by Joan M. Minguet
Art and Thought in Difficult Times
Over the past few months Catalonia has appeared many times on the front pages of the international press. The mass demonstrations and political actions of a large part of the Catalan population have set in motion a process to allow citizens to vote on whether Catalonia will gain independence from Spain and becomes established as a new European state. “Catalonia is not Spain” can be read on many banners, yet for now the Spanish government has closed all the doors to the possibility of exercising a democratic right.
While this dispute continues, however, Catalonia is experiencing a situation of extreme social urgency: poverty, immigration, social inequalities, and institutional support to banks accompanied by brutal cutbacks in the fields of health and education have resulted in a loss of quality of life. Public administrations spend negligible amounts on art and culture. The Spanish government imposes an exorbitant tax on culture. Museums such as the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) or the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) cannot purchase works or schedule important exhibitions due to lack of resources, and sometimes due to lack of imagination, despite recent endeavors to engage the local artistic and critical framework. How can the Catalan art system face up to this situation?
The city of Barcelona has a number of attractive contemporary art centers such as the Museu Picasso, the Fundació Joan Miró, and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, complemented by the Fundació Gala - Salvador Dalí in Figueres, about 70 miles north of Barcelona. Picasso, Miró, Dalí, and Tàpies are still sometimes inspiring for young artists, although they can also be considered obstacles to overcome.
Several young artists and curators work in this context. Some of them explore the territory, such as Albert Gusi, as exemplified by works that interact with the Catalan geography along the lines explored by Perejaume, either abstractly, seeing weather maps as territorial symbols, or physically. Many other artists reflect on the problems of Catalonia in a world order of art and institutions, and the ethics of these institutions, subjectivity in the contemporary world.
Young Catalan art is perhaps characterized by its activism and by the presentation of works in which process acquires full relevance. These are not finished works, to be hung in a room, but works that reflect the interaction between the artist and society, as exemplified by Núria Güell, who explores the limits of legality to denounce the situation of the helpless. Mireia Sallarés focuses on society’s dominant messages. In her work, artist Mireia C. Saladrigues is concerned with the purpose of the art museum in today’s society, the role it plays with respect to today’s audiences and its room for various maneuverings. Other artists also engrossed by these social tensions between art, politics, and society include Enric Maurí, Jordi Trullàs, Martí Sales, Domènec, Rafael G. Bianchi, and the veteran Francesc Torres who, at the last edition of the Venice Biennial, presented a work in the Catalan pavilion in which he reflected on the country’s stark unemployment rates.
The Catalan art scene is paradoxically active, as the scarcity of institutional resources is being challenged by a group of artists—those we have mentioned and many others, young and not so young—exploring new directions to offer audiences be they aesthetic, political, or purely existential.
Artistic thought acquires great importance in this exploration. The history of art criticism in Catalonia is filled with illustrious names such as Alexandre Cirici, who was appointed president of AICA Catalonia in 1978, following the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Now that periodical publications and the specialized press offer increasingly fewer means of expression, art critics are seeking new channels of communication. The Internet as a medium for publishing and reading, and the concept of curatorship, understood as the construction of discourses, open up new paths for art criticism.
Young art critics are well aware that nowadays their work cannot be based simply on opinions and impressions; that in order to transcend their convictions and be able to generate debate between artwork and its audience, critics must work side by side with artists and create networks of thought on art and society. The long-standing A*desk website recently published an interesting dossier entitled “How to Explain Catalonia to a Dead Hare,” presenting different versions of the response of the art world to the intense political campaign for sovereignty that Catalonia is currently undergoing. In another direction, the blog Art Coming is actively collaborating with artists in order to help spread the works they have expressly created and which go hand in hand with theoretical reflections.
MACBA has recently begun to give voice to Catalan critics such as Montse Badia, Frederic Montornés, and Valentín Roma, who have curated exhibitions in which Catalan artists engage in dialogue with works of international art. Similarly, the Fabra i Coats Art Factory in Barcelona has initiated an exhibition series coordinated by the critics David Armengol and Martí Manen, and numerous other art centers are welcoming young independent curators to present programs in which emerging artists can display their work.
Along these lines, AICA Catalonia brings together over 200 professionals and has three guiding principles. In the first place, it holds a critical stance before those policies implemented by the public administration that do not promote contemporary culture. Secondly, it organizes courses and symposia on the world of contemporary art and current aesthetic thought, as illustrated by the publication of Global Circuits, a compilation of some of the lectures delivered at the first few editions of the Symposium on Art Criticism in a Global World. Thirdly, for the last 30 years the association has been awarding prizes to the best exhibitions, publications, and activities produced in the Catalan art world.
ContributorJoan M. Minguet
Joan M. Minguet Batllori is Professor in Contemporary Art History and History of Cinema at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He has published more than 25 books in these fields. He has also been the curator or he has collaborated on various exhibitions about Joan Miró (Tate Gallery), Salvador Dalí (Centre Pompidou), Catalan Avant Garde, Georges Méliès, and the circus. He has published research articles in several magazines. Now he is the president of the Catalan Association of Art Critics (AICA-Catalonia).