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Back to Reviews 96

Esperanza Aguirre,
Spain's new Minister 
of Education and 

New Prado director,
Fernando Checa

Francesco Torres,
The Moon in a Basket
Photo courtesy IVAM

Craigie Horsfield,
Ciutat Bella from Via
Laietana, Barcelona, 
June 1995, 1996
Photo courtesy 
Fundació Antoni 

Craigie Horsfield,
Av. Puig de Jorba, 
Vallbona, Barcelona, 
December 1995, 1996
Photo courtesy 
Fundaciò Antoni 

Pere Noguera,
Scales, Skeleton, 1996
Photo Rosa Feliu.

Pere Noguera,
Stoney Grounds, 1996
Photo Rosa Feliu.

Pere Noguera,
Islands and the 
Lifeless, 1996.
Photo Rosa Feliu.

Tony Oursler,
Untitled, 1996.
Photo courtesy 
Galería Soledad 
Lorenzo and MACBA.

Joan Ponç,
Quimera, 1947. 
Oil on board.
MACBA Collection.

Pepe Espaliú,
Untitled, Mask Series, 
1989. Bronze.
MACBA Collection.

Carlos Pazos,
I Cried Again That 
Night with Bambi,
1982. Mixed media.
MACBA Collection.
letter from spain 

by Kim Bradley

Vague promises plus lots of hiring and firing have characterized the first seven weeks in office of Spain's conservative Popular Party (PP). Highlights include: - True to its campaign promises, the PP combined the education and culture ministries, ostensibly to bring an educational component to cultural activities and vice versa. But arts-in- education advocates were disappointed with President José Marìa Aznar's unexpected, final-hour selection of Esperanza Aguirre as the new education and culture minister. The 44-year-old countess has dabbled in cultural matters throughout her erratic, lackluster career in civil service and Madrilenian city politics. Most recently, she served as deputy mayor for José Marìa Alvarez del Manzano (as noted in our last Letter from Spain, Alvarez is disliked in Madrid's arts community, but it is unclear how much Aguirre "shares his values"). At any rate, she has already been forced to retract half-baked policy statements (about eliminating grants for film projects, and other sensitive issues). Aguirre proved disappointingly vague in her first congressional presentation on June 18 outlining the new ministry's priorities. - Former PP congressman and arts pundit Miguel Angel Cortès, originally slated for the top education-and-culture post, has assumed a custom-made post second only to Aguirre. As culture secretary, Cortés enjoys considerable liberties in shaping arts policies, but without the headaches of PP's highly controversial, staunchly conservative educational schemes (such as reintroducing the teachings of the Catholic church into the schools). He is considered the man behind-the-scenes responsible for the appointment of 44- year-old Fernando Checa--an award-winning scholar and curator of Renaissance and Baroque art--as the Prado's new director. - To stress its commitment to the Prado, PP politicians celebrated Checa's swearing-in ceremony on May 27 with unprecedented official fanfare. President Aznar attended the event (he was quoted in the Spanish newspapers as remarking, "I've already said enough merely by being present here today"), as well as the vice-president, members of both Senate and Congressional education and culture commissions, and other illustrious PP personages. Checa will, in effect, act as the Prado's artistic director, thanks to a new administrative setup. His curatorial staff will be beefed up, particularly in the area of Spanish painting. These long- overdue decisions come in the aftermath of a scandal involving prior Prado director Josè Marìa Luzón. Late last year, Luzón (an archeologist by training) was summoned to identify a painting which had been hidden away for nearly a century in an administrative building in Madrid. He attributed the work to Francisco de Goya, an assessment that was seconded by two other Prado curators. But when the discovery of the "Goya" was proudly proclaimed by both Luzón and local politician Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, other Prado curators, including former Prado director Alfonso Pèrez Sànchez, publicly demonstrated that the large-scale religious work in question was really by Mariano Salvador Maella. VIDEO IN VALENCIA
The exhibition this spring of work by Francesco Torres at the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM's Centre del Carme) was small but important, highlighting the 47-year-old artist's earliest conceptualist beginnings as well as his most recent concerns. "Uniformed [sic] Rain (or More Than Just a Drop of Water)", a previously unrealized video installation from 1969, depicts perfect "electronic rain." Each of the 50 small monitors placed on the floor (with the screens facing upward) registers a real- time recording of the same drop of water falling onto a liquid surface. The work recalls the poetic approach many early video artists used to explore the relationship of technology to nature. Another large-scale, multi-media installation created expressly for IVAM, The Moon in a Basket, speaks to the end of the utopian dream. The work's basic concept revolves around three popular expressions that allude to the desire for the unobtainable: wanting the moon in a basket (a local Catalan expression), howling at the moon, and looking for the chicken that laid the golden egg. One end of a darkly-lit gallery was filled up with an enormous moon, an amazing papier-machè structure that was created by a local artisan who makes giant figures for regional festivals. At the gallery's other end, the artist's version of Walter Benjamin's Angelus Novus--a life-size, realistic-looking bronze winged figure supposedly braying at the moon--croucheed over several golden eggs. Evenly arranged throughout the gallery were 52 wicker baskets, each containing a different utopian treatise (by Plato, Saint Augustine, Herbert Marcuse, Auguste Comte, Marx, Engels, etc.), and each resting on a small pile of shards, which represent (in the artist's words) "the ruins of 20th- century civilization." Beautifully crafted down to the last detail,The Moon in a Basket creates a memorable, melancholy image--spectacular, but simple, and most importantly, compelling rather than shrilly dogmatic. Torres seems to have achieved the right balance, by virtue of 20 years experience dealing with sociopolitical issues. HORSFIELD AND NOGUERA IN BARCELONA
In conjunction the International Union of Architects XIX Congress in Barcelona '96 (a.k.a. UIA Barcelona ë96), July 3-6, a dozen major architecture exhibitions have been mounted. As a counterpoint, the Tàpies Foundation is presenting "Craigie Horsfield: The City of the People" (through July 28), a selection of nearly 50 large-format black-and-white photographs of Barcelona made by the 47- year-old, London-based artist. The show offers a sharply different vision of the city than the sugar-coated "new Barcelona" trumpeted since the '92 Olympic Games, when the civic authorities seem to have discovered the virtues of promotional campaigns directed at local voters as well as potential tourists abroad. The exhibition's title, "The City of the People," purposely mimics the slogan of one such splashy pre-electoral exhibition held last year. Horsfield captures a side of Barcelona well-known to its inhabitants, but perhaps psychologically denied: the city's crumbling peripheral zones, sooty roof- tops sprouting television antennas helter- skelter, desolate industrial wastelands crisscrossed by power lines. There are also portraits of people: a stout Basque immigrant wearing a printed T-shirt from her homeland, a fish vender in her open stand, a large gypsy family, a worker whose face is lined by hard living. The huge photos, framed in black, feature damped down contrasts with a grainy quality that lends a cinematic effect. Horsfield, who put off exhibiting his work for ideological reasons until 1988, is known for his Socialist background and strong sense of social commitment. The Barcelona photos are the result of a two- year-long collaboration between the photographer, the show's two curators (Tàpies foundation's artistic director Manuel J. Borja-Villa and Jean-Francáois Chevrier, professor at the Ecole nationale supèrieur des Beaux-Arts, Paris) and various architects, economists, anthropologists, and neighborhood leaders. (Urban studies and some of the truly remarkable personal histories of different subjects will be published in the catalogue due out this fall). Although the photos purportedly offer a collective vision, rather than a personal one, these powerful, often beautiful images (especially the portraits), struggle to speak for themselves-- Horsfield's subjective gaze over- romanticizes at times. By the same token, they demonstrate a deep knowledge of the city that is very moving, particularly for those who live here. The project was intended to encourage local debate, and it has. "Pere Noguera: Lakes, Islands, Stoney Grounds, and the Lifeless," which recently closed at the Palau de la Virreina, featured newly commissioned work by this 55-year-old Catalan artist. Noguera's conceptually-based installations sometimes recall Robert Smithson, Tony Cragg and the early work of Claes Oldenburg. Some of Noguera's most interesting early installations consisted of entire rooms, the floor scattered with objects that are then covered with a thick layer of monotone-colored mud (from his native Bisball, an area prized for its ceramic ware). He has always utilized castaways, such as old toys, furniture, plastic bottles, tires, tools and machines, but his interest in consumer society's refuse seems more formal and poetic than any else. The most interesting--and cryptic-- installation on view,Islands and the Lifeless, consisted of a gallery closed off to the public, but viewed through a plate glass wall in the palace's interior courtyard. The gallery's floor was covered with mustard-colored clay pigment, on which several rows of machine parts were placed. This installation vaguely suggested mechanical insects on a desert trek; as the title indicates, they were once "living" and are now cut adrift, like islands. In front of the window, Noguera grouped rubber tires and differently colored plastic jugs (such as for cleaning products). Filled with concrete, with rusty loops inserted (in the top of each jug and in the center of each tire) as though they could be connected to something, the objects suggested an absurd, circular logic typical to Catalan contemporary sculpture: used objects are rendered useless, converted to dead weight-- rather than propose a new function, the hooks only serve to underscore their purposelessness. BARCELONA CONTEMPORARY
Barcelona's contemporary art museum (MACBA) has unveiled the second half (and more coherent section) of its collection in the exhibition "Fons per a una Collecció II" (their translation: Holdings for a Collection II), which is on view through Jan. 6, 1997. According to curators Antònia Mariá Perelló, Rosa Queralt and museum director Miquel Molins, the nearly 60 works on display trace Dadaist or Surrealist strains in local Catalan art, "as internationally contemplated." But providing an international context is risky business; to my contemplative eye, the jagged figures drawn by Mallorcan- based Ferrán García Sevilla simply don't hold up to Basquiat and A. R. Penck. Moreover, it's confusing to place early and recent work by 77-year-old neo-Dadaist poet and object maker Joan Brossa alongside neo-primitivists. Fortunately, there are some good works by artists little known outside of Spain, including Catalan artists Joan Rom and Ramón Guillen-Balmes (they craft similar hermetic objects, often erotically charged, of felt, raw canvas and wood), neo-conceptualist Federico Guzmán from Granada (he often creates participatory works, in this case a wall that doubles as a chalkboard), and Carlos Pazos, the king of Catalan kitsch with his I Cried Again that Night with Bambi, a raucous collage of various fake-fur rugs adorned with a neon deer head draped with pearls. Still, so far MACBA's has failed to provide viewers with even the sketchiest outline of what kind art was produced here in recent years. A modest suggestion: try a conventional arrangement of the collection, more-or-less chronological, more-or-less stylistically linked, at least for the time being. KIM BRADLEY is an American art critic living in Barcelona.