New York's turn
May 2007 - Off the back of the highly successful exhibition, ‘Grand Masters of European Painting’ held here at MNAC a few months ago, it is time for Barcelona to return the favour they owe to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, whose pieces made the show a possibility. Just as the Met kindly lent its special collection on that occasion, Barcelona has now sent its prized possessions across the pond to its American counterpart for the exhibition, ‘Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudí to Dalí’, which will be open until June 3rd.
The show opened at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and was pared down by 30 pieces for its move to Manahttan. It is the first comprehensive survey of its kind ever shown in America, a marvellous exhibition that transports a time capsule of Catalan culture half-way around the world.
‘Barcelona and Modernity’ explores a golden era in Barcelona’s history; the revolutionary period between the Barcelona Universal Exhibition of 1888 and the imposition of the Fascist regime in 1939. Barcelona was, in its heyday, the most prosperous, avant-garde and sophisticated city in Spain.
So what would a bill of Barcelona art look like without including the usual star-studded line up of Picasso, Dalí and Miró? Inevitably, examples of their work abound, but much to its credit ‘Barcelona and Modernity’ does not overlook lesser-known artists who still played an important part in constructing Barcelona’s rich cultural identity, nor does it neglect to mention pursuits outside of painting.
The show also includes figures such as architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, or the quirky jewellery designer Lluís Masriera, along with painters like Isidre Nonell and Ramon Casas. All in all, the Metropolitan is temporarily housing some 300 pieces that include paintings, sculpture, photographs, prints, posters, graphic design works, decorative arts, furniture, architectural models, maps and other miscellany, all of which share the same gallery space.
Part of the appeal of this epic ‘Who’s Who’ of Catalan art is how it has been organised into nine thematic sections, which explore the relationships among the visual arts and its wider context rather than just regurgitating one aesthetic trend after another. To this end, it makes sense out of disparate and conflicting ideas—artistic, cultural and political. It starts out with the origins of the Catalan Renaissance and concludes with a striking array of art that depicts the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, most noteworthy being the studies for Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica.
Elsewhere, a hall is dedicated to manifestations of the Modernisme movement through painting and sculpture, art and society, architecture and design. One section focuses on the legendary café El Quatre Gats frequented by the bohemian crowd, another on Noucentisme (New Classicism), avant-garde painting, and the new rational architecture influenced by Le Corbusier and embodied by the innovative group who went by the name, ‘Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture’.
The exhibition offers work that is new to North American eyes, and which has never before travelled out of Spain. Furthermore, the people who do recognise the names of Dalí or Miró are often not aware that they were Catalans. As such, ‘Barcelona and Modernity’ is a good way to project and explain Barcelona to the world, and what better place to do it than New York?