portada de BMM

by Vicenç Altaió

In the 25 years of its existence, the Fundació Miró has been one of Barcelona's leading contemporary art centres. And Espai 13 is the most innovative initiative to have emerged in this privileged institution on Montjuïc. This area, reserved for new creators, has played host to almost 300 artists in over two decades. According to Vicenç Altaió, the section's organiser, it is Barcelona's leading art laboratory. Coinciding with the publication of the overview of the most noteworthy developments in the different cultural sectors, we have chose Espai 13 as the most outstanding initiative in the plastic arts.

Faithful to the Spirit of the Letter
Over the entry to the Fundació Joan Miró, are to be seen four letters written with sweeping, lively, colourful strokes. They were drawn by Miró himself and they are so spatial that they blend in with Sert's rationalist Mediterranean architecture and intertwine with the diurnal and nocturnal symbols of the cosmos. Not everyone who passes beneath notices them and few stop to read them. Fewer still know the meaning of the acronym they form: CEAC. This was Miró's motto and the name that he wished his Foundation to bear, i.e. Centre d'Estudis d'Art Contemporani. The Foundation would therefore perform a double task: that of housing a Miró collection for study and divulgation, and that of serving as a centre open to the newest art, with room for poetry, music, dance and other activities of the spirit.

We should not forget that, as a young man, Miró was a member of the Surrealist movement, for which renewal and plastic research were synonymous with spiritual, political and social renewal. The tranquil Miró was always an individualist, working and struggling untiringly with his art, but he also supported the Catalan nationalist civil resistance. In his later years, by then well-off and highly respected around the world, he bequeathed to Barcelona a challenge for the future, opposed to the lethargic spirit mired in the past and in favour of the liberating avant-garde and creation as language. And, it goes without saying, favouring the poetic strength born of the unconscious, anonymity and popular culture over rational-industrial western civilisation.

Under the direction of Francesc Vicens for its first five years, followed soon afterwards and most outstandingly by Rosa Maria Malet, the two functions were merged into one and have attained resounding success. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening, the verdict of critics and the media could not be better. Even more important is the esteem in which it is held by Barcelona's citizens and visitors to the city taking an interest in culture. Among us, no other arts centre is regarded as highly as the Miró for its cultural, civil and republican, imaginative and festive values, and it is also the museum with the greatest international prestige.

We should also turn our attention to one of its specific aspects, a minor but nonetheless important one in its programming: Espai 10 (1977-1987), later renamed Espai 13 (1988 to date). This small gallery, originally located with the name Espai 10 in the foreground, just inside the entry next to the olive-tree patio and later displaced, by the installation of the shop selling quality by-products of the "Made in Miró" popular market, to the basement, with the name Espai 13, has become a genuine laboratory dedicated to young creators and the newest art.

Research + Development =
Research + Dissemination

The results show spectacular figures: over twenty seasons with an average of eight exhibitions per year, plus installations outside the section, plus events and other collective shows, making a total of around one hundred and fifty exhibitions. This means the showing of works by some three hundred artists, with almost no duplication, with constant renewal of generations and aesthetic trends. On the basis of continuity and development over time, it is clearly Barcelona's leading art laboratory.

In fact, given the size of the section and its budget, we could draw a parallel, rather unconventional in connection with cultural policy in the world of arts and letters, with the percentage set aside in science and technology for research and development. This approach has been followed consistently over the years, without failing and without diminishing, in spite of the trend in museums toward the pursuit of consumer-based performance in preference to intellectual freedom. In addition, the fact that Espai 10's first exhibition opened in January 1977 means that we have before us a precise ensemble that embodies a compact summary of the development of art under the democratic regime from the end of the dictatorship up to the present.

Particularities and Chronological Blocks
If we set out a chronology and divide it up into conceptual blocks, we would find a number of distinct periods and at the same time various common factors. These common factors function as constants to help make the dynamics of selection clearer:

1. Young artists, many of them not having shown before, unrecognised and outside existing museum and commercial circuits. Many of those mentioned here, particularly those from the gallery's early years, are now, in keeping with their age, widely recognised and many them are important figures on the national and international scenes, with individual and retrospective shows at museums and contemporary art centres and with their work commanding high prices on art markets. On the other hand, there are the bolder and less material approaches by artists who work on commission and often take part in thematic shows. For the first group we can give the examples of the Catalan artists Susana Solano, Frederic Amat, Perejaume, Jaume Plensa, Duran Esteva, Riera i Aragó, Jordi Colomer, Antoni Abad, Aureli Ruiz, Joan Rom and Jesús Galdón. From the rest of Spain, such prestigious artists as Miquel Navarro, Angel Bados and Eva Lootz, and from other cultures and places, including Panamarenko, Jacques Vieille, Bill Viola, Ange Leccia, David Mach, General Idea and Chéri Samba. From the second group, along more conceptual lines, a few of the more outstanding names would include Pere Noguera, Jordi Benito, Carles Pujol, Francesc Torres and Àngel Jové, or technological practitioners such as Roc and Narcís Parés, from Galeria Virtual. In both cases, all of them have made names for themselves in the history of art.

2. Open and multidisciplinary approaches. From experimentation in the so-called traditional arts, such as textiles (Codina, Ximénez), costumes (Duran Esteva) and ceramics (Noguera, Benet Ferrer) to experimentation with new materials for sculpture (Carr, Solano, Plensa, Gabriel), from performance (Benito) to the earliest ventures into technology (Pujol), from illustration (Rossell) to photography (Colita, Esclusa, Sentís), from dance (Petit Comité) to visual theatre (+++), from electro-acoustic music (Polonio) to sonic art (Oosterlynck), from food art (Selz) to architecture (Viaplana and Piñón), from the fringes of genre painting (Borrell) and sculpture (Navarro) to ephemeral installations or objectual assemblages (the list is endless).

3. A forum for debate and training for art critics as organisers. Except for the initial stage, comprising the first five seasons, from 1982 onwards, after Rosa Maria Malet's appointment as acting director, the programming that had been in the hands of the artists themselves came to be proposed by art critics, either jointly, individually, or in confrontation of differing options within the same cycle. They have often presented cycles under a single title and although some have acted as organisers on more than one occasion, this has extended to more than two seasons only in rare cases.

The list of critics is short, but their contribution of views has been varied and cyclical, making the chain of events into a gauge of the state of creativity while providing us with a panorama of the different mutations that art has undergone over these years. The poet and friend of artists Altaió and the art critics Glòria Picazo and Rosa Queralt, who kept their fingers on the pulse of what was happening in artists' studios, were the first to be assigned this task. "El viatge" (The Trip) was the nexus for individual shows in addition to collective ones, and environments both inside and outside the building, in addition to a variety of events, happenings and celebrations. The section opened its doors to foreign artists. The following year, the poet Hac Mor and the critics Pilar Parcerisas and Mª Josep Balsach opted for the confrontation of different approaches, the persistence of conceptual artists, the structure of labyrinths or machinism. Pere Salabert, María José Corominas and Lena Balaguer chose a more eclectic focus, with the avant-garde in full crisis and the emergence of the transavant-garde. Back again, Altaió and Picazo presented two consecutive cycles, "El gust i les diferències" (Taste and Differences), not so much to distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly, but rather as a means of defining radical alternatives under the common denominator of taste, and "De la causa i de l'objecte" (Of Causes and Objects), in which they presented singular works drawing on a new imagery that was at once conceptual and narrative. Margit Rowell was an exception in 1988 and 1989, preceded by substantial prestige as an art critic, organiser of major exhibitions and curator at leading museums and institutions. Her initiatives were more formal than experimental and particularly individualist. During his first year, Miquel Molins provided a degree of continuity with this spirit, with local artists under the very meaningful title of "Figuracions a l'espai" (Figuration in Space), but he then steered a course during his second year as organiser towards more political issues, such as nature contaminated by art, AIDS, the Third World and genocide, with "Formes de la dissensió" (Forms of Dissent). The decade of the nineties was guided by a new generation of art critics that had received their training and experience as such abroad. This was the case of Frederic Montornès, from the Magasin in Grenoble, Mònica Regàs, who lived in Paris, and Ferran Barenblit, who had worked in the U.S. The last two seasons have been characterised by critical, experimental and creative technology, from the hands of Jorge Luis Marzo, Teresa Badia and Rosa Sánchez, and, this year, in a cycle prepared by Michy Marxuach presenting the work of young Caribbean artists focusing on themes of identity and boundaries.