Longitudes

Süddeutsche Zeitung reports the "malaise" of Spanish contemporary art

Last weekend an article on the Spanish art landscape appeared in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (pdf 248KB), which was later reported and summarised in English by Jennifer Allen in Artforum.com's International News Digest (week 12 January 2008).

According to the writer, Merten Worthmann, the Spanish art scene lacks experimentation and this is effecting Spanish galleries as well as ARCO, the country's main art fair. The whole discussion as to why Spanish contemporary art is not where it should be on the international map is not an easy one to tackle. The truth is, there is not one reason – there are as many as there are challenges. Although a lot has been achieved in the last 30 years of democracy and today we have many museums and art centres, the question is now not just about more, but about improving and investing in the existing quality.

Here is a 'shopping list' for starters: renewed focus on debate and theory with productive confrontations; targeted resources for medium-scale institutions; engaged art magazines and cultural supplements with less 'press release-y' or purely descriptive writing; simplification and modernisation of the 'cultural-export' model of funding and bureaucracy to reflect contemporary practice; wider transparency in selection processes for key curatorial positions; pragmatic vocational teaching at graduate level (and a life for post-Picasso art history); a competitive postgraduate art practice programme that meets the international standards of Amsterdam's Rijksakademie or Frankfurt's Städelschule; improved teaching of foreign languages; fiscal benefits to autónomos (self-employed) on a par with other EU countries...

The list continues. Without trying to sound profound or political, changes have to be made from within through sheer initiative, and that, alongside rabid generosity, is surely the way forward. It is certainly not all doom and gloom (we would not be here otherwise!), but the current economic climate will certainly focus the minds as well on the 'values that we value'. Onwards 2009!
Here is Artforum's summary...

REPORT FROM SPAIN (Artforum.com, International News Digest)
 
In anticipation of ARCO, the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Merten Worthmann delivers a mixed report from Spain. According to Worthmann, the young Spanish arts scene is missing some experimentation—a deficiency that has had a negative impact on both galleries and the Madrid-based fair. Moreover, the Centre d’Art Santa Mónica—which has featured exhibitions by younger artists—will be closing at the end of January, according to a directive from the Catalan minister of culture. “Barcelona is a kind of anti-Berlin,” says Bartomeu Marí, head of Barcelona’s MACBA. “A city that doesn’t know how to attract any artists.” For Worthmann, the closure of Santa Mónica is a sign of a larger malaise. “The Spanish arts scene suffers from its weak connection to central Europe, the center of the market, and of discourses,” writes Worthmann, who cites the lack of both an international public and a national network. “To be an artist in Spain is a handicap, both inside and outside the country,” artist Jorge Galindo told the newspaper.

Ferran Barenblit, who was until recently the director of Santa Mónica, and who now heads the art center Dos de Mayo outside Madrid, believes that Spain doesn’t have enough international pull and has lost its “exotic” status in the ever-expanding European community. “Barenblit can be very critical with respect to the homegrown arts scene,” writes Worthmann. “But he holds the unclear reception from outside the country responsible for the lack of resonance.” Chus Martínez, who headed the Frankfurt Kunstverein before recently heading to Barcelona to direct the MACBA collection, adds some “geopolitical” arguments. “Germans, for example, orient themselves above all toward the United States and, since reunification, strongly toward the east,” Martínez told the newspaper. “Spain long existed on the outside. We were never a stop on the Grand Tour, nor could we profit later from the Marshall Plan.” The Franco dictatorship, which ended just over thirty years ago, also played a major role in the isolation of the country’s artists. Despite the end of the dictatorship, many artists still leave the country. And despite the rise of several spectacular exhibition sites—MUSAC in León, MACBA in Barcelona, Herzog and de Meuron’s Caixaforum in Madrid, Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, and Madrid’s Matadero, a multidisciplinary center that will be fully complete in 2011—few institutions have managed to create a “solid profile.” “For regional politicians, often the architectural gesture was more important than the ongoing maintenance of an ambitious program,” writes Worthmann, who adds that museum directors are often at the mercy of changing ruling parties of the government. Despite new directives for running museums from the minister of culture, the sudden closure of Santa Mónica as an art center is a case in point.

As for ARCO, a public initiative dating from the 1980s, the new director Lourdes Fernández will be decreasing the number of Spanish galleries in order to increase international participation at the fair. Last year, the fair dedicated more space to curatorial projects featuring artworks with an experimental edge. “And the display window has long functioned in both directions,” writes Worthmann. International collectors acquire Spanish art while Spanish collectors are increasingly acquiring works by international artists. In 2009, all purchases may well be welcome, whatever the artist’s origin.

On another note, Matt Elmore from the The Art Newspaper has also written about the Barcelona art scene, though giving a much more simplistic and superficial account - including mistakes such as the "Santa Monica space as a visual arts centre devoted to Catalan artists...", when only one of the three exhibition spaces it had was penciled for Catalan or Spanish artists. See archive of previous shows to see exhibition history between 2003-9.

Founded in 2005 by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna, Latitudes is a curatorial office based in Barcelona, Spain, that works internationally across contemporary art practices.

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