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THE MAJOR ART EXHIBITIONS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

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After 1888 and in the first third of the 20th century, Barcelona was a point of reference for the artistic avant-garde. The shows by the Dalmau Gallery in 1912, only the second exhibition of cubist art to be held outside Paris, put the city on the contemporary artistic map. They also had great social impact, at a time when art was considered front page news, and often erupted into scandal and controversy. Josep Bracons, Professor of the History of Art at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia) has drawn up an account of the most important exhibitions in Barcelona this century up to the restoration of democracy, when art exhibitions started to be held in a new framework of cultural consumption, largely due to the increased supply.

 

 

BARCELONA, A CITY OF EXHIBITIONS?
by Pilar Parcerisas

(...) Over the course of the 20th century, art shows, manifestos and magazines have been the basic tools available for spreading a work of art and new artistic attitudes. Art shows have been one of the most significant developments of the 20th century, and they, rather than magazines, have often marked the route later followed by the avant-gardes. (...)
Since the 1960s there has been an increase in the number of temporary exhibitions, and in the 1980s, at the height of the boom of the art market, works were reaching high prices at auction and the number of art fairs was increasing rapidly. (...)
The art show is tending increasingly to focus on study of a group, a given moment of history or the lifetime's work of an artist, rather than reflecting a individual creative outburst. Themed exhibitions and those with an underlying argument started to appear, and art commissars began to play a major role. The art show has become another instrument to incorporate art into the culture of the spectacle, or cultural consumption.
In terms of exhibitions, Barcelona has followed the same pattern as the rest of the world, though it has never held a relevant exhibition or competition that figured among the major exhibitions of world art. Barcelona has hosted World Expositions, such as the Universal Exposition of 1888, the International Exposition of 1929, exhibitions showcasing new creative work, galleries with programmes of avant-garde works, such as the Dalmau Gallery in the early 20th century, René Metras in the 1960s shows of Spanish and international informalist painters, the Gaspar Gallery shows of works by Picasso, and in the 1970s, the "G" Gallery which promoted Warhol, Vostell and the conceptual artists.
Barcelona has seen group exhibitions seeking to promote new creative artists and on many occasions these shows have been linked to one artistic grouping or another. At other times, the initiative has come from outside these groupings, from the artists' themselves, including the 1940s exhibition at "Els Blaus de Sarriā", by J. Ponį, F. Boadella, P. Tort, and A. Puig, as well as the show by the members of the "Dau al Set" group in the Caralt Gallery in Barcelona in 1951. There were also collective exhibitions, like the "October Shows" and the "May Shows", the MAN Shows or the collective exhibitions bringing together different generations, such as those promoted by the Research Department of the Fundaciķ Mirķ in 1975 and 1976, whose titles were "Art amb nous mitjans" (Art with new Media), "Primera antologia catalana de l'objecte" (The First Catalan Anthology of the Object), and "Pintura 1" (Painting 1).
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Biennial Show of the Caixa de Barcelona Savings Bank created a collective display case that was continued in the Autumn Shows at the Salķ del Tinell (Tinell Chamber) in the mid 1980s. Later, the Barcelona Biennial took up the challenge raised by this show highlighting the creative work of new generations in a broader multi-disciplinary sense. Since the Biennial Shows ceased, Barcelona has not had a single broad-based artistic competition contrasting different generations from Spain and abroad. Young artists can show their works by means of the stable programming, selected by commissioners, at spaces intended for this purpose, such as La Capella de l'Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu (the Chapel of the Former Hospital of the Holy Cross), managed by Barcelona City Council, Espai 13 (Space 13) at the Fundaciķ Mirķ, or the Montcada Gallery held by the Fundaciķ "la Caixa". This type of programming has greatly reduced the presence of collective art shows, as it consists of isolated exhibitions that promote the work of a single artist, not that of a group, a position or attitude that is in sharp contrast with just a few years ago.
Since the 1980s provision of new exhibition infrastructure by institutions and private foundations, there has been an increase in shows that are historical reviews of collective movements. These included shows like "El surrealisme a Catalunya" (Surrealism in Catalonia), "L'informalisme a Catalunya" (Informalism in Catalonia), "L'avantguarda de l'estructura catalana" (The Catalan Sculptural Avant-garde) and "Idees i actituds. Entorn de l'art conceptual a Catalunya, 1964-1980" (Ideas and Attitudes - Conceptual Art in Catalonia 1964-1980). There have been many exhibitions dedicated to Picasso, Mirķ, Dalí, Tāpies, etc., with major retrospective shows on the centenary of the birth of the first two, with themed and selected approaches to their lifetime's work.
Barcelona is not a major centre of artistic production or exhibition, but is a consumption centre for art shows. If we compare the number of shows in Barcelona with those of cities abroad, the quantity is much greater, although not much is locally produced and the local works produced tend to be on excessively local themes that are hard to sell abroad. The fact that there are very many art shows does not guarantee they are good. Even more importantly, this does not ensure an exhibition is relevant or necessary to the context it is aimed at. Only too often, exhibitions are unnecessary, and far too few seek to enrich the beholder's viewpoint by providing a new vision of the world through art.

 

 

THE CITY AND THE AVANT-GARDE
by Josep Bracons Clapés

The history of art exhibitions in Barcelona has yet to be written. It would be the history of the meeting between artistic creation and the city's public in different periods and in changing cultural contexts. It would deal with the history of how art has affected the daily life of the people of Barcelona, by becoming news or as a source of curiosity or of scandal. It would have to narrate the history of the structures and the impulses that have brought art closer to ordinary people, ranging from major institutional initiatives to private ones as bold as those of the gallery-owner Dalmau, so decisive in putting Barcelona on the world map of contemporary art. (...)
The first recorded art exhibition in Barcelona was held in 1786. It was an exhibition of work by the students at the Llotja School to mark the start of the new course, and it became a custom that was repeated every year. (...)
In the 19th century, exhibitions in Barcelona were dominated by shows of industrial products rather than exhibitions of art. (...)

(Š Gasull Fotografia)

The Universal Exposition of 1888, the first major international event to be held in Barcelona, was much more industrial in nature than artistic, like most of the local exhibitions that had preceded it over the course of the 19th century. Anyway, it was a turning point, and afterwards Barcelona society had a much more positive relationship with art. (...)
It has been widely recognized that the Universal Exposition played an important role in the awakening of Art Nouveau, and that it opened the city to the perspectives of international artistic culture of the late 19th century, and that it breathed new life into many different fields. (...)
The artistic content of the Universal Exposition was concentrated on the Palace of Fine Arts. This housed works by Spanish and foreign contemporary artists, and there was also a section on ancient art, one of the ones that had the most impact, because, among other things, it revealed the collection of Romanesque altar coverings that had been recovered by Bishop of Vic from parish churches, where they were abandoned in the sacristies and attics. This marked the beginning of the revelation of the importance of Catalan Romanesque painting, long before the beginning of the discovery of the large murals.
The Universal Exposition contributed to a revaluation of the cultural heritage, and when it closed it left behind the infrastructure necessary to give a new boost to the city's offer of museums and exhibitions: the cafe-restaurant of Domčnech i Muntaner, the former arsenal (now the Parliament of Catalonia) and the Palace of Industry eventually housed museum collections, as did the Palace of Fine Arts, which was partly a museum and partly a scenario for major artistic events.
The Palace of Fine Arts was planned by the architect August Font and was demolished in 1943. For all the time that it was in use it was one of the core sites of Barcelona's artistic life. It was located on the site that is now the court buildings in Passeig de Lluís Companys.
In 1891, it housed the first of the great art exhibitions promoted by Barcelona City Council, which was followed by others ever two years, a biennial. The City Council's intervention in this sector, through the Board directed by Carles Pirozzini, was decisive in revitalizing the exhibition sector by encouraging the competitions to be more international (bringing Catalan artists into contact with the outside world), as well as the essential coordination of the City Council's policies on art exhibitions and on museums. (...)
The first Catalan nationalist City Council, elected in 1901, decided to change the guidelines of the exhibition of fine arts that was going to be held the next year, and instead of dedicating it to contemporary art turned it into an exhibition of ancient art.
This exhibition of ancient art in 1902 brought together a very large number of works that were still in private hands, making them more widely known, and encouraging the introduction of a purchasing policy that would later be continued. As Andrea Garcia wrote, "the organization of the Ancient Art Exhibition marked the beginning of an irreversible reassessment of medieval art, which greatly affected future purchasing policies". This exhibition marked a qualitative jump for Barcelona's museums.

Dalmau brings cubism to Barcelona
Institutional initiatives are responsible for creating infrastructure and supporting them corresponds to the large collective enterprises. Private initiative, however, has come up with a very broad range of proposals, the most remarkable of all came from the art dealer Josep Dalmau, who organized several exceptional art shows that played a decisive role in linking the city to the avant-garde of the time.
Jaume Vidal i Oliveras, who has recently led research into the importance of Dalmau's historical role, explains that one of his main lines of activity was introducing, promoting and importing the international artistic avant-garde, as well as promoting Catalan artists abroad. In 1912 Dalmau Gallery in carrer Portaferrisa 18, surprisingly advertized as an antiques shop and gallery of modern art, held the second exhibition of cubist art outside Paris, as was very relevantly pointed out by Guillaume Apollinaire in his definitive work on the cubist painters.
Mercč Vidal, the author of a monograph on this exhibition, has shown that there was nothing random about Dalmau's initiative. The presentation of the cubists in Barcelona had been preceded by interest among Catalan artists and critics, ever since the first news of cubism had reached them. Thus, Dalmau was on fertile ground when he brought to Barcelona works by Marcel Duchamp, Albert Gleizes, Le Fauconnierr, Juan Gris, Jean Metzinger, Marie Laurencin and A. Agero.
One of Marcel Duchamp's two works presented in Barcelona was the famous "Nude descending a Staircase", one of the most significant works of 20th century art, and the work that received the most negative criticism. The exhibition had been preceded by so much general interest and curiosity, but first hand knowledge of cubism in fact led to a general impression of surprise. The general tone of the criticism was in fact reasoned and quite intellectual. Cubism began to influence some of the more receptive Catalan artists, such as Joan Mirķ. (...)
In 1917, the First World War was raging in Europe. Spain was neutral, and Barcelona was a shelter for exiles, including a small group of artists. Some of them stayed in the city all their lives, such as Olga Sacharoff and her husband, Otho Lloyd. Others only stayed a short time, such as Robert and Sonya Delaunay, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, Serge Charchounne and also Francis Picabia, who during his stay in Barcelona published the magazine "391", one of the historic landmarks in Dadaist poetry.
The presence of these exiles, together with the return of many other Spanish artists who had been living in France and left because of the war (Picasso, for example), was a factor that meant that 1917 was a decisive year in the arrival of the Avant-garde in Catalonia.
Catalan artists were mainly pro-French. For them France was the country of freedom and culture, now under threat, and Paris was the artistic capital of Catalonia.
As a show of solidarity with French artists and "in fair return for all that Catalan artists owe to French artistic bodies" a large group of Catalan artists including Anglada Camarassa, Ricard Canals, Ramon Casas, Joaquim Mir, Xavier Nogués, Alexandre de Riquer, Santiago Rusiņol, Josep Maria Sert, Joaquim Sunyer, Josep de Togores and Joaquim Torres-García, promoted an exhibition that was in some ways a show of appreciation, in the difficult circumstances of the time, for the warm reception that so many Catalan artists has received in Paris.
This was the origin of the 1917 exhibition of French art, which even received institutional support from Barcelona City Council and the French government.
The show was combined with a presentation of the societies promoting the three most important annual Paris shows, which had been interrupted because of the war; the Salon des Artistes Franįais, the Salon de la Societé Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon d'Automne. The catalogue shows that the works presented include artists like Bonnard, Matisse, Degas, Rodin, Manet, Puvis de Chavannes, Sisley, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec. (...)

"Il n’est pas donné ā tout le monde d’aller ā Barcelone" (Not everybody has the chance to go to Barcelona).
This emphatic statement was written in a work by Francis Picabia in 1916 or 1917 in which a device resembling a fan turns into a symbolic portrait of Marie Laurencin. It was thus written during the time Picabia spent in Barcelona because of the First World War. We have already referred to the remarkable contribution made by the art dealer Josep Dalmau, and we are now going to turn to the collaboration between the two on a major exhibition, the show Picabia held at the Dalmau Galleries in 1922.

(Š AHC)

This exhibition has been considered to be one of the most important Picabia ever organized, and was held to be so important that in 1995 and 1996 it was reconstructed in the form of an itinerant exhibition at the IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art), the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Fundaciķ Tāpies (Tāpies Foundation) in Barcelona. But let's not deceive ourselves; it had very little impact, much less than the show of cubist art.
The works by Picabia included, 47 in total, were mainly watercolour drawings dominated by geometric shapes, mainly circles, often suggesting impossible machines and sometimes turning into compositions that were closer to geometric abstraction.
Furthermore, the show caused André Breton to come to Barcelona. The artist who would later become a leading figure in the Surrealist movement came to give a talk at the inauguration of the exhibition called "Caractčres de l'evolution moderne et ce qui en participe"
The second International Exposition to be held in Barcelona, in 1929, was also a platform linking Barcelona to the history of 20th century art. This was because of the German pavilion at the show, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and its furniture, including the famous "Barcelona chair", also designed by Mies.
Thanks to its reconstruction in 1986 (a well-deserved homage), we can feel just how much the pavilion stood out from its context, and how much it contrasted with the exposition's official architecture, which was full of historical references. (...)

The denial and acceptance of Picasso
The figure of Picasso has become so important that anything he was connected to becomes directly or indirectly larger than life. This is why all Picasso's shows and activities in Barcelona are of such interest.
It is worth recalling that Picasso's first individual exhibition was held in 1900 at the Quatre Gats restaurant, the legendary centre of Art Nouveau, but I would prefer to deal in more detail with a later show, when Picasso was already an internationally respected artist.
This show was organized in early 1936 at the Esteva Gallery. It was promoted by ADLAN (the Associaciķ d' Amics de l'Art Nou - the Association of Fiends of New Art), which carried out an intense and fruitful activity diffusing and promoting the avant-garde, and which later promoted some other remarkable shows, such as the "Logicophobic" show and the exhibition "Tres escultors" (Three Sculptors) (Ramon Marinel_lo, Jaume Sans and Eudald Serra).
In keeping with their aims, the organizers excluded from their selection all the works that might be thought to represent a "classic" Picasso (the Rose Period, the Blue Period, the neo-classical compositions) and chose instead to show the works by Picasso that were furthest removed from conventional representational art. (...) This exhibition was a major event. (...)
Only a few months later, the Spanish Civil war broke out.
Recovery after the Civil War was slow and hard. The dramatic consequences of the Civil War, the overturning of the system of values, the new cultural setting and the grinding poverty of the post-war years all meant that innovative experiments were out of the question. (...)

(Š MNAC; Calveras, Mérida,  Sagristā)

1948 was a key year. It was the year that the Dau al Set group appeared, the most important of the proposals for a new start. The October Show started in the same year, finding space for artists interested in discovering what lay beyond impressionism and the Catalan movement "noucentisme".
The first October Show was held in the Laietana Gallery "organized by a totally independent group of Barcelona painters and sculptors" as the publicity said. The artists shown included Jordi Mercadč, Fornells-Pla, Lķpez Obrero, Josep Maria de Sucre, Josep Hurtuna, Emili Alba and Albert Rāfols Casamada.
Ten Autumn Shows were held, the last in 1957, and every who saw them recalls that the first October Shows were like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy room. It was in fact sign of a generational change in Catalan art, with the arrival of new artists like Cuixart, Curķs, Guinovart, Planasdurā, Ponį, Subirachs, Tāpies, Tharrats and many more.
Anyway, the October Shows should not be held up as an ideal, nor should we think it was a demonstration of avant-garde radicalism. Nothing could be further from the truth, because of its collective character and despite a few individual contributions, the general attitude was mostly biased towards fauvism and Picasso's style. (...)
This is why the contribution by the Dau al Set group was so important. This group revolved around the magazine "Dau al Set", which dealt with things in depth, such as experimentation, radical ideas and avant-garde transgressions. The group consisted of three painters, Ponį, Tāpies and Cuixart, together with Tharrats, who was also active in both graphic arts and painting, and the poet Joan Brossa and the rather philosophical Arnau Puig. (...)
Dau al Set was above all a magazine not just an artistic group. Thus they did not organize exhibitions, but worked on the basis of the confrontation of the texts and images that we can find in the pages of the magazines. The group's only joint exhibition was held in 1951 at the Caralt Gallery and marked the beginning of the breakup of the group.
The third noteworthy exhibition in the years after the war was the Biennal Hispanoamericana d'Art (The Hispano-American Art Biennial), which was held in Barcelona in 1955. It was the third of these biennials, the two previous ones having been held in Madrid and Havana (Cuba). By this time, the painters in the Dau al Set group had already started moving towards informalism, with Tāpies leading the way. Tāpies had just had a show in New York and had won a prize at the São Paulo Biennial.
Taking stock of the Hispano-American Biennial of 1955, it was polarized around a controversial confrontation that seems almost incomprehensible from our perspective, between those following Josep de Togores and those who believed in the renovation that was being led by Antoni Tāpies.
This major controversy shook Barcelona's artistic circles, but at the end of it all Togores was a spent force and Tāpies and what he represented were the rising tide. This was so clear that, despite the controversy, this Biennial confirmed the dominance of non-figurative tendencies.

Rehabilitating the old masters
The hand over to the new generation that crystallized around these three landmarks (the October Show, the Dau al Set group and the Hispano-American Biennial) cannot be separated from the rehabilitation of the masters of the historic avant-garde, mainly Mirķ and Picasso.
Joan Mirķ had had to return to Barcelona when France was occupied, and he kept quiet and inactive while his work started to win international recognition. He had held a major retrospective exhibition at the New York MOMA, and had finished what is probably one of his most remarkable creations, the "Constellations Series". In 1944, he released the "Barcelona Series", while he continued to hold shows in the United States. He did this all very discretely, staying in his flat in the Passatge del Crčdit, where he was visited by young artists fulfilling a sort of initiatory ritual.
It was these sectors who came up with the idea of holding a show in homage to Mirķ, and it was held in the Laietana Galleries in April and May 1949, organized by Rafael Santos Toroella and sponsored by Cobalt 49. The works shown were provided by friends of the young Mirķ and with very praiseworthy aims, because Mirķ had not had a personal show in Barcelona for 31 years, since his presentation in 1918 at the Dalmau Galleries. However, it had a most undesirable effect, as most of the works were bought by Pierre Matisse and taken abroad.
Picasso, who was hated by Franco's supporters, kept away from Barcelona even though he kept up his friendships and links to the city. One of the results of these links, and the decisive step towards his rehabilitation in Spain, was the cycle of exhibitions of Picasso's work that was held at regular intervals at the Gaspar Gallery, something that was totally unheard of on the international exhibition circuit. (...)
Of this memorable set of exhibitions, the one that had most impact on the people of Barcelona was the one held in 1960, which even caused long queues to form at the door of the gallery.

(Š F. Catalā Roca)

These two initiatives were important for two reasons, for what they were and for what they represented, making the Franco administration in Barcelona more sensitive. Thanks to this increased sensitivity, it became possible for the council to assume responsibility for the creation and consolidation of two of the basic institutions of contemporary culture in Barcelona, the Picasso Museum and the Fundaciķ Mirķ ( Mirķ Foundation).
The Picasso Museum was created in 1960 and opened to the public three years later. The Fundaciķ Joan Mirķ was formed in 1972. Fours years before this, the City Council had held an important retrospective exhibition of Mirķ's work at the Antic Hospital de Santa Creu (the Former Holy Cross Hospital), and in 1969 another equally important exhibition was dedicated to Mirķ at the Architects' Association ("Mirķ otro") (Another Mirķ), and in 1970 the large mural by Mirķ and Llorens Artigas was inaugurated at Barcelona airport.
Of all the major figures of the historic avant-garde, Salvador Dalí was the last to receive a homage. In 1974, the Dalí Theatre-Museum was inaugurated in Figueres, but no major institutional exhibition was held until 1983 and even so the results were negative in terms of keeping his works in Catalonia. (...)
In the 1990s, after the creation of the Fundaciķ Tāpies, the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art - Macba) and the Centre de Cultura Contemporānia (Barcelona Centre of Contemporary Culture - CCCB), there was a clear change in orientation in the ideas underlying the exhibitions, so that historical approaches were contrasted against proposals reflecting on the nature of the contemporary and the meaning of the present. (...)