Mirades (Sobre El Museu)

Mirades (sobre el Museu)” (Looking [at the museum]) seemed an attempt to examine the identity of Barcelona’s recently opened Museum of Contemporary Art. One should perhaps consider the peculiar conditions shaping the MACBA—a museum built in a city known for its architecture—in order to understand why, at its very inception, it seeks to affirm itself. In navigating the slippery terrain of contemporary art, especially that of recent decades, Barcelona lacks a strong tradition, and since the construction of this building in the Raval neighborhood was somewhat controversial, it is logical that the museum should find solace in viewing itself as spectacle.

For “Mirades,” curator Antónia M. Perelló selected fourteen foreign and Catalonian artists—both the well-recognized and promising newcomers. All were chosen forthe links, whether physical or conceptual, between their own work and architecture. The results were quite diverse, running the gamut from work that analyzed the MACBA itself as an institution (the pieces contributed by Magdalena Jetelová, for example) to works whose ties to the museum were merely tangential, such as those of the Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, and two British artists, Craig Wood and Terry Smith. Smith exhibited a delicate piece that comprised a kind of drawing with staples and approached an arte povera sensibility. Other works involved metaphors, images, and spaces that addressed the concept of the museum and its relationship to the surrounding environment. Richard Wilson, for example, constructed one of his powerful artifacts, a suspended construction that could be seen as a metaphor for the museum in isolation from its setting. Any ambiguity disappeared, however, in the spectacular catwalk constructed by Tadashi Kawamata, which almost connected the building to neighboring houses. This represented a continuation of Kawamata’s tendency to address issues of parasitism and symbiosis in the buildings and installations he designs; in this case the idea was quite clear—the need to contextualize the MACBA, to uproot it from the self-absorption typical of such institutions. Spanish artist Ignasi Aballi also attempted to create a kind of exchange between the museum and its surroundings, by suggesting traces of a housing block that once existed on this site. While an idea very similar to Kawamata’s could be found in the show’s brilliant centerpiece, the installation by Fortuyn/O’Brien, which reproduced—through jigsaw puzzles and furniture taken from buildings adjacent to the museum the ways in which the building is seen by its neighbors. The result was a delightful game of seeing and being seen.

The Spanish artist Perejaume, as well as Frenchman Michel Verjux and Belgian artist Richard Venlet, each contributed signature works. Installing a camera in a field near Barcelona, Perejaume played his customary game of relating nature to art, while Verjux and Venlet created pieces in tune with their typical sensibility, which approaches Minimalism. On the other hand, Daniel Buren, as well as the Spanish artist Montserrat Soto and English artist Rosie Leventon, hinted at what the museum means for them. Curiously, although Buren typically chooses to actively engage architectural spaces, he opted to contribute an autonomous sculpture to this show. He did, however, maintain his tradition of playing with contrasts, in choosing to represent this immaculate building through a labyrinth full of color, although his piece could perhaps be said to transcend references to the MACBA and refer to museums in general. The same was true of Soto’s two photographs, which together addressed the museum’s effect on the visitor: how the spectator ignores surrounding physical space when looking at an artwork.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.