The so-called Pamplona Encounters can be defined as an avant-garde art festival, held in the capital of Navarra in 1972, which sought to display the best of Spanish and international experimental art, setting up a dialogue between music, film, poetry, architecture, design and the visual arts. The Encounters, organised by artists Luis de Pablo (Grupo ALEA) and José Luis Alexanco as the chief intellectual managers and funded almost entirely by private capital (Grupo Huarte), fully evaded Francoism’s censorship apparatus.
Regarded as the largest public art event, in size and scope, in the Late Francoism period, it was not without its contradictions. As an art festival, it was part of the international current seeking to dissolve art into life, meaning that many of the artistic manifestations presented were both ephemeral and procedural. With an international vocation equally rooted in local and mainstream contexts, foreign avant-garde art was also assembled there, represented by artists and musicians such as John Cage, Martial Raysse, Lily Greenham, Alain Arias-Misson, Steve Reich and Laura Dean, among numerous others, as well as popular music manifestations such as the Vietnamese songs of Trân van Khê, the flamenco of gypsy group Morón and the Basque-Navarra sounds of Txalaparta.
Furthermore, the most experimental and minority trends in Spanish art were foregrounded, as were the latest manifestations of visual, sound and action poetry, conceptual art, video art, computer art, plastic and musical art, electronic, minimalist and action music, and experimental film and historical avant-garde art. Over 350 artists descended upon the city and its cultural institutions and public space in the centre and on the outskirts, where ephemeral architecture was built via pneumatic domes designed by architect José Miguel de Prada Poole. Along with the artists, visitors mostly came from different corners of the Peninsula and the rest of Europe, transforming the city over eight days, and to the amazement of Navarra society and the Franco authorities.
The Encounters were situated at the start of an artistic journey placing Pamplona on the route of the Spoleto Festival, Documenta 5 in Kassel and the 35th Venice Biennale. Spain’s integration into the international map of the most avant-garde art was unprecedented and unique; however, despite coming into being with this mission, the Encounters were never held again. There were numerous reasons, but at the heart of it were the myriad contradictions marking the political and artistic situation at the time. During its infancy, different events beyond the art world also took place, such as the explosion of different ETA bombs (without personal injuries) and an anonymous attack on the pneumatic domes, which were finally deflated.
A deflating that could serve as a metaphor for the progressive discolouring of a series of conceptual art currents extolled at the Encounter and displaced shortly afterwards by a return to painting and the rebirth of the art market.