In the 1980s, a European model of socio-democratic cultural policies emerged that was based on the promotion of cultural industries and the market, akin to a time of expansion and economic growth. Spain’s socialist government of 1982 redesigned institutional exhibition policies with the objective of promoting national artistic talent inside and outside the country, with major exhibitions organised around artists which, from the late 1950s, represented Spanish modernity in the international sphere, for instance Eduardo Chillida, Antonio Saura, Antoni Tàpies, José Guerrero and Esteban Vicente, among others.
The creation of contemporary art in Spain during the 1980s swung between two typically strained national mechanisms: the national mechanism bearing its load of traditions and brands, and the nationalist and regional voices that reappeared with the State implementation of autonomous regions.
The National Exhibitions Centre (CNE), directed by Carmen Giménez, assumed full control over the exhibition policy of modern and contemporary art under the Spanish Ministry of Culture. It set out foreign policy guidelines to promote contemporary Spanish art with a view to internationalising it, and, in conjunction with the opening of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in 1986, organised an exhibition titled Referencias: un encuentro artístico en el tiempo (References: An Artistic Encounter in Time), which set the work of Saura, Chillida and Tàpies in dialogue with international artists that included Georg Baselitz, Richard Serra and Cy Twombly. The catalogue texts made reference to the international nature of Spanish art and the institutional model reflected in the opening of the Museo.
This international focal point sought numerous goals, one of which was improving Spain’s external image by virtue of exhibitions with established local artists, but at the same time exposing a new Spanish spectator to the most recent international art and thus bringing an end to the cultural isolation the country experienced during Franco’s dictatorship.
This bid for the internationalisation of the Spanish brand and the renewed interest in painting and sculpture was coupled with one further circumstance: plural Spain, with the nationalist and regional allegiances that flourished with the State of autonomies, such as Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, to which other territories were joined, triggering a change in the articulation of the national narrative, portrayed in tourist campaigns and cultural diplomacy. The governments of these autonomous regions came to appropriate some artistic figures to embody an identity, style and culture; Chillida and Jorge Oteiza, just like Tàpies and Joan Miró, became visual reference points in Basque and Catalan official circles, respectively. Moreover, Antonio Saura, José Guerrero and Esteban Vicente were supported from institutions that were now state, now regionally autonomous.
As a result, the Spanish art stretching from the post-war period to the mid-1970s re-joined the institutional project. This room, Institutionalised Modernity, displays a selection of works by these creators, who aligned Spain’s exhibition policy throughout the 1980s.