Ongoing display
MACBA, Meier building, floor 1

Mon.-Wed.-Thurs.-Fri.: 11 am to 7.30 pm; Sat. from 10 am to 8 pm; Sun. and Holidays, from 10 to 3 pm. Tues. closed

11€ Entry ticket
Friends of MACBA free admission 

This exhibition offers a chronological look at the MACBA Collection from 1929 to the present.

In 1929, Barcelona hosted the International Exposition, for which Mies van der Rohe, in collaboration with Lilly Reich, designed the German Pavilion or ‘Barcelona Pavilion’. That same year, on the initiative of Josep Lluís Sert and Josep Torres i Clavé, the GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture) was founded. In Paris, André Breton wrote the Second Surrealist Manifesto and a group of abstract artists led by Joaquín Torres-García and Michel Seuphor founded Cercle et Carré. 1929 also saw the opening of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the publication of Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own. This is the cultural context that initiates the new presentation. It includes many key works in a number of spaces dedicated to emblematic moments or decades. Curated by the MACBA team, special attention is given to the changing presentations and experiences of art through these nine decades or ‘short century’.

The presentation is designed to tell the history of modern and contemporary art through the particular perspectives, politics and themes that have been developed in the MACBA Collection since its inception. It is also a history presented specifically from the perspective of Barcelona.

Curated by: MACBA curatorial team

Thus dates such as 1929, and all the subsequent periods, are rooted in the city. The Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers visited the Exposition specifically to see the Barcelona Pavilion, an emblem of international utopian modernism. The transformation of the city and its engagement with modernisation is examined in dialogue with the work of early modernists Alexander Calder, Joaquin Torres-Garcia and Alberto, among others.

In the subsequent spaces, the exhibition addresses the Spanish Civil War through the images and propaganda of the conflict, and the advent in the post-war era of a new generation of artists who through the divergent languages of abstraction explored the tensions and scars caused by the dictatorship.

The social and political revolutions that took place in the international arena in the 1960s are featured in the central space of the Museum, with works by artists such as Erró, Richard Hamilton, Herminio Molero, Ronald Nameth, Claes Oldenburg and Zush, among others. Pacifism, feminism, the hippy movement and other social phenomena that anticipated a new way of life had their artistic expression in Pop art and psychedelia. While Pop art expressed enthusiasm for the present and reflected everyday life and the society of the spectacle, psychodelia rejected reality and presented an escape through changes of perception. Later in the decade, acid pop or shocker pop presented a cynical critique of the moral values of consumerist society and made evident its deterioration.

The impact from the 1970s onwards of feminism, and from the 1980s of identity politics, is told through important works, including Jenny Holzer’s Inflammatory Essays and Jean Michel Basquiat’s iconic paintings King Zulu (1986) and Self Portrait (1986). In the 1990s, we see an examination of the themes of memory and trace, often focusing on the absent body, and represented by imposing sculptural and installation works by figures such as Christian Boltanski.

The final spaces bring us up to the present with the challenges facing humanity in the era of globalisation, the capitalist system, unequal power relations and the ways in which artists have addressed the problems of the global economy, taking as an example the various activities at Barcelona’s port and airport in David Goldblatt’s series Connexions Globlals (Global Connections, 2007) or Carlos Aires’ Mar Negro (2013), an installation that uses fragments of wood salvaged from destroyed boats formerly used by migrants.

Stories of our city, its past and present, are therefore interwoven with the significant developments in the history of modernism and contemporary art. While this new presentation of the MACBA Collection aims to display its highlights alongside lesser-known works, overall the Collection is revealed to be a very particular one, facilitating a critical and non-hegemonic view of modernism and the modern project. Over time and at different moments, both small and large changes will be made to the displays, thus facilitating a plural and dynamic presentation.

 


Artists


Works


Rooms

Rooms 3 & 4

In the years after the Civil War and following the end of the Second World War, artists explored divergent forms of abstraction. While this has been articulated as a tension between abstract geometric and concrete art on the one hand, and an abstraction that explored matter and an informel aesthetic on the other, these two principal tendencies also had degrees of proximity. Even though later forms of concrete art continued in the tradition of earlier utopian abstraction advanced by an international avant-garde, nevertheless elements of organicism, biomorphism and gesture began to be used. Similarly instances of geometric form can be detected in the more material abstraction.

While associated with a resurgent bourgeoisie, as well as a counter to it, both tendencies were a means to deal with the creation of art in the aftermath of so much war and violence. They can be seen not necessarily as a way to avoid the consequences of conflict, but instead as techniques to examine, even if indirectly, the nature of humanity.

Rooms 3 & 4
Room 5

The social and political revolutions that occurred internationally in the 1960s triggered a growing opposition to the establishment that led to the anti-war, feminist, hippie, environmentalist and other social movements that proclaimed new and revolutionary lifestyles.

These changes pursued freedoms – including sexual liberation that would challenge the traditional family-centred morality –, confrontation with the status quo and the rebellious student movement. In 1969, Theodore Roszak defined the term and values of the ‘counterculture’ in his book The Making of a Counter Culture. The precedent for this revolution, decisive to the later appearance of the hippie movement, was the beat generation to which the writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs belonged.

The counterculture gave rise to two interrelated artistic currents: Pop art and psychedelia. However, while Pop art expressed enthusiasm for the present and celebrated everyday life and the culture of the spectacle, psychedelia rejected reality, looking beyond it through a modified or heightened perception.

Room 5
Room 9

Art and activism gained a new proximity in the eighties, and artists created work with strong ties to the domain of the street or elsewhere beyond the studio, bearing a relation to forms such as graffiti, comics or unauthorised fly-posters. Developing with the ongoing emergence of feminism, anti-racism, gay rights and identity politics were forms of art and activism that addressed specific issues such as the AIDS crisis. A burgeoning context of neoliberalism, free market economic policies and neo-colonial interventions were also targets for activist art.

Popular culture and the cult of celebrity also exerted a continuing fascination for artists, who were impacted by the creation of new forms such as the music video and MTV, as well as fanzines produced as informal means of expression for subcultures, which provided a means to bypass establishment culture. Art, as well as fashion and graphic design, became dominated by intense new synthetic, heightened and fluorescent colours.

Room 9
Room 1

The first decades of the twentieth century saw a rupture with established art forms and a profound transformation in the field of aesthetic reflection. The idea of there being an artistic avant-garde (advance guard), which adhered to values like the new and the original, led to a radical experimentation with materials and forms. Among the main trends of this vanguard were those that sought to construct artistic languages of the universal and utopian from an analytical approach to form.

The International Exposition of 1929 took place in Barcelona in the context of this tension between tradition and radicalism. It was an event that marked an important urban transformation in the city, responding to the desire to connect with new technical developments, as well as the introduction of the most advanced architectural and artistic languages of the international avant-garde. In addition to showing the world the degree of Catalan industrial development, the Exposition would strengthen Barcelona as a capital of tourism.

Room 1
Room 2

The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) was also a war of images in which artists and filmmakers were involved in the diffusion of the different political ideologies at stake through their corresponding aesthetic means. In the territory loyal to the Government of the Republic, poster design underwent a special development in which the advanced visual and typographic languages of the international avant-garde were used to communicate messages clearly to a mass audience.

In cinema, the contribution made by the anarchist movement through the Unified Trade Union of Public Entertainment of the CNT (a confederation of anarchist labour unions), with the production of films addressing subjects including the collectivising revolution in agriculture as well as the role of the militias, was fundamental to the anti-Fascist resistance. The involvement of artists in the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic at the 1937 Paris International Exposition reveals the use of art for the internationalisation of the conflict and to generate support.

Room 2
Room 6

This room examines the sixties and seventies through the language of Minimalism, and yet it also seeks to problematise our understanding of this movement. Reacting against gestural abstraction, Minimalism sought to present a pure form of abstract art, indebted to early twentieth-century Constructivism. It was characterised by a highly simplified or economic use of geometry and a close relation to industrial, serialised production. Supposedly, it was also absent of content beyond its purely formal qualities. Even while being involved in or influenced by Minimalism, however, some artists used this aesthetic to critique its neutrality and reinvest form with political and social content.

While examples of classic works of Minimalist art are included here, the works selected also aim to show the boundaries where Minimalist art can be seen to blend with forms of feminist, performance, Conceptual and process art. This presents a more complex picture of the ways that different aesthetic priorities and competing interests interacted at the time, which counters a canonical or rigid reading of Minimalist art.

Room 6
Rooms 7 & 8

The late sixties and seventies witnessed the emergence of a new era of radical feminism and feminist activism, within a broader counter-cultural or anti-establishment context, which took different forms around the world. This feminist struggle was at the basis of the work of a number of women artists, or even within a given social context. Many used the objectification of women in traditional forms of art and in the mass media, the creation of highly commercialised female stereotypes that emerged from advertising and publicity, as a means to denounce the subordinate role of women in society.

Similarly, the body (through sexuality, motherhood and physical attractiveness), space (such as the domestic sphere), language, objects or attributes and colours associated with femininity or gendered as feminine were employed in ways that, with deliberate irony, embraced their formerly pejorative connotations in order to deconstruct and undermine such associations. Some artists widened their critique to counter a broader gender stereotyping.

Rooms 7 & 8
Room 10

While identity politics continued to influence artists into the nineties, and they were still negotiating the legacies of Minimal art and its tendency to eschew the personal, they began to work with large-scale installation art and scenography in ways that, even while often referencing Minimal art, addressed intensely personal or political subject matter. Allusions to the body were frequently made through its absence, or through props, prosthetics or proxies in the form of aids for and augmentations of the body, or else via furniture or other objects that stood in for the body or body parts.

Underlying these practices was a new consciousness of history at the fin de siècle and the end of the millennium. It was marked particularly by an awareness of the violence dominating twentieth-century history, a reflection made more intense in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and thus in an era of post-Communism, and likewise, at a time marked by debates around post-colonialism.

Room 10
Room 11

Recent art has focused on the critique of economic relations governed by neoliberalism and globalisation, while simultaneously examining human relations that are dominated by geo-politics and unequal distributions of power. In our transnational economy, the open sea is an economic space for the mobility of material goods as well as tourism, but it is also a contested space fraught with social and political debate. While commodities travel aboard container ships with ease, the mobility of people fleeing violence and persecution is curtailed. A stark linguistic and conceptual contrast is drawn with those who are designated economic migrants or refugees.

Artists have variously focused on the global economy and question of mobility through the diverse commercial activities from the seaport to the airport of Barcelona; the precariousness of the sea through the material remains of the migration crisis reshaped into a parquet floor; or the idea of borders, both social and geographical, through the violence that they have generated in northwestern part of Mexico.

Room 11
Tower

In his work, Colombian artist Marcos Ávila Forero investigates contemporary neo-imperialism. For the video Un pechiche para Benkos, he commissioned a handmade pechiche, a drum with which slave communities sent encrypted messages, and asked Congolese musicologist Émile Biayenda to tell a story, which concerns the journey of two migrants, using these ancient codes. The sound of the percussive drum creates a hypnotic effect that combines the experiences of the two men: one a historical figure and the other a modern migrant. They are identified as Camara Mwa Abdallaye, who tries to cross the contemporary Mediterranean hidden in a ‘cayuco’, and Benkos Biohó, a slave and leader of the first movement of Colombian emancipation, who died in 1622. Although they correspond to two different historical moments, the parallels show that the current migration phenomenon repeats and reproduces the experiences of past centuries. For both characters, hidden in the hull of the ship, the sound of the waves turns the boat into a resonant box.

Tower

Related

Activities

Videos

Audios

Let’s talk about the Collection with Tanya Barson
Let’s talk about La Lutte continue. The revolts of May ‘68 in the Collection with Antònia M. Perelló
Let’s talk about the Collection with Fernando López
Let’s talk about the Collection with Teresa Grandas
Let’s talk about the Collection with Nicolás Paris
Let’s talk about the city in the Collection with Domènec

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I don’t think about art when I’m working. I try to think about life
Jean-Michel Basquiat