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"2 x 2 = 5" DEBATE.
CONTEMPORARY ART CENTERS: A SUBJECT OPEN TO DEBATE

In Barcelona, there are several art centres devoted - on a partial or exclusive basis - to contemporary art. Some people nevertheless consider that they are insufficient and do not rightly reflect the creative effervescence of Barcelona-based artistic workshops. As one of the participants in our round table discussion pointed out, there are many young creators in our city who are not given any opportunity to exhibit their works in those centres. So, do we need more spaces devoted to contemporary art ? Are existing centres operating properly ? Do they respond to contemporary artists' actual interests and type of production ? Which special functions should contemporary art centres perform ? Is there a really interested potential public for such centres ? The endemic problems that plague the MACBA - the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art - to this day are patent signals that such questions ought to be posed. For our "2x2=5" section, two university lecturers, an art critic and a poet have accepted to meet and voice their reflections on these issues. (...)

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- In Barcelona, there are several art centres devoted - on a partial or exclusive basis - to contemporary art. They range from museums with permanent collections (such as the MACBA, the Tāpies Foundation, the Mirķ Foundation and the Museum of Modern Art) to smaller exhibition spaces (Santa Mķnica, Sala Montcada, La Capella, Espai 13, Metrķnom, CCCB) and other publicly or privately owned galleries which occasionally choose to include contemporary art works in their programme of exhibitions (professional colleges and organizations, financial institutions, cultural associations, civic centres, etc..). Let's focus our debate on publicly managed centres, even though in some cases private galleries also perform an important function as art centres. In any event, are there enough public centres ? Taking into consideration current artistic production and demand, do you think there are too many such centres ? Or are there too few ?

- PERE SALABERT : The idea of creating cultural centres responded to the need to inject a new dynamism into museums. The response of museums was the reinforcement of their own role as cultural centres. In my opinion, this implies a process of interaction paralleled by a certain equalization. Finally, cultural centres and museums alike respond to that idea of a dynamic space favourable to movement, change and transformation. That is why the question of whether there are too few or too many art centres should rather, in my opinion, be formulated in terms of whether these centres ought to be defined from a global perspective (which is to say whether they should deal with both contemporary art and contemporary culture without distinction) - which would in fact amount to a non-definition -, or whether they ought to be actually defined, more precisely in terms of limiting their scope to one particular area of interest, developing their activity in one direction and adhering to one philosophy. In the latter case, we might say that we need more art centres. On the other hand, if both museums and cultural centres are devoted to art and culture in general, then we might say that there are too many...

- ASSUMPTA BASSAS : Personally, I think that the crux of the matter does not lie in the shortage or overabundance of art centres, but rather in the fact that existing art centres do not have a clear-cut idea of their main objective and of the functions they ought to perform. But this is a question that could be answered from the perspective of public management and this is not my sphere of activity. However, what I can see as someone who works in the field of contemporary art, is that the functions to be performed by each centre are not clearly defined and that they depend too heavily on cultural policies that view culture as a spectacle. In any event, the functions to be assigned to each art centre are not given thorough consideration. I think that we should really think things out and conduct an in-depth debate on this situation.

- ROSA QUERALT : I think that there are enough young artists in Barcelona to justify the creation of more art centres. As a matter of fact, the centres that are currently functioning rather rigorously and successfully are "La Capella" and the "Espai 13" at the Mirķ Foundation. The "Sala Montcada", owned by the "Caixa" savings bank, exhibits works by artists with a more solid career, a longer professional trajectory. Taking into consideration the volume of works produced by young artists, it is difficult that they might all be provided with an opportunity. The current shortage of exhibition spaces has a funnelling effect that makes it difficult for artists to find an opening. The fact is that, at present, there is a gap between the types and characteristics of the works being produced and those of existing exhibition spaces which are more or less conventional. And this is a major difficulty. The gap has always existed, but now it has widened; today, if you visit modern artists' workshops, you usually find types of artistic creations which are not "exhibitable" within the framework of conventional galleries because they cannot be either hung on walls or left unattended because someone would take them away. New artistic production combines multifarious art forms and media, so that it proves difficult to find words to define it. This creates a lot of difficulties and uncertainties among spectators because, in addition, it is a complex artistic production that only appeals to a minority group of spectators who are somehow connected with the art world, such as intermediaries, agents, critics and members of the artists' circles of acquaintances. This is a production from which other people with a certain interest in art remain alienated. People interested in art but not curious enough to make an effort to try to find out what is really going on. (...)

- XAVIER THEROS : I agree that, all things considered, art is nothing more than a change-orientated strategy. As a matter of fact, this is why it is such a dynamic and plastic field of activities; it is constantly changing. In cultural centres or museums, there are too many guidelines, too many attempts at creating some kind of textbook order. But, today, the art situation is such that it is impossible to order art forms. We have raised the question as to whether or not there are enough contemporary art centres but, in fact, I think that actual contemporary art is not to be found in those centres, it is being spread through a network of small exhibition spaces whose activities seldom echo beyond their restricted area; but these are the places where contemporary artists are actually exhibiting their works. In some cases for lack of means, but also because some of them cannot possibly take their creations to a contemporary art centre or museum. The very nature of the art works makes it impossible that they might be exhibited in such a context. (...)

- We are talking about publicly managed art centres, which is to say spaces that society has deemed necessary because they perform a certain function. In your opinion, how should these centres be organized so that there might be a true connection between the artists' production and the people involved in the decision-making process ? Do existing art centres in Barcelona allow a sufficient flow of information on current artistic production to filter through to the public ? Do you think that, in that sense, they are functioning properly ?

- ROSA QUERALT : No. The complexity of current art production and that dissolution of established genres make it almost impossible for uninformed spectators, and even at times for professionals, to find the clues to an art work if it is merely presented as an exhibit among others. I think that contemporary art exhibitions should follow more active patterns, allowing opportunities for gathering or discussion about a given subject. Discussion with the author and his work creates more enriching situations. Even if we talk about "La Capella" gallery, which maintains a good standard and offers quite interesting options, well, when you go there one day, in a hurry - because we are always more pressed for time that we ought to be -. you see all those things and, well ... The result is quite different if you know the artist and his work and if you have some understanding of the mechanisms which have generate it. But, if you do not know the artist, you only focus your attention on the external, formal aspects of the works exhibited - which is to say the final result - and you remain unaware of the whole creation process. But the fact is that most of these art works have been created as part of a given process and people should be acquainted with the details of that process.

- ASSUMPTA BASSAS : These comments are in agreement with the new definition I would like to propose for contemporary art centres which I view as dialogue-orientated meeting places. Not only to transmit information about the creative process or the person who is behind it, but also as a way to present the art work from a post-modern perspective as a receptacle enclosing ideas that criss-cross it, and to understand that the meaning is not really an intrinsic part of it, but rather something that we create as we talk about it in terms of its contemporary reality. By this I mean that an art work should not be understood in a traditional sense as the specific way an artist has chosen to express a specific idea, but that we should rather try to ascertain in which ways it reflects the spirit of the times. And here we have a fantastic job to do with the public.

- ROSA QUERALT : It is the use value of the art work socially speaking. (...)

- PERE SALABERT : Perhaps what is expected of art is that it should educate rather than inform.

- ASSUMPTA BASSAS : Exactly, yes.

- ROSA QUERALT : This is the drama of our times. Information about art has replaced knowledge, but the same occurs in the sphere of culture in general.

- PERE SALABERT : Today, the figure of the artist is the externalization of this drama. And we shall see whether or not there are ideas to be found in their works. In any event, there are the ideas that the public credit them with, which appears to me as a very interesting process that further enriches the work. Now, I seem to remember that, a while ago, someone has used the word "transit" or "transition" with reference to museums. However, when I visit the CCCB or the MACBA or some other art centre of similar characteristics, I notice that, as soon as you pass trough the door, you are accosted by young ladies who present you with a ticket before you can gain entrance and proceed to tell you where you ought to go and which itineray you should follow : this is what is called a planned visit. On the other hand, I remember that, after the opening of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, you could go there to have a look around the place and decide if you felt like visiting this or that exhibition, and nobody asked you anything; they did not direct you or make you pay an entrance fee unless you intended to visit some special temporary exhibition or the museum section proper. So the centre was really a "transit" area in the sense that it was a place where people could drop round and where conditions were propitious for educative leisure and dialogue. I wonder if the small square across from the MACBA museum will ever provide the setting for community activities and interactions similar to those which take place on the esplanade in front of the Pompidou Centre where people meet, converse with each other, dance, sing, moon about, argue, or engage in impromptu get-togethers. I wonder if it will some day be viewed as a "transit" area in that sense because, all things considered, this is what bridges the gap and produces an effective interplay between realities inside and outside the museum. (...)