Joan Brossa

Galería Miguel Marcos

For most of his career, the seventy-nine-year-old artist Joan Brossa was known in his native Catalonia only as a poet. Seven years ago, however, Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum dedicated a show to his Surrealist sculptures, which he calls “object-poems,” and since then his art has influenced the work of many young Spanish artists. Like that of Meret Oppenheim and Louise Bourgeois, two other artists working in a surrealist mode, the continuing vitality of Brossa’s work provides a source of inspiration. Whereas Brossa’s oeuvre was once little known outside a small group of friends, he is now receiving a great deal of public attention, and was even chosen to represent Spain at the last Venice Biennale.

Despite the critical neglect, Brossa played an active role in the history of Spanish art. In 1947, along with Antoni Tapies and several others, he founded the avant-garde Surrealist journal Dau al Set, the first attempt in post-Civil War Spain to discuss art being made abroad. The journal’s activities were highly influenced by Brossa’s friend Joan Miró, who lived in Spain in a sort of internal exile. If Miró claimed that he made no distinction between painting and poetry, Brossa’s fascinating “object-poems” could be said to blur the distinction between poetry and the image, while demonstrating the transcendent possibilities in apparently neutral objects. (The latter is something that Tapies himself learned from Brossa, who encouraged him to eliminate the more esoteric and literary aspects of his work.)

Despite his recent spate of gallery and museum shows, Brossa has tended to avoid exhibiting in commercial venues, which perhaps accounts for the intensely personal nature of his work throughout his long career. His production embraces not only sculpture, poetry, music, film scripts, magic, plays, and teleplays, but also installations that take the form of interactive games installed in various urban areas—all of which Brossa views as facets of a single project.

Because of financial difficulties, Brossa was unable to realize his designs for large-scale projects before the ’90s. For his recent show, he constructed five installations, some suggesting an ironic take on the bourgeois lifestyle. Not all the pieces on display lived up to the artist’s now-legendary status, but others can certainly be counted among his best, such as Emplaçaments; Interior à l’interior, 1998, a work that was conceived in 1994 but only realized this year. This evocative piece consists of a locked iron cage containing a table and a fishbowl with a goldfish. The double enclosure functions like a game of mirrors in which two beings—spectator and fish—observe one another from their respective positions, suggesting a metaphor for the relationship between interior and exterior states.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent Martin.