View of the exhibition. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores. Courtesy: MNCARS.
Upon completing the seventy-fifth anniversary of the creation of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous piece, and keystone to the MNCARS Collection, the management of the Madrid museum, in conjunction with Acción Cultural Española, has decided to focus an ambitious project centered around international art from the 1930s on the artists’ paintings.
First there were a series of research papers done primarily by foreign specialists, many of which can be found in a thick catalog, which resulted in a seminar held a year ago. This complemented a conference and round table discussion on Guernica and another workshop on the Second Spanish Republic.
Its neuralgic center is in the exhibit it outlines, curated by Jordana Mendelson, Rosario Peiró, Head of Collections, and Manuel Borja-Villel, Director; and is complemented with a round table discussion with the curatorial team and an extensive movie program curated by Karen Fiss, Flores azules en un paisaje catastrófico. El cine de 1930.
The show is divided into two general and complementary chapters. The first is an exhibit in its own right, which is then divided into five sections which show the main arguments of the exhibit’s theme.
Its main theme is that art from the 1930s, compared to the common idea of an explosive decade of political confrontations and war, was also an occasion for encounters between the artist and the model, the artists themselves (although the coexistence was a source of intense controversy), between the individual and organized groups, and, furthermore, between the artist and the people, for the organized presence of the masses. It was also the moment of production in series, the beginning of the daily presence of cinema and photography in the public media and the emergence of collective and, at the same time, selective propaganda. Additionally it was also a period of global economic crisis, after the 1929 banking crash, of political polarities and the replacement of one social and political model for another. In the final analysis, and it does not seem too risky to suggest this, it was a distant time, three quarters of a century ago, and yet, near, very near to contemporary international developments.
In an exhibit set-up as clean as it is significant, by the designer María Fraile, we find several sections devoted to Realismos, subdivided into nationalities and motives, Abstracción, in its heyday after the manifests of the avant-garde, the large Exposiciones Internacionales, Surrealism, in its international heyday, and photography, cinema and posters, in which if the great works driven by Nazism and Communism are somehow absent, they are not so in the memory of the viewer, they are somehow coherently complemented in the reading of these sections.
If not less convincing, then somewhat more intricate in its approach is what happens on the second floor. There, we find rooms of the permanent Collection have been changed and modified so that, without losing their place in the historic tour of the Museum, they follow the thread of the show in its final section, España: Segunda República. Guerra Civil. Exilio, which centers around the large Picasso-esque mural and the reconstruction of the Pabellón de la República, together with figurative and satirical works produced during the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish production by André Masson, subject of a large donation to the Museum collection, the influence of the conflict on international artists and, finally, the production of exile.
The double entrance into this section, from the Sabtini or the Nouvel wings, generates an already existing confusion in the normal tour of the collection, to which has been added, without diminishing the solidity of most of the approaches, some decisions made by the curators, such as including Goya’s prints, which invite the visitor to elucidate a discourse that is not historical, but interpretive, and changes the laws of the game without admitting other players.