The exhibition opens with documentation relating to the Barcelona presentation of the show “Contemporary American Painting in the Collections of the New York MOMA”, which was held at the Palau de la Virreina in 1995, as part of the 2nd Spanish-American Art Biennial. This exhibition was part of the diplomatic and cultural exchanges between the United States and Francoist Spain, which was just discovering abstract art and the useful role it could play in foreign policy. The inclusion of works by the leading American Expressionists consolidated Catalan Pictorial Informalism, enabling it to connect to international abstract movements. Contemporary American Paintings featured works by Clifford Still, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhard, Philip Guston and Franz Kline alongside pieces by such informalists as Joan Hernàndez Pijuan, Albert Ràfols Casamada, Modest Cuixart and material works by Antoni Tàpies. Saura and Millares were compared to Kline and Motherwell with their powerful brushstrokes, whilst sculptures by Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida rounded off this exploration of abstract art.
At that same time, in Europe, other artists were embarking on research of a very different nature. In 1956, the Dutch artist Constant began working on the project New Babylon, the latest global expression of utopian thought. Along with members of the Letterist International and, later, the Situationist International, led by Guy Débord, the artist launched a new revolution against consumerism, modern town planning and social conventions. Reviving the early Constructivists’ interest in experimentation, Constant worked with new materials but, above all, he developed an ideological project that entailed a new way of living, a new way of relating. New Babylon was to be developed by residents themselves, based around play and pleasure as organisational premises, in contrast to the functional planning of modernism. Part of this spirit would re-emerge years later in the Pop Art movement, particularly evident in Oyvind Fahlström's works Night Music 4 and Mao-Hope March.
Then in the early seventies the city became the scene for speculation and profiteering. In City-Slivers (1971-1976), Gordon Matta-Clark provides a clear and bitter example of the changes that the city has suffered since the spirit of liberation blew through in the 1960s and 70, where we see the city transformed into a productive machine.
At the same time, a new generation of artists were escaping from the urban environment and exploring the use of landscape as the medium for their work. Robert Smithson theorised about the distance between site and non-site with reference to the concretion of nature and the abstract quality of the exhibition space (gallery, white cube...). His film Spiral Jetty (1970) features one of Smithson’s most important works in this respect, one that rejects architectural space. It speaks of a different time that can be constructed in the work, a different relation between linear history and the constant transformation of energy that the universe requires.
Outside conventional exhibition spaces and the city, nature provided unusual materials and dimensions. Lawrence Weiner made a crucial contribution to art when, in 1968, he declared that «...the piece need not be built...», conferring an essential role on the receiver of the work by giving him the option of deciding «the occasion of receivership». Weiner soon realised that he could replace the actual action by formulating it in language, allowing the receiver to execute it as he pleased, as illustrated in the work Some Objects of Desire (2004).
The clash between nature and culture is a key theme in the work of Lothar Baumgarten from the late-60s on. In his series Montaigne (The Great Savannah), Venezuela (1977-1985), Baumgarten critiques the supposed realism of photography by inserting colours and words into his passe-partouts, indicating everything that photography can never transmit - tastes, smells, temperatures, and so on. The mural Salto (Pipa Cornuta) (1977) features a waterfall formed by the names of the rivers in the region in their original language, place-names being the last refuge of these languages, which are fast becoming extinct.
In the 1970s, in a setting closer to home, a new, contained rationalism emerged that made use of calculus and mathematics, in a style similar to the work of Pablo Palazuelo and, later on, Soledad Sevilla and Chancho, who were paradigmatic examples. Expression takes second place to line and pure geometry. However, in Venezuela, Gego imbued these elements with a more organic, incorporeal sensitivity.
In contrast to this first section, the exhibition also takes a look at European Pop Art. Inheriting the spirit of New Babylon, the Pop Art produced in Europe poured criticism on consumer society and media manipulation. Richard Hamilton was one of the key figures here. Hamilton’s fascination with Marcel Duchamp led him to spend long periods in Cadaqués after his first stay there in 1963, and he became an essential figure in the development of the Galeria Cadaqués, the tiny gallery that was a bastion of avant-garde art in the 1960s and 70s. It was here that the presence of Duchamp, Dalí, Cage, etc., connected Catalan art to the avant-gardes from the earlier part of the century. The works that the gallery’s mainstay, Lanfranco Bombelli, has donated to the museum include such outstanding pieces as the Collaborations of Ch Rotham, produced by Richard Hamilton and Dieter Roth in 1976.
Hamilton and other Pop artists also played a decisive role in the development of several Catalan artists, such as Joan Rabascall, Jaume Xifra, Benet Rossell and Miralda. Some went to London, where they frequented Hamilton and Lawrence Alloway, later meeting up in Paris to create collaborative works—Ceremonials, for instance— parallel to their individual development.
Colita’s coverage of artist Joan Brossa’s own nocturnal tour of his favourite haunts in Barcelona, within the context of the celebration of the “Festival of Letters” in 1979, leads on to images of the city from different artists’ views – creators such as Jean-Marc Bustamante, Craigie Horsfield and Manolo Laguillo.