Now on view at Museo Reina Sofía: 'Collection 1881-2021. Communicating Vessels'

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Now on view at Museo Reina Sofía: 'Collection 1881-2021. Communicating Vessels'
Installation view.

MADRID.- The new presentation of Museo Reina Sofía’s collection is now open to the public. Throughout its still brief history of just over thirty years, there have been several partial reorganizations of the collection, sometimes restricting it to certain galleries or proposing new readings of artists or periods. What is now on display to the public involves an integral re-reading that affects the entire collection, from the origins of modernism in the late 19th century to the most contemporary art. The result is the fruit of ten years of research and work with contributions from practically every department in the museum.

The display is made up of a set of nearly 2,000 works grouped on six floors, four in the Sabatini Building (including the lowest floor of the south wing, which has been retrieved as an exhibition space after 30 years) and two in the Nouvel extension, making up a total exhibition space of more than 15,000 m2.

Around 70% of the works in this ambitious presentation are being shown for the first time as part of the museum’s collection. Many of them have joined it in recent years as the result of donations, purchases, and loans, and their addition has made it possible to address new issues such as contemporary emigration, colonialism, ecology, the 15-M movement, or gender identity, as well as to achieve a significant increase in the presence of women artists, enhance the role of photography and film with the inclusion of hundreds of videos and photos, and include architecture transversally in the exhibition discourse. Instead of following a chronological order, the works are grouped under thematic headings, and they are moreover accompanied by abundant bibliographical and archival information, eschewing a linear reading in order to understand the narrative from a contemporary point of view.

The Director of the museum, Manuel Borja-Villel, affirms that the new presentation “tries to rethink the way in which art is narrated from a situated place like Spain. We want the proposed reflections to be related to the now, and so the topics addressed are ones that concern everybody: exiles, crisis, or feminism.”

Rosario Peiró, the museum’s Head of Collections, comments on the way in which the exhibition discourse has been developed: “On the basis of the works, we create the histories. In building this new collection, we have tried to feature some new works and provide different readings of others that were already in the galleries, or reflect a panorama that corresponds to the Museum’s force lines.”

Visitors first enter the historic moments of the birth of the artistic avant-garde movements between the end of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th. Modernity is related to the evolution and consolidation of the city, where important social and cultural changes are being generated. The most recent art thus leaves official spaces behind and seeks different forms of diffusion and communication, such as galleries, exhibitions, publications and journals. By the 1930s, as a result of a succession of social and political events, many artists have adopted a public position and are turning not only art but also its sites into places of transformation.

Shown on the fourth floor of the Sabatini Building is the complex context surrounding both the artists who remained in Spain and those who went into exile as a consequence of the Civil War, together with the cultural and artistic contributions made both inside and outside the country between 1939 and the 1950s. On the same floor, under the title “Double Exhibition: Art and Cold War”, the viewer will find a novel interpretation of the artistic and cultural context after the Second World War, a time when the United States was consolidated as the world’s leading power and attempted to propagate its cultural hegemony beyond its borders with varying results. The Protocol Room in the Sabatini Building partially recreates the Laboratorio PLAT, created by the film-maker José Val del Omar.

The part of the collection grouped under the heading “Enemies of Poetry: Resistance in Latin America”, located on Nouvel 1, focuses on the art produced between 1964 and 1987 in that geographical region, and its relationship with Spain. The political transformations of the epoch and the appearance of new artistic practices such as mail art, the appropriation of the new mass media and communication technologies, the use of the body as a tool for expression and social critique, the intervention of the public sphere, the questioning of the art system and institutions, and the redefinition of the role of the viewer led to a series of exchanges of transcendent importance for the evolution of contemporary art.

On Nouvel 0, “A Drunken Boat: Eclecticism, Institutionalism and Disobedience in the ‘80s” explores a key moment of the 1980s marked by the 1982 Documenta in Kassel, directed by Rudi Fuchs, which featured the participation of such notable artists as Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, and many figures of key importance for an understanding of the contemporary context. Moreover, these were the years of the appearance of AIDS and the start of the process that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a new flowering of financial markets and all that entailed. In Spain, local artistic talent was promoted at an institutional level both inside and outside the country, with major exhibitions on international modern artists, some of them represented here. The 1980s were also the setting for a current of feminist thought and a highly prolific period for the medium of photography, with works appearing in emblematic journals.

Shown on Floor 0 of the Sabatini Building under the heading “Apparatus 92. Can History Be Rewound?” is the art produced in the 1990s, the time of many of the changes that explain today’s world. Reference is made to Expo ’92 in Seville and the urbanistic operations of 1992, the denunciations of numerous ecologist groups at that time, and the critical role of certain key players. Also present is the vindication of public space, together with diverse reactions to the celebration of the Fifth Centenary of Columbus’s first voyage. The Principio Potosí project, the repercussions of the Berlin Conference of 1884, the process of decolonization in different Latin American countries, and the issues of identity and emigration addressed by contemporary Salvadorean art are represented in this part of the collection. Alongside are several works related to the Zapatista movement and the works of a generation of contemporary Guatemalan artists, profoundly linked to their Maya culture. Also related to this discourse is the exhibition in the Protocol Room of the Sabatini Building of an installation that recreates part of the Museum of Pictorial Reproductions in Lima.
Social mobilizations, ecology, urbanism, international conflicts, feminism, the footprints of progress, and the proliferation image are some of the themes running through the collection on Floor 1 of the Sabatini Building under the heading “Exodus and Communal Life”. The section begins with photographs of the ecological disaster of the oil tanker Prestige off the coasts of Galicia in 2002, and of the 15-M mobilizations, when occupied city squares became sites for aesthetic production. Also shown are works by Spanish artists related to feminism as a global phenomenon inspiring the largest citizen mobilizations. Architecture too is present in the display, with an analysis of the expansion of construction in Spain and the resistance of neighborhoods to predatory urbanism. Several Spanish artists of the latest generation present alternatives for another social reality and speak of the fears aroused in contemporary society by international conflicts. The mark left on territories by progress and human action, the political and social impact caused by the proliferation of images and the use of digital technologies in our everyday life, and ecologist vindications and landscapes are the themes that close the itinerary. As a parallel to this reading, a large room on Floor 3 of the Sabatini Building is used to show the work Küba by Kutlüg Ataman (1961, Turkey), a reflection of the life of the inhabitants of the suburbs of Istanbul.

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