Using methodological and conceptual strategies drawn from spheres of discourse such as theatre, dance, anthropology, archival work and journalism, the projects of Sharon Hayes (Baltimore, Maryland, 1970) explore the sometimes tense relations between history, politics and language, and they dissect the symbolic and narrative mechanisms through which the collective imaginary is built. In her performances, videos and installations, Hayes shows how the process of documenting a historical event ends up conditioning the way we see that event. She also proposes a critical reflection on topics such as the frictions arising between the public and the private – the personal and the collective – in today's media culture and the cathartic and empowering effect of the act of using one's voice and occupying urban space.
Mateo Maté (Madrid, 1964) uses ordinary objects from daily life, in many cases even objects linked to his own domestic routine, to explore how in late modernity the spaces we inhabit are racked with tension and violence, where what is private and social, political and existential, individual and collective mix together and become blurred. Interested in the potential symbolic value of the cartographic metaphor, Maté creates sculptural and performative spaces which, although they seem familiar to us, are also profoundly unsettling, as if they were plagued with latent dangers, perturbing enigmas. In his work, the Madrid-born artist suggests that in a context such as this one, in which our most immediate surroundings have become undecipherable geographies, full of threats and uncertainties, we must rethink and reinvent the notion of living, we must be capable of surpassing our gaze and concretising once again the spaces and objects around us.
The inauguration of the Documentation Centre and Library's new exhibition area will feature an exhibition of some of the pieces of experimental art created – outside of official cultural channels – in the mid sixties. These works of art represent a renovation of poetic language and a transgression of established limits. The frontiers between genres become blurred and poets decide to apply their avant-garde spirit to painting, music and theatre.
Emilio Ambasz, an Argentine architect and graphic and industrial designer, strives in his projects to "give poetic form to the practical" and he is considered one of the most important forerunners of what is known today as "green architecture." Convinced that any architecture project that does not try to propose new or better forms of existence is not very ethical, Ambasz designs organic spaces that seek harmonious integration between construction and nature, between architecture and landscape, either by burying the buildings, completely or partially, or by taking vegetation to its façades and/or roofs and indoor areas.
Considered one of the pioneers of media art and conceptual art in Spain, for over four decades Antoni Muntadas (Barcelona, 1942) has been creating projects that foment critical reflection about key issues in the configuration of contemporary experience. His aim is to detect and decode the control and power mechanisms through which hegemonic ways of seeing are built, exploring the decisive role played by the mass media in this process. In his works, which always have a clear processual dimension and often make a direct call for viewer participation, Muntadas uses a number of media, languages and discursive strategies, from interventions in public space to video and photography, from the publication of printed material to the use of Internet and the new digital tools, from multimedia installations to the organisation of multidisciplinary, collaborative research projects.
Having studied primary structures at the Computing Centre in Madrid, Soledad Sevilla (1944) creates installations that transform geometry into a subtle reflection on experience, matter, colour and light, intersecting sensitive and specific elements in her sculptures. Written on the celestial bodies, her largest work to date, is a site-specific piece that reproduces the vault of the Palace itself, recreating the image of the night sky.
The exhibition Locus Solus. Impressions de Raymond Roussel is dedicated to the body of work by the French novelist and poet and its influence on modern and contemporary art. Roussel (1877-1933) was the author of a literary opus made up of rich worlds, filled with spectacle, masks and phantasmagoria and built around the mechanisms and double entendres found in language. In its consideration of Roussel, Locus Solus is also taking a furtive glance at the history of 20th century art.
Multifaceted and complex, the work of René Daniëls (Eindhoven, Holland, 1950) reactivates and reformulates certain key elements of the historical avant-garde movements, attempting to connect the visual arts to literature and to daily life. Irony, ambiguity and double-entendre play a major role in his work, which is also rife with the frictions between abstraction and figuration, between reality and representation. Closer to René Magritte, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Marcel Broodthaers than to the neoexpressionist artists of the 1980s with whom he is frequently associated, Daniëls understands painting to be something like fleece, like a play of appearances and disappearances, while at the same time believing that a work of art cannot be detached from its social context and that artists must avoid any inclination towards hermeticism and self-absorption.
Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994), who identified with arte povera early in his career but soon distanced himself from this movement, was a prolific, unclassifiable artist who, trying to avoid any form of artistic self absorption, explored different modes and degrees of collaboration throughout his career. His oeuvre can be placed within the context of relational aesthetics and in his art notions such as multiplicity, duality and division play a key role (thus his decision in 1972 to starting signing his work Alighiero e Boetti) and a balance is sought between the intellectual and the sensible, order and disorder, individuality and collectivity. Fusing conceptual rigour, a vocation towards the experimental and a playful spirit, Boetti always allows chance and coincidence to influence his work. His work, strongly poetic and iconic, uses a wide range of techniques and tools – from drawing and painting to mail art or the production of handicrafts – and it conceives of the spectator as an accomplice or even a playmate.
This exhibition features a selection of magazines acquired on the occasion of the exhibition A Hard, Merciless Light. The Worker-Photography Movement, 1926-1939. The magazines show the link between documentary expression and working-class consciousness, exploring the importance of images in the founding of a new political and social ideal and suggesting that the struggle for power begins with the struggle for representation.
The work of Elena Asins (Madrid, 1940) reflects both the constructive tradition of 20th century avant-garde movement and as well as practices arising out of the computation and information theory of the 1960s.
In the tradition of the Flemish primitives, the body of work by Lili Dujourie (Roeselare, Belgium, 1941) establishes an intellectual and sensory connection with the viewer, at the same time that it presents a critical reflection on specific ideas and categories in art history.
The sculptural interventions of Leonor Antunes (Lisbon, 1972) build their meaning from within their dense materiality, without making reference to a specific symbolic content, transforming the places in which they are installed and making visible the tensions and energy that exist in such places. Her work vindicates the material autonomy of forms and also a certain autonomy of meaning, the strength of the pure gesture. Notions such as measure, scale or proportion also play a key role. For Antunes, who lives and works in Berlin, restriction is something that articulates her proposal. Like artists such as Duchamp,
The work of Lygia Pape (1927-2004) arose in a setting very much characterised by a spirit of renewal. In Brazil, one of the most innovative art contexts in the second half of the 20th century, the tensions inherent in the arrival of modernism coexisted with the opposite extreme: dictatorships, false economic miracles and cultural movements based on local considerations, yet doomed to live in exile.
The work of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (Matsumoto, 1929) unfolds in the international art scene that began at the end of the 1950s and is the origin of today's globalisation. Her career, spanning almost six decades, started with her earliest solo exhibitions at the age of just 23, in Japan. She crossed international borders in 1958, heading for New York, which by that time was the unquestioned epicentre of art worldwide.
The art of Leon Golub (Chicago, 1922 - New York, 2004) challenges the dominant model of the development of art from the 1950s onward. Oblivious to the media experimentation taking place in most artistic production during these decades, Golub's work is based on a pictorial renovation in which genres believed to be exhausted, such as historical painting or portraits, once again show unexpected expressive and critical capacity.
A Hard, Merciless Light. The Worker Photography Movement, 1926-1939 examines the period during the history of 20th century photography in which photography joined forces with various worker movements (ranging from trade unionism to the creation of “workers' states” like the Soviet one), motivated by growing working-class consciousness and the idea of taking over the means of production and reproduction of images. By looking at the artistic avant-garde in its interconnection with the political avant-garde, this exhibition challenges hegemonic historiography that focuses primarily on other movements arising in the history of photography, such as the New Vision. The exhibition displaces the importance of mechanical vision and instead considers photography's relationship with social movements, shifting the debate toward photography as a document. It presents photographs (many of which are vintage copies), films and other documents, with special attention being paid to periodicals, the fundamental medium for the circulation of images and the ideas associated with them during these years.
The work of Roberto Jacoby (Buenos Aires, 1944) moves constantly through areas on the very edge of artistic production. Ever since his early years as an artist linked with the famous Instituto Di Tella, which led to the mythical and revolutionary Tucumán Arde (1968), his work has been understood as a never-ending expansion of the notion of artistic activity. Among other tasks, he has written lyrics for the well-known glam rock group, Virus, he has studied sociology and political theory and he has worked as a theatre critic and as a journalist for the underground press. Such versatility has made systematic exhibition of his work a complicated endeavour, something to which this exhibition hopes to put an end.
In large part the work by Asier Mendizabal (Ordizia, 1973) history ceases to be a practice connected to the past and instead reveals the cracks through which history becomes an activity intimately linked to the present. His enigmatic work, not easily deciphered, turns anecdotes into an event that makes the past current; a past in which the history of art and the ideology of shape have a fundamental weight that refers back to their link with social groups and their use as a tool for identification, glorification or repudiation. The media he uses, even considering the weight of Basque sculpture over the 20th century, reveal a range of resources that suggest readings far from reflection on space or the artistic medium and that are thus presented in a way that rejects all metaphysics.
For over a decade, the artist Dorit Margreiter (Vienna, 1967) has been reflecting on modern architecture, on its preservation and its destruction, and on the relationship between visual systems and the economic and social contexts of architecture. Her activity shows a connection with that of a generation of Austrian artists, such as Florian Pümhosl, Martin Beck and Mathias Poledna, who, with the specific condition of the artistic medium as their point of departure, meditate on recent history and on the social and political weight of modernity, thus diluting its formal specificity.
Miroslaw Balka (Warsaw, 1958) came to maturity at a time when certain factions in his native Poland, notably elements in the Catholic Church and in Solidarity, the independent trade union, were beginning to confront the repressive Soviet regime that had prevailed since the end of the Second World War. In the mid-1980s he graduated from the conservative Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw with a body of work that obliquely referenced this turbulent socio-political context. A number of related figurative sculptures, that included Black Pope and Black Sheep, 1987, soon followed. By the beginning of the Nineties, as a more liberal, democratic climate evolved in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Balka’s work underwent a marked change. An abstract iconography, that related to the body through forms of measurement and proportion, replaced the representational imagery he had formerly favoured. Although space as much as the objects that occupy it now became a primary preoccupation, his abiding concerns have nonetheless remained constant: above all, an acuity to the ways that history shapes and governs the present. Since he feels the weight of history as an inevitability, his work is imbued with its shifting valencies. Everyday I walk in the paths of the past, he said in a recent interview, contemporary time does not exist (1).