The Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne held in Paris in 1937 was conceived as a propaganda tool to champion the achievements of the Republic and to expose and condemn the situation endured by the Spanish people submerged in the Civil War.
Both inside and outside the Pavilion, art played an important role as a political weapon with the exhibition of contemporary artworks and a broad representation of national culture and popular traditions. This aided an ideological programme that sought, on one side, to bind culture and social progress, and, on the other, to bring visitors face to face with the consequences of the threat of fascism. The selection of art was based on the curation of the Pavilion from Paris, overseen by José Gaos, and from Spain’s Directorate-General of Fine Arts, based in Valencia and Madrid. From Paris, the curators commissioned work to the foremost Spanish artists inside and outside the country: Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Alberto and Julio González, in addition to Alexander Calder and José Gutiérrez Solana, who exhibited a small retrospective. However, the bulk of the show was reserved for dispatches from the Directorate-General of Fine Arts via a call organised nationally to the theme of war. To differing degrees of quality, the works were figurative, much more suited to this end and more objective, according to the thesis of socialist realism that had taken root in the 1930s. Of note among them was Madrid 1937 (Aviones negros) (Madrid 1937 [Black Aeroplanes], 1937) by Horacio Ferrer, a work which, like many others from this section, was missing for nearly 50 years. Outside of this call, the Directorate-General of Fine Arts was keen to devote a space in homage to Francisco Pérez Mateo and Emiliano Barral, two sculptors who had recently died on the front in Madrid.
For the most part, however, the Pavilion was taken up with photomurals designed by Josep Renau, the general director of Fine Arts and one of the ideologists behind it. These photomurals showed, with more modern visual strategies, maps, graphs and economic data from the Republic, either cultural projects as teaching missions or actions safeguarding historical heritage and presented the different Spanish regions. This final section, also coordinated by Renau, was complemented with a selection of folk art and regional clothing in a revolutionary attempt to redefine traditional culture with a contemporary approach, an essential aspect in a country that was still largely rural.