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The Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona's Collection in six Critical Episodes (1957-2011)
Paul McCarthy, Pinocchio's house - Crooked Leg, 1994. Instal·lació d'objectes diversos i video. Dimensions variables. Col·lecció Art Contemporani Fundació "la Caixa".

BARCELONA.- With an exhibition entitled Critical Episodes (1957-2011). The MACBA Collection, sponsored by the AXA Foundation, MACBA, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, presents a new organisation of its collection. The selection suggests certain antecedents to what we now call systemic crisis. The show, which features more than 200 works by 64 artists, is organised into six “episodes”: Content Becomes Something to be Avoided Like a Plague; The Art of the First Globalisation; Fissures; Voyeurism, Fetishism and Narcissism; Work, Power and Control in a Globalised World; and Déconnage. These episodes occupy all the Museum floors and even venture out into the public space in the case of Allan Sekula’s work Shipwreck and Workers (Version 3 for Kassel) (2005-2007). Part of this piece, which was shown at Documenta in Kassel in 2007, will be installed in Plaça dels Àngels, the other inside the Museum. The exhibition coincides with the 25th anniversary of the MACBA Foundation, which celebrates a quarter of a century building the museum’s collection. The artists featured in these Critical Episodes include Ignasi Aballí, Lara Almarcegui, Art & Language, Judith Barry, Dara Birnbaum, Marcel Broodthaers, Joan Brossa, Eduardo Chillida, Öyvind Fahlström, Peter Friedl, Hans Haacke, Joan Hernández Pijuan, Mike Kelley, David Lamelas, Paul

McCarthy, Matt Mullican, Miralda, Hélio Oiticica, Jaume Plensa, Pere Portabella, Robert Rauschenberg, Àngels Ribé, Gerhard Richter, Allan Sekula, Andreas Siekmann, Susana Solano, Antoni Tàpies and Krzysztof Wodiczko, amongst others.

The exhibition takes the form of a sequence of episodes that can be visited independently, and which place social and political transformations in the immediate context of the crises that have marked the progress of contemporary art. One of its central episodes takes up the American art critic Clement Greenberg’s phrase “content becomes something to be avoided like a plague” to revive the self-criticism of painting that began in the 1960s in response to an art that appealed strictly to individual perceptions. This section begins with interrogation of modern painting and moves towards a review of artistic practices that strive to understand contemporary social reality. The Art of the First Globalisation shows the result of this historic process. The third episode, Fissures, focuses on the idea of the subject, questioning the criteria we use to build our world vision and asking how we can unlearn what we have learned. Voyeurism, Fetishism and Narcissism, which also explores contemporary subjectivities, takes us into the new visual regime of a world accustomed to the narrative conventions of film, the screen. Finally, Work, Power and Control revolves around new lifestyles and production systems linked to advanced capitalism. This last episode features a showing of Déconnage, a video essay devoted to the Catalan psychiatrist Francesc Tosquelles on the centenary of his birth.

The exhibition features works by the following artists: Ignasi Aballí, Vito Acconci, Sergi Aguilar, Lara Almarcegui, Neville Almeida, Art & Language, Ángel Bados, Eugènia Balcells, Sandra Balsells, Judith Barry, Nestor Basterretxea, Erick Beltrán, Dara Birnbaum, K.P. Brehmer, Marcel Broodthaers, Joan Brossa, Victor Burgin, Anne Lise Coste, Gérard Courant, Eduardo Chillida, Erró, Marcelo Expósito, Eulàlia Grau, Öyvind Fahlström, Andrea Fraser, Peter Friedl, Dan Graham, Silvia Gubern, Federico Guzmán, Hans Haacke, Raymond Hains, Nigel Henderson, Joan Hernández Pijuan, Pello Irazu, Sanja Iveković, Mike Kelley, David Lamelas, Maurizio Lazzarato, Angela Melitopoulos, Paul McCarthy, Juan Luis Moraza, Matt Mullican, Cildo Meireles, Miralda, Robert Morris, Hélio Oiticica, Jorge Oteiza, Marc Pataut, Perejaume, Raymond Pettibon, Falke Pisano, Jaume Plensa, Pere Portabella, Robert Rauschenberg, Àngels Ribé, Gerhard Richter, Dieter Roth, Allan Sekula, Dorothée Selz, Richard Serra, Andreas Siekmann, Susana Solano, Antoni Tàpies, Francesc Tosquelles, Oriol Vilapuig, Jeff Wall and Krzysztof Wodiczko.

An itinerary in six episodes

Critical Episodes (1957-2011). The MACBA Collection opens with two episodes that are central to the review of modern painting and its move towards artistic practices committed to social transformations. Content Becomes Something to be Avoided Like a Plague and The Art of the First Globalisation will be open to the public on the Level 1 of the Museum until June 2013.

Content Becomes Something to be Avoided Like a Plague
This episode evokes the famous war cry proclaimed by Clement Greenberg, one of the most influential of modern art critics. In the mid-20th century, the idea that painting should be reduced to a field of visual perceptions was predominant. Whilst Greenberg, like other critics, often referred to a painting that should eschew all forms of representation, new artistic practices in the 1960s and 70s caused art to move in another direction, towards a collective effort to understand the world. Joan Miró’s gesture, provoked by the film-maker Pere Portabella when, in 1969, he erased the mural he had painted at the Barcelona headquarters of the College of Architects of Catalonia, goes a long way to summing up the revision of painting that was taking place in those days. The film Miró, l’altre [Miró, the Other] serves as the prelude to a self-criticism that led to such options as the inclusion of objects and advertising imagery on the surface of the painting. Works by Robert Rauschenberg and Antoni Tàpies illustrate the use of the former, whilst the latter is seen in Raymond Hains’ décollages and Nigel Henderson’s manipulated photographs. Also featured in this respect are analytical revisions of painting, found in works by Àngels Ribé and the monochrome canvases of Joan Hernández Pijuan.

In the context of this vision of art as pure sensory perception, isolated from all discursive impulse, exhibition centres and institutions like museums address spectators in a language that encourages a disinterested perception, free of complexes that often degenerates into an invitation to the most hackneyed sensualism. “Enjoy”, “Feel” and “Emote” are slogans habitually used by art centres, and are also messages satirised by such artists as Andrea Fraser, who, in her institutional critique, unmasks the rhetoric of latest-generation museums. We find another revision of in the work of Robert Morris and the Art & Language group, the first artists to take a critical gaze at the division of labour that reigned in the art system in the 1960s and using the tools of art criticism for artistic production. In their view, the discourse on art was material of the highest order, and not merely commentary on the work.

The Art of the First Globalisation
In the 1960s and 70s, and parallel to this self-criticism in painting, the world saw an unusual interconnection thanks to the media and the new means of transport that combined to form a global system. New artistic practices advanced towards a collected effort to understand the contemporary world in all its complexity. In the aforementioned historical context, this episode features a fertile crop of artist journalists, artist sociologists and artist poets, who shared the challenge of attaining a global gaze that went beyond strictly national realities and those corresponding to a closed art system. Whilst one of Öyvind Fahlström’s variable structures, The Little General (Pinball Machine) (1967-1968), transforms 1960s political icons into one of the popular pinball machines, whilst the Catalan artist Miralda documents the fusion of cultures through eating rituals in Santa Comida (1984-1989). Partaking of these global visions, Hélio Oiticica and Neville Almeida builds a powerful festive installation in which cocaine becomes a metaphor for a world seen as merchandise. This section also includes works by Marcel Broodthaers and Hans Haacke, which speak of art understood as a self-sufficient system. Finally, Dorothée Selz, Eugènia Balcells, Sanja Iveković and Gerhard Richter denounce the media construction of gender models that, nonetheless, perpetuate their hegemony in this new historic moment.

Continuing with these Critical Episodes, the MACBA Collection explores the complex nature of contemporary subjectivities. On Level 0 del Museum and until 17 February 2013 two more episodes are presented: Fissures; and Voyeurism, Fetishism and Narcissism.

This section comprises a meditation on some of the figures of the self that, despite constituting us as subjects, are usually silenced. The section includes works by Anne Lise Coste, Peter Friedl and Silvia Gubern, artists who revive the fragility and provisional nature of drawing as one of the first representations of the world. So-called knowledge maps and the prejudices that lie behind our worldview are present in the works of such artists as Erick Beltrán and Matt Mullican – the exhibition includes a large part of Mullican’s complex work MIT Project, (1990-2009) – and Oriol Vilapuig. With regard to reflection on the spaces for the construction of the subject, Fissures also features works that embody a ferocious critique of learning processes. From the most rebellious scene in California, Mike Kelley and Raymond Pettibon, challenge the social conventions that we learn. Children of the first generation to reject basic general education and, with the irreverent attitude typical of the punk movement, they reject the teaching received and the regulatory aspects of education. This section also includes an installation by Paul McCarthy in which, through parody, the artist examines some of the paradoxes found in the adult universe.

Voyeurism, Fetishism and Narcissism
This section investigates new ways of looking that became hegemonic as the world began to be seen as a screen. Using cinematic narrative and formal patterns, artistic practice becomes a critique of representation that objectivises and denaturalises the modern spectator’s status as voyeur. To illustrate this episode, MACBA will feature installations, videos and photographs by a generation of artists who replaced individual expression by a theoretical research as their practise took on a more analytical function. In the 1970s, the American artists Dara Birnbaum and Dan Graham were pioneers in this, exploring the link between video and perception. Graham’s video Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975) and Dara Birnbaum’s performance Attack Piece (1975) are good examples. Beside these critical works Jeff Wall’s photographic tableaux or cinematographic photographs feature sophisticated compositions that Wall himself calls photopaintings and embody a gaze at the world as if it were a distant spectacle. The Argentinean David Lamelas dissects the causality of film editing, and the contingency with which it is interpreted. The American Judith Barry is amongst the most outstanding artists that explore the relations between visuality and urban architecture. Through a striking visual composition, her installation Echo (1986) reveals the mirage that is the satisfaction of successful businessmen who emerged in the 1980s, and how this model contributed, in part, to the current crisis.

The itinerary is completed by two episodes, installed on Level 2 and on show until 6 January 2013. Work, Power and Control focuses on the transformation of production systems and the values that advanced capitalism has linked to work. Artistic practices that, since the 1980s and 90s, have explored the globalised world associated with a post-Fordist capitalist realism in which the artist him or herself is an example of precariousness and marginality that, nevertheless, ends up inspiring the principles of neo-management. Déconnage features a video installation devoted to Francesc Tosquelles, a pioneer of critical psychiatry, on the centenary of his birth.

Work, Power and Control
Power relations in the public space, executives and 21st-century industrial production chains are the subject of Andreas Siekmann’s drawings and the photographs of Sandra Balsells and Marc Pataut. A huge photographic installation by Allan Sekula documents manual trades around the planet as a visual prelude to the current global crisis. This is the first time that the installation has been seen inside a museum as, until now, it had always been shown in the open air. MACBA will host the same version that was exhibited at Documenta in Kassel in 2007, with one part in the public space outside the museum and the other inside its walls. This “monument to labour”, as Sekula himself describes it, establishes a dialogue a series of iron and steel sculptures by Richard Serra, Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida, amongst others. The finest modern sculptural tradition reflects a model of heavy industry that new forms of non-material work have rendered obsolete. In this context, the films of Falke Pisano, Nestor Basterretxea and Marcelo Expósito explore the link between raw material, labour, cities and exploitation, showing how modern art has acted as an accomplice in obscuring the more primitive, heavy forms of work, always in favour of abstraction. In his documentary photography, Allan Sekula undertakes the mission of reviving and highlighting the dialectic between different forms of labour that modern sculpture has swallowed up in the formalism of abstract art. In this context, spectators can view a striking installation by Krzysztof Wodiczko, a Polish artist who lives in New York. If You See Something (2005) invokes the constitution of a police state following the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and denounces new forms of contemporary violence. In this, we see a model of citizen control that, with the complicity of all and sundry, has been exported to other cities around the world as a univocal pattern difficult to reverse.

Within the framework of this episode, MACBA also presents a documentary devoted to Francesc Tosquelles on the centenary of his birth. Déconnage is a video installation on this Reus-born psychiatrist. Condemned to death by the Franco regime, Tosquelles was forced to flee to France, where he renewed institutional psychotherapy. Although unjustly forgotten, Tosquelles was a pioneer in the critical anti-psychiatry movement, and his work provided a base for such philosophers as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Through this video essay by Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarato, then, MACBA revisits the figure and thought of Francesc Tosquelles.

The MACBA Foundation, 25 Years Building the Collection
The MACBA Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary. In 1987, a group of 30 companies and 33 individuals, led by Leopoldo Rodés, president of the Foundation, joined together with a view to establishing the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and founding a body of artworks that would provide the basis for the future permanent collection. In 1988, the Catalan Government, Barcelona City Council and the MACBA Foundation established the MACBA Consortium, which the Ministry of Culture also joined in 2007.

MACBA is a pioneering public-private partnership in the art world and a reference model in the current context of crisis. It is thanks to the generosity of businesses and private individuals in maintaining their commitments as sponsors that the MACBA Foundation is able to add to the MACBA Collection, so that it continues to grow, year after year.

The origins of the MACBA Foundation Collection, which forms the backbone of the MACBA Collection, go back to the opening of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona in 1995. The Foundation Collection comprises 1,699 works that, added to those contained in the MACBA Collection, make a total of 4,674 pieces. The core works in these holdings date back to the 1960s and 70s and illustrate the rupture of the avant-gardes in the second half of the 20th century. Moreover, the collection also specialises in emerging artists and seeks, particularly, to examine the contribution of Catalan and Spanish artists within the international context. It is, basically, a collection designed to help interpret events around the turn of the 21st century. The MACBA Foundation acquires works proposed by the MACBA directors, always advised by a committee of internationally-renowned contemporary art experts. In July 2010, Isidre Fainé, president of ”la Caixa” and ”la Caixa” Foundation, and Leopoldo Rodés, president of the MACBA Foundation, signed an agreement to merge the contemporary art collections conserved by these two institutions. Since then, a single committee has advised over acquisitions made by both collections. At present, the members of this committee are: Vicente Todolí (former director of the Tate Modern); Ivo Mesquita (director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo); Paul Schimmel (chief curator of MOCA, Los Angeles); Joanna Mytkowska (director of the Museum of Modern Art of Warsaw); Chris Dercon (director of the Tate Modern); and Suzanne Ghez (director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago).

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