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Exhibition commemorates the 800th anniversary of Francis of Assisi's trip to Santiago de Compostela
Anthony McCall, Face to Face III , 2013. Projectors, light, artificial haze and translucent screens. Photograph by Jason Wyche Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery.

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA.- On the Road is an ambitious exhibition project that is taking place in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) between June and November 2014 to commemorate the 800th anniversary of Francis of Assisi’s trip to Santiago de Compostela.

The exhibition’s curator, Gloria Moure, has brought together a significant collection of works by 35 artists of varying origins, including some of the leading international figures in contemporary art of the last four decades. The exhibits include site-specific pieces such as those by Francis Alÿs, Jorge Barbi, Tacita Dean, Jimmie Durham, Richard Long, Perejaume or Lawrence Weiner.

In addition to these specifically produced works, the exhibition has benefited from the collaboration and cooperation of major public and private collections, such as those of the Fundação Serralves (Porto), Fundació Antoni Tàpies (Barcelona), Kunsthalle Bremen (Bremen), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid), Museum für Moderne Kunst (Frankfurt Am Main), Sammlung Goetz (Munich), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) and Yves Klein Foundation (Paris), amongst others.

The 44 artworks on display in the exhibition cover an extremely wide range of mediums and formats, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations, videos and films, and are accompanied by a specially produced publication and interventions in spaces within the city.

On the Road is not confined to a single exhibition space, being shared between various settings in the historic heart of Santiago de Compostela. The Palacio de Gelmírez (one of the very few examples of civil Romanesque architecture still standing) houses the core of the exhibition, reopening for this purpose after a number of years during which it has been closed to the public; Santo Domingo de Bonaval Church is home to a group of works that have been specially adapted to the space; and next to it, the cemetery and splendid Bonaval Park (designed by the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza) hosts two specifically produced installations, one by Jorge Barbi and the other by Christian Boltanski.

On the Road
In 2014, it will be eight centuries since Francis of Assisi made his trip to Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. This is an opportunity to rethink his universe from the viewpoint of the present and to create a cultural event of international relevance on the theme of his image and cultural connections with today’s world.

The figure of Francis of Assisi is vital to European culture, not only for believers of all religions, but also for non-believers. He was a challenge to the historical time and to the world in which it was his lot to live. What he did represented, on the one hand, a radical criticism of the dominant forces of his time and, on the other, an energetic response to the demands of the situation. His confrontations with the hierarchies of the age make him an inevitable reference in many later socio-cultural movements. What we know as counterculture and ecology certainly have a Franciscan root.

His person has been linked to art since the 13th century, when Giotto portrayed the life of Francis in his magnificent frescoes for the church in Assisi. Ever since, the figure of il poverello has been a recurrent theme in artistic expression, manifesting his eminently creative, innovative attitude in the search for lost harmony that lives on in the utopias of all ages.

The exhibition layout explores the creative approaches of artists whose way of seeing helps us not only to understand the times in which we live, but also to view our past differently. To give things new meanings, try to recreate the world around us by prompting and introducing small modifications, elements of reflection and keys to understanding without losing what we leave behind.

The exhibition structure is intrinsically related to ideas underpinning the attitude of Francis of Assisi that are still highly topical: human dignity in poverty; the revaluation of sensible knowledge as opposed to the hegemony of purely instrumental reason; the preservation of nature – entropy; walking as a means to knowledge; and the condition of the landscape as the human condition.

Site-specific works
The artists’ direct involvement in the project and the commitment of the exhibition’s organisers have given On the Road the privilege of exhibiting a generous number of new works that have been specifically created or adapted for the occasion.

The UK-born artist Tacita Dean premieres her film Buon Fresco (2014), shot from start to finish in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi. Through her poetic gaze on Giotto’s frescoes illustrating the saint’s life, Dean reaffirms her deep-seated interest in recovering the past by exploring the present and her ceaseless revision of the history of painting. Once again, she brings the spectator ‘face to face’ with one of the major figures in art history.

Albert's Way is a new work by Francis Alÿs in which the Belgian artist takes up the idea of walking and adapts it to the specific context of this exhibition: he has filmed himself in his studio walking a distance equivalent to that between the cities of Ferrol and Santiago de Compostela (the pilgrim route commonly known as the English Way).

The Catalonian artist Perejaume, through the medium of a choral performance involving 300 participants, offers spectators his original take on the Canticle of Brother Sun, a hymn written by St Francis of Assisi in the Umbrian language.

Other artists that have also worked on specific projects for the various spaces in which the exhibition is being held include Jorge Barbi, Christian Boltanski, Guillermo Faivovich & Nicolás Goldberg, Jimmie Durham, Richard Long and Lawrence Weiner.

Furthermore, works by renowned artists such as John Cage, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Anthony McCall, Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Nam June Paik or Giuseppe Penone, amongst others, have been adapted to suit the exhibition space in which they are being shown, being lent a new dimension of expression by the uniqueness of their surroundings.

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