The Reina Sofía rearranges its collection to better explain what has happened to us

Communicating vessels or, in the words of Manuel Borja-Villel, director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, “a new complete reorganization of the museum” that breaks the divisions between artistic disciplines, includes others that had been excluded such as architecture, urbanism or the theater and works to insert the works in their context.

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The new identity of the museum’s permanent collection is articulated in 2,000 pieces, six floors of the two museum buildings, 15,000 square meters and, as a novelty, 70% of these works had not been previously exhibited or are recently acquired.

This tumble into the Reina Sofía narrative opens the door to crises, to 15M, 8M, to pandemics, to the square. “The collection is not a pantheon of illustrious men and women but an itinerary where artists can appear at one time and also at another,” Borja-Villel clarified during this Friday’s presentation.

The proposed path explains art in relation to historical events and social and political movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. It starts with the bohemian in Madrid, Paris and Barcelona. Hence, the role of the city as a trope, as a subject of modernity, becomes relevant, both to think about utopia (the garden city, Linear City, the Ensanche) and to project the revolution. This focus on the city leads to Madrid, a city in which the museum is inserted and from which one cannot be oblivious: the ultraist Madrid and the one made up of avant-garde women, the madriles of Ramón Gómez de la Serna and their gatherings, the photos of the alfonsos, the bad life, the fascination for the underworld.

From cubism to the tension between high culture and popular art: the 1930s, the Guernica, flamenco, Breton, Buñuel, the proletarians of culture: La Barraca and the Pedagogical Missions. And, of course, surrealism. At this point, the plot of this story reaches a point of conflict, a script twist: workers’ revolutions, anarchism, class struggle and the defeat that leads to exile.

Exile is one of the key points of the reorganization, “a pending issue in this country,” says the director of the institution. Under the heading of situation Lost thought, The cultural and artistic contributions between 1939 and the 1950s are reflected with photographs by Robert Capa of the refugee camps in France and the drawings made by Antonio Rodríguez Luna. The work of Josep Renau in Mexico or the anti-fascist graphic printed from that same country, which was a place of welcome for many left-wing intellectuals who had to leave Spain after the Civil War.

Another important reinforcement that the Reina Sofía presents us as a situated museum, which observes the world from an undoubted point of view, which takes sides, is decolonization. A good amount of work on Latin America and its relationship with Spain between 1964 and 1987 is incorporated: Brazilian tropicalist psychedelia, audiovisual experimentation, Argentine social commitment, Chilean resistance during the Pinochet dictatorship.

A “drunken ship”, as Rimbaud’s poem says, is the name given to the section dedicated to “eclecticism, institutionalism and disobedience” in the 80s. Institutionality because ARCO was created in 1982 and the museum itself in 1986. Also because art is used to politically internationalize a Spain that is emerging from the dictatorship. There is Tàpies, Chillida. More than a hundred works that arise from the crisis of the early decade, the conservative policies of Reagan and Thatcher, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the AIDS pandemic, which appears both from the privacy of care for the disease as in its political manifestation of the activist body that fights for its visibility, like the t-shirt “I have AIDS” by Fabulous Nobodies (Roberto Jacoby and Mariana “Kiwi” Sainz) from 1994. The post-punk, the photos of the youth in the street —with its looks, its hair, its attitude— by Miguel Trillo, the Rock-Ola posters, the night, Brazilian porn art, the betacam video of Charles Atlas Hail the New Puritan / Greetings to the New Puritans.

Another great knot in the story comes with Expo 92: the ideas – some of them crazy – that were proposed for the exhibition space, the architecture of the pavilions, the findings to lower the temperature in Seville, but also how the Expo is inserted with its persistence in the colonial imaginary, which does not disappear, but which has given rise to postcolonial criticism, to the response to 1492 since 1992, to the cracks that opened, exemplified in the critic shows Plus Ultra curated by Mar Villaespesa that took place within the universal exhibition itself and that has been recreated in a room of the museum, together with the works of Curro González or the Agustín Parejo School and Juan Delcampo collectives.

The turn of the century brought a great financial crisis lurking in his lap from the bursting of the real estate bubble. “The crisis, an inherent and non-passing element, as they wanted us to believe”, points out Borja-Villel about one of the most important aspects of the collection. In 2011 the squares were occupied and the first Arab woke up. A wall of the Reina Sofía collects part of the 15M archive: posters and materials created in Puerta del Sol. The problem of housing and the expansion of construction is approached with a look at Benidorm (projected Golden eggs, de Bigas Luna) and Valencia (the photos of the Formula One circuit appear from outside Alejandro S. Garrido, in the series Run-Off). The city as a place of permanent conflict, of generation of fake news, of dystopian futures and “of the recreation of sentimental pasts used for the current cultural wars”, remarks the director.

The work of Rogelio López Cuenca, Isaías Griñolo and Maria Ruido on stop evictions, anti-capitalism and the neighborhood struggle against predatory urbanism also pivots on the city. Or the work on the impact of the great recession in Greece, with its heavy debt, which intersects with the migration crisis that has this country as an illegal gateway to Europe and which is reflected in the work of Angela Melitopoulos. Of course, the fight of feminism is also present with a sample of materials from 8M assemblies. Finally, there is a question to which the works of Miriam Cahn, Maja Bajevic, Daniel García Andújar, Andrea Buettner or Marc Pataut answer: how to represent the current hell in which we live?

As had already been announced on the occasion of her death, one of the final moments of the tour is dedicated to Carmen Laffón who, as Manuel Borja-Villel explained, came to see a photograph of how the room dedicated to her was left. She was scheduled to participate in this presentation, revealed the director, but the death of the painter on November 7 thwarted many of these plans. “It was not foreseen that this would be a tribute, as it was decided long before his death, but in the end it is”, explains Borja-Villel in front of the series The salt, delicate polychrome plaster bas-reliefs that reflect the landscape of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, halfway between abstraction and figuration.


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