Ongoing display
MACBA, Meier building, floor 1
11€ Entry ticket
Friends of MACBA free admission 

Curated by the MACBA curatorial team, A Short Century features a permanent display of works from the MACBA Collection that is regularly updated. The exhibition takes a chronological route from 1929 to the present day, emphasising the particular points of focus that the Collection has developed since its inception; a story told from the perspective of Barcelona and its immediate context. In 1929, Barcelona hosted the Universal Exposition, with the German Pavilion (aka the Barcelona Pavilion) designed by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. 1929 also saw the founding of the GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture), promoted by Josep Lluís Sert and Josep Torres i Clavé. 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. The same year, Virginia Woolf published her feminist essay A Room of One’s Own and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opened in New York.

Over the course of these nine decades of a ‘short century’, the experience of art has constantly changed, as is made clear by this exhibition. Following some of the most significant moments in this journey, the different sections highlight the uniqueness of the MACBA Collection. From the transformation of Barcelona in the 1930s and its commitment to modernity, to the involvement of art in the Spanish Civil War, with Bauhaus artists such as Anni Albers, who visited the city, and also Alexander Calder, Le Corbusier, Joaquín Torres-García and Alberto.

The first attempts to rekindle the spirit of culture in the post-war years and the international explosion of the social and political revolutions of the 1960s are featured, with artists such as Erró, Richard Hamilton, Herminio Molero, Ronald Nameth, Claes Oldenburg and Evru/Zush. The peace, feminist and hippie movements together with other manifestations of social revolution had their artistic expression in pop, psychedelia and acid pop, all of which are widely represented in the exhibition.

Alongside Minimalism and its legacies, as represented by the works of Rosemarie Castoro, Hans Haacke and Sol LeWitt, together with the Catalan artists Àngels Ribé and Robert Llimós, we see how feminism and identity politics made an impact on the art of the 1970s and 1980s. This new social perspective finds expression in the works of Jo Spence, Jenny Holzer and Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others, while moving on to the 1990s, art drew on themes such as memory, corporality and the critique of global neoliberalism.

The last rooms of the exhibition focus on the art of the late 1990s and 2000s, where we find the critique of globalisation and neoliberalism is both deepened and radicalised, as well as the rise of a more performative and collaborative art of action, as a manifestation of the contemporary malaise. 

Throughout its duration, the contents will be updated to enrich the nuances of the exhibition and to emphasise the many facets of the MACBA Collection.

 


Works


Rooms

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
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 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 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 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

Since the late 1990s and into the 2000s, globalisation and neoliberalism renewed art’s political perspective. In the artistic practices of the times, some of the conceptualisms of previous decades were updated, and body and action art were widely incorporated as a way of expressing contemporary malaise.

The work by the Basque artist Jon Mikel Euba epitomises the vision of that period. Although in other pieces he usually records performances involving various people, in Fiesta, 4 Doors he draws on the immediacy and visual strength of the language of multimedia. Divided across different screens, Euba projects a well-known greguería by Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888–1963). The genre is characterised by a short phrase with a biting social criticism and was invented by Gómez de la Serna himself, a notable writer and journalist of the Spanish avant-garde. Deployed in an installation, Euba transforms a textual material into a cinematic element. A simple change of scale and context lets him combine the text and the image of the text in a narrative system that also incorporates the factor of time, in which every new image negates the meaning of the previous one.

Room 11
Tower

A solitary car near the forest, a hidden identity, and the action of painting over the windows of a car are the narrative elements Jon Mikel Euba makes use of in Gatika Double Ending. Recorded in the wooded town of Gatika, in Biscay, a province in the Basque Country, Euba invites us to reflect on the idea of truth and lies and the false dilemma between certainty and fiction. Inspired by the collective works of the 1970s, the artist records the action of two people as they paint the names of other artists on the windows of a car, blocking the vehicle’s visibility in a way that would make driving it illegal. Playing with the idea of a forested landscape in the context of the Basque Country in the late 1990s also creates a climate of suspicion and fear. Although there are no signs of explicit violence, and the live sounds of the action remind us that this is a performance, the visual grammar we have learned from films and the media lead us to read Euba’s actions as though they are part of a thriller.

Tower

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I paint as if I were walking in the street. I collect a pearl or a crust of bread; what I find around is what I offer
Joan Miró