”la Caixa” Contemporary Art Collection
”la Caixa” Foundation presents a new exhibition, curated by Enrique Juncosa, that suggests a multiple gaze over recent art history.
Can we explain and classify contemporary art through a single chronological narrative, as has been done with all previous art? Would it not it be more appropriate to propose a simultaneity of discourses that allow us to approach creativity today from different points of view?
This is the idea that underlies Three Narratives, the new cycle of exhibitions presented by ”la Caixa” Foundation at CaixaForum Barcelona, based on the organisation’s Collection of Contemporary Art. The Foundation invited the poet, essayist, critic and museum director Enrique Juncosa to delve into the ”la Caixa” Collection and suggest new interpretations of the works conserved in it. Accordingly, Juncosa took inspiration from certain narrative structures found in the world of literature and film today to present a cycle of three exhibitions based on three concepts found frequently in works by contemporary artists. Following the first exhibition, Participation, Juncosa now presents Memory. This second show in the series features a series of paradigmatic works from the collection in which the concept of memory provides the starting-point for meditation on the individual conscience.
The exhibition generates a dialogue between the outstanding work by Joseph Beuys that occupies a permanent space at CaixaForum Barcelona and pieces by Miroslaw Balka, Rachel Whiteread, Susana Solano, Carmen Calvo, Christian Boltanski, Robert Gober, Guillermo Kuitca, Juan Muñoz and Doris Salcedo.
Indeed, one of «la Caixa» Foundation’s missions in the field of culture is to make contemporary art more widely known, breaking down the barriers that so often separate modern creation from audiences. To this end, the Foundation’s cultural programme focuses particularly on the most recent art, through both a varied programme of exhibitions and the acquisitions of the ”la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art itself. The Collection currently comprises nearly one thousand works, including pieces by some of the most important artists of the last thirty years. As a result, the Collection has now become a point of reference in the art world. This is demonstrated by the constant requests for loans of works for exhibitions around the world, and the organisation of numerous shows at CaixaForum centres and travelling exhibitions in Spain, Europe and the whole world.
In recent years, moreover, in order to intensify its cultural activities, ”la Caixa” Foundation has also established strategic alliances with major museums around the world, including the Louvre and the Prado. This line of action also includes an agreement between ”la Caixa” and MACBA, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, for the joint management of their respective contemporary art collections, a coordinated acquisition policy and the co-production of exhibitions based on these collections.
In organising the cycle Three Narratives. Participation. Memory. Language. ”la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art, the Foundation continues its commitment to providing a permanent space at CaixaForum Barcelona that is open to new interpretations of its contemporary art holdings. This may take the form of shows prepared by emerging curators – such as the Comisart cycle, launched last season – or by inviting outstanding international figures from the world of contemporary creativity.
In this line, during the 2012-2013 season, Room 2 ”la Caixa” Foundation Cultural and Social Centre in Barcelona hosted the cycle of exhibitions What to Think. What to Want. What to Do, curated by Rosa Martínez. After this initial experience, the second series of exhibitions is presented by Enrique Juncosa (Palma, 1961), poet, essayist, art critic, exhibition curator and museum director.
This collaboration marks the reunion of Juncosa with ”la Caixa” Foundation, an organisation that he cooperated with in the nineteen-nineties, organising exhibitions such as those devoted to Barry Flanagan and Malcolm Morley. Later, Juncosa served as assistant director at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, as well as director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Dublin).
Juncosa believes that the traditional discourse about art, based on schools and movements concentrated in the great capitals of creativity, no longer serves to account for the complexity of the contemporary artistic phenomenon. On the contrary, the narrative involves simultaneity, parallel times, coincidences and ramifications in a way perhaps only comparable with modern physics.
Taking his inspiration from this idea, Juncosa has prepared a programme of three exhibitions for CaixaForum Barcelona. The cycle revolves around the concepts of participation, memory and language to describe a trajectory from the expansion of shared events to the concentration and intimate nature of form. To explore these three concepts, the curator has selected works from the ”la Caixa” Collection by such artists as Olafur Eliasson, Douglas Gordon, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Juan Muñoz, Doris Salcedo, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra. There exists a general consensus as to how twentieth-century modern art should be organised, but only up to the nineteen-sixties. From that point until the present, contemporary art turns into something that is impossible to reduce to a single narrative capable of explaining the whole phenomenon.
Many different aesthetic movements are found side-by-side. The so-called “new” art media are used, but “traditional” techniques like painting and drawing also survive. Certain artforms emerge and become firmly established that even deny the validity of the art object, whilst others are hybrids of categories that were formerly fixed and clear. We find artists all around the world, from Argentina to Thailand via Berlin, Iran and India, who contribute their own cultural and contextual perspectives to the global discourse.
It has become impossible to intentionally ignore reality, to formulate a single narrative that explains and encompasses it fully, to the point where, for the last several years the very idea of progress has been considered no more than a superstitious belief.
The exhibition cycle Three Narratives was conceived as “a possibility»: that of proposing different narratives of recent art history, which refuses to be interpreted as a single discourse. This is a plural model inspired by references from other spheres in which complex, intertwined narrative structures are explored, such as Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 and Rabih Alameddine’s bestseller The Hakawati in literature, David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive in cinema, or the operas of the Irish composer Gerald Barry in the performing arts.
Based on this theoretical framework, the cycle takes the shape of threesuccessive exhibitions whose main goal is to show how participation, memory and language have operated as creative and speculative strategies in artistic creation over the past three decades. To this end, the pieces selected are presented in reverse chronological order, and vanishing points, intersections and meeting places are sought in order to extract new narratives from the works that form the ”la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art. Accordingly, the works included in the first sample, Participation, included pieces added more or less recently to the collection. They explore practices predominant since the late-nineties and that, in most cases, go beyond the art object. Generally speaking, we find that their significance resides outside the works themselves, which require participation on the part of the spectator.
The works included in the second show, entitled Memory, many of which date back to the early-nineties, are more important as triggers for interpretations based on the memory, both that of the artist and that of the viewer, than as art objects, although their materiality is still important. Most focus on such themes as disease, social or political violence, as well as different issues concerning identity.
In the third and last show in the cycle, Language, the meaning of the work resides in the pieces themselves. These are works that were created, for the most part, in the nineteen-eighties, or, if later, follow criteria explored at the start of that decade.
The exhibition takes memory as the starting point of individual consciousness:the idea is to search within oneself and find a way to communicate the incommunicable. From the work of Christian Boltanski, Miroslaw Balka, Guillermo Kuitca and others, marked by the experience of the Holocaust, to the subject of the silence of in pieces by Carmen Calvo, the uncertainty of the human condition in the sculpture of Juan Muñoz, disease in a disturbing installation by Robert Gober, menace in the work of Susana Solano, violence in that of Doris Salcedo, and the dark background that lurks behind things in Rachel Whiteread’s installation for the 1997 Venice Biennale. Amongst the most outstanding attractions in Memory is the installation by Joseph Beuys, Hinter dem Knochen wird gezählt – Schmerzraum (1983), one of the most important works in the ”la Caixa” Collection, which occupies a permanent exhibition space at CaixaForum Barcelona. Juncosa generates a dialogue between Schmerzraum and artists and works intimately related to and influenced by this piece.
The work of all the artists selected form responses to the different crises that we all face in the course of our lives, whether personal, social or historic. In doing so, their creations become repositories of memory, often painful, of those crises or rites of passage, and are able, in turn, to awaken the spectator’s own consciousness of his or her own equivalent experiences.
This is a highly heterogeneous group of artists, although sculptors predominate amongst them. They are also multinational, this time around including practitioners from Europe, the USA and Latin America. None are formalists and, in some cases, when they use found objects, such as furniture or old photographs, they are selected, not for their artistic qualities but for their precise ability to suggest certain questions. This is clear in the work of such artists as Calvo, Gober, Kuitca and Muñoz, interested in psychoanalysis and internal conflicts.
Balka and Salcedo, moreover, use found or apparently time-worn objects to bring out their evocative power, suited to exploring the great historic traumas. Whiteread does not work with found objects, but many of her sculptures are based on them, as well as on real spaces, and she also presents three-dimensional negative images, for example of fragments from public and private buildings. By doing so, she speaks of memory in a way that we might call literal, as well as poetic. Finally, the sculptures of Susana Solano, allude to both architecture and landscape, but based on the memory or experience of them, and not as if they were objective or independent concepts.