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
...). 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
) 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
(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]