceiling.  Afterwards he opened the window to see the Grand Canal right in front of his eyes like a Canaletto in motion. He went out onto the terrace and the evening bathed the smaller dome of the Salute in an orange light. He ordered a Negroni which he gulped down, knowing that he was a lucky man, the luckiest and happiest man in the world, the James Bond of the art world, the brightest in the class, the tops. The following day he wanted to give his stricken client some time to recover and he didn’t call her (he was a gentleman and health is more important than art) and decided to visit the city.  Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Giorgione, Bellini, Carpaccio, Tiepolo, ….a cartography of colour in painting which he enjoyed slowly like the best gourmand. In the afternoon he stopped off at the terrace of the Florian café in the Piazza Sant Marco watching with superiority the kind of tourist that queued up to enter the basilica while the sad music of street musicians sounded, dominated by the spasmodic drone of an old accordion. He wanted to end the day at Harry ‘s Bar. He was rich and he could afford it.

Guercino, Susan and the Elders, 1617. © Museo Nacional del Prado.

After forty-eight hours he decided to call Marianna, the Giacomettian daughter of his client, and tried several times unsuccessfully. A recorded female voice from Telecom Italia announced that the number was no longer in operation. He insisted with no luck and in desperation returned to the palace on the Grand Canal. He rang several times, but nobody opened. It seemed to be abandoned. He found some workmen in a nearby building as asked if they knew where the owners of the palace were.  When they told him that nobody had lived there for years and that they often used the building as a set for television or advertising he felt the entire weight of his body and his blood froze, and it was just like in the film where they say that before you die your see your entire life pass before your eyes: the lady with the cold eyes, the anorexic daughter who seemed to be desperate and all of a sudden he realised it was all a lie, a scam. He couldn’t breathe, his body froze, his legs turned to jelly. When he awoke he was in a cafeteria run by some Chinese people who had picked him up after he collapsed in the street and he could smell that he was breathing in alcohol on cotton wool as he sat in the lap of an unknown Chinese woman, the sign of postmodern Pietà. He knew that he was ruined – an antiquarian-cronopio could never recover from a scam like that. He felt the arrogance of the last few years when he had felt so superior fall away instantly and change everything. From the undercurrent of his subconscious he heard the rough voice of his competitor amid the laughter: Too late! He couldn’t bear to think how the news would already have flown to the fair and how his colleagues would have been so delighted to hear it: there is nothing that they like more in the trade than to kick a man who is down.

He spent his day publishing stupid posts on Twitter and defending fascism.

He thought about suicide but the thought of his little twin sons waiting for him to come home quickly put him off that idea. He couldn’t stop asking himself how he had fallen for it. He was a cautious and reasonable man. How could he not have seen that it didn’t bode well, that it might be a scam. How had he been so naive to leave the works before he had been paid or not to sign a contract.  And he found no answers to comfort him in this personal and professional tragedy because to find them would have meant recognising the many weaknesses of a selfish and ambitious man. He was someone who thought too much of himself, who thought he was impervious to everything, an alpha male who had no training in ethics or in aesthetics, but lectured everyone else. He was a man who spoke of morals being immoral himself and of art without any feeling for it other than as a means of trade.  He always claimed to have eyes of steel thanks to years of experience and error – better than any expert – and being as shrewd as a fox in business. He was someone who looked down on intellectual effort and beat his rivals in the auction houses with his chequebook; he played down other people’s victories and got angry because he didn’t know how to lose. He was a man without class, without education, a vulgar man dressed as a great man with tight suits and a handkerchief in his jacket pocket. He spent his day publishing stupid posts on Twitter and defending fascism. He was like someone from another time with his brilliantine hair and absurd Franco-style moustache and he liked to listen to Wagner in the summer and re-read Hitler. He was a man who only trusted himself and his own instinct and did not want to recognise his humble beginnings, how he had grown up overcoming adversity and the contemptuous looks of the other boys at school and how he had become obsessed with becoming like them one day, becoming wealthy, becoming equal. He could barely remember how he had married into society, a woman he had never loved and how they had had twins who he did love, but in his own fragmentary and selfish way. And how he had done everything possible to break into a world that was not his and turned his social resentment into uncontained ambition to appear somebody that he would never be.

José de Ribera, Saint Sebastian, 1636. © Museo Nacional del Prado.

This episode was the last chapter in a life of lies, the final abyss at the end of the path of a fool who talked too much, a windbag and an imposter, an amateur swindler who had just crossed paths with the real professionals. And so he left Venice swearing that he would never return, because it was there that his dreams and his life had gone up in smoke as if it were a game of Risk – he was once again on home territory, kicked back to his origins, which maybe he should never have left and from where he would now obviously never take off. That same night he had a nightmare where amongst the laughter came the tremulous voice “Game over, my fucking friend”….

Where is the Catalan Jeff Koons?

Where is the Catalan Jeff Koons?

On 15 May Jeff Koons’ work Rabbit (1986) was sold at Christie’s in New York for 91 million dollars.

This metre-high stainless-steel sculpture is the second in a series of four. The news is not so much the vertiginous figure as the fact that this is, for the moment, the highest price ever to have been paid for the work of a living artist. It has broken the record set  by Portrait of an Artist (pool with Two Figures) (1972), by David Hockney: 90,300,000 dollars.

All of this obsession with the highest paid living artist began on the afternoon of 18 October 1973 in the Parke-Bernet auction house (owned by Sotheby’s). That afternoon saw the first ever auction of a single collection of contemporary art: 50 pieces belonging to the taxi-firm magnate Robert C. Skull.

During that period, an art auction was motivated by one of the three “D’s”: death, divorce or disaster. This one fell into the second category.

Pop art works sold between the end of the 1950s and the mid-1960s increased their price five-fold. Suddenly one of the Targets by Jasper Johns, originally bought for 5,000 dollars, sold for 125,000. Thaw by Robert Rauschenberg, originally bought for 900 dollars, reached 85,000.

Double White Maps, again by Jasper Johns, which had been sold originally for 10,200 dollars raised a sale price of 240,000, the highest price for a work by a living American artist at the time: Johns was 44 years old.

 

The sale made a total of 2,242,900 dollars. But most important was the message that reached the collectors and which changed the art market forever: buying contemporary art is excellent business. Picasso had been dead for just six months.

In 1986, Jeff Koons found success with his second solo exhibition in New York. Paradoxically he made a big loss. His works were expensive to make, but he had achieved something much more difficult: fame. From then on he would have no problems funding his works and he is currently one of the richest artists in the world.

So how did Koons find the money to finance his works? Don’t forget that he was working shoulder to shoulder with the Nobel prize-winner for physics, Richard Feynman, and that casting in bronze is not cheap…but then Koons was a great salesman. For years he had been selling Dalí print, property investment funds and primary materials like cotton. And he didn’t mind selling for companies accused of having inflated the stock market.

The example of Dalí, who he knew personally, his business skills and his knowledge of the financial market have been the key to thirty-five years of success. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he himself forms part of the investment fund that bought Rabbit just to keep his prices high. Damien Hirst did it several times and nobody called him out!

So, what does it mean to be “a Jeff Koons”? Basically three things: economically, be the first in your sector. Enjoy global popularity. And have introduced some kind of disruptive mechanism.

And Miquel Barceló? And Jaume Plensa?

For example, Pablo Picasso would fit this definition. And in a way, so would Dalí.

Before 1900 there was only one Catalan artist with a bit of international fame: Marià Fortuny. Gaudí is immensely famous and one hundred per cent disruptive, but his work is neither sold nor auctioned. At the beginning of the twentieth century Casas, Rusiñol, Anglada Camarasa, Mir and more enjoyed the Spanish and South American markets. Curiously, the prices of works by Dalí have always been much lower than those of Picasso. Miró had enormous prestige but he was not as popular as Picasso or Dalí. Sometimes personality also helps. Tàpies burst forth at a bad time, being European.

And Miquel Barceló? And Jaume Plensa? If you forget for a moment that Barceló is from the Balearics, just as Picasso was from Malaga, his works never make more than around 400,000 euros. Respectable figures though they might be for magnificent and popular works, but in the world rankings it would be like comparing Sant Andreu FC with Barça.

Jeff Koons, 2014. Photo: Bengt Oberger. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Of course it is always useful when the local elites believe in and help the artists of their lands, but it is not essential. Neither Picasso nor Dalí lived from Catalan collectors…or French ones. On a market level they are what they are thanks to the German, Swiss and, above all, American collectors.

Currently, though, in a globalised world where financial capitalism has entered into a process of demential self-devourment, the art market is doing better than ever. And the true artist is the collector.

Time is on the side of the vanquished

Time is on the side of the vanquished

Just when the United States once again demonstrate their untamed meddling in the internal affairs of South America and when Pedro Sánchez recognises and legitimates a self-proclaimed president in Venezuela (Guaidó was the first person to congratulate Bolsonaro when he won the elections in Brazil), Macba is opening the necessary and timely exhibition Undefined territories. Perspectives on colonial legacies.

The exhibit, curated by Hiuwai Chu, displays the despicable practice which has been perpetrated for centuries and up to the present day: the manipulation of reality, the falsification of the hegemonic story, which erases and rewrites what it wants and when it wants.

It is demonstrated graphically by Alan Carrasco with Chinkachiy (eliminate or erase in Quichua, one of the autochthonous languages of Peru), a portrait by Túpac Amaru, the indigenous chief who led the great rebellion against Spanish domination in the eighteenth century. Decades after his cruel execution Túpac Amaru became an icon of the fight for independence and the rights of the native people, to the point where he even appeared on Peruvian coins (albeit in Hispanic dress). However, after his name was adopted by armed groups in Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and Argentina his figure was erased to the point where he disappeared from the official Peruvian narrative where since 1991 the coins bear the image of whites or creoles. For that reason, the delicate mural at the Macba is like a point of revelation and can only be appreciated from certain perspectives.

Alan Carrasco, Chinkachly, 2019.

Just as the conquerors eliminated the memory of famous figures, they also erased the culture in yet another confirmation of the arrogance and ignorance of power. Maria Thereza Alves demonstrates this in This is not an apricot, a watercolour which illustrates twenty kinds of fruit that the indigenous peoples gave other names to, relegated to oblivion after decades of linguistic imperialism, and which she has brought together once again under the unique and reductive name of the apricot.

Mariana Castillo Deball, Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlan, 2013.

“Colonisation was not only territorial and economic but also cultural through the imposition of structures of knowledge and ways of representation”, states the curator, who has opened the show with the spectacular magnification by Mariana Castillo Deball of the map of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, which the envoy of the Spanish monarch, Hernán Cortés, had sent the king in 1520, and which the following year had been destroyed.

Pala Pothupitiye, Colombo Fort, 2016.

Through the selected works, Chu tackles the elements that have formed the backbone and justified the story of the great colonial powers: the imprisonment and execution of authoctonous leaders (Carrasco), the destruction of native languages (Alves, Lothar Baumgarten), the construction of monuments (Daniela Ortiz and Xose Quiroga), the separation and annexing of territories (Munem Wasif), the transformation of the political cartography (Pala Pothupitiye) and nationalism as an excuse for the justification of totalitarian regimes (Dana Wabira). Excluding perhaps the inclusion of still life as a tool for imposing a western view (Sandra Gamarra), it is somewhat shocking to see how all the elements contribute to a reduction of the power of the autochthonous people which can also be read as a contemporary text.

To show the point to which the new nations have maintained the aesthetic, the protocol and even the systems of their colonisers.

The saddest of all is the Stockholm syndrome that affects the colonised countries. It is seen clearly in the Ghanian children of the film by The Otolith Group who state that they would have preferred to be slaves so that  they could now be as rich as the Americans; the Superflex video which tells the story of Mayotte from the Comoro Islands, who chose to be recolonised by the French in 2011, or the photographs by Maryam Jafri of the Independence Day celebrations in the old colonies which just go to show the point to which the new nations have maintained the aesthetic, the protocol and even the systems of their colonisers.

It is true that it is the victors who write history, although sometimes the wait is unbearable.

The exhibition Undefined territories. Perspectives on colonial legacies can be visited in the MACBA until the 20 October.

Looking Towards the Heavens from the Refuge of Art

Looking Towards the Heavens from the Refuge of Art

Life and death; day and night; light and shadow; heaven and earth. These are dualities that always interested Jordi Fulla throughout his career, which was one of the most coherent of his generation.

Jordi Fulla’s work exudes austerity, virtuosity and a profound poetic and meditative sense which is clearly demonstrated in the travelling project Llindars en el punt immòbil del món que gira (Thresholds at the immobile spot of a turning world), which now culminates in the exhibition , Llindar i celístia (Threshold and starlight) at the Can Framis Museum of the Vila Casa Foundation.

In the leaflet accompanying the exhibition is the sentence, “We are too insignificant to understand the universe from the outside”. It is a quotation by the artist himself, which is now especially emotional after his sudden death on 16 April at the age of just 51. Fulla was very clear that we could never understand the universe from our human condition and he dedicated himself to exploring that mystery from the position of his commitment to art. This walk through the magnificent and sadly posthumous exhibition by Jordi Fulla at Can Framis is a silent one. It couldn’t be any other way.

The artist had already invited us to silence when he painted spheres and stones floating in the sky. The recurrent theme in the exhibit is the dry-stone huts – a kind of rural architecture which particularly fascinated him. Fulla painted these constructions with his own special ground-breaking technique using photography but the result, more than being hyperrealist, is more oneiric.

The stones of the huts serve as a shelter and a refuge but the openings of the entrances are a path to heaven. The view from inside the hut is a search for the mystery of life. Fulla crosses the threshold of pictorial two-dimensionality and constructs volumes from the form of the silhouettes of the entrances. Sculptures like megaliths mirrored in the painting and in the earth.

A rural monochrome mandala. Participative fine art.

In the installation L’habitació del gra (The grain room), Jordi Fulla went even further and installed 179 lines of barley grain on the floor of the hall, which several friends of the artist meditatively helped to put in place in advance of the exhibition opening. This rural and monochrome mandala, participative fine art, watched over by an impressive tryptic of paintings of thresholds from the interior of the refuge, is undoubtedly the pivotal point of the exhibition. In the painting La pell de l’amnèsia (2014) (The skin of amnesia), on the other hand, the earth appears full of the rocks of the Segarra, as if the stones had decided to come down from the painting to occupy the museum.

From inside this exhibition, Jordi Fulla directs our gaze through his thresholds and invites us once again to discover the meaning of the universe. But for us, it is inexplicable and unfair that he is no longer on this side of it. Who knows whether now, having crossed the threshold of the universe, close to the light of the stars, Jordi Fulla has been able to make sense of it all.

The exhibition Llindar i celístia by Jordi Fulla can be seen at the Can Framis Museum in Barcelona until 16 June.

The Pluralistic Imaginary of La Capella

The Pluralistic Imaginary of La Capella

La Capella – 25 years after is a series of six exhibitions which pick up the path of this municipal space with its commitment to emergent art in Barcelona.

From January to June six group exhibitions will have taken place in this iconic Building on Carrer Hospital (this is the fifth, Scene 5: Strata) which review what has been the La Capella visual arts programme since it was established in 1994.  David Armengol, Sònia Fernández Pan, Eloy Fernández Porta, Sabel Gabaldon and Anna Manubens are responsible for these six exhibits, constructed “in a more passionate than analytical way, more intuitive than logical”, they explain. And they are not wrong.

Julia Spínola, Brazos, chorros, mismo II, 2019.

If collectively they have a certain air of future society and posthumanity, it would seem that each individual offering has its own dialogue. Any attempt at finding a joint message would be putting too much strain on the machine. Some of the proposals at La Capella invite a good dose of literary and mythological imagination through the two universally renowned figures of Quixote and Medea, but also linguistic imagination with more than one of the works addressing linguistic polyphony and Babel.

Anna Dot, Les pedres del camí, 2017.

Anna Dot has created a subtle and minimalist but hugely forceful installation using ten white pebbles which evoke the pathway of repeated errors followed in the life of Quixote follows and, by extension, in the lives of humans (a work which, like others in the show, was already part of the previous chapter of this exhibition in six episodes); Antoni Hervàs has constructed a surprisingly chirpy and primped-looking Medea sculpted out of textiles, capable of laughing at her own tragic situation and appropriating the irreverent spirit of Dionysus.

Rasmus Nilausen, Polyglossia, 2017.

Through the more plastic language of paint, Rasmus Nilausen evokes the Babelian plurality of languages in a proposal which links up with the linguistic performance that Quim Pujol has offered during the exhibition (Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 may). Pujol raked up common demonyms which are evidence of the prejudices from which language is constructed, with expression such as “British punctuality” or “in Indian file”.

Layers of language, imaginary and cities, layers of time…

Another consciously linguistic proposal is that of Marc Vives who has spread the different chapters of a novel around the space so that they can be read (and experienced) in a fragmented discontinuous manner, just like life itself. In fact, the main character in the story, which belongs to the bildungsroman genre, builds his vital space in reverse of the times he has lived through: from maturity to infancy.

June Crespo, Same Heat, 2018.

Finally, in this part dedicated to language, Marla Jacarilla takes brief excerpts from dystopic novels and stories to make an almost blank collage in line with some of the works of Ignasi Aballí and Mar Arza. Jacarilla’s work  acts as a hinge between more linguistic proposals and those which talk about uncertain hypotheses for the future. A future cyborg invoked by the machine installation by Carlos Saéz and his sculptoric ginny which is activated when it detects someone approaching. A crudely aesthetic reptile object which links in with the pieces by June Crespo made from rubbish, transforming the organic functionality of daily objects such as a radiator in layers of sculptoric material, and  with the light but powerful volume of works by Julia Spinola, with a piece made of small pieces of cardboard pressed and compacted to remind us that our world is one of waste, undoing and excess. It is world controlled by the same lifestyle that extends across all cities and which Francesc Ruiz reminds of with an installation made up of the publicity boards for a well-known mobile phone company.

Francesc Ruiz, Lycamobile, 2019.

Although the exhibition at La Capella seemed to speak to each of the pieces individually, as a whole its choral element and its fidelity to what it promises can be seen: stratigraphy or the study of elements superimposed in time in layers or strata. Layers of language, imaginary and cities, layers of time…of human time.

The exhibition Les escenes: 25 years after. Scene 5: Strata can be seen at La Capella in Barcelona until 26 May.

Aesthetic as anaesthesia

Aesthetic as anaesthesia

“What a drag,” he says.

He’s an international photographer with an impeccable reputation, and I’ve asked him a favour, as a friend: to accompany me to the World Press Photo Exhibition (WPPh). The history of the world could be divided into what humans say in public and what they say in private. As could the history of photojournalism. And I’m interested in his private vision of the tragedy. Because the WPPh is one big tragedy: in the photos almost no one is smiling.

John Moore, Crying Girl on the Border. World Press Photo of the Year’ Winner.

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the exhibition is swarming with people taking in “the stories that matter,” as the competition’s slogan puts it. Three years ago it was all images of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean and pouring into Europe. This year: not a single one. Did that exodus just evaporate? Is it a story that no longer “matters”? What exactly matters to the audience observing these scenes?

“We lost our way somewhere,” says my friend, faced by the hordes of visitors. All these people looking at the drama  – it seems off to me. I don’t know. I think there are other ways of showing it.”

And this is where the problem with an exercise in photography as necessary as the WPPh begins. These kinds of exhibition can never shake off a certain air of people from rich countries photographing people from poor countries, of the inhabitants of former colonizing countries photographing the inhabitants of formerly colonised countries.

“I once photographed a young Syrian migrant,” my friend tells me. “When she saw the image published in the US media, she wrote to me to tell me that she didn’t want to be exhibited like that. She didn’t want to be seen in that way.”

What does the person in the photograph think about the story? And the photographer? And the weekend viewer? Would all the people in the photographs feel comfortable to see how they are exhibited and how they are viewed?

“Now they want to get rid of the Barcelona zoo, shouldn’t we be rethinking the way we exhibit other people’s pain?” my friend suggests.

He likes this year’s winning photo, taken by John Moore. A girl crying on the border between Mexico and the USA. The image that sparked outrage across the world at Trump’s ruthless policy of separating mothers from their children.

“I admire Moore’s commitment to his story,” says my friend, “He’s been working on it for 10 to 12 years. I don’t see that kind of commitment in many photographers. But it’s the second year in a row that the prize has gone to a story that hasn’t just happened in the photo: that girl was never separated from her mother.”

But my friend’s favourite photograph is one by Philip Montgomery. The ravages of drug abuse in the USA. An addict’s dead body is taken away from his family home.

“Look. It’s all here,” he says, going over the whole image with his eyes and a hand gesture. As if it were a map. A map in black and white.

Philip Montgomery, September 18, 2017. Faces of an Epidemic series.

“But the world isn’t black and white. The real world is in colour,” I reply.

“But this is a real black and white. With no pretensions. Reality is never pretentious. Only photographers are pretentious. And in the end this kind of black and white is more real than all those other photos saturated in what is ultimately made up colour,” he replies, pointing out other meticulously retouched images. Is it healthy for a photographer to spend longer on post-production than on observing the scene they are photographing?

“Do you know what all this postproduction is for? Making a winning photo. In the last few years there’s been a boom in pay-to-enter photography competitions, which feed on a particular set of demands: the demands of the ego,” he tells me.

Mário Cruz, Living Among what’s Left Behind.

“There’s too much forced beauty,” my friend says. “During the immigration crisis four years ago, I saw photographers waking up a migrant who was sleeping on the ground, to ask them to carry on sleeping but facing the morning sun: it made their body look more beautiful.”

Forced beauty is the least among the other forced effects: a couple of years ago one of the prize-winners in this year’s competition passed off an Indian woman as a victim of sexual abuse when she was not a victim of abuse of any kind, and he had photographed her without explaining his intentions.

“There are hardly any stories about white Europeans,” says my friend, and as he does so, I look at the throng of white Europeans viewing the exhibition, anaesthetised by the aesthetic, and I think there’s something illusory about all this: in the entrance they’ve set up two transparent plastic boxes for donations to support this kind of photography. As if they were for an NGO. Is it an NGO? Should it be, I wonder, not knowing the answer.

“After the whoooooooooole selection process… this is the best photograph?” my friend says in surprise, dragging out the letter “o” in front of one, two, three, four images.

In another great recent exhibition we defined ourselves as “creators of consciousness”. Should we believe the hype?

“Sport is, essentially, action, and here they focus on personal drama,” says my friend in the sports photography section. Wheelchairs are rewarded, amputees are overexposed.

In another great recent exhibition – not World Press Photo – we reporters and photojournalists defined ourselves as “creators of consciousness.” Should we believe the hype?

The irresistible temptation to reward pain means that pain ends up impregnating every aspect of the competition. And, in the end, there’s a sense that the image of the hungry puma attacking an unfortunate llama is – in terms of technique and concept – the most authentic in the exhibition. There’s a sense that the section devoted to nature and animals is the one that has least to do with caged beings. Caged by aesthetics, or morality.

Ingo Arndt, Wild Pumas of Patagonia.

Out on the street, we carry on talking about the tragedy and my friend offers me one final reflection. The problem is, I’ve scribbled all over the sheet of paper I’ve been making notes on – there’s not one blank corner left: I look for the ticket to the exhibition in my pocket and ask him to lend me his back to rest the paper on and make a note of what he has just said.

“Not one bloody word about a single bloody fixer, the local dogsbodies who take you to the photo,” I scribble on his back.

World Press Photo Exhibition 2019. International Photojournalism can be seen at the CCCB, in Barcelona, until 26 May.

The Other Catalans of the Biennale

The Other Catalans of the Biennale

There is life beyond the pavilion. The Catalan art scene in Venice nudge their way into institutional projects for the Biennales and also parallel initiatives.

Paul B. Preciado is the curator of the incredible Taiwan Pavilion and David Armengol has curated the project by Yamandú Canosa for the Uruguay Pavilion, while Lorenzo Quinn is seeking to repeat the media success he obtained in 2017 with a bridge of monumental hands. There are also the galleries: Senda with Tavares Strachan and NoguerasBlanchard with Ad Minoliti in the central exhibit of the biennale and ADN with Kendell Geers in the Giudecca Art District. And to top it off there is the exhibition dedicated to Fortuny, father and son.

For a brief time the Macba envisaged the chance to find its way and become a museum that was truly open to current artistic practices. It was when Bartomeu Marí signed up Valentí Roma and Paul B. Preciado as heads of collections and public programmes respectively. But the story is sadly too well known: censorship, pressure, ignorance and zero vision leading to its dismissal – a serious mistake confirmed by every project carried out.

Paul B. Preciado is curator of the Shu Lea Cheang project for the Taiwan Pavilion which occupies the Palazzo delle Prigioni, where such famous characters as  Giordano Bruno and Giacomo Casanova were imprisoned – “not the legendary heartbreaker but the first person to promote the condom”, says Preciado. The project is about surveillance from the historic jail to contemporary digital control and about repression and punishment for questions of gender, sexuality, difference and non-conventional attitudes.

Shu Lea Cheang. Photo: @Arte.Edad.Silicio.

The author of Brandon, the first work by net.art bought by an American museum (the Guggenheim), which is the story of a murdered transsexual, and which later formed the storyline for the Oscar-winning Boys don’t cry, Shu Lea Cheang became known through feminist digital science fiction porno movies like  I.K.U, which was the first pornographic film to be admitted in the Sundance Festival, and interactive projects which explore the physical and virtual representation of identity, gender, sexuality and race in the digital society through multiple artistic media.

Shu Lea Cheang. Photo: @Arte.Edad.Silicio.

The title 3X3X6 alludes to the architecture of modern 3 metre by 3 metre prison cells watched over by 6 cameras. It is an inverted panoptic along with ten short films which invite reflection through ten true stories of people condemned for crimes of an allegedly sexual nature. Casanova, the Marquis of Sade (jailed for sodomy for 32 years!), Foucault, the woman who cut off her husband’s penis (sentenced to life imprisonment) and the man who agreed to kill and eat another man after having sex, are some of the central characters of these trans-temporal audio-visual stories which trap the visitor in a dimension outside the rules, where the ‘queer’ vision is mixed with cyber-aesthetics, video games, comics, ancient myths and fake news. Anyone can take part downloading the app http://3x3x6.com/app and sending a video-selfie of themselves dancing in support of a young Iranian detained for publishing himself dancing on Instagram.

The Empathetic House is the house of broken-down borders.”

Cataluña is a welcoming country. I know it and so does Yamandú Canosa who arrived here from his native Montevideo in 1975 and stayed here. Canosa is representing Uruguay under the curatorship of Catalan David Armengol and Patricia Betancur. His project , The Empathetic House concentrates on the history of cultures, meetings and migrations which characterise the mixed and alluvial Uruguayan society. It is the house that defends the hybrid, diverse and border-crossing identity of Canosa himself, through paintings, drawings and murals (he recently created one for La Infinita in L’Hospitalet) creating a subjective non-linear cartography of displacements. The Empathetic House is the house of broken-down border.”, the curators explain.

Lorenzo Quinn, son of the unforgettable actor Anthony Quinn, and resident of Castelldefels for over 25 years, tries to repeat the media success that he obtained in 2017 with the giant hands holding up a Venetian building, constructing a bridge made up of six pairs of hands joined in different positions and measuring 15 metres. However, this time the piece is not housed in the privileged location of the Canal Grande, but is hidden behind the moorings and the containers of the Arsenal Nord, such that it is only visible from the sea.

Tavares Strachan in the Biennale.

Among the numerous Barcelona galleries represented in Venice, two have artists with major places in the Biennale: Senda with the conceptual artist Tavares Strachan who will soon be exhibiting in Barcelona and NoguerasBlanchard with Ad Minoliti, who has just presented a show in his base in L’Hospitalet. ADN gallery is exhibiting in the Giudecca Art District, on the island of the same name. It is a piece against violence and repressions by South African artist Kendell Geers, whose works can be seen in Barcelona until this Saturday (18 May).

The Palazzo Fortuny.

As the cherry on the top of the contemporary cake, the Palazzo Fortuny is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the death of Mariano Fortuny i Madrazo with an exhibit that shows his multifaceted artistic production and that of his father Mariano Fortuny i Marsal. His passion for painting and even more for collecting and precious textiles, which formed the mix of cultures and traditions that fascinated him, are evident in works on loan from different museums including El Prado. Apart from the pieces themselves his personal objects and the sophisticated and luxury environment that was the home and studio of the Fortuny family, until it was donated to the city by his widow in 1975, are particularly fascinating. This exhibition, like the 58th Biennale, will close on 24 November.

Halloween at the Museum

Halloween at the Museum

There is a day for everything but if you want to attract young people you have to celebrate at night.

And that is exactly what the “Museums Night” – the cool and fun version of the formal “Museums Day” – does. 84 spaces all over the Barcelona metropolitan area will be stuffed fill of activities from seven in the evening until one in the morning.

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya MNAC. Nit dels Museus 2018. ©Robert_Ramos.

We could even make a comparison between “practicing” and “non-practicing” Christians. The former, go to church every Sunday and all religious holidays, while the latter only go twice a year – at Christmas and Easter. The “practicing” art-goers spend the year-round visiting museums, galleries, book presentations, etc. While the “non-practicing” art-goers visit museums as tourists or when they make the trip to ARCOmadrid, despite not having visited a single gallery in their own city.

You won’t find anyone under the age of 18 or over 45 on Museums Night. These age ranges, when together in groups, are more for the daytime events like the Saturday afternoons at MACBA…if there is a Plensa exhibition on. How I miss those mega-exhibitions that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors!

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya MNAC. Nit dels Museus 2018. ©Robert_Ramos.

Unmissable… but amassable

Museums nights is not designed for the visitor to engage in a process of reflection around a particular artistic, cultural or heritage project. It has been engineered so that you, who is not normally a museum-goer, can discover a place you will want to go back to. Even the biggest museums try to look like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and there is no lack of surprises, musical events and confetti.

I think it is great. Depending on your preferences you can enjoy the onomatopoeias and sound montages by Christian Marclay at the MACBA, or lose yourself in the mental maze of quantum physics at the CCCB; say hello to the first works by Picasso in the Picasso Museum, or applaud the work of Gothic genius Bartolomé Bermejo;  take a glance at the Christ Pantocrator by the Master of Taüll or even cheer on the troops in the giant Battle of Tetuan by Fortuny at the MNAC, where a thousand years of Catalan art is on show. These are all obvious and highly recommended choices.

But… what if you don’t like queuing? What if you don’t like following the crowd? And what if you want to turn a themed night into a niche experience? Here at Mirador de les Arts© we suggest a few different routes. A, but one word of advice… quite a few of the places ask you to register beforehand by internet, so if you don’t want to be left out, plan ahead!

Palau de la Virreina. Nit dels Museus 2018. ©Robert_Ramos.

Photographic route

Lovers of photography? Did you know that you have got a camera with many different possibilities in your mobile phone? One day you might be the artist exhibiting in the museum! We suggest you start at La Pedrera in Passeig de Gràcia, and while you are visiting one of the greatest works by Gaudí, don’t miss  the incredible exhibition of work by Gabriel Cualladó; afterwards you could go to the Mapfre Foundation in Carrer Diputació where it crosses Rambla de Catalunya to worship the photographs of Berenice Abbott, then on to the CCCB to take in the World Press Photo exhibition and what is different about this one from the previous – answer: they are all the same – continue to the Rambles where you will find another photographic icon, the German August Sander, cold and precise as an entomologist. Turning towards the Gothic quarter and you can end the party in a somewhat sinister manner at Foto Colectania, with photographs and installations by Laia Abril on the question of abortion.

Fundació Arranz Bravo. Nit dels Museus 2018. L’Hospitalet de Llobregat. ©Robert_Ramos.

Local routes

Do you want to walk around a single area? For example, there are people in Barcelona who have never been to see art in Hospitalet, and could discover a goldmine: almost at the exit to the metro you have the Tecla Sala Art Centre, with two interesting exhibits: the multidisciplinary exhibition by Eugenio Ampudia I tu què has fet per l’art? (And what have you ever done for art?) and the talented trompe-l’oeil by Lluís Hortalà in Guillotina – which talks about the fireplaces of historical figures who met their end at the guillotine. At Tecla Sala we also have the Arranz-Bravo Foundation with an exhibition by Pablo del Pozo Al muerto, tiempo encima. If you carry on along the red line of the metro to the old town there are three spaces belonging to the Museum of L’Hospitalet: the casa Espanya building, which you can get a view of after dark, the Harmony building and the Can Riera Masia which is showing the exhibition  Amb B de Brossa.

Subirachs goes well beyond the Passion façade of the Sagrada Família.

If you would rather stick around in Poble Nou, no problem: you can visit the Design Museum, with a whole series of collections from industrial graphic design to textiles and fashion, and then go on to Can Framis museum of contemporary Catalan painting to see the exhibition of the recently departed Jordi Fulla. Carry on walking for five minutes and you reach the Espai Subirachs where the sculptor’s daughter will tell you about the career of an artist which goes well beyond the Passion façade of the Sagrada Família.

Col·lecció de Carrosses Fúnebres.

Invisible route

There are also some thematic routes: one dedicated to Gaudí includes La Pedrera, the gatehouse of Park Güell, the Güell Palace at the bottom of the Rambles and, if you have a car, the Museu de les Aigües (the Carretera Sant Boi in Cornellà de Llobregat) where you can join a guided tour of the exhibition and the garden, where there is a reconstruction of Gaudí’s Modernist waterfall.

Another, almost infinite route would be around the remains of the ancient city of Barcino, such as the TEMPLE OF Augustus, the Domus Aurea in Carrer Avinyó, the Roman remains at the MYHBA in the Plaça del Rei…and in Badalona the museum and other spaces such as the Casa dels Dofins, the Jardí de Quint Licini or the Conducte d’Aigües.

But if you want a night route of something invisible, which is sometimes visible to everyone but often remains unseen, or you are simply fans of the TV series on mysteries Cuarto Milenio, I recommend you start with the magnificent Arús Library and the exhibition Barcelona, the capital of private detectives. Continue to the Grand Provincial Lodge of Catalonia, with its two masonic temples, or if you are a bit short of time, the Eugen Bleuler Private Foundation where you can get free entry to four masonic temples and meeting rooms showing all the masonic symbology, materials and decorations, etc. A route like that can only end up in one of two places: either go to the Egyptian Museum to see the Tutankhamun exhibition or travel to exit 13 of the Ronda Litoral and stop at the Funeral Carriage Collection, the only one of its kind in Europe. Don’t miss the night workshop “Build your own cemetery”.

Here you can find information about all the events of Museums Night. Don’t forget – in some places you have to book. Trick or Deal?

Watch out for the Statues!

Watch out for the Statues!

“Wisdom is not about destroying idols, but about never creating them”, said Umberto Eco. But in the main religious texts there are detailed instructions of how to annihilate them.

The Jewish Talmud says “To destroy an idol you must pulverise it and throw it into the sea. Never to the wind because it could fertilise the soil… it must disappear down to the last fragment”. The project To lose your head (Idols), which represents Catalonia in the Venice Biennale is about destruction and adoration and the visceral reactions that statues are capable of producing in humans.

Pedro Azara, curator of the Catalonia Pavilion. Photo: ArteEdadSilicio.

“The images have an enormous power over men (sic), as if they were living beings. This has nothing to do with the contemplative attitude that the illusory theory of art tells us we should have when looking at the statues, whose forms carry a content that is capable of arousing the wildest passions”, explains the teacher of aesthetics and theory of art, Pedro Azara, who more than just the curator is the true author of the Catalonia Pavilion.

Joan Brossa, Record d’un malson, 1991.

For the first time in the six occasions in which it has taken part in the world’s biggest art event, Catalonia is not presenting the work of an artist but a documentary thesis project by an art theorist, which invites reflection on the power of the images and the emotional pulse of being human. That is why he has tried to make the pavilion as similar as possible to the Vía Favencia municipal depot where all the statues are piled up that are either damaged or have been removed from the public space for extolling figures that history would rather forget, even though their memory unfortunately remains very much alive in Spanish society.

Pas del Sant Enterrament de Tarragona.

Azara insists that the pavilion should not be read in political terms, but actually he has selected works which are directly linked to the history of Catalonia and the traumas which have caused its cracks with Spain. There are four of them: the head of the Mayor of Porcioles by Joan Brossa, the Monument to Lluís Companys by Francisco López, the Float of the Holy Week Procession of Tarragona and the Monument to the fallen by Genaro Iglesias, considered  a Francoist work until it was recently restored by historians.

Exhibition view.

There are also 11 others whose stories of adoration, disfigurement and final destruction or removal are told in a documentary section through photographs and press clippings. Included are the monument to the slave seller Antonio López which was recently removed from a square in Barcelona. “Throwing paint and disfigurement are the usual and most immediate ways of negating the life of an image. The face and especially the eyes are the parts most affected when neutralising their power, stopping us from looking at them”, states Azara.

Genaro Iglesias, Monumento a los Caídos, 1963.

This is where the title of the exhibit comes from – alluding to statues losing their heads because before them human beings had lost them.  “A statue, whether venerated or destroyed, is a victorious statue because it has achieved its objective, brought us outside the box, confronted us with  our fears and hopes and made us accept a life full of contradictions”, he continues., remembering the equestrian statue of Franco which was recently attacked despite being part of an exhibition at the Centre for Culture and Memory of the Born.

Borràs encourages the public to attack or adore the human statues.

The most curious thing is that Azara has decided to encourage the visitors to give free rein to their emotions through a vending machine of artefacts to adore or destroy. There are plastic flowers and candles but also bottles of urine and paint, stones and even hammers like those used by the mythical historical vandals meaning that now most works are exhibited behind bullet-proof glass. We will have to see if anyone dares to use them.

Vending machine.

In the meantime they have been used in the performance that actor Marcel Borràs has conceived for the week dedicated to those professionals appearing before the opening ceremony on Saturday. The actress Marta Aguilar plays five statues in a kind of pagan procession, which invites viewers to think of the streets of Barcelona, around the old boat warehouse in the heart of the Biennale (between the Arsenale and the Giardini), which is the Catalonia pavilion.

The actress Marta Aguilar plays five statues in a kind of pagan procession. Photo: ArteEdadSilicio.

Borràs encourages the public to attack or adore the human statues like The Shoot of Camp Nou which people spontaneously turned into a monument to Johann Cruyff. Marcel Borràs’s role is almost anecdotically listed as project artist, together with the creators of texts such as Francesc Torres who have dealt with the topic of iconoclasm in their work, and  Albert García Alzórriz, producer of the hypnotic medium-length film Eyes/Eyes/Eyes/Eyes, and distressing like the great majority of works that make up this 58th Biennale, which will be open until 24 November.

Memory, Pain… and Poletiquette

Memory, Pain… and Poletiquette

Last Saturday the Government of Catalonia paid homage to the republicans who were deported during the Nazi regime. The event took place in the concentration camp of Mauthausen, in front of the memorial stone that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Raül Romeva, had unveiled in 2017, on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the liberation from that hellish place.

The acting Spanish government – clearly a soothing influence – attended the event. When Gemma Domènech, the Generalitat’s Director General of Democratic Memory, reminded people of the situation of the minister as a political prisoner, the Spanish delegation headed by the minister for Justice, left.

Raül Romeva unveiling the memorial stone, on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen.

So, all the newspapers were full of stories of a political dispute. But none of them mentioned that up to 200,000 people had been taken to Mauthausen, half of whom were either exterminated or died in infrahuman living conditions.

Another collateral effect: the most frequently reproduced work of art in the press this week was precisely the stone by Jesús Galdón which Raül Romeva unveiled two years ago.

Are all commemorative stones the same? What is special about the one placed by the Government of Catalonia in the wall of Mauthausen? We ask the creator, an artist who has made his work a permanent dialogue between memory and formal tradition, to the point where it is not surprising to see his exhibitions in archaeological museums rather than spaces for contemporary art.

–How did he get the commission for this monument?

Plàcid Garcia-Planas, who was at the time the director of the Democratic Memorial, called me. He asked me to make a plaque with the inscription “In memory of all those deported to Nazi camps” in Catalan, Spanish and German and Hebrew. But there was a series of conditions, established by the Mauthausen Memorial, when it came to making this kind of commemorative monument. However, my choice of stone was completely free. I also added the motto “All the pain of a people” The pain of collective memory, indistinctly.

–But the wall where the work was to be placed was not just any old wall.

Garcia-Planas sent me several photographs of the place where the plaque was to be placed – on a wall built by the prisoners themselves with the granite from the Mauthausen quarry. There was a series of plaques already placed on the wall. And I thought to myself: What can I add?

In other cases, the stone substituted the flesh, stone is eternal, hard, and flesh is soft and decomposable. Flesh disappears and that is why the statues are made to last.

I found it absurd to think that stone was being used to commemorate those who lost their lives quarrying it, covering up the fruit of their own work. The wall is the true memory of that pain.

Neus Català and Jesús Galdón.

–A memorial which covers up the object of the commemoration seems absurd.

The simplest solution to conserve that memory was to make a hole, to empty out a space. The plaque frames a detail of the place of pain which is condensed in these stones.

When I went to supervise the mounting of the piece, I visited the camp. There is an exhibition space which explains all of the barbarities which were carried out by the Nazis. And there is a piece of granite of the type the prisoners had to carry up the stairs to their death – stones weighing up to 50 kilos which were placed on wooden trays and carried on their backs. Their working says were up to eleven hours. I tried to lift one of those stones and all the weight of memory bore down on me.

–If memory carries weight why commemorate it with a hole? And why is the hole circular and not square or triangular?

Memory is a wall. And the hole is circular because pain is circular, infinite. Also, the inscription was a prisoner of those walls, and both I and the Democratic Memorial wanted to get away from that gesture. That is why we made a graphic work.

–How can you convey a message without conserving either the materiality or the place?

It is true that the format was different. But I continued with the idea of the stone as an impression and I thought about the process of lithography. The stone of Mauthausen has made an impression on memory in the same way that the lithographic stone makes an impression on the paper, just like a memory.

Granite is an extremely hard stone composed of quartz, feldspar, alkali and mica. In this work I substituted the three components of granite for the skin texture of three people: the fingerprints of Neus Català – the last survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, those of the artist – as a mediator in the continuity of memory, and those of a young person, not yet born into this memory which they would inherit.

–And how did you manage to get a hundred-year-old woman to cooperate?

I went to Neus’ village (Els Guiamets, 1915-2019), to the old people’s home where she lived.

When I introduced myself, I explained the project briefly. I shouted quite a lot because she was quite deaf. In the end she said, don’t tell me anymore because I haven’t understood anything. Just tell me what I have to do”. I took a litho stone with me and spread the ink on the paper. She licked her fingers and placed her fingerprints on the edges of the stone. When we had finished, she insisted that I took her on a trip around the village in her wheelchair. She made a huge impression on me.

Exorcism on Paper

Exorcism on Paper

We begin the report on the exhibition Papeles después de una guerra (Papers after a war) at the N2 Gallery in Barcelona right at its chronological end: these fantastical and disturbing drawing made from tiny perforations on paper this year by Mallorcan artist Amparo Sard.

The artist was born in 1973, the same year that Picasso died, and he is also present in the exhibition with a dedication made at the end of his life to one of his best childhood friends in Barcelona, Manuel Pallarès. From Picasso to Sard, the pathway of art in the twentieth century has been a long and complex one and to a certain extent this small but exquisite exhibition in N2 is like a taste of the aesthetic and moral contradictions that occurred over almost a century of avant-garde art.

Amparo Sard, Untitled, 2019. Serie “Demasiada empatía”.

Only fourteen works on paper are exhibited at N2 by eleven outstanding artists, all from Spain, and united by their avant-garde spirit and, according to the gallery, “aesthetic tendencies broken by war, interior exile, different attempts to preserve their creative freedom and the dawning following the start of democracy”. This little tour begins with Luis Castellanos, Juli Gonzàlez and Picasso himself, and ends with Evru and Sard, with Manolo Millares, Jaume Plensa, Víctor Mira and Adolfo Schlosser in the middle.

But let’s go back to Amparo Sard, who dominates the end of the exhibit with her drawing from the series Demasiada empatía (Too much empathy), where in a kind of self-portrait she uses perforation as a form of personal exorcism and a way of channelling individual and collective pain. She is a trans-disciplinary artist who in 2018 was included in a list of the best 25 artists in the world in the Dutch magazine LXRY. In this exhibition she also includes a projection of her video Intel·ligència emocional (Emotional intelligence), which is a visual metaphor of overload and disproportion.

Amparo Sard was included in a list of the best 25 artists in the world.

Going back in time, of the current artists present in this exhibition there is a delicate drawing of a female nude by Evru and a work on paper L’ull (The eye), by Jaume Plensa – a dark and sexual work which has little to do with his more recent work, where he uses the texture of the paper top achieve the desired effect.  It is a drawing which is also like a painting and a sculpture. In two works from the 1980s, Adolfo Schlosser brings one of his favourite subjects, nature, to paper in a colourful and almost abstract fashion.

Luis Castellanos, Untitled, 1935.

One of the more curious works in this exhibit is a drawing of the head of a bullfighter by Manolo Millares from 1956, evidently of a Picassian influence and far from the impressive abstractions by the same artist. The exhibit also reveals the constructivist mastery of Madrid artist Luis Castellanos, with the oldest piece in the exhibition from 1935.

The exhibition Papeles después de una guerra can be visited at N2 Gallery, in Barcelona, until 23 May.

Girona Pays Homage to Pioneering Photographer Valentí Fargnoli

Girona Pays Homage to Pioneering Photographer Valentí Fargnoli

The first photograph that reached us was from 1901 and shows Girona city wall.

Valentí Fragnoli Ianetta was sixteen years old when he took it. He was born in a boarding house in the Barcelona Rambla when his parents, from Naples, were passing through the city. Even though he lived in Italy for the first years of his life the family moved to the Girona area, first in Verges, then La Bisbal, Figueres and finally Girona itself, where they stayed put.

Valentí Fargnoli, Women and girls doing the laundry in a public utility room, Torroella de Montgrí, 1911-1915. (Fons i Col·lecció Emili Massanas i Burcet. INSPAI, Centre de la Imatge de la Diputació de Girona).

Fargnoli was not a studio photographer. For four decades he went around the villages and spots of Catalonia and Spain taking pictures of lives and trades, landscapes and architecture. He used a bicycle to get around (shame there are not images of that) the Girona countryside. In the evening he would come home and develop his photograph using materials he made himself, such as the developer and fixer. With a carefully calculated composition of lines, he was one of the few photographers of the period to sign his negatives. His legacy (a collection held by the INSPAI, the Image Centre of the Diputació de Girona) covers genres such as social reporting, advertising (Fargnoli was the photographer from a number of commercial posters: he made his living from them), portraits and heritage photography. This is a high quality collection which is now being shown together for the first time.

Valentí Fargnoli, Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. To the top on the right, the castle of Sant Salvador de Verdera, the Port de la Selva, 1915-1935. (Fons Valentí Fargnoli. INSPAI, Centre de la Imatge de la Diputació de Girona).

For the 75th anniversary of his death, Girona is paying homage to Fargnoli with three exhibitions. Valentí Fargnoli. El paisatge revelat at the Casa de Cultura presents the most ethnographic and landscape-oriented of his works, with images of villages, coves and tree-lined streets in an idyllic Costa Brava, but also and especially of men and women, girls and boys, stonemasons and smiths, wheat threshers, laundry workers and other trades which have been lost. The gazes and gestures, moments of work and of leisure, complicities and hopes, reach us from those who were lucky enough not to live for the camera.

Fargnoli brought around 2,000 negatives to the Mas Archive.

A second exhibition at the Museum of History, Valentí Fargnoli. L’art en la fotografia, presents the heritage photography of the artist which he carried out at a time when he realised that the awareness of a collective past had yet to be articulated. It was during the 1910s and 1920s that some forward looking people began to value and promote the care of artistic and archaeological heritage.

Portrait of Valentí Fargnoli, 1911. Taller d’Història de Maçanet de la Selva. Photo: Unknown author.

The names are well known… Puig i Cadafalch, Josep Pijoan, Caterina Albert, Rafel Masó… and Adolf Mas. It was the latter, also a photographer, together with the architect Jeroni Martorell, who coordinated this unprecedented project. The Institute for Catalan Studies, which had been created a few years earlier, commissioned them in 1918 to compile the Iconographic Inventory of Catalonia – a project which was extended to the whole peninsula as the Iconographic Repertoire of Spain. Among tasks such as the selection of the monuments, documentations and design of the way in which such a huge task could be carried out, they also selected the photographer who would be needed to see it through. In 1916 they contacted Fargnoli to commission the initial collaboration, which finally lasted until the 1930s.

Andalusian wooden chest and ivory chest of the 11th century of the Cathedral of Girona, 1919. Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic. Arxiu Mas – Ajuntament de Girona CRDI. Photo: V. Fargnoli.

Fargnoli brought around 2,000 negatives to the Mas Archive. Romanic capitels, the collapsed nave of the church of Sant Pere de Rodes, the exhibition halls of the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia, Gothic chests, religious jewels…and a host of photographic documentation together with an epistolary exchange between Adolf mas and Fargnoli is on show at the Museum of History. The exhibition begins with a recently published study by Joan Boadas of the Girona Municipal Archive on Fargnoli’s method and conditions for working using previously unseen documentation from the Mas Archive.

A woman in the kitchen with well of Can Poma, also known as Can Prat. Sant Feliu de Pallerols, 1918. Institut Amatller d’Art Hispànic. Arxiu Mas – Ajuntament de Girona CRDI. Photo: V. Fargnoli.

Finally, the third exhibit, which is as exquisite as it is small, is presented at the Jewish history Museum: Stones with a Name. A single photograph (yes, just one!) which had been forgotten even by those responsible for the iconographic Inventory of Catalonia, showing five Jewish tombstones with their inscriptions in Hebrew, explains the value of the names which confirm the existence of lives in the transmission of history. This exhibition exercise shows how even if those responsible for the repertoire did not know how to include Jewish culture in the collective past which has to be conserved, Fragnoli did and he documented it anyway.

Even though we don’t know what his intention was, the fact is that he advanced the importance of conserving Jewish culture by a few years. Fargnoli dies in Girona in 1944. He was 58.

Twinkles and surprises

Twinkles and surprises

The world of art galleries is picking up, but more than that it is experiencing profound change.

Not only are new galleries opening, but there are changes in the format, the business model, the planning and also the audiences.

Pedro Torres. Dilalica. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

Dilalica is a word which is pronounced the same in any language, despite the fact that it exists in one. It was generated expressly by software to become the name of a new gallery, which has just opened in Carrer Trafalgar a stone’s throw from the veteran Senda and the new Bombón Project. Louis-Charles Tiar, who is the co-director alongside Cati Bestard, wants to forge a link between the gallery space and digital and virtual practices, giving visibility to the works and artists who work at the meeting point between the physical and the virtual. “Digital art has almost never had a place in the galleries because it does not answer to a standard business model”, says Tiar, who will represent any individual artist and will organised curated group exhibitions and produce specific projects.

Aleix Plademunt. Dilalica. Photo: Roberto Ruiz.

An example is the inaugural show, by Cati Bestard and Marta Sesé, which is inspired in the gallery space itself as the scenario and protagonist of works created during its refurbishment (carried out by the Maio studio) in an artistic-architectural work which reveals the technical and legal requirements involved in opening an gallery. Fluorescent lights by Pedro Torres create a sense of space, columns hidden under anti-fire regulations are revealed by Luz Broto and there is a hyperrealist sound description of the space by Elsa Alfonso. These are just some of the pieces in the opening of Dilalica, and its reconstruction has taken place together with the demands of its programming.

Galleries need to open up new, more flexible and versatile paths.

For some time now galleries have been searching for new formats and ways of pulling in the public which will keep them on the circuit. New audiences and new business models are two of the imperatives. Not only is it necessary these days to promote a didactic aspect and emerge from the niche of snobbery and misunderstood exclusivity, galleries need to open up new, more flexible and versatile paths.

Teresa Estapé, Oro, papel, diamante. Chiquita Room.

And that is exactly what the gallery owner from Bilbao, Laura Gonzáez, has done in Chiquita Room, the gallery which opened just a few months ago in Carrer Villaroel, where she works and also lives. A space for production, exhibition, publication and also a meeting point, Chiquita Room takes on original and unseen projects which break the limits and boundaries while always maintaining a relation with the publishing world, which was her first love.

Until 18 May it is exhibiting works by Teresa Escapé – an artist who combines art and jewellery in a completely anomalous fashion with works reflecting on the sense of value and the elements that determine it. An installation of A4 sheets of paper among which is a pure gold plate and a diamond manipulated to hide its twinkle (which is precisely what gives it market value) are some of the works curated by Zaida Trallero.

Teresa Estapé, Oro, papel, diamante. Chiquita Room.

They are followed by the photographs of Asier Rua on the reconstruction of the Sant Antoni market, and in waiting for the first anniversary of the gallery in November is Arcana, an ambitious and original project about tarot. Of course, a deck will be published, but the most intriguing are the 22 interpretations of the greatest hidden arcanes made by other artists – headed up by Eulalia Valldosera… all techniques are permitted including performance!

Unlike “Chiquita”, Olivier Collet does not live in Homesession, but the artists invited to produce works which will later be exhibited at extemporary session – almost happenings – do. This does not mean that there are not also exhibitions by iconic although little known artists such as Irina Ionesco, famous as the photographer of Sylvia Kristel and pioneer in her claim for the sexual view bordering pornography from a feminist stance.

Àlvar Calvet, Acto de fe. La Cumprativa. Photo: ArteEdadSilicio.

If there are young gallery owners seeking new paths there are also veterans launching unexpected adventures. This is the case of Ramon Sicart who has closed his gallery after more than 150 exhibitions and is now chair of the board of La Cumprativa de Llorenç del Penedès se attempting to activate the cultural life of the county of Penedès and including contemporary art in the activities of the cultural community.

On the day of the elections, Sicart exhibited the famous work by Santiago Sierra Political Prisoners in Contemporary Spain, in front of which Alvar Calvet of the La Trastera Group carried out his Act of Faith, reading some of the article so the Spanish Constitution printed on religious hosts to later break them into pieces and share them with the public in an act of pagan communion. Some of the neighbours looked on in shock, others with irony, but all of them with interest. There were few participants, but this is just the start. La Cumprativa looks likely to becoming the nerve centre for culture in the Penedès.

The Invisible Magic of Quantum Physics

The Invisible Magic of Quantum Physics

It is very difficult to explain and understand what escapes our Cartesian reason and what we perceive directly through our senses. Art provides the ideal terrain to attempt just that.

“Art does not reproduce what is visible, but makes the invisible visible” said Paul Klee, and rightly so. Science, on the other hand, seems destined to explain just the opposite: what has been experienced and can be proven.

CERN. © 2011, CERN, Claudia Marcelloni.

But ever since it was discovered that the particles which make up matter (and therefore make up ourselves) behave differently to the laws postulated for centuries on scientific rationalism, the logic of physical phenomena has been wrong-footed. Quantum physics looks like magic.

James Bridle, A State of Sin, 2018 © Mark Blower.

The ambitious exhibition Quantum which is showing at the Centre for Contemporary Art and Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) attempts to explain the theory of quantum physics, including a dialogue between science and art. The origin of this exhibit, which has been travelling internationally, is the Art programme of the CERN – the world’s biggest particle collider in Geneva. The CERN actually has something of Klee’s statement with respect to art: it does make the invisible visible. And so it has been justified that this centre should invite artists to work within its installations, collaborating with engineers and particle physicists. What an excellent idea!

“It is not that quantum mechanics leaves you confused, it’s just that you don’t understand it”.

Quantum exhibits ten artistic projects resulting from this programme, interrelated with nine areas dedicated to key concepts of research into quantum physics. The exhibition therefore has two interwoven itineraries: one scientific and the other artistic, but at certain times the mic of the two creates a saturation of content (both visual and auditory) which does not help with the understanding of it as a whole, bearing in mind that, as stated in the exhibition itself: “It is not that quantum mechanics leaves you confused, it’s just that you don’t understand it”.

Yunchul Kim, Cascade_Quàntica, 2018 © Mark Blower.

In the artistic itinerary one of the most interesting works is Cascada, by Korean artist Yunchul Kim, which uses three sculptural elements with transparencies and flows, which go to construct a nice metaphor of the crazy behaviour of particles. Another work, Supralunar, by Colombian artist Juan Cortés, approaches the dark mystery of the universe with two “machines” which create light forms. British artist James Bridle uses eight robots to generate random names using environmental information.

 

In the scientific itinerary there is an interactive screen in which the number of particles is so huge that it no longer has any bearing on what we were recently taught – that the atoms is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. There is also a marvellous short film by the designers Charles and Ray Eames (Powers of ten, from 1968!), which sometimes goes viral online, calculating the distances between the exterior and interior universes using the hand of a man stretched out on the lawn. It is all very curious, but unfortunately the exhibition itself seems to have stifled the implicit magic of quantum physics.

The exhibition Quantum can be seen at the CCCB in Barcelona until 24 September.