When giving a presentation or tour of an exhibition or project we have worked on, we are often asked how the project emerged – if there was a particular trigger or point of origin. In the case of José Antonio Hernández-Díez’s exhibition currently on view at MACBA (until June 26, 2016), our approach was a familiar one to us – we started by both delving in-depth in researching the artists previous works while at the same time looking into the history of the venue where the exhibition was going to take place.
We are very fond of a book that has been in our library for many years – 'Histories and legends of Barcelona' by Joan Amades (Edicions 62). This two-volume tome gathers some of the myths behind Barcelona place names and includes the tales behind both familiar and obscure buildings, streets and monuments in the city. The story that most captivated us concerned the chapel of the Convent dels Àngels, and it is recounted in the essay we wrote to accompany the exhibition (published as the Quaderns Portàtils #32 – pdfs available in Spanish and English and epub in Spanish only). It goes as follows:
(...) "Outside the doorway of the deconsecrated sixteenth-century church that formed part of Barcelona’s Convent dels Àngels there once stood the stone figure of a dog, standing upright on its hind legs. Two separate legends account for its existence, as recorded by ethnologist and folklorist Joan Amades in the 1950s. A boorish man would routinely interrupt the services and torment the church congregation, it is said. He was punished by being turned into a dog. The other version states that the canine figure commemorates the thwarting of a robbery. The church once displayed an image of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, accompanied by a hound. It is said that the prospective thieves were frightened away as the image miraculously began to bark. (The supernatural mythology of the chapel does not cease there – in 1627 an image of Christ began to sweat blood profusely.)
(...) "that José Antonio Hernández-Díez (Caracas, Venezuela, 1964) had already been dealing with Catholic belief and superstition in his art – and moreover, specifically addressing canine veneration – is much more than an uncanny coincidence for his exhibition at MACBA’s Convent dels Àngels in 2016."
The legend behind Saint Guinefort is one of the more obscure intersections of Catholic history and folk tradition:
Coinciding with our research period, in August 2014 we happened to be travelling near Lyon, France, and took the opportunity to visit to the Bois de Saint Guinefort in the Dombes region, where the story of Saint Guinefort emerged (and where the dog-saint may still be venerated every 22nd August, despite the regional tourism office assuring us the festival day was no longer celebrated).
Somewhere on the road between Villars-les-Dombes and Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne one can, with the help of a tagged flickr photo and GPS, find a sign, as seen below, which briefly narrates these peculiar events from the 13th Century.
- Video of the artist talking about 'San Guinefort' (1991)
- José Antonio Hernández-Díez, 'I will fear no evil’, Convent dels Àngels, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona, 18 March–26 June 2016.
- Photodocumentation of the exhibition.
- Exhibition essay on José Antonio Hernández-Díez, Quaderns Portàtils #32, free-to-read pdf (Spanish & English) and epub (Spanish).
- Storify archive of tweets, instagram posts, reviews.
- Exhibition of Hernández-Díez at the New Museum, New York in 2003.
- Pdf of the 1991 exhibition catalogue of Hernández-Díez's show at the Sala RG, Caracas.
- Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
- Works of Hernández-Díez at MACBA's collection.