In 1913 two capital artists of the Parisian avant-garde sat down at the table to create a unique book: The prose of the Trans-Siberian and little Jehanne of France. The abstract artist Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) and the modernist poet Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961) united text and images in a zigzag-shaped object, which came to be considered one of the most important artist's books, in which They mixed up to 12 different fonts and it measures almost two meters long. To the left fall the abstract forms of Delaunay and to the right, the poem by Cendrars that describes an imaginary journey on the Trans-Siberian railway between Moscow and Paris, during the Russian Revolution.
Ouka Leele colored the Transition
Written in a telegraphic prose that celebrates the freedom, speed and vitality of the modern age. This was defined by the experts at Christie's auction house in 2019, who sold one of the 28 copies of this exquisite experiment for 334,000 euros, in July 2019. Made a year before the First World War, both artists wanted to expose the feelings in the light of colors and shapes, and they put together a piece that blurred at birth the definitions that separate what is a work of art from a document.
More than a hundred years after that exercise, no one dares to limit the power of what is the jewel of the Lafuente Archive, which has just acquired the Ministry of Culture for the Reina Sofía Museum for almost €30 million, to be paid in eleven annual installments (2.8 million per year). The prose of the Trans-Siberian represents everything that the Lafuente Archive is, which has caused so many definition problems after announcing a purchase that has been around since 2014. In 2015, the Reina Sofía Museum Libraries and Collections team began appraisal work, comparing market prices, with extensive reports to confirm the possibility of purchase. At the same time, a conservation report was made and even the purchase invoices were checked.
gates to the field
The official Twitter account of the General Subdirectorate of the State Archives and the Head of the area's programming service, Álvaro Rodríguez Sarmentero, assured in their profiles that "in the strict sense" we cannot call it an archive. This meaning is what the Law grants, which defines it as “an organic set of documents produced and/or received in the exercise of their functions by individuals or legal entities, public and private”. However, this definition would also include the whole of the Cantabrian businessman José María Lafuente and as they clarify from the library of the Reina Sofía Museum, “it is an archive”.
Isabel Bordes, head of the Library and Documentation Center department since 2019, has been in charge of closing the operation and explains to this newspaper that today the definition of archive is very broad. The businessman and collector himself has been trying to answer this question since he began to put together pieces of a puzzle that occupies an inventory of more than 130,000 documentary components in thousands of pages and whose analysis has led eight specialists from the Reina Sofía Museum to assess in a 160+ page report. Among the conclusions, they indicate that there is hardly any repetition between the collections of the museum and the private archive, which covers from 1900 to 1989, with attention to Spain, Central Europe, the USA and Latin America.
“Lafuente's idea has been to be able to explain modern art and contemporary art through documentation. We have in mind the traditional idea of the specialized and concrete archive, but this one completely exceeds it. He was a pioneer of documentation”, says Isabel Bordes. The collection of documentary archives that Lafuente has gathered since 2002 shows what surrounds an artist's work. “The trick of art”, points out Bordes. There are publications, correspondence, documents and also original work. Some 20,000 original works, indicate from the museum.
"The debate that opens this archive is where the document ends and where the art begins", affects the person in charge of the Library of the center. There were two acquisitions that altered the perspective of the incipient collector and consumer of the cultural trips organized by the Association of Friends of the Reina Sofía Museum. Twenty years ago he acquired the personal funds of the art critic Miguel Logroño and the Altamira Encounters archive, in the hands of the historian Pablo Beltrán, and then Lafuente stopped collecting works of art to become interested in that other side.
At the moment they are not able to know how many artists are referred to in this barrage of documents. When the merger of the two databases happens, the true dimension of a set that Bordes defines as "extensive, exhaustive and eclectic" will be discovered. This is the case of the archive of Maruja Mallo (1902-1995), which includes photos, sketchbooks, documents, correspondence and original work. Also that of Ulises Carrión (1941-1989), Eduardo Arroyo (1937-2018) or Ceesepe's (1958-2018), with more than 800 original works and 300 documents. For Bordes, Lafuente is a "sensitive collector, who is aware of what he wants and is looking for." "He's not an investor," he says.
The businessman, who has five factories running, 800 workers and manufactures his dairy products exclusively for Mercadona, has shown that a collector also makes archives with the archives of others. Lafuente has preferred to collect context before his work. And he did it before it became impossible to acquire. Those who have been valuing the 130,000 pieces that the collector himself has been growing with the archive say that "he is not a mere collector, he has been a researcher." In addition, collectors do not usually process their pieces. Lafuente has done it: he has acted like an archivist and has rigorously inventoried each work that he added to the collection. For the accessibility of the content it is a gift, because he has processed, described, cataloged and contextualized what he was adding "with knowledge and advice".
The group waits at the businessman's headquarters until the Santander City Council rehabilitates the old headquarters of the Bank of Spain, where a headquarters of the Reina Sofía Museum will be built, associated with Lafuente. The funds will be located in this space, but the museum has advanced the process of digitizing them and believes that at the end of 2022 they could inaugurate a new, more ambitious website, with the Lafuente Archive included. They should only clarify the problems that may arise from the intellectual property of the pieces, and make known how the staff of the new Cantabrian museum will be formed and who will pay the expenses.