Bassat Collection. Contemporary Art of Catalonia 1980 – 1989 (II)


Before briefly mentioning the history of the artists that make up this second exhibition of works from the Bassat Eighties Collection, I’d like to recall certain events from the Catalan art world of that time and expand on others alluded to in the catalogue from the first exhibition.

In 1982 (not 1984) the Photographic Spring of Catalonia was initiated. It is an important date for Catalan and Spanish photography. In 1980 the Miró Foundation in Barcelona had organised the Catalan Days of Photography, which showed the frustration of the younger generation of Catalan photographers in being able to gain prominence and recognition in creative circles. For some, this was the first step towards the creation of the Photographic Spring event that was convened every two years until 2002. Over the years, numerous institutions and galleries in Catalonia were encouraged to join in and partner with the event, which finally meant that photography was given artistic recognition, and numerous career opportunities opened up for young photographers. If the large MOMA exhibition, The Family of Man, held in 1955, marked a worldwide turning point in considering photography as an artistic contribution with, as usual, the faithful sceptics who do not accept that either photography or design should be included in the field of aesthetics, in the same way, Photographic Spring represented the starting point for the popularisation of photography as artistic creation in Catalonia, and photographers felt they were regarded as artists and showed it by holding exhibitions in art galleries, aesthetic analyses of works, valuing and sale of photographs as works of art and so on.

Those were the years of the most open confrontation between Barcelona and Madrid, particularly in the cultural field. Enrique Tierno Galván, mayor of the Spanish capital, knew how to manage this conflict and turn it, in a positive way, towards Madrid. Thus, in 1998, PhotoEspaña was started, transferring the driving focus of our photography to the capital of the Spanish state.

At that time, a new geographic and cultural concept appeared: periphery. I don’t know exactly how it was created or who created it, but it was the result, just as the decentralisation of Photographic Spring was, of the decentralisation of Barcelona as a unique source of Catalan artistic creation. This led to the emergence of new artists in numerous towns in Catalonia and they were talked about. That meant that many of those young people joined together in groups to have encouragement nearby and form a collective presence; new critics appeared, especially those critics called tietes (aunts), who had the artists nearby, so they could give them advice and share a great deal with them; several new galleries appeared to exhibit these new potential future creators.

In Barcelona, a new area of galleries sprang up around the Born, wherever it appeared, they said, it was the future. Whoever didn’t connect with those young people, with those critics, with those galleries was considered retrograde. At that time, there was a polarisation of art and critics and artists who, in theory, represented progress, a new openness, change for art and towards critics and artists who remained wedded to the past. It was one of many struggles and controversies, not completely open to the general public, but very heated among experts. It’s true that there was a debate around certain routes of artistic expression, but the spotlight and discussion were heavily influenced by people of a certain generation.

The appearance of the group Trajecte in Terrassa in 1985 was quite significant in this peripheral movement; it was made up of two potters, a photographer, a sculptor and a dancer. They shared the same space in which each one had a studio; the common spaces were the exhibition hall, meeting room, library and archives... They promoted the exchange of exhibitions nationally and internationally, and published a well-produced magazine. The experience lasted four years. It was a short, but prolific time.

In addition, the Cultural Centre was inaugurated in Terrassa in 1980, which depended on the local bank, and which was formed in the most dynamic alternative centre in Catalonia outside Barcelona. Certain unique programmes of visual and performing arts were promoted in an excellent architectural space. The dance season was one of the most attractive in the Spanish state, perhaps the most important. In addition to exhibitions, concerts and plays, the centre also housed the local cultural institution or small-scale activities. It is a centre that organises the Ricard Camí Biennial, the most important contest that has been held in Catalonia of late. All these activities have made, to date, the Terrassa Cultural Centre an essential space for Catalan culture.

The eighties were the years when, in Catalonia, there were many exhibitions by the most significant artists of the international scene. In part, these exhibitions were possible because several institutions, such as ”la Caixa”, created major exhibition centres, thereby entering international exhibition circuits. And these private institutions managed to attract the public to take part in these exhibitions. Just to mention a few of the most outstanding exhibitions that took place over the course of the decade and some foreign artists: Robert Motherwell, Amedeo Modigliani, Richard Neutra, Cimabue's Crucifix, Roberto Matta, Painted in Mexico, Bonnard, William Morris, Leonardo, Giorgio Morandi, Anthony Caro, The Russian Vanguard, Francis Picabia, Edvard Munch, Aligi Sassu, Raoul Dufy, Philip Guston, from Revolution to Perestroika ... These shows had different approaches and importance and helped Catalonia reach a higher standard after years of cultural stagnation.

In January 1988, the enlargement of the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona was inaugurated. A heated controversy began as soon as the announcement of the possibility and intention of creating the foundation was made. The reason being that this building, the most emblematic work of the famous rationalist architect, Josep Lluís Sert, seemed untouchable for many. Among them, I myself expressed my opposition to the idea, because I believed that it was such a perfectly balanced piece that no changes to it could be acceptable. Jaume Freixa, with great thoroughness, showed that enlarging a building considered an organic whole was possible.

Between 1987 and 1989, Margit Rowell was the curator of the Joan Miró Foundation. Rowell brought a few major international exhibitions to the institution, she promoted some local figures, she helped to internationalise the future collection of the MACBA and brought an end to the Joan Miró International Drawing Prize of great prestige in the world of art around the world. For an American, an event that had been repeated annually since 1962 was already an outdated product. She wanted to replace it with a three-year drawing contest that had a great start, because it was carried out by the competent and sensitive critic, Rosa Queralt, but it didn’t continue. I, at that time, wrote a long article in La Vanguardia entitled, “Goodbye, Miró Prize”, which led to my definitive enmity with Rowell.

Around this time, in 1987, Josep Maria Subirachs placed the first work on the west facade of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, The Flagellation.

Francesc Miralles
Critic and art historian