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Magazine

08 May 2012
The Queen of the Americas

Martí Manen

The Reina Sofía is working along various lines in relation to the countries of Latin America. The relation between Spain and Latin America has never been an easy one. Blood, identity, legitimization, money, transport, economy, literature, and also art, form part of a relationship, or lack of one, that still surprises.


The idea was to talk about the Reina Sofía in relation to artistic creation in Latin America. To highlight how the top, Spanish owned, public museum of contemporary art, was immersed in a really enthralling process to achieve a suitable position to generate interesting synergies and to become an important node within a network of thought, not necessarily a horizontal one but ultimately a network, related to artistic creation and politics in Latin America. That was the idea.

The temptation was, and still is, to understand how what the museum is doing, for the first time, is applying an intelligent foreign policy in relation to the Latin American countries. A cultural policy with a criterion that transcends the transition, and that could signify important change. However, in the process of defining the text, something happened that caused the Spanish machinery for the fabrication of myths and enemies, to move into action.

Overcoming Franco, of which as a brutal dictatorship it is nonsensical to expect efficient working practices, the moment of transition – that never ends – has shown a major incapacity to consider the relation of Spain to Latin America. The Spanish conquest remains ever present and there is no need to ask for forgiveness. The colonial way of thinking, from the position of the colonisers, still marks the beat. Spanish nationalism has in its DNA this conquering temperament, this “everything good is mine and sod the rest of them” that provides so many benefits in the guise of t-shirts from the national team “la roja”, with entire newspapers dedicated to Fernando Alonso, or the constant reminders that Messi is Argentinian and as such, not one of “us”, and all those people irritated by English, the devil’s tongue. Language, we gave that bunch of illiterates a language, we gave them culture and led them into the future. So why ask for forgiveness. Is the root of it.

And so we continue. On an economic level the same pattern exists. Colonisation counts amongst its grandchildren the activities of Telefónica, Dragados, Planeta, Repsol and other companies that see in Latin America a natural space for them to be able to get their piece of the action by savage means. Having destroyed 90% of the beaches of Spain and having multiplied the city suburbs by ridiculous figures, the masters of the brick “discovered” that they could play the same game, for example, in Argentina. The large publishing groups saw that if they controlled the Latin markets they would have an impressive number of readers (profits) thanks to the mass populations of these areas. So one controls the market and seeks a system to dominate the content: the majority of Latin American writers if they want to live from their writing need to pass through a Spanish publishing house, so that they can place them in their local market, a local market full of b versions, of publishing houses with headquarters in Spain.

But hey, the economy just is like that, as we are already in super-capitalism and therefore neither ethics nor politics count for anything and blah, blah, blah… However, when Argentina decides to nationalise the Repsol’s oil company YPF (yes, undoubtedly there is a hint of populism and many other things) the response comes from Spain in political terms, Repsol is Spanish and we jump directly into the upper echelons of Spanish nationalism, represented perfectly by the words “a por ellos, oe, a por ellos, oe” (let’s go get’em, he ho, let’s go get’em).

If we talk about cultural and foreign policies in relation to Latin America it beggars belief that the evidence of something as significant as the fact that the only Instituto Cervantes is in Brazil isn’t problematic. Yes, sorry, the supposed flagship of cultural exportation is not present. Even though culture, and art to lesser extent, are not its real field of activity. That the Cervantes goes about selling language courses and culture is nothing more than a smokescreen, as what is the point of it being in Spanish speaking countries? Right? The same as ever, Spanish culture is language, linguistic power and it is about making money with this. And, as culture is something secondary, cultural programmes sporadically appear, a variety of rackets, incapable of evaluation and what is more with a parallel network with the same level of authoritarianism and odd situations as the cultural centres of AECID. It is also true that on rare occasions both have carried out good projects, but not as a result of the interest or desire of those in charge. Basically the good projects arise out of disorganisation, chaos or thanks to specific people, who aren´t necessarily the ones with big salaries or linked to the hand-picked appointments, as here there is no open call worth the paper it is written on, nor good practices. Different countries, Different rules. The budget of the Instituto Cervantes is more than double that of the Reina Sofía, so it would almost be logical to demand double the professionalism and results and a policy for cultural exportation and exchange with a minimum of sense.

And that is when the endeavour of the Reina Sofía working stealthily to offer a platform of production and discussion from Latin American positions seems more necessary, and at the same time, more out of place. Out of place given the location, the circumstances, for having another rhythm, other objectives and a plan. For a long time now with Manuel Borja-Villel as director, the Reina Sofía has actively participated in the Red Conceptualismos del Sur (Southern Conceptualisms Network). A platform that recuperates political memory through art, that connects situations that were up until now distant but that share both a specific time and procedures. The Red Conceptualismos Sur is a tool with which to change history and ought to be something that is studied in the future along with the Documenta of Szeemann, the pursuits of Pontus Hultén and the proposals of Hans-Ulrich Obrist. As long as, nobody wrecks it all. Up until now, as something without much visibility, that materialised in a series of encounters, texts, small productions and, ultimately things that were a bit of a turn off, have permitted a greater degree of freedom with regard to what can be done, what can be said and the political level of the thing.

Soon an exhibition resulting from some of the works of the network will be presented in the museum. Complex arguments, politically marginal situations, proposals for the redefinition of the body, gestures towards the collective, the struggle… elements that will have to face off the logic of “Repsol is Spanish” and the customary ill treatment of Latin Americans converted into an underclass. A moment of visibility in a charged context that could potentially lead to the desire, of the politicians, to hush voices, to show who’s in command, ok it’s fine to present exhibitions that aren´t understood but we’ve had it up to here now, who do you thinking you are playing politics from a museum.

However, like in all good plans, Borja-Villel is not risking it all on one card. In parallel with the work with the Red de Conceptualismos Sur, the Reina Sofia signed an agreement with the Fundación Cisneros / Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection. And yes, in Cisneros they have everything a museum with the pretentions of being “the museum of Latin American art” needs. A spectacular private collection both in quantity and quality. It also has its central office in New York, so that the United States once again becomes the place for the definition of quality art produced in the Latin American countries. As Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy of the Fundación Patricia Phelps de Cisneros commented, for them the relation with the Reina Sofía is strategic and presupposes a better gateway to enter Europe. So here there is an interesting axis: the television series produced in Venezuela and consumed in the United States, and the whole world, make possible the purchases that are defined in New York, that become available in Madrid, to open up towards Paris or Berlin.

Axes, we also have the axis Madrid – Red de Conceptualismos Sur that would be a bit like a southern scheme, that dispenses with United States and Europe, in the first instance, to later present itself to the neighbours from above with a redefinition of the history that they would love. They already loved “Tucumán Arde” so the manoeuvre has already been practiced and with some of the same players and trainer –the best that there is – in the team.

It works. Borja-Villel’s gamble at the Reina Sofía in relation to Latin America, already tested at MACBA, works and has huge potential. And it is made with a different approach than the neo-colonialism that surrounds it. The problem is that the political environs of the Reina Sofía is bordering on grotesque. It is true that the monsters are nothing new, and that Borja-Villel knows a great deal about how to dazzle them, but until now it was only a local “esperpento”. What happens when the politicians in Latin American move into action with regard to Spain? No doubt we will see the results the moment the Reina Sofía presents an exhibition about the artistic proposals in Latin America. Here the rottweilers might enter the fray. Either the exhibition is charged with a discourse so that boredom overcomes them or someone will have to be extremely strong.

Even if the move of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is to redefine the overall art map, converting itself into the centrum of the past and the future, between Latin America and Europe/United States, between the modernity of the north and the counterproposal of the south, maybe the national museum is superseding the label “national” in a move towards a more global definition, invaliding a nationalistic approach. And surprisingly, without the absolute need for visibility and blockbusters supposedly demanded by the grand flagships of international art.

Exhibition curator and art critic. Yes, after Judith Butler it is possible to be several things at once. He thinks that questions are important and that, sometimes, to ask means to point out.

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