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Öyvind Fahlström (São Paulo, 1928 - Stockholm, 1976) has been undervalued and generally badly situated in the history of art. He has often been defined as an eccentric forerunner of European Pop Art. But although he did draw on an imaginary from the world of Pop Art and pay particular attention to the creative potential of the new mass media and underground culture, his work stands out for its high level of conceptual complexity and because it is based on his most profound moral and political convictions.

This exhibition assembled over seventy pieces from public and private collections, as well as an extensive collection of documentary material from the artist’s own archives, which had just been deposited at MACBA.

Fahlström addresses a spectator-reader who is capable of following and deciphering superimpositions of signs and figures. He is committed to a knowing public that is prepared to participate in his singular plays on exorcism and attempts at freedom. From Opera (1953) to his large testamentary paintings from the series Night Music and his monumental installations The Little General (Pinball Machine) (1967-1968) and Meatball Curtain (for R. Crumb) (1969), his works advocate an expansion of the boundaries of art, inspired by the operatic model that embraces performance, music, film and political activism.

São Paulo, 1928 — Stockholm, 1976

The Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) is producing an exhibition of the work of Öyvind Fahlström, which will be inaugurated on the 17th of October this year. This is a touring exhibition which will subsequently travel to the Malmö Konsthall (February-April 2001), the Bienal de São Paulo (September - December 2001) and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (November 2001 - January 2002).

This is the first major retrospective of Öyvind Fahlström’s work, and will manifest the constant versatility displayed by the artist. The exhibition sets out to underline the singularity of Fahlström's career, the impossibility of reducing it to the various models of groups or movements, the diversity of techniques and resources he employed, his committed social stance and his interest in the spectator, which occasionally led him to integrate the observer into the very constitution of the work itself, inviting a reaction in response to a body of artistic material which puts itself forward as a reflection of the contradictions inherent in the society in which he lived.

In spite of its apparent relationship with Pop art, in terms of the use it makes of images drawn from mass culture (comics, magazines, documentary films, newspapers), Fahlström's work is marked by a high degree of conceptual complexity, always posited on the basis of his own moral and political convictions and characterized at the same time by a rigorous exploration of the formal dimension oriented towards a permanent deconstruction of our vision of the world and the received ideas from which it is configured.

The exhibition itinerary is structured around three key themes: Fahlström as an artist of the world, with his cosmopolitanism directly related to his personal history —born in Brazil, taken to Sweden during the Second World War and based in New York from the early sixties on— and reflected in the clearly global subject matter of his works; Art and Poetry, which delineates the intricate nodal links between his visual and his poetic languages, and Art and Information, which attempts to bring to light the artist’s ethical stance, and the strong social commitment which shaped the whole body of his work.

From a present perspective in which the plurality of styles, the permutable variability of relationships and conceptual deconstruction are established parts of the contemporary artistic vocabulary, Fahlström's work possesses an exceptional topical relevance.

The exhibition will include works in all of the media utilized by the artist: videos, paintings, drawings, poems, his ‘variable’ or mobile paintings conceived as ‘games’ in which the spectator takes part, and the large installation works, ranging from his first Opera (1953-1958) —a drawing on paper 11 metres wide— through to his last installation, Garden. A World Model (1973).

The production of this exhibition and of the catalogue which will accompany it has entailed a major exercise of research in the artist’s archives, deposited with the MACBA. This largely unpublished documentation, which includes the artist’s own library and his copious annotations and clarifications of his work, will provide the exhibition with a wealth of additional material essential to an in-depth understanding and a systematic cataloguing of Fahlström's work.

The art of Oyvind Fahlström is protean and ambitious. At once intimate and spectacular, it associates a lyricism of minute detail with the great forms of art history, nourished by the information and imagery of media and by the exuberance of popular art, underground as well as commercial. At a time when other artists of similar importance for this already legendary epoch have become the object of extensive studies and well-documented presentations, the work of Öyvind Fahlström constitutes perhaps the last unexplored continent of the art of the 1960s-1970s.Fahlström is not unknown but underrated, and above all poorly situated. Too often he is defined as an exponent or eccentric precursor of Americanized European pop art, and as a figure of the sixties. His artistic and intellectual adventure must be placed within a larger history, a more open geography; the very geography which figures in his cartographic paintings and variables. This exhibition reconstructs a singular, individual history, evolving through geopoetic and political displacements between two continents (Europe and the Americas) and across the map of the entire world.

Curators: Jean-François Chevrier, Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Sharon Avery Fahlström

Exhibition produced by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)

Itinerances

18 OCT. 2000 - 08 JAN. 2001 Museum galleries
29 SEP. - 24 NOV. 2002 Baltic-Centre for Contemporary Art
15 FEB. - 26 MAY 2002 Institute d'Art Contemporain Villeurbanne
15 JUNE - 22 OCT. 2001 Massachussets Museum of Contemporary Art
17 MAR. - 15 MAY 2001 Centro Studi sull'arte Foundazione Ragghitiani-Complesso Monumentale di An Micheletto

To reconstruct the disorder of a possible city. To use the model, not as an element in a project, but as the representation of something that already exists.
Jordi Colomer