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).
Atlas is a proposal to put the frame of thought introduced by German art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) into the context of historical knowledge and images. This is not a monographic exhibition on Warburg, but a journey through the history of images from 1914 until the present day, where warburgism constitutes the genius loci.
Designed in close collaboration with the artist, this retrospective exhibition is the first presentation in Spain of the work by Jean-Luc Mylayne (Marquise, France, 1946). For thirty years the artist has devoted himself with tenacious rigour to the photography of birds. Each of his large format images presents common birds (robins, swallows) in their natural habitat. The images are scrupulously theatrical, never random and sometimes made with lenses manufactured according to his specifications in order to create a complex spatial field. His approach combines an accurate conception with formal acuity and infinite patience.
Filmmaker, inventor, poet, graphic artist and hard-to-classify artist, José Val del Omar (Granada, 1904 - Madrid, 1982) is very closely linked to the medium of film as a cursed creator, an eccentric in the context of Spanish film making which does not favour experimentation; over time he has gradually become a cult figure. Val del Omar largely devotes himself to technological explorations, both in aspects concerning cinema as well as the challenges posed in his time (sound film, embossed, colour, widescreen, etc.), such as electro-acoustics, radio, television and educational applications of audio-visual media. Some of his inventions seek practical solutions in Franco's Spain, others venture into the notion of total spectacle, with an unusual visionary instinct, like the overflow of the screen and the pursuit of an acoustic and visual Cubism through diaphonic sound, all involving, and "tactile-vision", with techniques based on pulsed illumination.
Under the premise that the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is an exhibition, collection and communication space, during autumn of 2010 a project is developed and produced involving four artists who intervene in the relationship between the Museum and the public. To do this, their creations occupy a series of spaces that do not normally exhibit work.
This exhibition includes Hans Peter Feldmann’s (Dusseldorf, Germany, 1941) most representative works, from the Seventies until today. Fascinated by the few images that he found around him during the German post-war period, he begins to collect them, cut them out and stick them in albums, something he continues to do. From his earliest pieces, Feldmann organises his images into series and the effect his collection produces is abundant, which leads him to produce numerous series of photographs such as the Time series where he collects, like film photo stills, trivial facts. There is not normally anything extraordinary in them, only the invisible flow of time which has been stopped in order to be examined. Feldmann subsequently expands his reflection in the book 100 Years, a series of 101 photographic portraits of his family or friends who are aged between eight months and 100 years. Feldmann presents images that are materially poor and aesthetically undefined, as if he wanted to force the limits of their expressive qualities, facing social space covered with superlative images and touched up to encourage consumption.