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Back to Reviews 96






















Guggenheim-Bilbao
Project
Architect:
Frank Gehry








































Miguel Angel Cortes
Popular Party's
culture minister
"candidate-to-be"













































































































































































Zaj
"Levantar los brazos"
(raising the arms)
by Walter Marchetti







Zaj
"Música para
piano no. 2"
(Music for Piano,
no.2)
by Walter Marchetti




 

Zaj
"Variations IV"
by John Cage





 

Museu d'Art 
Contemporani
de Barcelona
(MACBA)





























































































































































 

Guggenheim-
Bilbao project
Architect:
Frank Gehry


 

Guggenheim-
Bilbao project
Architect:
Frank Gehry


 

Guggenheim-
Bilbao project
Architect:
Frank Gehry




 

Christian Boltanski
"Advento, 1996"


 

Christian Boltanski
"Advento," 1996


 

Christian Boltanski
"Advento," 1996




letter from spain


by Kim Bradley




SOCIALIST OUSTER PROMISES NEW CULTURAL POLICY The future of Spain's heavily-subsidized art world remains uncertain following the poll-defying Mar. 3 national election. Pre-election sentiment seemed to signal a decisive right-wing victory, which would put an end to the Socialist's 13-year reign, and along with it the government's generous arts support. However, the right- wing Popular Party (PP) candidate, Jose Maria Aznar, barely squeaked into first place. In order to be formally granted the presidency, Aznar is now forced to wrangle support from antagonistic opposition leaders who are unlikely to easily forgive and forget earlier, virulent attacks. Even the most optimistic observers anticipate several months of political dickering before Aznar takes the helm. In the meantime, the state's cultural institutions chug along at half steam. Numerous culture ministry officials and museum directors have no other option than to wait to be replaced by the eventual victors. The PP's cultural platform, which has been largely concocted by 37-year-old Miguel Angel Cortes, its culture-minister "candidate-in-waiting," rests on two main pillars: educational support and fiscal incentives. Plans call for the merger of the culture and education ministries, purportedly to provide Spaniards with the well-rounded upbringing they need to "appreciate the art on view at the Prado, the Reina Sofia and other Spanish museums." Under the Socialists, "culture was treated as a leisure-time activity," complains Cortes. In terms of its fiscal measures, there are widespread fears that the PP will attempt a Thatcheresque privatization of the arts, although it couldn't hurt to rewrite Spain's tepid gift tax law, as the PP vows to do. The new government intends to boost private patronage in three main areas: foundations, restoration of historic patrimony, and the donation of artworks (deductions as high as 35% would be permitted in some cases). In addition, artists would be allowed to amortize their income taxes over several years' time. According to Cortes, "contemporary art enthusiasts have good reason to be happy about about our plans." As one of the PP's few moderates, Cortes is an anomaly within his own party. Articulate and energetic, during the past seven years he kept the Socialist culture ministers on their toes by bombarding them with counterproposals in his role as PP's congressional spokesman for culture. A key member of Aznar's select five-member think- tank, he is largely credited with persuading Aznar of the strategic (e.g. political) importance of Spanish arts and humanities. (At one point during the election campaign, Aznar swore that cultural programs were second only to unemployment on his list of priorities.) However, the Spanish contemporary art community remains fiercely skeptical. The cultural policies of other PP leaders, such as those of Madrid's mayor Jose Maria Alvarez del Manzano, have proved disastrous. Alvarez's harebrained schemes (such as to acquire 15 Botero outdoor sculptures) frequently provoke angry protests by Spanish intellectuals and top gallery dealers (including Soledad Lorenzo and Juana de Aizpuru). THRILLS AND SPILLS AT ARCO
Despite pre-election jitters, 160,000 visitors thronged to ARCO, Spain's contemporary art fair, held in Madrid Feb. 8-14. The record-breaking attendance represents a 14 percent increase over last year. Overall, the quality of the work on view was higher than in recent years. However, there were few thrills, except for ARCO's "cutting edge" section, which included dealers Christopher Grimes (Santa Monica), Ze Dos Bois (Lisbon), Uncomfortable Spaces (Chicago), and Carmago Vilana (Sao Paulo), among others. The fair's spirited mood masked serious, behind-the-scenes conflicts which seem endemic to ARCO. Dealers David Juda and Hans Mayer resigned from the organizing committee in disgust, claiming that ARCO's administrators do nothing to encourage a market for foreign art in Spain. Portikus Director Kaspar Konig, co-curator of this year's "Germany in ARCO," quit a few days before the fair opened, reportedly due to ARCO's final-hour refusal to fund a major component of his carefully-prepared program. Although the crowds annoyed some ARCO dealers, who called for a "more serious" fair, one had to admit that Madrid's thirst for art was impressive. Long lines wound around the Prado to see Velazquez's scary painting of Pope Innocent X (loaned by the Doria Pamphili family; now on exhibition at London's National Gallery through May 19), and the Reina Sofia's galleries buzzed with activity. In addition to a huge Balthus exhibition (through Apr. 1), on view at the Reina Sofia was the first retrospective of Zaj (through Mar. 21), a little-known Fluxus-like conceptual music group that braved Franco's censors. The show traces Zaj's entire history, with special emphasis on its heyday from 1964 to 1973. On display is an extensive array of photographic documentation and (the few remaining) videos of performances, selected recordings of concerts and sound poetry, and a wide assortment of Zaj's mail art and publications. Recent artworks by each of the three key Zaj members, Juan Hidalgo (Hildalgo's homoerotic photos merit special attention), Esther Ferrer, and Walter Marchetti have also been included in the exhibition. Zaj was deeply indebted to John Cage, who performed with them and helped arrange their only tour of the U.S. and Canada (1973). Their relationship with Fluxus was touchy, according to curator Jose Antonio Sarmiento. However, both groups relied heavily on Buddhist Zen thought, and shared the same influences: Cage, Duchamp, Satie, Durruti, and Marinetti. As Zaj member Juan Hidalgo says, the difference between Zaj and Fluxus is "the difference between the Marx brothers and Buster Keaton." What makes Zaj remarkable is its very existence under Franco; each activity required official approval. A 240-page Spanish- edition-only catalogue offers the first definitive study of Zaj to date. BARCELONA CONTEMPORARY
The inauguration of Barcelona's long- awaited contemporary art museum (MACBA), designed by U.S. architect Richard Meier, was a major disappointment. The first sampling of MACBA's collection (on view through June 6), comprised of 60-odd paintings and sculptures, is an assortment of minor works arranged without any apparent rhyme or reason, and badly lit. Just to lend an idea: jumbled together in one segment were works by Anselm Kiefer, Miguel Angel Campano, Gunter Forg, Jose Manuel Broto, Gerhard Richter and James Brown. Even works by talented younger Spanish artists such as Victoria Civera and Txomin Badiola, which could have brightened up the presentation, barely hold their own. To be fair, it's true that Meier has come up with a cruelly impractical interior; there is virtually no classically proportioned, unobstructed square or rectangular gallery space in the museum. But MACBA's most serious problem is a lack of curatorial imagination. For example, "Parallel Creations: Metaphors of the Real," ostensively presented as a major opening show, was another dreary hodgepodge. It featured maquettes and drawings by six artists whose only link was that of having produced a public artwork in Barcelona (Claes Oldenburg, Mario Merz, Jannis Kounellis, Juan Munoz, Jaume Plensa, and Miquel Navarro). Fortunately, Barcelona is fairly bursting with activity. MACBA, rather than setting the pace, will need to carve a niche for itself if it doesn't want to be left out. Aside from the Tapies Foundation's consistently high-quality programming, MACBA is also put to shame by the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB), a two-year-old multidisciplinary venue that has steadily improved its offerings. Currently on view are "Scenes de la view future. L'architecture europeen et la temptation de l'Amerique, 1893-1960" (through May 14, organized by Montreal's Center Canadien d'Architecture), which examines the scope of American architecture's influence on Europe, and "Art and Power" (through May 5, organized by London's Hayward Gallery and Berlin's Deutsche Historisches Museum), which presents fascist art and architecture from Spain, Germany, Italy and Russia. CCCB is playing a vital role in encouraging local production of experimental music, film, and video by hosting international festivals, which are drawing huge crowds. A slate of new galleries and alternative spaces feature emerging art, and a curious resurgence of performance art seems to be taking hold. Although so far new local work is largely derivative, it appears that (unlike Madrid) Barcelona is on the verge of consolidating a cultural infrastructure that could sustain a healthy art scene. MUNTADAS' NEW INSTALLATION
Among Barcelona's government-run exhibition halls dedicated to contemporary art, the one with the best track record so far is the Centre Santa Monica, which despite its nebulous identity and second-rate catalogues has come up with some real jewels in the last few years, including a survey of neo-conceptual art in Spain, new work from China, and little-known sculptures by Chris Burden. Currently on view at there is "Des/aparicions" [dis/appearances] (through Apr. 15), a large-scale installation by Antonio Muntadas that addresses the unusual history of the Centre's 17th-century building. Before becoming an exhibition hall, it served as (in the following order) a convent, a residence for impoverished artists, home to the Barcelona circus, a military office-cum-arsenal, a Red Cross headquarters, a tax collection center and a journalism school. As Eleanor Heartney has pointed out, much of Muntadas's work involves an attempt to reveal the invisible structure of institutional power. Muntadas has converted the center's main, good-sized space into a darkened, makeshift theater equipped with a movie screen and seating. Images (some stable, other intermittent) are projected throughout the space. The gesticulating hands of local politicians hover near the ceiling, while old images of the building fade in and out on the theatre's walls and floor. In addition, two videos are shown on the screen. "S.M.E.P." intersperses segments of an 1956 propagandistic film about the journalism school with recent interviews of its former students conducted by the artist. "TVE, Primer Intento" is a chronological compilation of Spanish national television's official sign-off. The subtle changes which take place in these announcements (which depict Spain's royal family) speak to Spain's democratic transition. Muntadas has also given new meaning to the center's lecture hall by piping in "Hymn of Hymns," a mixture of national anthems. "The File Room," his interactive archive of cultural censorship, is also on view. For more information: http://www.wsite.es/des-aparicions. A PLETHORA OF PUBLIC PROJECTS IN NORTHERN SPAIN
Arts activity is also picking up in other parts of Spain, thanks in part to new contemporary art museums.In Bilbao (in Spain's Basque region, near France), the new Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank O. Gehry, is under construction. It looks beautiful--but when will it open? Some time in 1997, hopefully. Meanwhile, the project has drawn the attention of curators and artists to the city's gritty industrial landscape. Last summer, independent curator Corinne Diserens initiated "Puente de pasaje" [Bridge of Passage], an ongoing series of temporary public art projects. So far, Dennis Adams, Willie Doherty, Marcelo Exposito and others have been invited to create works that respond to an unusual turn-of-the-century hanging bridge (sort of like a suspended ferry) and/or the surrounding working-class neighborhood. Currently scheduled for May is an installation by Suzanne Lefont involving large photographic images to be hung in Bilbao's metropolitan train stations (the images are designed to be seen by passengers while the trains are in motion). In Santiago de Compostela (also in northern Spain, but on the Atlantic coast side, above Portugal), the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea (CGAC) has put together an ambitious program directed toward the city's primarily university audience. International artists are asked to produce new work which is backed-up with a mini- retrospective, such as in the case of "Advento," a stunning exhibition of work by Christian Boltanski. Many well-known pieces, such as Les Suisses morts, Monuments: Les enfants de Dijon, and L'ange de l'alliance, which seem to have lost their impact (at least for this viewer) in traditional museum galleries, are empowered by the special setting employed: the dark, dank 14th-century Church of San Domingos de Bonaval (directly adjacent to CGAC). On the floor of the church, Boltanski has arranged used coats in a cruciform which echoes the transept; this a magical piece, impossible to imagine anywhere else. KIM BRADLEY is an American art critic living in Barcelona.
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