This new presentation the MACBA Collection offered a critical re-reading of the art produced during the second half of the twentieth century. The exhibition was organised chronologically into three sections. The first focused on artistic expressions that had emerged in the context of the European post-war period: from pictorial abstraction (Informalism and Concrete Art) to the early attempts to incorporate everyday life into artworks in the work of the nouveaux réalistes.
The second section illustrated the conceptual and performative trends that took over the art world during the sixties and seventies and upset the traditional relationships between artists and audiences, as well as the nature of exhibition spaces. These were also the years in which video was taken up by artists as a medium and popular culture media and subjects were gradually introduced into the creative sphere.
The final section focused on the trends that emerged from the eighties onwards, in complicity with postmoderm theories, which entailed the so-called return to painting on one hand, and the critique of representation on the other, with photography becoming its ideal analytical tool.
This presentation of the MACBA Collection is a historical structuring of the art of the last fifty years, represented through over one hundred and sixty works which occupy most of the three-story museum building. Works not previously exhibited are included, along with the latest acquisitions.
The first area starts with a confrontation between the discourses that dominated artistic debate from the fifties, in the context of the crisis of values in post-war Europe. The Collection brings together a wide range of responses to the time and its conflicts: the flowering of European pictorial Informalism, American Expressionism, the Nouveaux Réalistes, documentary photography and neo-Realist cinema.
The city devastated by the war shown by Roberto Rossellini in Germania Anno Zero (1947) reflects that ethical imperative to confront reality historically, in a way far removed from innocence and rhetoric. From that point of view, photographic and cinematic images play an important role in the Collection, since in that context the determination to break down the boundaries between document and work of art, between testimony and narrative fiction, between poetics and politics, takes shape. Within the discourse of the currents of cinema in the sixties we have focused on the documentary tendency, which reflects a new experience of the city, conditioned by the sweeping transformation of public space brought about by modern architecture, the metamorphosis of the historic centres and the emergence of advertising on a colossal scale. Joan Colom’s 8 mm filming of the 1960’s Barrio Chino (red light district of Barcelona) reflects that city experience.
But the cinema is also a domain of avant-garde experimentation, as we see from Samuel Beckett’s Film (1965), a profound analysis of visual perception which relates the author’s literary work with his experience in theatre and links up with the poetics of non-communication, typical of the late modernism of the Cold War.
Art during the so-called second modernism, adopts two apparently contradictory tendencies linked to abstraction. On one hand, Informalism, portrayed by artists like Antoni Tàpies and Lucio Fontana. Artists which subjectively represent the Spanish political situation emerge as part of this movement, including Antonio Saura and Manuel Millares, from the group El Paso. On the other hand, the abstraction tendency as a result of a search for equilibrium, order and objectivity, brings about concrete art, represented in Spain by two key artists: Pablo Palazuelo and Jorge Oteiza.
At the end of this period the works of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and the French Nouveaux Réalistes, in particular Raymond Hains, break up the abstract homogeneity of the pictorial space by incorporating real objects which emphasise the material conditions of the work to the detriment of illusion and representation. That gesture is a prelude to the new materialism which was to characterise art in the seventies, starting with Minimalism and Pop Art, which open the second area of the Collection.
Traditional historiography has bypassed the ideological motivations underlying Minimalism, preferring to focus on problems of style and form. However, artists like Carl Andre reconsider the traditional relation between spectator and object and favour participation and a direct approach. That was an element also developed by artists such as Richard Serra, Robert Ryman and, from other perspectives, Keith Sonnier, Robert Smithson and Hans Haacke.
In the work of Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman the performance dimension and the use of the body are fundamental. Acconci’s practice comes from poetic writing, from experiments with words; hence the use of his own voice. Nauman uses his body in grotesque stagings which are recorded on video or in photographs. Along with Dan Graham, in whose work performance gradually leads to a practice which is architectural in character, he was a pioneer in the use of video as an artistic medium in the seventies.
Düsseldorf was a key capital of art in that decade due to the confluence of a particularly dynamic group of artists, including Robert Filliou, Dieter Roth and Marcel Broodthaers, and an institutional and private framework that could channel the new ideas. Marcel Broodthaers, whose films Une seconde d’éternité (1970) and La pluie. Projet pour un texte (1969) are shown, brings together two essential traditions of modern art in his work: Duchamp’s ready-mades and Magritte’s rhetoric-image, and he concentrates on a study of the sphere of the museum, based on a rejection of the traditional framework of the institution. His work undermines the stability of artistic categories and questions the textual nature of the work.
In Spain, a characteristic feature of the Conceptual art of the mid-seventies was political opposition, very much in tune with the climate at the end of the dictatorship. That is exemplified by the work of the Grup de Treball artists; works by Francesc Torres, Francesc Abad, Angels Ribé, Fina Miralles and Muntadas are on show.
In the eighties, Craig Owens developed a theory of post-modernism around the concept of allegory, which pointed to a renewed interest in the image and took the shape of both “the return to painting” and the criticism of representation through photography. At the same time the photographic tableau emerged, understood as a strategy of photography to occupy the architectural and cultural spaces of painting. Here the works of Jeff Wall, Craigie Horsfield, Suzanne Lafont and Jean-Marc Bustamante are significant.
Preceding for the third area of the Collection are the films of Jack Goldstein and the photographic works of Hans-Peter Feldmann, who link the postulates of post-Conceptualism with a new generation of artists from Los Angeles like Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler and Raymond Pettibon, who share an interest in popular culture and a concern about media stereotypes and the fictitious nature of photographic representation. The work of Swiss artists Fishli and Weiss, creates a link between the interest for popular culture and a revision of the perception of the daily, as shown in the video Büssy (Kitty) (2001).
Alongside that position, we find artists who react to the supposed banalisation of popular art with deliberately hermetic works. They include Ignasi Aballí, Pep Agut, Pep Durán and Jordi Colomer, who take up references to inner worlds and combine figurative elements and gestures and the material nature of the local pictorial tradition. The Basque context, created over the last decade around the figure of Txomin Badiola, is an important instance of the restructuring of various elements: the modern formalist tradition, in this case through the work of Oteiza; items from popular culture, in particular musical styles; and the incorporation of allusions to the political context of the Basque Country. Examples of that are Txomin Badiola, with Será mejor que cambies (para mejor) (1996); Jon Mikel Euba, who uses image to construct ambiguous narratives, stagings of incidents or mysterious situations; and Sergio Prego who, in the work Tetsuo (Bound to Fail) (1998), presents himself floating over the urban landscape of industrial Bilbao.