Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain with Combined Contemporary Art Exhibition

Natalie Maria Roncone
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The Inverted Mirror: Art from “La Caixa and MACBA Collection, opened at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao thanks to a collaboration agreement between the ”la Caixa” MACBA Foundations, later extended to include MACBA Consortium, for the purpose of combining their respective contemporary art collections. There is a total of 5,500 works in this common fund and it is one of the most important collections in Spain and Southern Europe from the period spanning the second half of the 20th century until the present day.

Left: Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Guáimaro, Cuba, 1957– Miami, Florida, 1996), Untitled (Last Night ), 1993, 24 10W/120V satin-white light bulbs, electric wire, transformer. MACBA Collection. Fundació Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Long term loan of Colección Alfonso Pons Soler. artes fine arts magazine

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Guggenhein Bilbao, Spain. A Frank Gehry design

The Guggenheim, Bilbao has organized the exhibition by way of six themes, some chronological and others conceptually or formally constructed. Each theme is intended to be a“probe”, examining a specific area of both collections. The show derives its title from Michelangelo Pistoletto’s, Archittetura dello Specchio, a work included in the exhibition, and, to quote the exhibition’s curator Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, a piece that “summarizes the potentiality of collection, whilst the idea of the mirror is a metaphor for the accumulation, transfer and interference that are fundamental to the birth and development of the act of collecting and the merging of two independently-formed collections.”

Yet presenting two collections as a collaborative venture poses a number of compelling questions about the parameters and processes of such projects. The fact that this is not the product of a singular vision becomes an inextricable component of evaluating and understanding the work. Furthermore, deliberating upon artistic alliances, inevitably begs the question: what, in point of fact, constitutes collaboration? How do we differentiate collaboration between institutions versus collaboration by the artists represented? It seems relevant to seek answers when the artists in this exhibition are largely contemporary, and Contemporary Art practice continues to place enormous value on the artist as an individual.

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Antonio Saura, Large Nude (Grand nu), 1960–61. See End Note #1.

This certainly appears to be a concept that the curators have grappled with, in a show that seeks to document both the rise of significant trends, and simultaneously, reveals meeting points and divergences between the two collections. The exhibition also attempts a dialogue between certain international developments and Spanish art, in, at times, a rather fragile and, it must be said, somewhat superficial guise. The works of fifty-two artists offer a survey of art from the late 1940s to the present to include painting, sculpture, photography, and video.

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Antoni Tàpies,Two Black Crosses (Dues creus negres ), 1973. See End Note #2.

Gallery 304 concentrates on two movements that sought to renew the language of art in Spain after the Civil War: Dau al Set and El Paso. Dau al Set (1948-1954) emerged in Barcelona around the magazine of the same name and originally consisted of a set of Catalan artists and writers: Joan Brossa, Modest Cuixart, Joan Ponç, Antoni Tàpies and Joan-Josep Tharrats. Subsequently, a number of artists and art critics, among them, Antonio Saura and Juan Eduardo Cirlot, collaborated with the movement, in effect, advancing the development of contemporary art in Catalonia. For its part, El Paso was founded in Madrid in 1957 with the adoption of a manifesto advocating, among other things, the freedom of art and the artist. This movement, which dissolved in 1960, had as its principal members, prominent figures on the international art scene including Antonio Saura, Manuel Millares, Martín Chirino, Manuel Rivera and Rafael Canogar. Several fine examples of their work are display here, chief among them Antonio Saura’s Grand Nu (1960-1961) and Canogar’s Joyo (1959), both from the La Caixa Collection, and a 1959 Tàpies, Dues Creus Negres, which is showcased in the adjacent gallery alongside La Taula Blanca (1989), by Miquel Barceló.

The idea of gravity and levity is clearly the common denominator of the works grouped in Gallery 302: A series of sculptures and installations by Ernesto Neto, Gego, Tony Cragg, Damián Ortega and a painting by Ettore Spalletti. Reticulárea Square (1971), and a major sculpture by Venezuelan artist, Gego, use vectors, meshes and mathematical planes in three dimensions, contrasting the organic nature and novelty of Ernesto Neto’s installation, Globulocell (2001) composed of Lycra tulle. Besides the importance of the formal aspects of these creations, this section includes political, social and economic comment in Damian Ortega’s Movimiento en Falso (1999-2003); the artist´s reflection on the oil economy of our era. These, in turn, are complemented by the architectural modalism of Spaletti’s painting, Stanza, Rosso, Porpora (1992); a remarkable feat in its intelligent and innovate use of architectural form (image below, in End Notes, see #5). The swelling, curvature of the painting´s middle section creates a play on perception and relates structurally to the curving walls of the Guggenheim´s design.

Above left: Ernesto Neto, Globulocell (2001), see End Note #3; above right: Damian Ortega, Movimiento en Falso (1999-2003), see End Note #4.

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Left: Julian Schnabel, Against God (Contro Dio)… (1989); right: Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mirror Architecture (1990). See End Notes # 6-7.

The architectural theme extends into Gallery 303 where The Architecture of the Mirror (1990), by Michelangelo Pistoletto, dominates a set of works of monumental proportions, executed between 1988 and 1990. These pieces have a commonality in experimentation through materials, both pictorial and non-pictorial, cinematic scale and the evocation of religious/altar-pieces in their design-structure of triptychs, and polyptychs. In the case of Gehry’s building, the architecture and the design of the gallery work in favor of this type of art—with the architecture assuming an active role in our perception of the work.

Sigmar Polke, Triptych (1989). See End Note #8.

In the triptych Gums I, III, II (1987), Enzo Cucchi investigates the appropriation of new materials like latex and metal, incorporating these into pictorial language problems previously confined to the medium of sculpture. Similarly, Julian Schnabel employs military fabrics from bedding to create four monumental works, Contro Mio, Contro Dio, Everyday is the Beast with Iron Teeth and Ten Horns and 70th Week (1989). Each of Schnabel´s paintings is titled with words and phrases taken from the Old Testament. Finally, in Triptych (1989), the artist Sigmar Polke, uses a lacquer-based paint on transparent fabric to inject an updated regeneration into the large color-field paintings of Abstract Expressionism from the late 1950s.

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Andreas Gursky, Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (1994). See End Note #9.

Photography is the main exponent of Galleries 305 and 306, which constitute the ‘classical’ spaces of the Museum, where the walls maintain a regularity of design and are flat, rather than curving. This type of space adjusts well to smaller formats and allows for a different type of interaction, which is more subtle; based on visual memory rather than impact. In the first gallery, the genre of landscape is explored by the Vancouver School, German Objective Photography and others, working out with the movements, but adopting similar philosophies: Manolo Laguillo, Jean-Marc Bustamante and Xavier Ribas. The German contingent, Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, developed the style of documentary photographic techniques which dealt primarily with the treatment of human groups and their relationship to architecture or desolate urban landscapes. Access to new technologies in photo printing allowed the use of large formats and Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (1994) by Gursky is an outstanding example of the conglomeration between corporate architecture and urban landscapes.

The moving focus of Photography is extended into Gallery 306 with a perspective that shifts from landscape and architecture to an introspective series of self-portraits exploring identity, race and gender. Spanning from the 20th Century to the present, Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, Geneviève Cadieux, Craigie Horsfield and Vanessa Beecroft are some of the artists to explore the genre from varying points of view.

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Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). See End Note # 10.

The final exhibition space addresses a wide range of contemporary art media from the late 1960s and 1970s: photography, film, video, installation and performance art, with occasional props to document a medium that has several conceptual branches. These include Body Art, feminism in art, and the relationship between action and nature. Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) by Martha Rosler , Vito Acconci´s Three Adaptation Studies (1970) and Joan Jonas´s Wind (1968), video imagery broadcast loop from black and white television sets, are the most successful pieces in this group. This is primarily due to the incorporation of the television tube, which, when confined to black and white, can project a remarkably vivid illusion of three-dimensional relief suggesting tactility or the type of space in which tactile experience is possible. This, in point-of-fact, should be the main constituent of any successful Performative experience. In any case, Performative ‘abstract’ art has come out more successfully so far, in moving pictures than in still printed matter. As a consequence, works such as Angels Ribé´s Six Possibilities of Occupying a Given Space ,1973 (right- See End Note #11) which constitutes six Gelatin prints of a ‘hand in movement,’ only serve to emphasize the point.

“In a culture now so largely dominated by ideologies of race, class, and gender, where the doctrines of multiculturalism and political correctness have consigned the concept of quality in art to the netherworld of invidious discrimination, and all criticism tends to be judged according to its conformity to current political orthodoxies, even to suggest that aesthetic considerations be given priority in the evaluation of an exhibition dedicated primarily to that of Contemporary Art, is to invite the most categorical disapprobation.” (Hilton Kramer, The Triumph of Modernism (2006), p. 103-4. Yet the success of this exhibition ultimately rests on the curator´s ability to do just that. By laying emphases on aesthetic worth, the Guggenheim Museum has successfully deflected the obvious disparities between the two collections, allowing them to present two eclectic ‘International Collections’ simultaneously, without diminishing the integrity of the artist’s critical voice.

By Natalie Maria Roncone, Ph.D., Contributing Writer

Dr. Roncone completed her Ph.D. in Art History at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, focusing on the work of Jackson Pollock. She is primarily interested in the relationship between Old Master Art and that of the Abstract Expressionists. Her doctoral thesis explored Pollock’s dependence on an infrastructure in the post1940 works built around the architectonics of paintings by Tintoretto and El Greco.

The Exhibition: The Inverted Mirror: Art from “La Caixa and MACBA Collection, will run from January 30 – September 2, 2012 at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain.

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End Notes:

Opening Image: Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Guáimaro, Cuba, 1957– Miami, Florida, 1996), Untitled (Last Night ), 1993, 24 10W/120V satin-white light bulbs, electric wire, transformer. MACBA Collection. Fundació Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Long term loan of Colección Alfonso Pons Soler.

1. Antonio Saura (Huesca, Spain, 1930–Cuenca, Spain, 1998), Large Nude (Grand nu), 1960–61, Oil on canvas, 195 x 237 cm. Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation.

2. Antoni Tàpies (Barcelona, Spain, 1923) Two Black Crosses (Dues creus negres ), 1973, Mixed media on canvas, 235 x 150 cm. Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation.

3. Ernesto Neto (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1964), Globulocell, 2001, Lycra tulle, polystyrene spheres, and sand, 490 x 420 x 230 cm. Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation.

4. Damián Ortega (Mexico City, 1967), False Movement (Stability and Economic Growth ) [Movimientoen falso (estabilidad y crecimiento económico)], 1999–2003, 3 oil barrels, rotary base with engine, and wooden platform, Diameter: 340 x 300 cm; 300 kg. Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation.

5. Left: Ettore Spaletti, Stanza, Rosso, Porpora, 1992, 200 x 570 cm. Collection of the La Caixa Contemporary Art Foundation.

6-7. Julian Schnabel (New York, 1951), Contro Mio, Contro Dio, Everyday is the Beast with Iron Teeth and Ten Horns, 70th Week, 1989, Oil and plaster on cloth, 335 x 295 cm. Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation; Michelangelo Pistoletto (Biella, Italy, 1933), Mirror Architecture (Architettura dello Specchio), 1990 Mirror and golden frame, 360 x 800 cm; 2 mirror: 325 x 184 cm; 2 mirrors: 325 x 200 cm; 2 frames: 360 x 201.5 x 10.5 cm. MACBA Collection. Government of Catalonia Art Fund.

8. Sigmar Polke (Oels, Silesia, Germany [now, Olesnica, Poland], 1941–Colonia, Germany, 2010) Triptych, 1989, Paint and lacquer on canvas, 300.5 x 675 cm. Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation.

9. Andreas Gursky (Leipzig, Germany, 1955), Hong Kong Shanghai Bank , 1994, Chromogenic print, cibachrome, 225.5 x 175 cm (framed). Contemporary Art Collection ”la Caixa” Foundation.

10. Martha Rosler (Brooklyn, New York, 1943), Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975, Single-channel video, black-and-white, with sound, 6 min 9 sec. MACBA Collection. Fundació Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Gift of Rumeu Family.

11. Àngels Ribé (Barcelona, 1943), Six possibilities of Occupying a Given Space (detail), 1973, Gelatin silver print, 2 prints, 43.2 x 60.8 cm each. MACBA Collection. Fundació Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Gift of Dinath de Grandi de Grijalbo.

2 Comments

  1. Andrew March 12, 2018 2:29 pm

    The first sentence in your last paragraph appears to have been lifted nearly verbatim from pp. 103-104 of Hilton Kramer’s 2006 book “The Triumph of Modernism.” You should probably put it in quotes and add a citation there. Here’s the sentence I mean:

    “In a culture now so largely dominated by ideologies of race, class, and gender, where the doctrines of multiculturalism and political correctness have consigned the concept of quality in art to the netherworld of invidious discrimination, and all criticism tends to be judged according to its conformity to current political orthodoxies, even to suggest that aesthetic considerations be given priority in the evaluation of an exhibition dedicated primarily to that of Contemporary Art, is to invite the most categorical disapprobation.”

    And here is Kramer’s version:

    “In a culture now so largely dominated by ideologies of race, class, and gender, where the doctrines of multiculturalism and political correctness have consigned the concept of quality in art to the netherworld of invidious discrimination and all criticism tends to be judged according to its conformity to current political orthodoxies, even to suggest—as Mr. Greenberg’s writings invariably do—that aesthetic considerations be given priority in the evaluation of art is to invite the most categorical disapprobation.”

    All you did was delete the parenthetical reference to Greenberg, expand “art” to “an exhibition dedicated primarily to that of Contemporary Art,” and add two rather inadvisable commas. You should give Kramer credit for the thought and the phrasing.

  2. Richard Friswell April 19, 2018 9:07 am

    Thank you for that observation. Change noted. -Editor

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