Longitudes

1st Catalan Pavilion, Venice Biennial 2009: Institut Ramon Llull appoints Valentín Roma as curator



The Institut Ramon Llull (IRL), has announced today the appointment of Valentín Roma as the first curator of the Catalan Pavilion. The project will include works by 3 artists/groups: the 'Archive FX' by Pedro G. Romero; the 'Post-capital archive' by Technologies to the People (a multimedia project conceived by Daniel Garcia Andújar) and work by Sitesize, 'a platform of project founded by Elvira Pujol and Joan Vila-Puig that explores the territori of social analysis and creative processes'.

Curator Valentín Roma (Sabadell, 1970) currently teaches at various post-graduate art and design schools (Mecad, Eina, Elisava) and has a PhD in Aesthetics by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.
Amongst his recent curatorial projects are: 'Don’t believe them' (La Capella, Barcelona, 2008); Al otro lado del espejo, Col·lecció d’Art Contemporani de «la Caixa», Centro de Arte Tomás y Valiente (Fuenlabrada, 2007); 'Barcelona Producció ‘06' (with Amanda Cuesta and Manuel Olveira, 2006); 'Pedro G. Romero. Archivo F.X.' (PhotoEspaña 04, Centro Cultural Conde Duque, Madrid, 2004); 'Muntadas. On Translation: Museum' (with Enric Franch and José Lebrero Stals), Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2003).

The jury, chaired by Manuel Borja-Villel (Director Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía), comprised Ignasi Aballí (participating artist Venice Biennial 2007); Daniela Ferretti (curator Palau Fortuny, Venice); Marta Gili (Director Jeu de Paume, Paris), Chus Martínez (Chief Curator MACBA, Barcelona, and Director of Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt) and Vicent Todolí (Director Tate Modern, London) − made their selection on 26 September after interviews with three finalist (the runners-up have not yet been announced). A total of 18 projects were presented by 32 individuals from an international background (Mexico, Italy, Finland, Switzerland and the US).


In the press release the jury also comments on their initial intention to resign in order to support the "open crisis" created by the sudden change of hands of Barcelona's Centre d'Art Santa Mònica (see post 17.07.08) leaving the city with no 'kunsthalle' space. In the note, the jury also acknowledges the transparency of IRL's procedure which led to the selection of the curator of the Catalan Pavilion as exemplary of the 'Código de buenas prácticas' (Code of good practice) design to avoid 'al dedo' ('made') job appointments in art institutions.

In the next phase the semi-finalised project will be presented to the La Biennale di Venezia Foundation and to the 2009 artistic director, Daniel Birnbaum, for final approval as part of the Eventi Collaterali.

The project will take place at the Magazzini del Sale (space #3, see image above), a 500 square metre venue in the cultural area of Dorsoduro (address: Zattere 259), nearby the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Palazzo Grassi which hosts the collection of French businessman François Pinault (Japanese architect Tadao Ando is refurbishing the nearby space Punta della Dogana to become the new space for Pinault's collection, planned to open Summer 09).

[Top photo: views of the Magazzini del Sale © Comune di Venezia; Bottom photo: detail of the Magazzini, http://flickr.com/photos/tsukimi/2301471755/in/photostream]

Ferran Barenblit out, Vicenç Altaió in at the Centre d'Arte Santa Mònica (CASM), Barcelona

Last weekend was a turbulent one for the Barcelona art scene. On Friday 11th the Culture Councillor Joan Manuel Tresserras announced the appointment of a new director for the Centre d'Arte Santa Mònica (CASM): Vicenç Altaió, who modestly describes himself as a 'poet, writer, catalan translator, theatre critic, art critic, opinion generator and cultural agitator' and until then the director of KRTU ("Culture, Research, Technology, Universal"). The trouble was, however, that CASM already had a director: Ferran Barenblit, appointed during the summer in 2002. If you'll excuse the football link, the act was not unlike FC Barcelona's recent appointment of 'the next' head coach Guardiola when Frank Rijkaard was still at the club. Invitations to leave are never easy, political muggings of a cultural institution are even harder to bear. On this occassion the news of this affair has hit the press and blogs with general signs of bewilderment, disappointment and bitterness.

For those not entirely familiar with the Barcelona art landscape, CASM has followed the kunsthalle model with funding from the local government (Generalitat de Catalunya) and occasional sponsors. Under Barenblit's directorship, a series of adjunct local curators (Montse Badia, David G. Torres, Frederic Montornés) and international guest curators (Miguel Von Hafe Pérez, Jacob Fabricius) have produced exhibitions and projects by artists such as Christian Jankowski, Tomás Saraceno, Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Dora García, Maria Eichhorn, Joao Tabarra, Filipa César, Nedko Solakov, Runa Islam, Maria Nordman, Cabelo, Juan López, Peter Liversidge, Carles Congost, Antoni Abad, Francesc Ruiz, Joan Morey, Mike Nelson, Joachim Koester, Toni Matelli, Jill Magid, Ceal Floyer and Jiri Kovanda (see our blog from 20.11.07) amongst many other group shows (Think, Hamsterwheel...). Currently, CASM is one of the institutions invited to participate in 'Lucky Number Seven' Site Santa Fe with a compelling project by Martí Anson.

Manolo Borja-Villel, the recently appointed director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid (see our post 23 December) has declared in El País that, "the fact that the government imposes a project ... at best, as an instrument of propaganda, indicates a regression to dark times" (this and other quotations translated from the Spanish / Catalan). According to El Pais (12 July) during the presentation of the new director, Culture Councillor Tresserras insisted "there are no victims left along the way" and that the centre and the general budget (750,000 Euros/annum) will still exist, but in a new location (still to be discussed with the townhall). He added "Barenblit's programme was interesting, but the centre didn't have the social performance required". Barenblit was not invited to the presentation, and, the promise of the new location not being confirmed, he handed in his resignation. Later Barenblit declared "it is the best moment [to resign], after receiving the compromise that the new centre is under discussions. I'm coinvinced that my departure is the best guarantee that this process takes place; I always said that directors should have an expiry date ... CASM collaborated with many artists and local entities and promoted Catalan art abroad".

There had been rumours for several months (see El Periodico, 18.02,08 or even earlier this month the possible relocation of CASM was discussed with the president of the Visual Artists Association (AAVC), see El País 05.07.08) claiming that CASM was going to be taken over by the Generalitat and would be converted into a center for Catalan culture, speculation that has prompted numerous strongly-worded responses by various art associations (visual artists association, association of museum directors, art gallery associations...). With this shadow looming over CASM, the programme in recent months has sufferred an inevitable slide.

The new CASM director Vicenç Altaió will take his position in January 2009 and turn CASM into what is described in the vaguest of terms as "a multidisciplinary center for art, science, thought and communication". The questions are, what place 'the new CASM' can take on the Barcelona art landscape? Does the city need another venue for diluted cultural programming? What happened to the 'código de buenas prácticas' (code of good practice) that was decided last year by the Ministry of Culture, whereby "made" appointments were to be replaced by an open-application advisory-panel system based on merit? Where else will ambitious new work be produced in the city? In recent years Barcelona has suffered from the abrupt disappearance of art spaces including Sala Metrònom, the 'relocation' of Sala Montcada from the city centre – its now sited at Caixafòrum– and the failure of Espai 13 in Fundació Miró to produce relevant and informed projects. There is sadly little space for experimentation, fertile discussion or risk-taking.

What is most dismaying is the utter control the Barcelona politicians seem to have over publicly funded cultural programmes. There is, it seems, a lack of support and respect for the work of experienced and trained art professionals and as there is always an ominous cloud hanging over institutions or initiatives when a (4-yearly) change of administration takes effect, there is little continuity and plenty of suspicion. Working within such constant bureaucratic insecurity is never productive and it undermines confidence and creativity. Instead cultural programmes should have their own administrative cycles, their own secured funding, their own staff who are independent from state workers and protected from temporary or mileuristas contracts and their own governing board. It should go without saying that directors should be free to foment long-term creative relationships with the local scene as well as with national and international contexts.

Many questions remain unanswered: where will the proposed new Kunsthalle be? Why didn't CASM have an independent administrative and advisoary board to prevent such undemocratic moves and defend the exhibition programme? Who will now steer and programme such a space? And admist this political-cultural debacle, another factor has been unleashed: who will take control over the first Catalan Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennial in the Magazzini del Sale? Incidentally, the proposals (open submission until 2 September) for the pavilion will be assessed by a jury of six artists and curators and the decision will be made public on 1 October.

UPDATE 30.07.08:
Ferran Barenblit appointed director of the recently opened Centro Dos de Mayo, Móstoles (Madrid). His proposal was selected amongst 26 candidates by a committee of experts (Rafael Doctor, director of MUSAC, León; Lourdes Fernández, director of ARCO; José Guirao, director of La Casa Encendida, Madrid; Isabel Rosell, general director of Archives, Museums & Libraries of the Comunidad de Madrid and Carlos Urroz, advisor of Fine Arts to the Consejería de Cultura y Turismo de la Comunidad de Madrid). He will take up his new job in September. More here and here (all links in Spanish).

To read responses from different parties around Barcelona's cultural politics, read posts on http://cassantamonica.wordpress.com and on http://www.culturadebase.net (in Spanish and Catalan)

[Photos: Kris Martin, 'The End' (2005) (included in the SantaMòniCA 2007 summer show 'PENSA/PIENSA/THINK' curated by Montse Badia, Ferran Barenblit, Jacob Fabricius and Frederic Montornés) and below Ferran Barenblit (left) with Christian Jankowski talking to Joan Manuel Tresserras (right) in May 2007 during the launch of Jankowski's Living Sculptures]

MACBA's director Manuel J. Borja-Villel to direct the Reina Sofia from end January 2008


The news broke on Saturday afternoon that Manuel J. Borja-Villel (Burriana, Castellón, 1957) will be the new Artistic Director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), and will start his new job at the end of January 2008. Borja-Villel has been Director of the Museu d'Art Contemporani Barcelona (MACBA) since 1998, and was founding director of the Fundació Tàpies (1990-1998). Despite his appointment not being a shock exactly, the news is important as it is one of the first appointments in Spain to follow the controversial 'Código de buenas prácticas' (Code of good practice) whereby there shouldn't be any more 'al dedo' ('made') appointments. Instead an international call for applications should be held, and was in this case, and appointments be made according to the decision of a selected international committee. And following each candidate's proposals and presentations, and not their political orientation.

That said, the decision to appoint the MACBA director has not been surprising for two reasons. Firstly, a few weeks ago the Spanish newspaper El País [15.11.07] announced Borja-Villel as the favourite for the job, together with a list of the top candidates. How were their names known when the process is supposedly strictly secret? Rightly, there was much discussion in the artistic community [read A-Desk and SalonKritik]. Secondly, the requirements for the job were that candidates should be a 'Spanish or national of a country member of the European Union' (appearing to rule out any Spanish-speaking Latin American candidates, or indeed any other non-European Spanish speaker, and clearly questioning the tip-off that had Dan Cameron shortlisted in the El País article). The candidates were also asked to have 'Excellent level of Spanish' and 'To present, in Spanish or anyone of the co-official languages in the Independent Communities, or English or French, the main lines of the Museum Plan for the Institution'. Spanish prefered, we get it. It makes one wonder what will be the requirements for the now vacant MACBA Director job, if they are to follow the 'código de buenas prácticas' with an open call.

One of the first responses to the appointment was from art critic and curator David G. Torres in A-Desk's blog, in which he briefly analysed the pros and cons of the mandate: Borja-Villel has put MACBA on the map – for sure – and has given a direction and coherence to its collection – again, yes – but it has lacked a dialogue with the city of Barcelona and its visitors. According to Catalina Serra [El País, 23.12.07], the Catalan arts community has already responded by demanding an international open call for the MACBA position, but with more time for the potential applicants to prepare proposals (candidates had a month to make their applications for the MNCARS job). Let's see what happens here; interesting times ahead! The news are, however, great for MNCARS, Spain's forever-in-crisis national museum, which has had no leading figure since September 2007, that lacks coherence in its collection, has a so-so programme, but of course holds a precious treasure in world history: Picasso's Guernica.

For more info read MNCARS' Press Release (Spanish) and the announcement in El País (23.12.07)

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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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