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From October 20, 2017 to January 14, 2018
Curator's presentation (pdf - 242kB - in Spanish)
Leaflet (pdf 631 Kb)
Francesc Torres, a Catalan versatile artist, wants to transform a part of the museum in an entropic box emphasizing its preserving function. Promoting works mostly of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries selected from the museum’s own collection, Torres explores the collision between history and culture reflecting, at the same time, on the museum’s nature.
Even though Torres didn’t make any of the pieces himself, he has pick them as a curator and, at the same time, he’ll use them as objets trouvés, meaning as a raw material for the realization of a multimedia installation.
The structure of the project will spread out as a landscape build based on fragments – some literals and other analogs – that will show the constant struggle to preserve against the results of all kinds of destruction: the passing of time, natural phenomena, wars, religious and antireligious intolerance, ethnic or politic, radical development plans or economic violence.
This project has emerged as a consequence of Torres’ original works about the same subjects: Accident (1977); The Assyrian Paradigm (1980); Belchite South Bronx (1987); Plus Ultra (1988); Destiny, Entropy and Junk (1990); i Memory Remains (2011).
None of these works will be displayed in the exhibit, though, because Torres has decided no to “adulterate it” but they will be documented in the book that will accompany it in a differentiated chapter.
Imagine we take a box and in it we place a series of precious objects. We close it and, going down the stairs, we slip. This exhibition is the result of that imaginary fall.
The formal “disorder” of this exhibition is the result of the head-on collision between History and Culture. One part of the museum has been turned into an entropic box, the opposite of what it’s supposed to be. In the end what’s emerged is the extraordinary conservation role of the museum, even though what’s conserved is the result of destruction in all its multiple manifestations.
The narrative structure of this exhibition isn’t chronological and the route, framed only by an introduction and an epilogue, is free.
We’re welcomed by accident in its pure state magnified by technology and the artificial acceleration of human biological speed. The crashed car is an example of the planned accident in every machine, just as collapse is in the DNA of every building and death is in every living organism. The sacrifice that every accident implies and the subsequent regrets, as well as the recovery of the remains, reaches us through the objects accompanying the scene.
Welcome to chaos in the House of Order.
For the first time we can see Bernat Martorell’s Altarpiece of the Saints John almost complete and correctly assembled, unlike the way it had been exhibited up till now. Though not present, the panels kept in other museums are also shown. There’s even a third panel whose whereabouts was unknown and that only appeared recently. This obvious fragmentation speaks to us of the varying fortunes of a work of art that is part of the national heritage and permanently exhibited in the museum.
One of the main features of this work is the predella, the part of the altarpiece physically within reach of the faithful, which shows some figures whose faces have been scratched. This period vandalism has its historical counterpoint in the copy of The International Jew, by Henry Ford, someone Hitler admired and mentioned in Mein Kampf.
The circle is closed with the inclusion of the observer in the group of mutilated faces –without the observer there’s no art, no dialogue, no game–, creating a powerful connection with the fragile present, always at risk of repeating the past.
“What’s shown by exhibiting the altarpiece is something we’re all responsible for in the end.”
All great historical changes leave examples of revolutionary, political or religious iconoclasm in their wake. The portrait of Napoleon’s brother was slashed soon after the Peninsular War. Someone took their revenge on the invader after the event by plunging his sword into the effigy of the intruder king.
The bust of Queen Isabella II met a similar fate. In the revolution of 1868, the Glorious Revolution, the citizens dragged it out of its place in the Gran Teatre del Liceu, rolled it down the Rambla to the sea. It was the symbolic end to a queen who was a victim of all the conflicts that marked the decadence of the royal family and the subsequent exile of the crown. As the counterpoints that accompany the bust show, her sexual ardour was a cause of mirth among ordinary men and women.
What separates the two works is how they’ve come down to our day. While in the portrait of Joseph Bonaparte the damage is hardly noticeable, the bust of Queen Isabella has been preserved unrestored since it was found in the depths of the port.
“No work of art anywhere in the world is ‘perfect’ in the literal sense of the word, or ‘complete’. The Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre isn’t ‘missing’ anything, as we see it just as it was found and the way we’ve always known it. What’s important and interesting is at what point a work is considered whole or not, something which is always open to debate.”
The Barcelona International Exposition of 1929 was a great event for Alfonso XIII’s reign. The building we’re in now, the old Palau Nacional, which was built for the occasion, also connects with this unique episode in the history of Spain and Barcelona –ironically, it should have been demolished after the event has become the container guarding Catalonia’s artistic heritage.
Alfonso XIII was a king of little political importance who, with the help of the Count of Romanones, produced some pornographic films in Barcelona, fragments of which can be seen in the gallery. The women who appear in these scenes bear a certain likeness to the young Carmen Bastián, whose portrait Marià Fortuny had painted more than half a century before.
As a counterpoint there’s a reminder of the Disaster at Annual in 1921, eight years before the International Exposition, a military defeat of the Spanish Colonial Army in the Rif when 13,000 Spanish soldiers under General Silvestre died, at which the King supposedly reprimanded the General in a telegram with the famous phrase “¡Olé tus cojones!” (‘Balls to you!’). A symbol that left a very black mark on Alfonso XIII’s reign. Because pornography isn’t only sexual in nature.
“Sometimes there are unspeakable traces of the spirit of a period and the culture of a country in the very thing you’d rather not see.”
The paintings by the artist Josep Maria Sert from Vic cathedral, burned and vandalised by militias at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, could be seen as worthy works of abstract art. Because, much against the artist’s wishes, the accidents of history profoundly altered their appearance.
Of the original series of paintings, the museum keeps those that are impossible to restore in its store rooms. The ones that survived are in Vic. This is a twist in the conventional role of the museum and a repositioning of the importance of a work of art, regardless of its condition, over and above aesthetic considerations and in favour of strictly historical considerations.
In the gallery, Sert’s burnt paintings converse with a burnt painting by Joan Miró. Sert’s were produced spontaneously. Miró’s was the deliberate result of a creative process. However, the dialogue between them is surprisingly fluid. A large painting subsequent to the events shows Vic cathedral in flames at the bottom right.
“Modern art carries the unprecedented destruction of the 20th century in its DNA, sometimes even a priori. You can’t deliberately burn a work for it to be one, without having the bombing raids over Dresden or Hiroshima present in the subconscious archive we share.“
Amagat a plena llum del dia, or, in other words, hidden in plain sight. This was the clever strategy used after the Spanish Civil War with the art of the Republican period (1931-1939) in the permanent collection of the Museu d’Art Modern, which at that time was located in the Parc de la Ciutadella, and the Museu d’Art de Catalunya in the Palau Nacional, to protect it from Fascism. Instead of removing the works and taking them somewhere safer, with the risk that they might be intercepted by the Franco authorities, they were hidden in a room in this building.
They were kept hidden until well into the 1980s, when they ‘appeared’ during the course of work to revise and update the collections of painting in the Museu d’Art Modern. The presentation of this section of the exhibition reflects, in part, the 40 years of concealment, not of loss. At the same time, the arrangement of the elements provides a conspiratorial view of the museum from the inside.
“This episode can be connected to what happened recently with Iraqi and Syrian museums and archaeological remains at the hands of ISIS fighters. Hardly anything could be hidden in the Middle East, though luckily some of the sculptures were reproductions of the originals, something the barbarians failed to notice.“
During the Eucharistic Congress held in Barcelona in 1952, someone broke into the Museu d’Art Modern by night and viciously slashed all the female nudes they came across. Who did it or why never came to light, but certain information suggests it could have been a group of seminarians.
Vandalism against female nudes was nothing new, and it wasn’t limited just to right-wing reactionaries. In 1914, the suffragette Mary Richardson destroyed Velàzquez’s The Toilet of Venus in the National Gallery in London with a butcher’s knife as a protest against the use of the female body for male enjoyment.
Most of these slashed paintings have been restored, but some still show the effects of the work undertaken to stabilise the damage, like stitching in an autopsy, which gives them the appearance of corpses in a morgue. The counterpoint is provided by the work of Lucio Fontana, represented here by four photographs documenting one of his characteristic slashed canvases, where cuts used as an artistic device take on an ambivalent beauty.
”Whatever the political or ideological motive, the result is the same: today the attack of Velázquez’s Venus would be seen as an extremely violent attack on a woman’s body even though it was a representation.”
Gaudí’s Casa Batlló was remodelled on several occasions before being declared a National Historical and Artistic Monument in 1969. The most extensive remodelling took place in 1957 to accommodate the Iberia insurance company.
A large number of doors were removed from rooms and cupboards and moved to the basement of the building. It was a time when very few people were interested in Gaudí and they were finally thrown out in the street. Apparently, Joan Ainaud de Lasarte, Director of the city’s Art Museums from 1948 to 1985, saw them on the kerbside as he drove by and called the City Hall to go and collect them. In 1986 they entered the collection of the museum.
This story is an example of the ups and downs that cultural and patrimonial remnants are subject to and of the importance of key figures with a lively instinct. It also highlights the enormous task of museums as guarantors of the cultural heritage of the societies they serve.
“Where there are no museums, there’s no history, no memory, no paradigm of excellence, no public awareness. The problems arising in a museum aren’t systemic, they’re problems of a lack of intellectual clarity.”
Casa Serra, originally Casa Clarós, is an 18th-century building that no longer exists. It stood at number 22, Riera de Sant Joan, a street that also disappeared when Via Laietana was opened up. It was built by the industrialist Llorenç Clarós, a bourgeois who got rich thanks to the indianes, printed fabrics from Asia that began to be produced here during the second half of the 18th century.
These paintings of The History of Rome by the artist Francesc Pla (‘El Vigatà’) decorated one of the rooms. Before the building was demolished, they were moved to the family’s new home on Passeig de la Bonanova. After that, the panels followed a lengthy odyssey. They were loaned to Barcelona City Council for the 1929 International Exposition, then to the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, and from there they were moved to the Poble Espanyol, before ending up in the Museu d’Art de Catalunya in 1962.
“One way of literally visualising the twists and turns of history and indirectly emphasising the miracle of conserving what remains after the accident (car accident? Ah, modernity!).”
The exhibition closes with the forgery of a work by Francesc Torres: a city built with playing cards, an image that combines the fragility of culture and the presence of chance in our existence. This forgery is complemented with unique elements that were absent in the genuine item.
It’s accompanied, like the rest of the exhibition, by historical remnants from the collection of the museum and tools of construction and destruction that shape our history. Because the past, paradoxically, always takes place in the present. That’s why the city is its own museum and cemetery. And this is why we have museums fulfilling the necrological mission of preserving collections of exquisite corpses.
”This project condenses almost the entire content of my work of the last half century. For that reason I thought it in the interest of coherence not to include my work (the work is the exhibition). The best way to explain the world is always by talking about something else and that also applies to art. The symbolic manipulation needed to understand the world is polymorphic. And art, sometimes, is something that is already there and is just waiting to be revealed.”