Longitudes

Latitudes reviews MACBA's 'Universal Archive', Frieze #121, March 2009


The forthcoming issue of Frieze magazine (Issue 121, March 2009) includes a review by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna on MACBA's exhibition 'Universal Archive' (23 October 2008–6 January 2009). 

Below a short extract:

"Of the blockbuster cultural initiatives that have been inspired and hosted by the Catalan capital in 2008, no two could be further apart than Woody Allen’s dismaying Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and the MACBA exhibition ‘Universal Archive: The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia’, a hugely ambitious genealogy of the documentary form of photography (co-produced and touring to the Museu Colecção Berardo-Arte Moderna e Contemporãnea, Lisbon). While Allen’s facile vision of Barcelona and the ‘flamboyant artist’ character of his male lead (played by Javier Bardem) demonstrated the ‘Olé!’ version of the city’s self-branding, ‘Universal Archive’ was difficult to digest by comparison. The exhibition, which comprised some 2,000 photographs, presented a tough and awkward depiction of the grittier sides of the city and uncompromisingly explored the often-unglamorous role of the artist–documentarian within it. 



The exhibition’s wonderfully unwieldy scale and its dizzying categorization refused benign consumption. Both its strength and its weakness lay in the fact that it was really three projects under one roof, covering a time span from 1850 to the present day. Even three visits did not truly do the show justice, but its exhausting extent nevertheless perfectly complemented the archival strategies it presented, as if its densely-installed two floors – encompassing legions of framed prints and closely-packed vitrines and several digital slideshows – were inspired by a labyrinthine Borgesian tale. For many visitors, the stamina required to experience it could have been off-putting. There are only so many images of shift workers, tract housing, farmland or grain silos that one can absorb. Yet, attempting to embrace such immense amounts of data – whether Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s territorial surveys of the USA in the 1860s and ’70s, August Sander’s collective portrait of the German people in the late 1920s, or the Mass-Observation movement in Britain from 1937 until the early 1950s – provided the exhilarating, if relentless, basis for the whole project."

...Continue reading on Frieze online.

[Image above: Cover of Frieze's issue 121; Image below: Pere Català Pic, 'Fotomuntatge sobre el Barri Gòtic per a la societat d'Atracció de Forasters de Barcelona', 1935. Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona – Arxiu Fotogràfic.]

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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2005—2019