Madrid

Joan Brossa

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Joan Brossa’s work is shaped by multiple esthetic dimensions. One cannot speak of Brossa the poet, or Brossa the sculptor or painter as separate entities; Brossa is a totality and to ignore one of his interests would give a false impression of this Catalan artist. In 1948, Brossa, along with Antoni Tàpies and Joan Ponc, formed the group Dau al Set. This group set out to reanimate post-Surrealist and post-Dadaist esthetics using the Catalan language, which during the postwar years was repressed by Franco’s regime. At the same time, one of the most significant avant-garde poets in Catalonia, J. V. Foix, and Joan Miró, among others, reinforced Brossa’s ties with a radical dimension in art and literature. Brossa also organized performances that prefigured the works of groups such as Fluxus and ZAJ in Spain. He involved the audience in his performances, which he called scenic-poetry. In 1947 Brossa asked a group of people to burst into a room where an audience had been seated beforehand, so that those seated had to get up to let them through. The scene was thus shifted to the orchestra where the audience—now involuntary actors—waited for the beginning of the performance, which consisted precisely of its disruption by those latecomers. This burlesque gesture, this mockery, was also a spur directed at a somnolent postwar Spain.

The current exhibition, organized by Victoria Combalía, is centered on the poem-objects, some examples of visual poetry, some posters, including some trinkets, that demonstrate Brossa’s love of magic and transformation, as well as proof of his bite and sarcasm. In the poem-objects, two or more elements from different contexts are juxtaposed and brought together in an associative manner. Thus, in Nupcial (Nuptial, 1988), handcuffs and a diamond bracelet appear to be locked together. The irony lies in the double meaning of the word esposas, brides or handcuffs.

Since the ’40s, the system of associations that Brossa has used most is the pun. The more disparate the associations, the stronger the work. The ambiguous encounters among objects taken from everyday life point to a caustic intent. Thus, he uses sharp instruments such as scissors, pins, sewing needles, and knives, constantly signaling an aggressiveness that does not become vicious.

Brossa analyzes language coldly. Decorations and frills are absent in work such as his famous portfolio, Suites, 1959, setting forth a tautological conceptual art. The word cerilla (match) appears next to a drawing of a match and a real match; replace the drawing with a photograph, and the work would mimic the form of Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, 1965. Brossa’s overuse of associative linguistic techniques has recently resulted in a recourse to obvious images, such as one in which a soccer ball and an ornamental comb are meant to evoke Spain. This folkloristic penchant has been overemphasized in the installation of this exhibition, which uses lanterns as in a fair, and white sheets that hang in the manner of clothes drying on a line. A smaller number of objects would have been preferable in order to avoid a sense of redundancy.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Hanna Hannah.