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Muntadas presents his take on the 1980s art system at Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Muntadas, Between the Frames: The Forum, 1997. Yokohama Portside Gallery, Japan.
BARCELONA.- “A panopticon is a model used by the penitentiary system. In it, the guard is placed at the centre, whilst all around are arranged the cells and the prisoners. By replacing this guard by the audience, we give spectators a role as guardians of the system. This is a symbolic way of asking the audience to stay alert, to keep their eyes wide open.” From 1983 to 1991, with a view to compiling a vision of the artistic system in the 1980s, Antoni Muntadas (Barcelona, 1942) interviewed 156 figures from the international art circuit: dealers, galleries, curators, museum guides, art critics, the media and artist themselves. In short, all those who mediate between the work and the audience. Muntadas then edited excerpts from these interviews into eight video “chapters”, each devoted to a different profession within the art world.

The result was Between the Frames: The Forum, a video project originally conceived in the form of a panopticon and first presented at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio (USA). In it, seven cells, each equipped screens simultaneously showing the eight chapters (dealers and galleries are combined into one cell), were arranged around a central space. Since then, the project has been shown in various formats: with the chapters split up into different rooms and offices at CAPC, the Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux, and in other arrangements at centres in Europe and in the United States, organised by a banker, a philosopher, a historian and a sociologist. In 2010, the MACBA Foundation acquired the installation in its original incarnation (the panopticon), adapted to its exhibition space, and the work will be presented at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) as part of the exhibition Volume.

Opening in November, Volume is the first joint show featuring works from both the MACBA and ”la Caixa” Foundation collections. Between the Frames: The Forum (Barcelona) invites spectators to make fresh readings and interpretations of Muntadas’ installation, which was long in the making and has undergone constant reformulation. Such reinterpretations are encouraged by the inclusion, along with the installation itself – which is produced according to Muntadas’ original idea – of documentation (photographs, diagrams and texts) illustrating the different ways in which it has been presented, whilst the MACBA Study Centre also makes available video recordings of the full versions of the 156 original interviews.

The origin of Between the Frames: The Forum is the exhibition Comments, which the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) of California organised in 1983, including a piece by Muntadas. “I heard how the museum ‘educators’ explained the work I presented, La Televisión (1980), and their interpretation surprised me. In the United States, ‘educators’ are, generally speaking, well-meaning guides and enthusiasts who play an important role at museums. This experience led me to think in a ‘micro’ way about what happens between art, the artist and the audience,” says Muntadas. Nearly three decades later, Between the Frames: The Forum can be seen at the California gallery as part of the collective exhibition Exchange and Evolution (from 7 October 2011 to 12 February 2012). This show, which presents an overview of international video art in the 1980s, forms part of an ambitious exhibition project organised by the Getty Foundation (Los Angeles) in cooperation with more than 25 art centres in Southern California. In this case, Muntadas’ project will be displayed for the first time in the light of a new interpretation by the Austrian researcher and independent curator Doris Berger.

However, the project will be seen in its original architectural structure, the panopticon, at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. “The spirit of this work is experimentation”, says Muntadas, and with this in mind the exhibition at MACBA will seek to throw new light on the artist’s working methods through a two-part presentation: firstly, the original video installation, in its modular structure, though adapted to the layout of the Museum exhibition rooms, along with documentation (texts, photographs and diagrams) on its different interpretations by other centres, will be shown in the Meier Building; and, secondly, the original recordings of the 156 interviews, which Muntadas deposited with MACBA in 2009, will be available for consultation on the ground floor of the Study Centre.

Dual acquisition by the MACBA Foundation
Far from fixing or closing the work, this dual addition to the MACBA Collection (the deposit of the original, digitised recordings and the acquisition of the original installation by the MACBA Foundation) opens up new possibilities for reading and interpreting this installation, the processes and methods behind it and the art institutions involved. Between the Frames is one of many installations in which Muntadas dissects the complex system that weaves together art, politics and economics. “In the 1980s, the art system was undergoing transformation. In the art world there are, on the one hand, the artists’ work and everything that surrounds the production of the work and, on the other, the system, which forms the environment for mediation; dissemination, sale, collection, distribution, everything that affects the subsequent visibility of the project. The 80s represent a very specific period when some of these intermediates occupied excessive power and achieved exaggerated visibility. That is why I wanted to understand how such a situation had come about”, explains Muntadas in an interview with Anne Bénichou for the book that MACBA will publish on Between the Frames: The Forum this year as part of the series devoted to works from the MACBA Collection.

Each of the eight chapters is introduced by the following text: “Art, as part of our time, culture and society, shares and is affected by rules, structures and tics like other economic, political and social systems in our environment.” The eight chapters are devoted, respectively, to dealers, collectors, galleries, museums, guides, critics, the media and, finally, an epilogue. “I did not want to devote an eighth chapter to artists, but to an epilogue that, as if it were a prologue, clearly responded to the aim of providing a summary.” The many participants include Harald Szeemann, Leo Castelli, Marian Goodman, María Corral, Kaspar König, Benjamin Buchloh, Lucy Lippard, Pierre Restany, Achille Bonito-Oliva, Catherine Millet, Daniel Giralt-Miracle, Romà Gubern and Maria Lluïsa Borràs, as well as the artists who appear in the epilogue – Joseph Beuys, John Baldessari, Dan Graham, Jaume Xifra, Hans Haacke and Krzysztof Wodiczko, amongst others. Muntadas attaches importance, not to “who talks”, but to the “fact of talking”. In this way, he seeks to orchestrate a kind of anonymous chorus. “I am interested in what people say, the values and opinions they express, but not necessarily the person who is talking. I try to prevent certain individuals from emanating authority. I do not identify them, because I don’t want to mythicise them, especially those that are well known. The world of art has suffered greatly from such mystification. All participants are named at the end of each tape”, says the artist.

Muntadas presents the interviews within a radial exhibition architecture: a circular modular structure with a central space (a physical space for discussion, the “forum” that the title alludes to) from which branch off seven cellular spaces, each equipped with screens which simultaneously show the eight video chapters. Each cell is lit by a different colour. The installation’s radial structure reminds one of an inverted panopticon, the architecture of the modern penitentiary system that, according to Michel Foucault, characterises contemporary disciplinary societies. Muntadas places the spectator in the place of the guardian, allotting them the role of supervisor of the art system. “When spectators arrive, they have an overall view, after which they can decide where they want to start. The audience does the work of post-editing, deciding when to begin watching each chapter and when to end their viewing. There is a kind of “corporal editing” carried out by members of the audience who enter, leave, stop for one, five or twenty minutes before each chapter”, explains Muntadas. Finally, then, each spectator makes his or her own “director’s cut”.

“Open visuals”
Images of the people interviewed are seen only at the beginning of their respective appearances. Subsequently, their voices are accompanied by images that act as visual metaphors for the type of person interviewed: a day at the Tokyo stock exchange in the case of collectors; the ebb and flow of waves at San Diego for critics; automated trains in Vancouver for dealers and gallerists; traffic on a Los Angeles highway for guides; industrial machinery in Columbus (Ohio) for the epilogue… These images, which Muntadas calls “open visuals”, are used as a visual resource to reinforce the intention that underlies the project. Muntadas himself never appears, either on film or on the soundtrack, and his questions are replaced by key words symbolising the issues to be dealt with: the role of professionals, the market, fashions, audiences, formats… The interviews included in the installation are reproduced in the language in which they originally took place: English, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French and Portuguese, and are not subtitled. Spectators are provided with a free publication containing transcriptions of the eight chapters in three languages: Catalan, Spanish and English.

Besides its original circular arrangement, the installation has also been presented since the 1990s in very different formats, suggesting new readings and interpretations of a work that can be considered a forerunner of the On Translation series. At CAPC, the Musée d’Art Contemporain in Bordeaux (1994), Muntadas even distributed the sections, not only in the public spaces, but also in the administrative area (normally closed to the public). Between 1990 and 2000, he delegated third parties to design and produce the architecture for presenting the videos on four occasions. As Muntadas himself explained it: “The spirit of this whole work is experimentation”.

Whilst the original installation will be open to the public on Floor 1 of the Meier Building, along with documentation on these different productions, the ground floor of the MACBA Study Centre will offer spectators the chance to see, for the first time and in their entirety, video recordings of all the original interviews and the documentation by the artist relating to their production. In autumn 2008, Muntadas and MACBA reached an agreement that enabled the content of the original tapes (more than two hundred hours of recordings, from which the artist selected four hours and twenty minutes to form part of Between the Frames: The Forum). The purpose of this is to conserve this documentation and to make it available to the public for permanent reference and as archive material for researchers, fostering new readings of this project, which is open to constant reinterpretation.

Muntadas | MACBA |


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