Surviving in the art world takes talent and ingenuity, even under the best of economic conditions. We look at four small galleries that have found a way to stay alive and thrive.
In these times of austerity when funding is hard to come by in all fields, the arts have suffered particularly. While large cultural institutions still manage to present worthwhile offerings for the public, often drawing upon the holdings in their permanent collections rather than mounting expensive exhibitions of travelling and costly-to-insure works of art, smaller galleries have struggled to keep their doors open.
Several groups of artists and art patrons have gotten more creative, taking matters into their own hands and presenting on a shoe-string budget the works of worthy artists eager to get their creative efforts in front of the art-loving public of Barcelona. Many of these ad-hoc organizations were created by foreigners.
The name may ring of political unrest, but it is actually an acronym for Makers of Barcelona.
Self-described “mastermind” of MOB is Hong-Kong born Cecilia Tham, who holds a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard. The idea for MOB was a dream that grew out of her graduate school thesis. After working for years in various architecture firms in the U.S. and in Spain, she launched her own private design firm and MOB in 2010. “The idea was to combine professionals with academics, the local with the international, all mixed up into one big open space for collaboration and inspiration.” Housed in a historic textile factory in the Eixample, MOB was envisioned as a “gym for the brain,” says Tham, “a space where people can come, work, share, learn, sell, interact and collaborate. Our vision is to create a space where creative people can go to share resources and knowledge, to meet other interesting people and get inspired.” The focus of MOB is on commercial art, illustration, and photography, but it extends to performance art as well. This fall’s line-up, for instance, has included a three-night performance of Ubu Rey, the proto-surrealist drama by Alfred Jarry. Perhaps its most highly visible event is the Art Supermarket, which is mounted at MOB every two months as a showcase for artists.
www.mob-barcelona.com Bailen 11, Bajos,
Tel. 665 338 520
Base Elements Urban Art Gallery
The sign outside says it all: ARTE. This off-the-beaten-path exhibition space and commercial gallery occupies a prime location in the Barrio Gótico. The gallery is run by husband and wife, Robert Burt and Monica Riu. Both are artists; he’s from America and she is Catalan. The couple began showcasing the work of Barcelona’s street artists, including the well-known Pez (famous for his fish motifs), in a funky space that opened nearby in 2003. The gallery was relocated last year to its current quarters on the wide Carrer del Palau. (The lower level features the remains of one of the palaces destroyed in the 19th century, which gave the street its name.) It is not only a retail space but also a workshop and a studio for local street talent. The urban-pop collage/paintings of Juan Pajares may command the highest prices, along with canvases by stencil artist Btoy, one of the few women working in the genre, but many more modestly priced works fill the two-story gallery space.
Why street artists? Robert, who began as a ceramicist when he first arrived in Barcelona decades ago, soon moved on to promoting the work of other artists when he saw that there was a market for urban art. He distinguishes between street artists and contemporary “urban artists,” who have a similar aesthetic but do not necessarily work in the streets. Business is booming in the new Base Elements space, which has attracted an international clientele. His marketing plan, he says, is “both bohemian and professional,” which reassures collectors of cutting-edge art who want to take a chance on the purchase of what may be Barcelona’s most distinctive souvenir. www.baseelements.net
Palau 6, Tel. 93 268 8312
The gallery came together because Scottish-born artist Jack Davidson was tired of feeling excluded from the local art scene, which he felt was so busy promoting the work of the locals that non-Catalan artists had an up-hill struggle to find representation in Barcelona. “It comes out of that do-it-yourself punk ethic,” says Davidson, who has worked in the past as a preparator for major art museums like New York’s Guggenheim while supporting himself as an abstract artist-of-note. When he and his Catalan partner Miguel Rodés Parellada decided to turn a part of their rambling modernist flat on the Rambla de Catalunya into a space devoted to showing the latest work of artists who had shared a similar frustration, JiM (Jack and Miguel) Contemporani was born.
Their recent exhibition schedule has included the work of Guillermo Pfaff. While the gallerists’ taste tends to run toward painters of the abstract, they have also shown recently the soulful photographs and watercolours of San Franciscans Nina and John Zurier, who are currently showing at the Sao Paulo Bienal.
The elegant space provides a relaxed meeting-point atmosphere for patrons and artists without the pressure of the regular commercial gallery environment. An upcoming show this winter will feature works by American-born, Scottish-based Fritz Welch, and local talent Ruben Verdu. “We provide a space for artists to present projects that they otherwise might not get a chance to exhibit. We bring to Barcelona art and artists who perhaps normally would not be shown here, while situating local artists in an international setting.”
Open by appointment, or to get on the mailing list for the monthly previews at JiM, visit their web page: www.facebook.com/JimContemporani. Rambla Catalunya 43, 2º 2ª, Tel. 659 219 666
Talented Dutch artist Iris Tonies could have been complacent about her success and focused soley on her own career. Water is a recurring motif for Tonies, who lives on a sailing ship in the Barcelona marina. She has won acclaim for her gorgeous aqua-colored textural sculptures of wave-like forms and her work has been commissioned by institutions as prestigious as Barcelona’s Museo Marítim. When the sculptor arrived with her husband, Arnout Krediet, from Holland four years ago, she also was surprised at how few opportunities there were for foreign artists to show their work in Barcelona. Tonies decided to turn a bad situation around and converted first one, and then another, ancient stone space on the Palma Sant Just in the Gothic Quarter into studio spaces for other artists.
She is now the Director of Estudio Nómada, which she conceives of as part of an ideal art academy scenario whose students re-locate, year-by-year, from one city to another as a kind of moveable feast. (A second branch has since opened in Hong Kong.) The cooperative arrangement in Barcelona provides not only artist studio spaces, but also a shared gallery that serves as an exhibition space for the participants. Training for foreign as well as local art students, whose foreign status confers upon them the unofficial monikor of “nómadas”, gives them direction in sculpture, drawing, painting, photography and alternative media by the small international faculty that includes Tonies and Krediet.
Their ambitious exhibition schedule is innovative and varied. Last year, during a performance called, “I’M CLEAN!” passers-by were invited to write down their guilty pleasures on strips of cloth that were later hand-laundered in big soapy wash buckets whose suds ran down the Carrer Palma Sant Just. The gallery/school is a popular stop on the Tallers Oberts (Open Studios) walking tours organized by FAD (Foment de les Arts I del Disseny). The prestigious video fair Loop Barcelona now includes the Galeria Nómada as a venue in its annual spring events. www.estudio-nomada.com
Palma de Sant Just 7, Tel. 622 68 90 32.