Craigie Horsfield "From Via Layetana to East, Barcelona. June 1995" 2000
MACBA Collection. New acquisitions
This exhibition included recent acquisitions alongside works that had already been exhibited previously and reflected the directions and lines of work of MACBA at the time. The MACBA Collection furthered its quest to put together a critical record of the art of the second half of the twentieth century that takes into account the cultural and political situation of the city which houses the Museum, one that also understands the history of art as an ever-changing construction rather than a single, closed narrative. For historical reasons, Barcelona remained on the fringes of the main hubs of artistic modernity that gave rise to the dominant discourses regarding the evolution and progress of modern art. This peripheral position invites a questioning of the one-directional idea of historical progress, and encourages a restructuring of phenomena that can suggest other possible centralities.
The exhibition was organised around four key moments in history: firstly, the swan song of modernity in the forties and fifties; secondly, the ruptures of the sixties and seventies; thirdly, the critical and theatrical practices of the eighties; and fourthly, today’s world, after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Together with other works presented previously, this show included new acquisitions that reflected the MACBA’s direction and lines of work at the time. The MACBA Collection continued its quest to shape a critical memory of art from the second half of the 20th century, taking account of the cultural and political reality of the city where the museum is located on the one hand, and of the fact that the history of art is a construction that is subject to change – and not a complete, unique story – on the other. For historic reasons, Barcelona has always been on the edge of centres of artistic modernity, from which the predominant discourses about the evolution and progress of modern art have come. This peripheral position leads one to question the unidirectional idea of historical progress, to re-situate phenomena and to indicate other potential centralities.
The exhibition was structured around four open periods corresponding to four precise moments in history. The symbolic starting point for the first period was the Dau al Set journal, created in 1948 by Antoni Tàpies, Joan Brossa, Modest Cuixart and Joan Ponç, which was an attempt to connect with the pre-War avant-gardes, especially those linked to Surrealism. It was time of progressive consolidation of the Welfare State and the advent of mass advertising and printed media in the urban environment. The art of this “second” modernity adopted two trends linked to Abstraction. The first was Informalism, in which pictorial space became a support for spontaneous action, to a greater or lesser extent, of an artist’s profound consciousness that he or she manifested in informal pictorial matter. Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura and Jean Dubuffet are examples of such artists. The second was a trend rooted in the European avant-gardes of Functionalism and Constructivism in which abstraction is the result of a quest for order, clarity, balance and objectivity, and which gave rise to specific art as exemplified by the works of Jorge Oteiza and Pablo Palazuelo.
The 1960s to the 1970s was the second period of the collection corresponding to the advent of new critical discourses whose emblematic point of reference was May 1968. Artistic activity focussing on the production of objects was questioned and emphasis was placed on the processes and conditions of an artist’s work. Marcel Broodthaers was a fundamental artist during that period. Although his work was originally written, it went on to embrace other media, including photography, film, installations, graphic design, multimedia, books, etc. His work presaged the consequences of the transformation of artistic production brought about by the growth of consumer culture in the 1960s, and of the transformation of museums as institutions brought about by new practices and critical thought of new cultural social movements. Activity, information and debate were the key elements around which artistic creation at the time were structured, exemplified by works by Catalan conceptual artists like Muntadas, Francesc Abad, Fina Miralles, Francesc Torres and others. In Spain, mid-1970s’ conceptual works still had the characteristic feature of political protest, which corresponded to the climate at the end of Franco’s dictatorship.
Another key figure was Dan Graham. In his work, the conceptual roots of the 1960s are combined with post-functional and Late Modernist elements. A pioneer of the artistic use of video and a very influential essayist, his work revealed concerns which, over time, would become predominant in the art world, such as the hybrid conception of art and architecture, the value of utility and the notion of service. The second period ended with the late 1970s, a time when the international impact of the 1973-74 oil crisis shook the very foundations of the Welfare State.
The 1980s to the 1990s was the third period, a time when the consolidation of economic globalisation began and whose dominance went from strength to strength. The impact of this process on the realm of art was felt in two ways. First, it marked a return to traditional art forms, both modern and pre-modern with a return to early-1980s’ painting, including Neo-Expressionist and Young Savages movements in search of a reinstatement of the large formats and gestures of traditional painting under circumstances of a revitalised art market and a growth in contemporary art museums the world over. Examples of this return to painting are Miquel Barceló, Ferran Garcia Sevilla, Anselm Kiefer, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, A. R. Penck and others. Furthermore, this return to painting had an impact on photography. In the 1980s, photography burst onto the artistic scene and became one of the most significant media for representation criticism theories linked to certain post-modern tenets. The notion of a photographic picture or “painting” arose at that time, a strategy through which photographs were able to occupy the architectural and cultural spaces of painting. Here, works by Jeff Wall, Craigie Horsfield, Suzanne Lafont and Jean-Marc Bustamante were significant.
The year 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, symbolically marked the beginning of the fourth period. This was also the period when the process of globalisation had reached completion, due to the growth of new technologies. A determining factor in the 1990s was the immersion of culture in processes of mass consumption and entertainment. On the one hand, there were artists like Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler, who indulged in the phenomena of popular culture and kitsch and celebrated a world of merchandise, which artists like Carlos Pazos and Zush had presaged. On the other hand, there was criticism of the apparent banalisation of popular things and a staking out of positions legitimated in the great Modern tradition, leading to a rather hermetic approach to artistic forms that sought the onlooker’s collusion. Examples of this are artists like Pep Agut, Jordi Colomer and Ignasi Aballí.
Video, video installations and new information technologies replaced the former dominance of photography. The new potential of digital imaging transformed the notion of representation, apparently making it almost impossible to distinguish between reality and virtual reality. The reformulation of the relationship between body and space was one of the manifestations of this new artistic paradigm.