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Every time one of the great international events of contemporary art is held, the debate on the internationalization of Spanish art is revived, generally because of the scarce presence of Spanish artists in it. “Why aren’t we there,” “Why don’t they look at us,” “Here too there are good artists,” and similar regrets are published for a few days or weeks in the general and specialized press, everyone has something to say about it, in comments on social networks or in more or less informal inaugural conversations. The answers are usually grouped into two basic lines of argument that have in common underlining the lack of support, of means, of funding, but differ in the way they approach the problem. One can be summed up as “you have to go out more”, that is, go outside and let them know that we exist and that we do things worthy of being seen. Along these lines, public bodies and private foundations subsidize the international mobility of Spanish agents and their works, so that they can be trained, exhibit, sell and gain experience abroad, or allocate funds so that foreign agents can be invited to come and see what is here.
It is often overlooked that there are not a few Spanish actors in contemporary art -artists, curators, producers, managers…- who are abroad, who operate in and from other countries and who are more often than not the visible face of what we want to call “Spanish art” outside the borders of the State and who would perhaps have to define what it is and who is interested in making it a reality and promoting it. The same press that regrets and recounts the opening of the Olympic Games of art does little or no echo of the international exhibitions in which Spaniards participate the rest of the time. It is also omitted that many and many of those who have left have done so thanks to these international mobility grants and who have decided not to return for various reasons, but among them is always the most dynamic of other cultural scenes in which they have set foot. Back to what, that is the question, if we speak in professional terms.
The other version of the answer has precisely to do with that and emphasizes the need to improve the conditions of production and exhibition of contemporary art in situ, here. We must stop counting and the political interferences with objectives other than art and allow the cultural sector to become dynamic, experimental and innovative. Promote different local scenes so that they grow and can generate interest beyond the limits of the local, for what they do and not for what they represent as a national brand. So that leaving is less a necessity or an obligation and more a personal decision motivated by something other than the structural precariousness of a very little autonomous artistic sector that always looks outside from below.
This issue devoted to internationalization has benefited from the first-person testimonies of four of these agents who live, or have lived, outside. Their texts contribute content to the discussion on the need, or not, to internationalize Spanish contemporary art, from the experience of having emigrated and of having seen how it works in other places. Barbara Cueto‘s article focuses on the tension between the global dimension of contemporary art, hyperconnected and hypermobile, and the deeply rooted practices of some of the artistic projects that are often cited as interesting examples at the international level. They are exemplary precisely because they escape the homogenization of discourses and practices to which the globalization of the visual arts seems to have led since the 1970s in its worst version: that of capital, franchise and total lack of ethics. Claiming other ways of doing, other times and other discourses from the curatorship, production and mediation may be the way to go in order to amass the symbolic capital at stake.
The texts by Cristina Garrido and Rafa Barber Cortell point in this direction, advocating a relocation that gives meaning to what is done and what is said. Cristina speaks from her own experience of the academic formation in one of the prestigious schools of London by which it seems that it is necessary to pass to pretend to a global career. It is an experience that extends almost naturally in a period of more or less precarious professional and economic, all for the sake of art, until one realizes that you can develop your work without the pressure of success where you feel most comfortable, getting rid of having to act as ambassador or standard-bearer of national labels. If success has to come, you know where to find me. Turning to fiction, Rafa Barber Cortell imagines a dystopian future in which cheap travel is no longer an option and in which the hyperconnected and hypermobile global scene ceases to be interesting because only a few can participate. Starting from the paradox of recognition in the place of origin that does not arrive without having emigrated, the question is, what would happen if all those who have left come back? In this story, the local scenes are nourished by the diverse experiences of all the returnees, giving rise to creative and discursive poles that end up attracting the attention of the outside world to which they wanted to belong. Is there no possible interest without disinterest?
That not everything is so perfect outside also says Oriol Nogues from Paris. Claiming sincerity, his article exposes the contradictions that arise for the emigrated artist when he presents himself professionally as a rational and coherent individual at all times, but also when he watches terrible meltdowns on social networks and supports, from a distance, whatever may happen, what can happen. Is it possible to get out of the obligation to maintain the face for the sake of collective representation? Are affection and sincerity the antidote to constant competition in the art world?
These four contributions, as well as others that I have been able to gather in the framework of a broader research work, are far from what is usually defended by the bodies responsible for cultural policy, both internally and externally. The agents of the Spanish contemporary art sector do not claim more Marca España (Spanish Brand) or more soft power, not even a national label of what they do, but better working and training conditions, greater professional recognition and more autonomy. To be able to go out, if they want, feeling supported by an interesting context with which to maintain dialogue and not have to leave due to wastage, to start again in places where competition can be even more rude. The conclusion is that no debate affecting Spanish contemporary art can turn its back on agents in the sector, nor can internationalization.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)