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25 March 2013
Sodoma - Pier Paolo Passolini
Pulling Tàpies out of the cupboard

David G. Torres

It seems ridiculous that more than 20 years have been needed to make an exhibition like “Contra Tàpies”: to come to terms, once and for all, with Tàpies in the very foundation that carries his name. Is it really possible that nobody there was interested in Tàpies until now? That it was enough to leave him on the second floor, close to the library so that his presence was barely felt, and to set up the obligatory annual exhibition of the latest works in the summer, taking advantage of the tourist lure. In this way the “Tàpies problem” was sidestepped. But what is the problem with Tàpies? Valentín Roma, the curator of the exhibition “Contra Tàpies”, stated one of them in a public discussion with Laurence Russel, the director of the Foundation. He could have talked of the solitude of Tàpies, but he insisted that there weren’t any exhibitions in which Tàpies would have naturally concurred with the thesis of the curator. In the curatorial text (that along with others can be read in the open blog about the exhibition ) explains that if he participated in group exhibitions, his inclusion was merely for formal (paintings with stains with paintings with stains) or historical reasons (under whatever excuse, even politics, I still remember the disastrous “Tàpies and the public sphere” that endeavoured to shoehorn Tàpies into the social and politically committed discourses that emanated from MACBA, as if making posters for plays was the same as running in front of the grises).

The Tàpies problem also lies in the famous letters exchanged with the conceptual artists, in La Vanguardia. What would Ramón Besa have to say about it all? A strategic error, at a high cost. A cost, that runs through all his production since the seventies. How can Tàpies be inserted into a contemporary genealogy if there is this point of rejection? How can one insert him into strategies shared with other artists if since Dau al set (and even then) he seemed to be alone? To me, Valentín Roma’s answer seems the best: it’s just not necessary, what is needed is a certain demystification, to commit blasphemy. And Valentín, true to his referents such as Pedro G. Romero and Manuel Delgado, clarifies that demystification consists in grasping the images and lowering them from their pedestal to return them to the public domain, to talk to them on equal terms. This is ultimately what “Contra Tàpies” is about substituting the use of Tàpies, carrying him to a terrain of shared discussion.

It’s true that initially “contra Tàpies” provokes a suspicion that says (and more than a few have already) that it is no longer an exhibition that attacks, that it isn’t a refutation. No, it isn´t. This idea of a dialogue, as if it just yet another, hovers above the whole proposal. To start with, in what Valentín Roma calls the “first narrative”: a sort of thematic range of some of the questions that run through Tàpies, be it sex taken through to pornography, the importance of text given the artists voracity for reading, be it the painterly question by way of the mural or street-painting. It is also there in the second narrative: that proposes a dialogue with other artists, contemporaries of Tàpies. These other artists are Álvaro Perdices, Luis Guerra, Usue Arrieta and Vicente Vázquez, Isaias Griñolo and Pep Agut. Valentín has asked how could artists for whom Tàpies is already a past rather than a contemporary reference, dialogue with him, as if Tàpies was Duchamp or Malevich. Something that doesn’t fit with Pep Agut, who insists, that he has always maintained a dialogue with Tàpies, that he has been a reference for him. In the other cases as well, despite the generational distance, there is an excess of respect, as if the proposals weren’t totally at home with this blasphemous idea, as if the formal weight of Tàpies or the need to extract something from him was still an encumbrance. It could also be that my gaze is still be conditioned by this weight. But no doubt it is not the only one.

Apart from this there is the case of Isaías Griñolo and the project “Ahí está la pared”. A more explicit reponse to the “contra Tàpies”, that winks at those questions of a more delicate political nature in the biography of Tàpies. This is another hurdle or yet another Tàpies problem: the strange collusion of Informalism and Francoism in which one side they weren’t pro-Franco nor on the other pro-Tàpies but used each other mutually, something that Jorge Luís Marzo has talked about at length and which in fact has generated controversy.

In reality “Contra Tàpies” is three exhibitions: an exhibition that seeks to resituate Tàpies starting from scratch, on an equal footing, a form of discussion and let’s see what happens; an exhibition with projects by other artists that seek to dialogue with Tàpies; and, finally, the “third narrative”, an exhibition of extra-terrestrial Tàpies, works by Tàpies that don’t look like Tàpies. I’ve enjoyed the first and the latter more than the second, because both have something of that automatic writing, of letting go: letting go amidst the connections and being carried away in search of a Tàpies that isn’t there. In each of the cases the desire that Valentín Roma made explicit in that discussion with Lawrence Russel is that the exhibition serve to liberate Tàpies (without doing away with him, as I believe has gone on for too long in the Foundation) so that from now on many other readings, exhibitions and proposals can arise. It is a generous intention. It could be that it may open up so many other fields that it ends up shelving the Tàpies problem. Or maybe it is time to give the arguments another twist and ask why is Tàpies interesting? Or, for what?

Finally I want to highlight a question that is to do with the shadow that this bloody crisis is casting over the Fundació Tàpies and the institutional context of art in general. It is an exhibition that according to what I’ve been told is more than economically sustainable. It is evident: one just has to look at the provenance of the works (loans from nearby collections, such as MACBA) and the type of works (the video of Beuys singing against Reagan from youtube that we placed on the web a few days ago). Can interesting and powerful exhibitions be made sustainably? The answer is obviously yes. So, let the other institutions be warned, excuses are just not enough.

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)