The Sleepwalking Antique Dealer

The Sleepwalking Antique Dealer

Dominique Lambert is twenty years old and lives in Paris. His mother, Isabelle, is a well-known psychiatrist and his father, Christophe an antique dealer or cronopi.

He measures one metre ninety and has a slender constitution. He was born one month prematurely because his bone structure was already mature and the gynaecologist was worried that if they waited, a natural birth would not be possible. Dominique arrived in this inhospitable world of fames expelled violently from the liquid and peaceful world of the womb. It seemed as though Dominique had been awoken from an eternal dream and he looked upon the world with indolence and slothfulness. He made up for that sluggishness with a goodness that was reflected in his clear gaze and her honest smile. Right from the start her parents knew that their son had been made of the right stuff.

Antonio de Pereda, El sueño del caballero, 1655.

He was a student who just did the minimum to pass. His friends loved him. He had the gift of getting on with everyone and not making anyone jealous of his abilities. He only really competed when he was playing basketball, which he excelled at, and as the captain of the team he worried more about his team mates than about himself. He finished high school with good enough grades and got a place to study Humanities at the Sorbonne.

Dominique used to like going with his father to the Marché aux Puces where they would find some old, anonymous paintings in which he felt there was a promise of happiness. Soon he would also come up against deceptions and nameless paintings which his father attributed to a Godly creator, but which were either copies or falsifications or just eternally anonymous works and the initial excitement suddenly turned into the silence of turning the page. In fact, Dominique was more like his mother, both physically and in personality: intelligent, thoughtful and tenacious. She spent her days closed in her clinic and her clients had to cross the waiting room to confess in the chamber of horrors, as Dominique ironically called it. People came and went and sat for an hour on the black Le Corbusier chaise-longue worn away through wear and tear but also through people’s traumas.

John Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781.

His father, however, was a romantic full of good intentions, but the typical man who aspired to more than he could ever achieve; a compulsive utopian with hints of narcissism who did not understand that his profession was already part of a past world. A frustrated writer. A cronopi, when all is said and done. He hid himself away writing essays on art which nobody read and writing letters to the editor of the newspaper which were never published. He was disappointed with the world because without realising it he had become old.

His shop in the Marais district had become frozen in time. He had carried on his father’s business from the sixties but the social changes had escaped him.  He was wrought with doubts as to whether Dominique should continue in the antique business or do something more profitable. He hated the thought of bringing down the shutters of his shop but he knew that if he wanted to carry on it would require an investment to update his business and he didn’t feel that he had the energy to do so. He spoke about it to his wife, but as we know ” the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot” and she was more concerned about one of her patients who had just been fired than she was about the future of her son.

Stereoscopic view, c. 1900.

One winter morning when they were all sleeping there was a noise as if somebody had broken in. In those days there were quite a few reports of midnight robberies. The robbers would go in and use spray the sleeping inhabitants to be able to carry out the theft undisturbed. But the antiques dealer was wide awake and as he listened to the deep breathing of his wife, he heard a sound coming from Dominique’s room and he remembered that his son hadn’t gone out that night.

When he woke in the morning he went to see Dominique straight away and found him sleeping peacefully, but holding the etching by Goya that usually hung at the head of his bed. He was surprised by the sight of his son on such a long bed and stayed watching him for a few minutes just as he had done when he was little.  But now he wasn’t looking at a cradle, but what seemed more like the sepulchre of a medieval king. He smiled at the thought that the etching was no other than The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters by Goya. While he was having breakfast he told Dominique and Isabelle what had happened and while he didn’t remember anything she described the episode medically as severe somnambulism and went on into some lengthy medical explanations that they didn’t understand. She said they were episodes of parasomnia which take place in the final phase of REM sleep and that it is better not to wake the sleepwalker. She also pointed out that they are pathologies which tend to occur in infancy and that they are genetically conditioned (she admitted that as a girl she would get up to eat the tastiest thing in the fridge much to the surprise of her parents and siblings).

Francisco de Goya,The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, 1799.

Months passed and nothing like it ever happened again until Dominique was travelling with his girlfriend in Portugal. He woke in the middle of the night and took down all the paintings in the hotel room – reproductions of posters by Toulouse-Lautrec, and placed them carefully on the bed. It seemed as though Dominique wanted to sell the works to his girlfriend in an exact imitation of what he saw happening in his father’s shop. He muttered some incomprehensible words but his body language reflected the commercial side of the antiques dealer.

When they came back he didn’t say anything to his parents about it, but a few weeks later it happened again and this time not with the Goya etching but taking down all the paintings in the house and then carefully taking them outside and placing them out the front while talking away to himself. This time he was so silent that his father only found out what had happened when he woke at dawn, when he went to close the front door and saw all the painting carefully placed next to the rubbish bags.

The sleepwalking Dominique made time stand still, linking the past to the present.

He went to talk to a psychiatrist specialising in sleep and the conclusion was that the sleepwalking Dominique made time stand still, linking the past with the present. In other words, when he was sleepwalking he was capable of mixing moments from his childhood with desires for the future. In his nocturnal perambulations in the territory of sleep ‘now’ did not exist, it disappeared in his mind as he searched between the landscape of his distant past and the perspective of an uncertain and menacing future. It was a dialectic in his subconscious between the forced and traumatic expulsion from his mother’s womb and anxiety about his professional future which he could not verbalise but only simulate in the darkness of dreams.

Leonardo da Vinci, Skull, c. 1489.

On leaving the consulting room, the antiques dealer or cronopi called some people to come and redecorate his shop, with the aim of introducing Dominique to his trade and establishing a nice father-son relationship, thinking that he would soon be retiring and he would pass on the reins of his successful business. Once the shop was finished, now bright and modern, Dominique stopped sleepwalking. Never again did he dream and his nights were as boring as a day without sunshine. On Christmas day, after lunch with his parents and his girlfriend he solemnly announced that he had made a decision about his professional future: he wanted to be a psychiatrist, which is what he had always liked. Isabelle looked up and shot him a glance over her glasses which filled the dining room like a lighthouse in the fog and then mother and son looked at each other and shared a complicit smile.

Miró-Gaudí-Gomis: when looks cross

Miró-Gaudí-Gomis: when looks cross

There is a photograph by Joaquim Gomis in which Miró appears in a bathing suit and bare-footed, contemplating a root in Mont-roig.

His way of looking at the root, which is standing upright, is almost one of adoration. We don’t see his gaze directly but Gomis, one of the greatest late twentieth century Catalan photographers, is able to capture his observatory stance and the respect of the painter for such a simple natural element as a root. Unfortunately we do not have any photographs of Gaudí with a seashell in his hands or contemplating a flower or a leaf. But I would go as far as to think that his stance would be very similar to that of Miró contemplating the root.

Joaquim Gomis, Joan Miró contemplant una arrel a la platja de Mont-roig, Tarragona, c. 1946-1950. Fons Gomis, dipositat a l’Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya. © Hereus de Joaquim Gomis. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.

It is this common stance between Gaudí and Miró, especially when it comes to nature as the generating principle of nature, that hovers over the exhibition Miró-Gaudí-Gomis which can be seen throughout the summer months at the Miró Foundation in Barcelona. The show, which has been organised using the collection of foundation and curated by Teresa Montaner and Ester Ramos, looks at the aesthetic and creative affinities of Gaudí and Miró as seen through the Joaquim Gomis.

Joan Miró, Gaudí XIII, 1979. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona. © Successió Miró 2019.

Gomis played an extraordinary part in the dissemination of the works of both artists through his own images, especially the so-called fotoscops, which is a collection of photo gorgeous books promoted in the 1950s by Joan Prats and which it would be great to republish some day because the Gomis’ intuitive view of the work of Miró and Gaudí is fiercely modern.

Joaquim Gomis, Detall d’una de les xemeneies de la terrassa de la Pedrera. Fons Joaquim Gomis, dipòsit a l’Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya. © Hereus de Joaquim Gomis. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.

Apparently simple yet stuffed full of details which only become apparent on close observation, this exhibition shows the evident aesthetic meeting point between Gaudí and Miró, especially in the dialogue between sculptures by Miró and Gomis’ images of the chimneys of La Pedrera  or when you see at first hand that Miró made direct allusions to Park Güell when he was designing the Maze of the Maeght Foundation in Saint Paul de Vence, together with the ceramicist  Josep Llorens Artigas.  And what about the public sculpture Woman and Bird? Is that not Gaudinian in essence? All of this is accompanied by the anecdote that both artists took drawing classes at the Cercle Artístic de Sant Lluc during the first decade of the twentieth century, but they never met personally.

Odette Gomis, Joaquim Gomis, Joan Miró, Mme. Matisse i Joan Prats al terrat de la Casa Batlló, 1944. Fons Gomis, dipositat a l’Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya. © Hereus de Joaquim Gomis. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.

This exhibit highlights the importance of the documentary and artistic collection of the foundation but it also shows the need in the future to carry out a profound study and possibly a large exhibition about the fascinating relationship between Gaudí and Miró, united not only by taking nature as their source of inspiration, but also by the similar working processes they used to reach their own particular poetics.

The exhibition Miró-Gaudí-Gomis can be seen at the Miró Foundation, Barcelona, until 6 October.

Frank Horvat: “Please don’t smile”

Frank Horvat: “Please don’t smile”

The Espais Volart of the Vila Casas Foundation is showing Please don’t smile, by the photographer Frank Horvat who, having worked relentlessly during his professional life, now offers a collection of photographs taken in the field of fashion in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Frank Horvat was born in Abbazia on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia in 1923, in the heart of an intellectual Jewish family where the reading of poetry occurred with the same ease as drinking a glass of water.

Frank Horvat, Mate, 1964.

Goethe, Schiller, Heine, Rilke, Leopardi and Baudelaire would be his companions in solitude and would become the sap which over time indirectly fed into his photography. Despite numerous attempts and strong self-discipline, Horvat considered himself to be a frustrated poet. Having left behind his border fortress, he travelled the world, camera in hand and had his first experience of photojournalism. Around the 1950s he settled permanently in Paris where he would discover a city full of stimulation and inspiration.

Frank Horvat, For Jardin des Modes, Invalides, 1958.

In his photographs from those years, published in magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar, Horvat showed a predilection for fashion and for the world of women, which, in that period of his youth, were presented to him as an as yet inaccessible treasure. Through his black and white images he situated the woman, elegantly dressed in satin, at the centre; among the street crowds which unknowingly, within the dynamics of their own lives, embodied difference and contrast.

Frank Horvat, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Dancing couple, 1963.

In fact, Horvat, whose work sometimes showed the clear influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson, managed to become the anti-profile of these publications by proposing scenes which, as a result of their neorealism, were a contradiction to the anxieties of glamour and sophistication that had pursued him until then, and which showed a kind of woman who really did not exist. It was from his attempt to photograph women  in the street, le non control, that came a persistent technique which marked the rhythm of his photographs. For Horvat, excessive control ended up destroying the photo, and so he allowed daily life to evoke its own imperfection and co-direct the camera untamed.

Frank Horvat, Armenonville, France, Saint-Laurent fashion for Vogue France, 1970.

Horvat’s work, framed within an opportune debauchery, is dominated by a sweet timidness which really ever surrender itself to the healthy conviction of those who know they are doing something well. Original and atypical, his is an easy, natural and poetic photography – simple is essence but not ideas – which is shrouded by a natural sense of calm and order, and manages to freeze the moment with an ease that is far from banal. If his photography shows anything it is that sincerity is very difficult to achieve.

There is never a definitive script in his work.

Horvat does not fit into any specific style but he defines himself as an errant Jew travelling through the multiple possibilities of photography. There is never a definitive script in his work but rather a desire for constant reinvention which leads him to make eclecticism the bases of his style and intuition his motto.

Frank Horvat, Aran, Ireland, for Stern, knitted fashion with Chris O’Connor, 1974.

Despite the temptations of different genres throughout his career, his fashion photos have to be the work which best defines him; a little bubble in time that you go back to again and again – knowing that you have been there before – in search of a kind of poetic comfort. Please, don’t smile…because not smiling makes me smile.

The exhibition Frank Horvat. Please don’t smile can be seen at the Espais Volart of the Vila Casas Foundation in Barcelona until 28 July.

Renau: art and revolution

Renau: art and revolution

“The squares, our palettes/the streets, our brushes”. A large part of Russian constructivism was inspired in this quote by Vladimir Mayakovsky, known as the poet of the revolution.

Seen as a whole, the poster and photomontages produced by Josep Renau over almost six decades –from the age of eighteen when he won a prize for the best poster, until his death at the age of seventy-five in Communist Berlin – displays an extreme loyalty to a life decision: the need to use art for social change.

Renau, El comisario, nervio de nuestro ejército popular, 1936. © Fundació Josep Renau.

In fact, the great reference that recurs in Renau’s work in the Russian avant-garde and Constructivism, the artistic movement that emerged with the revolution in 1917. Renau. El combat per una nova cultura (Renau. The fight for a new culture) curated by Juan Vicente Aliaga and on show at the Born Centre for Culture and Memory, contains 100 pieces, among them posters, murals, photomontages, books and other publications from the Renau collection of the IVAM in Valencia – a collection of 400 works and 26,000 documents acquired one year ago – and other collections.

Renau, Las Arenas. Balneario. Piscina luminosa. Valencia, 1932. © Fundació Josep Renau.

Faithful to this initial decision, Renau’s large format posters and murals, as seen in the exhibition, allow us to trace some of the greatest errors of the twentieth century, from the fascism of the twenties and thirties to European exile, the failure of Communism and the expansion of capitalism as the only model for life. A visual journey that is linked, inevitably, to his own biography.

Renau, Industria de guerra, Partido Comunista, potente palanca de la victoria, 1936. © Fundació Josep Renau.

If when he was younger Renau’s dialogue was with the aesthetic of art deco, his membership of the communist party in 1931 marked a new start. Since then Renau used his great capacity for communicative synthesis for the cause of the Second Republic. Putting images to the campaigns of the UGT workers’ union, for the recruitment of soldiers to stamp out fascism or peasants for the revolution, who would not identify his raised fists or the victorious faces of the aviators in red and black? Renau’s involvement with republicanism and social revolution was absolute: he persuaded Picasso to take part in the pavilion of the Republic in 1937 in Paris by producing Guernica from photos sent to him by Dora Maar, publishing the essay New Culture and organising teams for saving the artistic heritage in the country.

Renau, Peace is with them…, The American Way of Life series, 1956. © Fundació Josep Renau.

But the exhibition also includes the poster from Mexican exile during the government of Lázaro Cárdenas and in the years after. Renau, who had crossed the border to be confined in the Argelès-sur-mer concentration camp at the beginning of 1939, arrived in Mexico in June with Manuela Ballester – a painter, illustrator, poet and Communist, and their first two children. They would remain there for twenty years.

Renau never came back to Spain during the life of Franco.

The political ideology of Renau was already clearly pro-Soviet at that time. So, when, in 1958, he was attacked on more than one occasion (it seems that the US intelligence services tried to run him down a couple of times) he decided to move to the German Democratic Republic, where he would stay for almost twenty-five years.

Renau, El futuro trabajador del comunismo (sketch n.3 for a mural), 1969. © Fundació Josep Renau.

It was in Mexico where, because of the proximity and influence of the American culture he began his well-known series of photomontages The American Way of Life. They are a combination of the innovative and pioneering technique of photomontage and a ferocious criticism of American consumerism and capitalism at the height of the Cold War. Racism, imperialism, sex discrimination…all addressed using a highly elaborated visual language in a series of extraordinary posters showing America as a producer of violence. Intense colours, strong iconic connotations, visual contrasts, distortions and all the contradictions of American imperialism. Renaus’s long series of anti-capitalist poster has no problem squaring up to iconic pop artists such as Richard Hamilton. It is a series which, seen through today’s eyes, is alarmingly modern.

Renau, Beautiful, The American Way of Life series, 1963. © Fundació Josep Renau.

Renau never came back to Spain during the life of Franco.  It wasn’t until 1976 that he returned to Valencia where he tried, unsuccessfully to settle. He would die in Berlin where he continued to work on photography and female nudes faithful to the avant-gardes of the twenties and thirties. With reference to his youth, in 1974 he wrote: “I understood, fascinated, that mine could be a powerful weapon for the struggle, that as an artist I could also contribute to revolutionary change of the social situation that surrounded me”. With a huge body of work, his loyalty to that realisation is coherent in the extreme.

The exhibition Renau. El combat per una nova cultura can be seen at the Born Centre for Culture and Memory, Barcelona, until 13 October.

Beauty XXL

Beauty XXL

The artist Carles Fontserè defined the poster as a “shout on the wall”. And he was right. For the first time in history, art abandoned the churches, museums and galleries to reign supreme in the streets. Beauty, larger than life, within everyone’s reach.

The artists, for their part, were freed from the tyranny of the dealers and the whims of the clients. Later they would have to be subjected to the mysterious science of the advertising experts but that is another story.

Renau, Vino de España. Jugo de uva. Instituto Nacional del Vino, c. 1935.

Works of art ceased to be unique, exclusive and limited to become multiple, ubiquitous, on fragile materials such as paper, but at the same time infinite and eternal. And with posters, of course, came collectors.

Soler y Llach, based in Barcelona, are leaders in the auction of period posters. Loyal to this artform in all its lack of discretion they have a date for us to mark in our diaries: 27 June at six in the afternoon, when they with auction 212 posters from the Josep Torné i Valls collection. You can consult the catalogue here.

Freixenet. S. Sadurní de Noya, c. 1920.

As the preamble of the catalogue of Pacto Baena (also a collector and responsible for the recently opened Comic Museum in Sant Cugat) rightly says, Josep Torné brought together an exquisite treasure trove which, apart from including the best names in poster-making, constitutes a lesson in the daily history of the twentieth century.

La mujer en la Luna, 1929.

The auction is divided into topic areas such as food and drink, art and fashion, automobiles and transport, entertainment and, of coourse, cinema – the art par excellence of the twentieth century. There is also trade and industry, sport, education and health, trade fairs, festivals and tourism.

There are two things here to bear in mind: first, the aesthetic solutions, and the evident artistic quality, employed by their creators. The advances of the avant-gardists, rejected so radically from the exhibition halls, were nevertheless accepted in the form of advertisements or decorative elements in packaging.

Apa [Feliu Elias], Concours preparatoires… exposition internationale de la technique du bâtiment… Parc de Montjuich, 1923.

Second, discovering exactly how some sectors of the population lived. An huge lesson in history with a small ‘h’. For example the consideration of women and the degree of freedom that they would achieve as they entered the 1930s. The breakthrough of sport, the technological revolution, the food industry, the birth of tourism, fashion which was increasingly democratised, great public events which marked the way of life in cities such as Barcelona.

Ramon Casas, Anís del Mono, c. 1900.

There are several elements which can be highlighted in this auction, such as the unusually low start prices, the quality of some iconic pieces – such as the two Anis del Mono posters by Ramon Casas, c. 1900 – which, coinciding with the Renau exhibition in the Born Cultural Centre in Barcelona there are four of his posters on auction from before the Civil War, (the institutional Vino de España, from c. 1935, the filmographic Katharine Hepburn en Sueños de Juventud, from 1935, the Esperantist XIV Kongreso de SAT Valencia, from 1934, and the spectacular advertisement for the film Tchapaief. El guerrillero rojo, also from 1934).

Renau, Tchapaief. El guerrillero rojo, 1934.

As an example of the breakthrough of the industry of mass consumerism, the Modernista posters by Alexandre de Riquer Fábrica de lustres, cremas y betunes de S. Ricart (1888), the Art Deco by Emilio Ferrer for the advertisement of Artiach biscuits (c. 1925) and the iconic  Tintes Iberia (c. 1930) by Falgás stand out especially.

Falgás, Tintes Iberia, c. 1930.

The great entertainment of the twentieth century was the cinema – extraordinarily represented here by, among others, Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon (1929) – and music hall, with a poster of Opisso which is deserving of a place in a museum (Compañía Ultra Moderna de Grandes Espectáculos. Tournée Americana 1932-1933).

Opisso, Compañía ultra moderna. Tournée americana 1932-1933.

Sport is another of the great event of the twentieth century. Through the posters being auctioned from the Josep Torné collection we can see the ageless designs by Segrelles for F.C. Barcelona, the evolution of the automobile from 1922 – with the poster for the International Automobile Exhibition of Barcelona, also by Segrelles – and the competitions organised after the war by the Rhin Group – posters by A. García– and other examples of progress such as the Atomic Diesel Peter (1925) and the Artés radio-receiver for automobiles by Gala (1945). Not forgetting, of course, the emergence of a new sport in Catalonia – skiing – of which there are two particularly significant icons: the poster by Mooney Molina-Nuria (1934-1935) and that of Luis Esteso, Campeonatos de España de Esquí. La Molina (1947).

Moneny, Molina-Nuria. Sports d’hiver en Catalogne 1934-1935.

But if there is one historically significant sports poster it has to be that designed by Arteche for the Olimpiada Popular which was scheduled to take place in Barcelona on 19 July 1936.

Arteche, Olimpiada Popular. Barcelona 19-26 de julio de 1936.

On an international scale, two of the most popular and prestigious poster-makers are also represented in this auction: Leonetto Cappiello, with an advertisement for Uricure (c. 1915), for rheumatism and arthritis, and A. M. Cassandre, with a delightful advertisement for the Ernest hatters company of Barcelona – such an exceptional piece that it has never before been seen for sale.

Cassandre, Ernest, c. 1920.

By the way, two hours before the start of the poster auction on 27 June, Soler y Llach will also be auctioning books, manuscripts, maps and collector’s items, with an extraordinary collection of post-war Spanish comics also from the Josep Torné collection: Cuadernos Selectos (1942), Aventuras célebres (1942), Pulgarcito (1946), El Coyote (1947) and Super Pulgarcito (1949).

Gino Rubert: Altarpieces and Earthly Delights of the 21st Century

Gino Rubert: Altarpieces and Earthly Delights of the 21st Century

Gino Rubert’s new exhibition at Galería Senda succeeds in transmitting an exceptional sensation of freedom.

It’s an infectious sensation, comparable, I imagine, to that produced by the artistic avant-gardes of the 20th century, especially those, like Dadaism and surrealism, that were opposed to puritanical, high-minded orthodoxies, and combined mental and aesthetic openness with an idea of liberation that was also ideological and vital. This was essential then, and continues to be so now, a century later.

In Rubert’s work as a whole, and also in this exhibition, The place to be or not to be, vitality and this possible enthusiasm for freedom are juxtaposed with a vision of human relationships – especially sentimental and erotic ones – more world-weary than innocent, imbued with an irony that implies self-deprecation.

Contemporary art has occasionally given signs of that form of intelligent life known as a sense of humour. There’s a sense of humour in Duchamp and in Dalí, in Carlos Pazos and in De Val, in Pat Andrea and in Pipilotti Rist, in Meret Oppenheim and in Sara Huete, in Guillem Cifré and in Cesc Riera. And, luckily, in other artists too. But humour does not usually enjoy the level of prestige more easily acquired by apparently serious approaches, both those that are genuine and significant and those that are false and soporific. So I should stress that if I say that I find this exhibition extremely amusing, I am not placing Gino Rubert on a more minor artistic plane, but rather on the same plane that Duchamp and Dalí worked on.

Since 1995, Gino Rubert (a Barcelona resident, although born in Mexico, in 1969) has incorporated collage into figurative painting in a highly personal style, part humorous, part spectral, especially in the grey, photographic faces of his characters, but also in other elements – clothes or interior décor, which combine the everyday and the bizarre, sometimes the psychedelic. Right from the start he painted everyday locations as if they were theatre sets inhabited by fictional characters, and also incorporated narrative into his paintings, or at least the sketch of a narrative. He did this at a time when the mere intention of painting a figurative, narrative picture might be considered an unforgiveable aesthetic sin by the dominant forces in contemporary art. But Rubert also had the audacity to revive something Sigmund Freud had begun much earlier: the observation and analysis of behaviours humans would prefer not to admit to, generally relating to sexual desire, repression and the desire for power over others. Rubert updated his observational method to shine a spotlight on our current, postmodern, circumstances, to focus on and attack the new hypocrisies of the present. And he has continued to do so to this day, bringing to the task his meta-realist imagination and a lightly comic tone, which in certain cases is the wisest choice. Cases whose protagonists are libertinous or sexist men or tyrannical and emasculating women are two “classics” of the coexistence or battle of the sexes, although brutal male chauvinism provides more newspaper headlines.

With each new exhibition Rubert has incorporated new themes and expressive elements, such as natural hair, or threads to tie up men and women (it’s not clear who is being tied up by whom: these things are always messy) or sew up sexual organs or eyelids. In this show, the formal innovation is the inclusion, in the paintings that feature fewer human figures, of fluctuating electric lighting on the reverse of the canvas. These background lights go on and off slowly, revealing and hiding what is happening behind the curtains: erotic encounters.

However, the exhibition The place to be or not to be is exceptional because of two paintings that resemble “museum” pieces. The Opening (2017) and The Opening II (2019) are large-format works (280 x 380cm), unequivocally ambitious in the best sense of the word, which is the artistic and poetic one. I think they are two splendid examples of the contemporary altarpiece.

They are group portraits in the form of painted snapshots, like scenes from a play, frozen in time. They take place in architectural spaces that look like stages, private spaces open to the public. Intimacies are exposed, as on social media. More than eighty characters appear in each canvas, almost all related to the world of art. Both paintings depict a certain spirit of the age (the early 21st century) very well, and at the same time – or precisely because of this – are examples of the modern or postmodern vanitas, with soap bubbles floating on the breeze or close by eccentric images of human skulls transformed into swimming pools and drifting boats. Both paintings are of opening parties, rather than formal inaugurations, on warm nights, in spring or summer.

Technically, too, both paintings are extraordinary tours de force. Anyone with an awareness of certain formal principles – for example, the importance of spatial axes and the lines of the gaze in cinematic composition – will understand the difficulties these compositions presented. It was not easy to place the different figures in perspective and at the correct distance, nor to configure the diverse relationships between the multiple characters, and between them and the viewer, through the different directions of their gazes.

Both paintings are structured over three storeys. In The Opening (2017), we find recognisable characters on the middle floor. Balthus, with a seductive air, appears in the area with the highest density of attractive females. In the background, near the door that leads outside, the young girl from the old painting by Petrus Christus, timeless rather than anachronous, can be glimpsed stepping out of a red car. On the left-hand wall hangs a Gino Rubert painting. It is a vanitas-landscape with figures, in which the painter embarks on a bizarre romance. There may be cocktails to enliven proceedings, but the boat is a skull and the crepuscular tones of the holiday landscape are not those of a sunset but an apocalyptic blaze. This image, too, resembles our age.

Here and there, well-known art-collectors appear transformed into dogs, clinging children or dwarves. On the roof terrace, on a night of eye-stars and floating soap bubbles, Frida Kahlo wears a miniskirt, dancing something like a twist, and the also notable figurative painters Georgia O’Keeffe and Tamara de Lempicka hit the bottle, each in their own world. Another woman nearby pours a stream of wine towards her mouth, perhaps better to gaze at the stars. On the other side of the roof terrace we find Gerhard Richter, the bankable painter, wearing a wifebeater, like a truck driver in a hot country, which allows us to read the motto or existential programme of his tattoo: “Women, Pizza, Art” (my translation from German). At the same time, down in the basement, the artist Jordi Colomer sweats profusely – he’s overdressed – while Max Beckmann frowns – perhaps irritated – in the midst of the revelry. And a sort of Mini-Duchamp or Duchamp-Redux seems to have hooked up with a stylish and much taller young woman. Good: here the artists have lost their pedestals, fortunately. What’s more, everything has an air of unreality or meta-reality and thus closely resembles reality, which is not the incomplete thing or the prison bereft of imagination that the self-styled realists tend to paint. It also includes magic and wild arbitrariness, as Shakespeare knew well when he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In The Opening II (2019) the art continues, with classic scenes and a general tone that could be summed up as: “People look at me, therefore I am.” (Poor René Descartes…).

On the rooftop, Duchamp and Egon Schiele display the fresh bruises of a recent disagreement, now resolved: after a few drinks, conceptual art and figurative painting no longer seem irreconcilable. And there’s much more: from the Asian girl in the Catalan republican G-string, to sweet kisses of smeared carmine.

On the middle floor the painter himself makes several appearances, in different guises. In one of them, his hair styled like a Beatle circa 1966, he speaks to the founder of Galeria Senda, Carlos Durán. In another he is more easily recognised and leads the curious little dog from Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding: the 15th century is still a presence in the 21st. The painter also appears as a wide-eyed boy clinging to the legs of a desirable woman. Among these three complementary Ginos I find a strange version of myself, too, dressed like something from the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Ottokar’s Sceptre, with a grey Nosferatu-like cast to my face, compensated by green sunglasses that remind me of a psychedelic single by the flamenco pop duo Lole and Manuel: Todo es de color. I’m also holding an edition of the underground comic Makoki, just as, not far away, the philosopher Xavier Rubert de Ventós – the artist’s father – stands holding a book entitled Arnolfini. Finally, in the basement, Max Beckmann is still lonely and grim, two girls smooch in the bathroom, and the scene is completed by the typical passed-out party casualty of substance abuse: a young blonde sprawled on the floor is attended to by… Gino Rubert, this time in the role of the attentive doctor.

The whole is a diverse portrait of a society, although its primary focus is the world of art. This is why there are no characters in this show as outrageous as those of his previous exhibition, dedicated to Mexican ex-votos, which channeled the aesthetic of a Latino brothel, adorned by characters like the violent Don Vicente, the man known as “The Toad of Tucumán”.

The place to be or not to be has precedents in Rubert’s work. There are elements that were prefigured in El jardín de las malicias (1996) – for example the dog-men – and in his large-format painting for the exhibition on Freud at the CCCB (1998-1999), in which the three storeys led from the sub-celestial superego to the subterranean unconscious, via the ego at street level.

But what’s more, the large-format pieces, like all Rubert’s paintings, evoke all kinds of other works, ancient and modern. Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but also Beyond the Pleasure Principle and other essays by Freud, for his determination to face our sinister side, and many of Nietzsche’s essays, for his defense of freedom, vitality and redemptive laughter.

Gino Rubert, Sí, quiero. © Roberto Ruiz.

Other, very different, works too, by Ibáñez and Hitchcock: the long-running Spanish comic strip, 13, Rue del Percebe (1961), which removes the side of a building to reveal its inhabitants in ready-made comic-book panels, and Rear Window (1954), which preceded it. Not to mention the much earlier Spanish baroque satire El diablo cojuelo, “The Limping Devil” (Luis Vélez de Guevara, 1641), in which the devil lifts up roofs to spy on and reveal hidden intimacies, dispelling unfounded illusions. In the words of the Cuban son that Gino Rubert quoted in his first catalogue, “todo lo que viene se va/todo lo que va regresa” – “everything that comes, goes/everything that goes comes back again.” Which is almost what Nietzsche was getting at in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, this time set to a beat you can dance to.

The exhibition, at Galería Senda (Barcelona, until 27 July) coincides with the publication of Gino Rubert’s book Sí, quiero, published by Lunwerg and also highly recommended.

Two Geniuses Face to Face: Fages and Dalí

Two Geniuses Face to Face: Fages and Dalí

You can never really read the work of Salvador Dalí without knowing the literary legacy of Carles Fages de Climent. This is shown by the Dalí expert Josep Playà in his book, “Fages Dalí, geniuses and friends”, an edition of Brau Edicions, with the support of the City Council of Castelló d’Empúries, and the City Council of Figueres, on the occasion of the Year Fages de Climent 2018.

In this book Playà sheds light on some of the little-known or unpublished details about the points where they lives of these two creators from the Empordà converge.

Gala i Fages, in an image published in the book, on pages 136-137.

Among them is the fact that they were born in the Carrer Montoriol in Figueres – Fages’ parents had an office in the same street – their childhood in the La Salle Catholic school, known as the Fossos de Figueres, where they coincided in the 1910-1911 academic year. Then there was Dalí’s participation in the 1922 competition organised by the Catalan Students’ Association probably on the suggestion of Fages who was one of the organisers and in which both Dalí and Fages received prizes from the jury.

Both also initially showed a commitment to socialism and the workers’ movement, separately, despite the fact that over time they would renounce this position. The author tells us that the poet and the painter parted ways in 1927 as a result of an article published by Fages in La Nova Revista, in which he describes his friend as performing “superrealist acrobatics” in a visionary act. In a letter to Sebastià Gasch dated November 1927 Dalí made his anger with the poet clear. The reconciliation, Playà tells us, must have come earlier than expected since Dalí signed off a postcard sent to Fages de Climent just after arriving in the United States in August 1940 with “a putrefied embrace”.

The book goes into great detail about the work they produced together: Les bruixes de Llers (The witches of Llers), published in 1924, which for the young Dalí mean exposure in Barcelona circles. It talks about the long journey involved in the publication of Balada del sabater d’Ordis (Ballad of Ordis the shoemaker) , which finally came to press in 1954, and documents the main character of the work, Ordis which Fages and Dalí jointly help to mythify.

Box owned by Carles Fages de Climent, with manuscripts by Dalí.

The ‘auca’ El triomf i el rodolí de la Gala i en Dalí (The triumph and the rhyme of Gala and Dalí) is the last work that these two geniuses produced together, working on it over 15 days during the summer of 1961, converted by Dalí into a Pythagorean ‘auca’ full of rhyming couplets and numerical symbols. Finally these drawing have become a compendium of Dalían mythology. In this book Playà sheds light on the working process of the two friends, with the records of each of the rhyming couplets written by Fages and corrected by Dalí, and the translation of part of the couplets into Spanish with comment by the poet. From this we can deduce the great admiration that Fages had for Dalí, and that Dalí also had a great appreciation for his poet friend, to whom he have free rights of reproduction of the auca, which was republished on several occasions.

Dalí and Fages in an image published in the book, pages 96-97.

There is an exhaustive review of the Catalan cultural figures that they brought together, such as Eugeni d’Ors, Gaudí, Francesc Pujols and Marià Fortuny. Between the two there was an exchange of correlative thinking which fed into the landscape and the cultural baggage of the Empordà: both of the, in the words of Playà, exercised “Empordanese patriotism”. They were both also active in defending the natural heritage of the Empordà.

Playà leaves unanswered the question of whether Fages and Dalí, accompanying Federico Garcia Lorca, really visited the Garrigal neighbourhood in Figueres, as described by the poet in his last article in 1968. Or if they visited Llers together before producing Les bruixes de Llers. Together they had a shared sense of irony and sarcasm and they often told of contradictory or exaggerated events.

The Empordà provides the creative drive for both geniuses.

But if there is a work which was a constant reference in the  mythological lucubration on the Empordà by Salvador Dalí it was the talk Vila-sacra, capital del món, given by Carles Fages de Climent on 3 February 1956, but not published until 1967. On learning of the death of his friend in 1968 – the same that Marcel Duchamp died – Dalí referred to it as one of his best works. It includes some of the major figures from the Empordà such as Alexandre Deulofeu, Joan Carbona, Claudi Díaz, Ramon Reig, Bartomeu Massot, Joan Sibecas, Evarist Vallès and Pelai Martínez, among many others, which make up the myth of the Empordà – the creative drive of both geniuses.

Some of Fages’ ideas accompanied Dalí in some of his craziest thoughts when he was conceiving the creating the Dalí Museum-Theatre. Fages and Dalí became two different views which fed off one another until the death of the poet and beyond. For example, in Dalí’s work Crist de la tramuntana which accompanies Fages’ poem  the Oració al Crist de la Tramuntana; in the works of the painter in a manner which is “highly spiritual two geniuses have found each other yet again”. And today we can celebrate that through this book.

Agreements and the Fight for Culture

Agreements and the Fight for Culture

There is little more disappointing than observing the arguments following the elections for the corresponding agreements for governance. But there actually other even more depressing pacts, which are those that never happen.

Since the beginnings of “democracy” a good part of society has called for what could be described as “minimum agreements”. In other words, agreements that reflect the base of a truly democratic society which guarantees aspects related to equality, rights and the conditions in which they should be sustained.

More culture, les cheekies. May 19, 2011. Photo: Pepe Font CC BY 2.0.

Within these basic agreements are universal and dignified health, education for all and the guarantee of good relations among the citizens as a priority. So what are these good  relations among the citizens if they are not the result of taking care of our culture?

An agreement for culture

When we talk about culture some people think that we are treading the terrain of the utopian or, even worse, the luxurious and dispensable. Opposing ideologies resign culture, in an opposing but similar way, to private initiative, leaving the people who work in the culture industry in the most precarious situation.

Enough has already been written about the importance and the fundamental space that cultural actions generate as articulators of society, as the basis for critical thinking, and as the seed for the changes that are necessary in a society which tries to form part of a world that is truly “liveable”.

From the CED MACBA. Photo: Nora Ancarola.

However, an “agreement for culture” seems to be a difficult thing to achieve. As difficult as clearly preserving the hours of debate and reflection in humanities subjects in public education. But, is it so difficult to incentivise platforms for reading, with the permanent inclusion of creators in educational spaces? Or to generate a code of good practice which could be applied by the public administration with incentives in the private sector?

Barcelona student protest. February 29, 2012. Photo: Oatsy 40 CC BY 2.0.

No, I’m not talking about the market I am talking about culture, and despite the fact that culture should play a part in the economy, it should not leave the people who work in it in the lurch, allowing only subsidiary companies to reap the benefits or that it is the politicians who take the profits at the cost of the invisibility of the true creators of the content.

The Visual Arts

In terms of Visual Arts – probably the most precarious sector of culture in Catalonia, there is an urgent need to analyse the existing facilities and for a profound study of a them. Most cities are experiencing problems to maintain their facilities with the content which should correspond to them. Ridiculous budgets, less than minimal human teams (and normally dressed as false freelancers) and no basic criteria to coordinate and interrelate the different spaces means that everything depends on the good will of the people in charge at the time. The governments still have not understood their political duty (whatever their colour)which is to collaborate to create an articulated and complementary network.

Salvem Santa Mònica. Photo: Nora Ancarola.

Studies carried out by professionals which have been sitting in drawers or filing cabinets for years, sometime commissioned to professionals and other times carried out by the government offices themselves, only serve to justify the commissioning department and have no real effect.  Meanwhile, good practice is forgotten. Models are applied, such as dual education, which will only benefit private companies at the cost of a real commitment to education in the humanities and, in most cases, the minimum technical training requirements. Actions continue to take place with an exclusively electoralist spirit with the help of the ever-complicit media.

The new left has shown that it hadn’t even considered the importance of culture.

On the other hand we have seen over these decades that the right has no interest in culture and only understands it as heritage or conservation. A supposed left sold out to the private companies has just destroyed the very fabric of the associations and professions in Barcelona, not to mention a large part of the country and the so-called new left, born from social activism, has shown in just a few years that it has not even thought about the importance of culture, with its clumsy management of the necessary connections between art, culture and the people.

A minimum agreement?

Only a solid minimal agreement for culture among the administration, professionals and the people can generate results. But we have had to take into account the fact that any strategy for improvement is a medium- to long-term investment and so continuity over time is very important.

R! Reclam_Accions per la Cultura. Photo: Nora Ancarola.

A few months ago the Citizens ParlaMento for Culture in Barcelona was created, understood as an observatory and a place for debate. In a few days’ time there will be a call for another meeting. I support this initiative wholeheartedly as long as there are no partisan political ambitions behind it which can sometimes blur the objectives. We will see what happens. It may be a pathway to follow, but we have to remember that we cannot abandon the battles we need to  fight to take forward the demands that we have been calling for for so many years from the association, professional platforms and groups that have close and profound knowledge of the importance of culture as a strategic pivot for a fairer and more humanistic society.

The Polyptych of the Vallès

The Polyptych of the Vallès

A fixed shot of the warehouse of an abandoned textile factory. It is in the centre of Sabadell and the only perceptible life is that in the street and crawling in through the huge windows. The sound of an ambulance, the shadows of passers-by…

It seems that nobody remembers the activity that took place within these walls, not so long ago. The distant sound of looms reminds us. This was the soundtrack for so many town and cities in the Vallès up to what seems like just days ago.

Fotograma de la videoinstal·lació Utopies, de la sèrie Vallès: fabricar passats, fabricar futurs, de Claudio Zulian.

The factory, the workers and Vallès Occidental are the protagonists of this video installation which multitalented artist and film-maker Claudio Zulian is showing in the Virreina Centre de la Imatge. Without wanting to be nostalgic, or documentary or even too specific, Zulian has created a visual polyptych with seven screens which make up a narrative with a beginning and an end.

Fotograma de la videoinstal·lació La torre, de la sèrie Vallès: fabricar passats, fabricar futurs, de Claudio Zulian.

The piece is a journey through time, from the industrial past of a country that does not have a “dissident” artistic image of the world of workers – as Ripollet-born Valentí Roma, director of La Virreina and curator of the exhibit, makes very clear – to a future which here is also the present. The workplaces are the factory, the office and the streets, such as those in the Maurina neighbourhood of Terrassa, built by the first inhabitants with their own hands, or those in the Ripollet industrial park, where some of the young people, children of immigrants, are walking forward to recreate the moment when the immigrants reach their destination.


But the exhibition is much more than the work which is being projected now at La Virreina. It is the culmination of a two-year process which has taken the project to Sabadell, Terrassa, Ripollet and Cerdanyola del Vallès, with different partial versions, as well as workshops, round tables and talks in each of the places. The process itself has been as or more important than the final piece.

The final polyptych creates a symbolic space of great visual potential.

Zulian’s journey through the space and time of the Vallès has certainly been worth it. The final Polyptych creates a symbolic space of great visual potential, through fixed shots and dolly shots, which the spectator has to complete not only mentally but also using the physical path that they need to take between the different room of the Floor 0 of La Virreina.

Fotograma de la videoinstal·lació La nena obrera, de la sèrie Vallès: fabricar passats, fabricar futurs, de Claudio Zulian.

It is true that at first sight, the piece could seem oversimplified. It is a work without noise or slogans but there are some important details, such as the little girl in the fantasy painting by Joan Planella, from 1882, which in Zulian’s work is moved from its place of exhibition to the silent vault of the Museum of the history of Catalonia. Or the girl who hopes to resolve something or another in her stressful daily routine, from within an office with a view. This is the present in the world of work which no longer takes place on the factory floor but is also held up by chains.

The exhibition by Claudio Zulian Vallès: manufacturing pasts, manufacturing presents can be seen at La Virreina Centre de la Imatge in Barcelona until 29 September.

In the name of Picasso

In the name of Picasso

She has proved herself once again: Rosa Martinez is not a curator but the curator. In the world of art the figure of the exhibition curator has been loved and hated, idolised and insulted,  in equal measure, Rosa Martinez is situated on the path of the great international curators who have set the trend and have known how to give meaning and sense to their work.

This has been confirmed yet again with In the Name of the Father at the Picasso Museum – a small exhibition compared to those which we are used to from Martinez (her proposal for the Venice Biennale, together with María Corral, is still one of the most successful in recent decades). Nevertheless, it overflows the limits of the assigned exhibition rooms to invade other spaces in the museum in a true cross-dialogue between the past and the present, between the father and the various drifting paths of his sons.

It is a dialogue which began even before the exhibition with two performances. In the first, Eulàlia Valldosera conjures up the spirit of the father- master by antonomasia: Pablo Picasso lord and master of his women, his children, his collectors and probably almost everyone who surrounded him. Picasso and Jacqueline Roque, his last wife, met when she was 26 and he was 72. In the 11 years that they were together Picasso painted her portrait more than 400 times and it is precisely through one of his most famous portraits that Picasso and Jacqueline manifest themselves to Valldosera during an action involving a medium.

Performance of the Morente family at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Photo: David Airob.

“Eulàlia has dared to recognise a gift that allows her to penetrate worlds which are normally closed and she has been sufficiently humble to turn herself into a channel to verbalise tensions which are never confessed and to heal deep wounds”, with most of the artists in the exhibition for many years. The brave ad sincere action of Valldosera, which aims to “recover art as a healing agent and return to its original potential as a sacred act”, has been captured in a video which can be seen in the exhibit, as well as a performance by the entire Morente family, under the baton of Aurora Carbonell, the widow of the singer-songwriter. Since Enrique Morente sang Picasso’s poems, the family has got together to sing Las Meninas in an action which left the audience of over 100 people who had the privilege of seeing it in goosebumps.  Also exhibited is the jacket with Picasso’s eyes painted by Carbonell before a concert given by Morente in the Liceu Opera House. He went with his jacket still wet”, the artist remembered. As the wife and muse of the famous singer-songwriter she had probably experienced some of the contradictions that affected Picasso’s female friends.

“Let me tell you a curator’s trick. Thanks to the mounting, Picasso’s eyes look alternately at the entering visitor and at the photograph by Santiago Sierra of some prostitutes tattooing themselves with a straight line up their backs”, Martinez says, explaining the works with rigour and love, articulating a story which shows the complete clarity of Picasso’s artistic and existential inheritance, “to open up new paths as he himself wished”.

Cristina Lucas, España y el Rif 1939.

There are another two textile works: an embroidered minotaur by Tania Berta Judith which is an invitation to reinterpret ancient myths, and the cartography of the bombings in Spain the in the Rif in 1939q, embroidered by Cristina Lucas. Both form part of a series about the pain of wounds and the scars which are left. “I trace the bombings to rescue from oblivion all those towns which did not have a work like Guernica in remembrance of them”, Lucas explained.

The third dialogue is established between the Doves Hall and the intervention by Pilar Albarracín – a powerful woman if ever there was one – who last November organised a parade through the city of Madrid of more than a hundred women dressed in flamenco costume to open the Tabacalera de Madrid cultural centre. Here, she exhibits a stuffed dove with a bullet in its beak, which is not announcing the return of peace but the permanence of war. It is accompanied by a video which showed the desperate flapping of a trapped dove, surrounded by the oppressive wound of bombings.

196 declassified FBI documents.

The multifaceted aesthetic and ideological legacy of Picasso, which Martinez has dissected through carefully chosen works, is completed with the political Picasso which emerges with 196 declassified FBI documents with information collected about an artist who never renounced his membership of the Communist Party and died in France as a Spanish political exile, since he was never offered French citizenship despite having requested it. Daniel García Andújar’s work shows he paradox off the truth, since despite being declassified, the documents display numerous parts which have been blanked out and whose content we will never know. The commercial side of Picasso cannot be ignored either. The brand which has created an aesthetic and filled houses throughout the world with posters of paintings which are genuine milestones in the history of art.

Elo Vega y Rogelio López Cuenca, El fill pròdig. Photo: Mariano Ibáñez Heredia.

The installation by Elo Vega and Rogelio López Cuenca turn Picasso into dozens of caganers[1] in a summary of the characteristic elements of the Catalan identity. And not only his works. Picasso has given his name to bars, hotels, perfumes and even cars. “It is a real cornucopia, or, in the vernacular, a full time flow”, conclude Vega and López Cuenca.

The exhibition In the Name of the Father can be seen at the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, until 24 September.



[1] Caganers are small ornamental statues of different squatting figures defecating, traditionally used as part of the Christmas decorations.

Lluís Hortalà or the trickery of the gaze

Lluís Hortalà or the trickery of the gaze

When you visit the Lluís Hortalà exhibition at Tecla Sala in L’Hospitalet you have to be ready for a double set of rules: those of the eye, subjected to the logical trickery of trompe-l’oeil, and those of the concept, articulated in the solid story about the exhibition by Oriol Fontdevila. But one step at a time.

A quick look around the spaces of Tecla Sala and you see how they share their white silence with wooden structures which the eye decodes as marble.

Exhibition view. Photo: © Bjørn Badetti.

Used to the rocky textures of the mountain and the mineral landscapes of such iconic locations as Montserrat, Lluis Hortalà trained at the acclaimed Van der Kelen Logelain school in Brussels, one of the few places in the world to teach traditional techniques of decorative European painting. There Hortalà learned how to imitate marble surfaces, with their veining and watermarks, filigrees and subtle tones. Belgian blue, Swedish granite, burnt Sienna, Carrara white. A whole technical baggage which he has brought to contemporary art. Using material devices with conceptual effects, this artist from Olot proposes a journey to the founding moment of modernity.

Photo: © Bjørn Badetti.

An impeccable life-size reproduction of one of the skirting panels from the Prado Museum and another from Room 700 of the Louvre, where eighteenth and nineteenth century French painting is exhibited, placed at a certain height like a horizon, situates us in the framework of a museum. There are only skirting panels. No other works are on display or any other pictorial story; in this case the representation consists of the same possibilities as the museum itself – the space from the end of the eighteenth century which was intended to democratise noble and sacred art and give it autonomy.

Photo: © Bjørn Badetti.

As well as the museum, Hortalà’s trompe-l’oeil takes us to private rooms from the same historical period: the salons of Marie Antoinette and Jeanne Bécu, better known as Madame du Barry, condensed in the symbolism of the fireplace. The first, from the Cabinet du Billard, which Queen Antoinette had built in her quarters, is of neoclassical taste. The second, in the Bourbonic rococo style is from the Salon des Jeux in the Palace of Versailles – the bedchamber of Jeanne Bécu, who was the  Maîtresse-en-titre of Louis XV and rose to the rank of Countess. Hortalà’s great technical ability reflects the high-voltage palatial row which took place between the two women and which ultimately affected European geopolitics.

Photo: © Bjørn Badetti.

In this journey to Versailles, Hortalà also offers us more skirting panels and marbled elements, placed as though they had been dismantled, as if the Ancien Regime itself was also reduced to a trompe-l’oeil by the French Revolution, manifesting itself in the most minimal physical elements. Very subtly the exhibition invites some basic concepts of the new regime of the gaze which the birth of modernity signified.

How can we go back and look after modernity?

The painted marbles in Tecla Sala represent a line that joins the Ancien Regime with the invention of the guillotine (which did for both Marie Antoinette and Jeanne Bécu), but also the new device that was the museum and the paradigm that enthroned the importance of the eye and its dominance over space, a scopic regime that has lasted until the present day. Everything links up: the museum as the kingdom of the gaze and at the same time as one of the places where the art of the people is recognised as part of a universal fraternity, and the guillotine – that new death machine that was the same for everyone and aimed to do away with the savage techniques used up until then and applied according to social standing.

Photo: © Bjørn Badetti.

It is this modern ‘I’ that we have inherited, an ‘I’ which has the right to an equal death and which the museum teaches to look and recognise itself in the shared imagination. It is an ‘I’ that looks, thinks, as Descartes would have it, reduced by Lluís Hortalà to pure simulacrum, to the purest trickery of the senses. Despite their solid appearance, Hortalà’s false volumes leave us in a situation of extreme fragility. How can we go back and look after modernity? Who knows if we will have to repeat the words of Madame du Barry as she was taken to the guillotine on 8 December 1793:  “One more moment, Mr. Executioner”.

The exhibition Guillotina. Lluís Hortalà can be seen at the art center Tecla Sala, L’Hospitalet, until 21 July.

Richard Learoyd, unsettling and monumental

Richard Learoyd, unsettling and monumental

Perhaps the images which best represent the work of British photographer Richard Learoyd (Nelson, 1966) are the mirrors darkened by time, and now unable to accomplish their original function.

Learoyd’s photographs are made in a very original way. It is not that he has a camera in his studio but his camera is a room in his studio. So he never places himself behind the camera but directly within it. He bases himself on the principle of the camera obscura, a hermetically closed box in which , through a small hole (or lens) rays of light enter and are reflected on the objects outside it. In 1502 Leonardo da Vinci made the first written description of the camera obscura.

Richard Learoyd, Lost Oval, 2009. Private collection.

Learoyd places his model, whether it be a live human or a dead animal, in a position which is often forced. Then he goes into the room, places a huge photographic paper (up to 170 square centimetres) in position, activates the flashes and waits – some 18 minutes – until the images is fixed on the paper. It is an unusual, cerebral and slightly inhuman exercise.

Richard Learoyd, Melanie, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

But the result is spectacular: colours that resemble the best paintings by seventeenth century Dutch artists, textures which suggest the live presence of the model and a disturbing sensation of something which is alive and dead at the same time.

Richard Learoyd, Fish Heart I, 2009. Samuel Merrin Collection.

Freud would have had a field day psychoanalysing Learoyd. Why would he make portraits, like a bondage-obsessed Chardin, of suspended octopuses, a fish heart suspended by black threads, a parliament of magpies trapped in strings or the white, decapitated, and bleeding, head of a horse which sits between the marble sculptures of the Parthenon and The Godfather.

Richard Learoyd, Twin II, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Not to mention the models whose limbs are secured with tape and other means invisible to the camera to ensure that they are still during the 18 minutes of the exposure. “I control everything except their facial expression”, says Learoyd. And their faces show an infinite sadness, whether it is because it is harder to maintain a smile for a quarter of an hour than resign oneself to a serious expression and become lost in one’s own thoughts.

I wonder, what must the models have been thinking during those 18 minutes of temporal suspension which was the period of this peculiar process of immortality?

Richard Learoyd, Whale, Pacifica, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

By no means is this a criticism of the work of Learoyd. His technique and coherence is beyond criticism. The monumentalism of his works – unique and unrepeatable, and his extensive knowledge of the history of art and photography makes him traditional and ground-breaking at the same time.

He did construct a camera on wheels which he was able to attach to his car as a trailer.

The exhibition, curated by Sandra S. Phillips, emeritus curator of photography at the SFMoMA, begins on the first floor of the Casa Garriga Nogués, at the Headquarters of the Mapfre Foundation in Barcelona, and concludes on the ground floor, where there is a series of landscapes in black and white from 2016-2018.  Evidently, Learoyd did not take his camera obscura with him. But he did construct a camera on wheels which he was able to attach to his car as a trailer.  With landscapes of the USA, Eastern Europe and Lanzarote – commissioned by Mapfre – Learoyd makes a film roll. A two-metre film roll from which he makes gelatin silver contacts.

Richard Learoyd, Family Group I, 2016. Private collection.

Vanitas and difficult landscapes such as traffic accidents on American highways, mountains in the Yosemite, the lava in Lanzarote, the infinitely changing Baltic Sea and even a large rural family which I imagine are in one of those infinite plains in the Urals…genre painting is alive and kicking.

The exhibition Richard Learoyd can be seen at the Mapfre Foundation Room of the  Casa Garriga Nogués in Barcelona until 8 September.

Antoni Fabrés: Recovery Operation

Antoni Fabrés: Recovery Operation

One of the artists that the renewed halls of Modernist art in the MNAC have permitted is the rediscovery of Antoni Fabrés (1854-1938).

Specifically, one of the works by him that most caught my eye was Repòs del guerrer (Warrior at rest) (1878). This sensual Orientalist nude, unfinished, carries with it a great energy. The display includes some of the works by Fabrés which were successful during his lifetime and became major donations to the museum in the 1920s. They were even exhibited in their own room in the museum but were removed from exhibition at the beginning of the 1930s. From glory days to ostracism in the blink of an eye. And the works relegated from the walls of the museum to the warehouse until 2014.

Antoni Fabrés, Repòs del guerrer, 1878. Donació de l’artista, 1925. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

The MNAC, being the national museum that it is, had the job of rescuing the wok of Antoni Fabrés – a versatile and effective artist who moved on from the academic and Orientalist approach of his early works.  And this is what it has done now in an exhibition that follows the necessary line of monographic shows and books dedicated to Catalan artists, with works that demand profound consideration by artists such as Lluïsa Vidal, Torné Esquius, Carles Casagemas, Xavier Gosé and Josep Tapiró.

Antoni Fabrés, L’escultor, c. 1910. Donació de l’artista, 1925. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

In this case, it was Aitor Quiney who delved into the bibliography and the work of this vehement and passionate artist and curated an exhibition to bring back to the walls of a museum hall the work of Fabrés in all its glory.  In a privileged space within the Modernism section, this exhibition of Fabrés does him justice. His first calling as an artist was as a sculptor, a discipline in which he was very gifted as can be seen in the exercise of extreme virtuosity which won him a grant to travel to Rome: Abel mort (Dead Abel), a work which he made in only eight hours. But life led him to become a successful painter and his evident virtuosity was especially seen as a draughtsman and painter in his magnificent portraits and landscapes.

Antoni Fabrés, Un lladre, 1883. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Somewhat nomadic with studios in Rome, Barcelona, Paris and Mexico City, it seems that Fabrés experienced a kind of inner tension, partly to please his conservative clientele and partly in his desire to let himself go a bit in his own personal language with works of a social and naturalist style, where his brushstrokes were more free and his expressiveness much greater. That tension, which was typical of the experience of many academicist artists at the beginning of the twentieth century, marks this exhibition. One example is in the minimalist landscape  Desert blanc (White desert) (1901), which in principle is a war scene with a dead soldier lying in the snow. But years after making this work, Fabrés erased the dead body and made the work into an almost monochrome landscape.

Portrait of a very young Diego Rivera, student of Fabrés in Mexico.

Quiney’s research into all the works stored in the museum warehouse has, to date, offered some curious discoveries such as the portrait of an extremely young Diego Rivera, who was a student of Fabré in Mexico.

Antoni Fabrés, Retrat del pintor Diego Rivera, c. 1902- 1906. Donació de l’artista, 1925. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

Another good decision in the exhibition is the mounting of a kind of painting cabinet, with design by the artist Jesús Galdon, and the paintings hanging on different levels. The only concession that could have been made to the visitors today would be to place the information about the works on the walls and not on the gallery leaflets to further yet more the kind of new knowledge offered by recovery exhibition such as this.

The exhibition Antoni Fabrés. De la glòria a l’oblit (Antoni Fabrés. From Glory to Oblivion) can be seen at the MNAC until 29 September.

Franco the Painter

Franco the Painter

All political leaders have had an artistic hobby: President Clinton played the sax, Nero the lyre, Alphonse XIII was an adult film producer and Franco liked painting.

Franco, a painter? Well, yes. He started getting into it just after the end of the Civil War. Several painters offered to make portraits of him for official centres. Franco got bored during the sittings and placed a mirror behind Gabriel Morcillo, Enrique Segura and Álvarez de Sotomayor in turn, to see how they were working during the long and tedious sessions.

Franco, painting.

According to what the dictator told Vicente Pozuelo, his personal physician, one day when Sotomayor had left his brushes in the Pardo he took them up to paint a lyrical garden scene: “The next day when I showed him the painting and told him that I had painted it using his own brushes, Sotomayor, slightly surprised said: ‘It’s turned out well. You should carry on’”. What else could he say?!


Franco discovered a calm in painting. He painted landscapes and portraits, and also copied other artists that he admired. His masterpiece is in Pazo de Meirás – a four-metre high oil painting (or rather, two-and-a-half Francos high).

Francisco Franco, Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata).

Pozuelo remembers that he accompanied Franco in the summer of 1968 to the opening of the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art in the University Zone in Madrid. On returning to El Pardo, the doctor asked him what he had thought of it. The dictator’s response: “Well, I think exactly the same as you: these are not paintings”.

Admiral Carrero Blanco was a much better draughtsman than Franco.

The dictator’s nephew, Francisco Franco Martínez-Bordiú, says that “every afternoon after his coffee, he would shut himself away and paint for a while. He was a great draughtsman. Some of his paintings were copies of other famous artists, there was the odd portrait of my mother [Maria del Carmen Franco y Polo], and his own self-portrait. They were not exceptional but they did have a certain level of quality and realism which would have been almost unattainable for most amateur painters”.

A ship in the middle of a storm. The last painting that Franco painted.

Martínez-Bordiú also explains that Franco stopped painting in the Christmas of 1961 following a hunting accident. “He told us that it was hard for him because he was used to paint holding the spatula in his left hand and after the accident he couldn’t manage to. I still suspect that it might have been an excuse because at that time he began to display the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease”.

Carrero Blanco drawings on sheets of the Council of Ministers.

By the way, one of the fundamental members of his regime, the Admiral Carrero Blanco, was a much better draughtsman than Franco. He entertained the council of minister of the “Caudillo” who must have been as banal as they were terrifying, he drew drawing after drawing.

Eugenio Merino, Punching Franco.

Can you imagine a time traveller being presented with the sculptures of Eugenio Merino?

The past chapter in La Capella

The past chapter in La Capella

Entitled Cerrar abriendo (Close by opening), the sixth scene of La Capella 25 Years After, an exhibition in instalments which has told the story of this centre dedicated to emerging art since the month of January, through the artists that have exhibited there.

Five curators that have a particular link to La Capella: David Armengol, Sonia Fernández Pan, Eloy Fernández Porta, Sabel Gavaldon and Anna Manubens have reconstructed these 25 years through a succession of moments which, while avoiding any pretence of being foundational or pragmatic, turn out to be very representative of the evolution of a generation of artists.

Exhibition view. Photo: @arteedadsilicio.

Personally, although his name does not appear, I cannot help thinking about a sixth curator – Manel Clot – who left us too soon in 2016, and whose work was decisive for Catalan art during the 1990s. The memory of him and his legacy impregnates all of the scenes and refers us to his last exhibition réserVoir (also in La Capella, of course), which brought together twenty years on a groups of creators who were at the time emerging artists and who were in the middle of their careers. That exhibition, with the same artists twenty years on showed a method of working based on emotional connections and intellectual complicity which pointed the way to a new form of experiencing art and the relationship between artist and curator. Something similar has occurred in La Capella 25 años después, taking the form of something more passionate than analytical, more intuitive than logical, more organic than intellectual.

Julia Spinola. Photo: @arteedadsilicio.

It is organic like the passing of time and the inevitable evolution (and corruption) of living beings and inanimate objects. The work of Julia Spinola is a good example, presented in January as a compact mass of compressed cardboard to emerge now in decompressed form as if from the dense and heavy mass of memory, moments capable of marking out various different paths had been extracted.

“contains and anticipates the uncertainty of what is to come”.

Generally, the most difficult thing about a project after its beginning tends to be its conclusion. In a text, just like in a show, the complicated thing is to find the hook which will attract the readers and then some way of closing it. However, scene 6, more than a closure, marks a number of new beginnings and is “not a full stop but a transitional fade to black which contains and anticipates the uncertainty of what is to come”, write the curators.

Luz Broto, Extraer las cerraduras. Photo: Pep Herrero. La Capella. ICUB.

Like Spinola’s piece, omnipresent and always different over the six months of this show in episodes other works also contain the embryo of evolution. In 2012 Luz Broto wanted to open bricked up windows and doors in La Capella with her work Dar paso a lo desconocido (A step into the unknown). Now, seven years on she has focussed on the almost hidden spots which delineate the boundary between inside and out, between the exhibition space and the heart of El Raval neighbourhood. This new proposal Extraer las cerraduras (Remove the locks), is a minimalist intervention in form but unsettling in concept, since it changes the protocols of safety by removing what makes it possible to lock the exhibition space.

Tere Recarens. Photo: @arteedadsilicio.

The same inside/outside tension is produced from different perspectives by the works of Tere Recarens, Jara Rocha and Joana Moll. Having exhibited the extraordinary show Terremoto (Earthquake) in 1996, (an installation which could be seen recently in the Macba thanks to Frederic Montornés), Recarens goes back 23 years with another installation of phrases which, like clothes hung out to dry, move out of the exhibition space towards the entrance, where the names of all the artists and curators that have been involved with the centre appear alongside a QR code to access their biographies.

Rocha and Moll, on the other hand, expand the perimeter of the exhibition by revealing its virtual space and pointing out the increasingly rapid changes that modify our surroundings. And if Ocaña’s Sun, restored by the group La Rosa de Vietnam indicates an ecological emergency on a worrying scale then Carlos Sáez reminds us that when it is updated technology does not disappear but survives among the waste, recycled in a sculptural whole which is activated by the passing by of the visitors… a reminder and at the same time a warning.

The exhibition Les escenes. 25 years after. Escena 6 can be visited at La Capella, Barcelona, until 23 June.