The reorganization of the Reina Sofia museum puts the small picture in the foreground | Spain


ohOn the second floor of the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, not far from Picasso’s immense and still livid Guernica, is a much smaller but equally eloquent testimony to the civilian cost of the Spanish Civil War.

Robert Capa’s photograph of rue Peironcely n ° 10 in Madrid’s working-class neighborhood of Vallecas at the start of winter 1936, measures only 29.4cm by 40.2cm. Three children sit on the sidewalk in front of a shrapneled house, smiling amid the rubble left by the German bombers Hitler sent to support General Franco’s coup.

While Picasso’s image will always be much better known, the image of Capa – now on permanent display at the Reina Sofía after a comprehensive 10-year reorganization of the museum’s collection – has enjoyed a powerful afterlife.

First published exactly 85 years ago in the French magazine Regards, it drew the world’s attention to Spain and the air atrocities that would become commonplace a few years later during World War II.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso is exhibited at the Reina Sofia Museum. Photography: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

It also helped the 21st century to find decent housing for those who lived in cramped and miserable conditions in the building Capa stumbled upon after the bombing.

In March, after a long campaign by a local and international platform supported by the union Anastasio de Gracia Foundation, the 13 families who lived there were eventually moved into new apartments. The building itself was closed until it entered a new phase as a museum – “the Robert Capa Center for the Interpretation of the Air Bombing of Madrid”.

Members of Save Peironcely 10 group wrote to Reina Sofía director Manuel Borja-Villel in October urging him to ensure that the copy of the photograph donated to the museum in 1998 by Capa’s brother Cornell gets permanent exhibition space, but that turned out to be unnecessary – the museum authorities had already decided to hang the photo among the works of Le Corbusier, Joan Miró and others, in a room called Spain, tragic myth.

“The photo was always going to be exhibited again,” says Borja-Villel. “I believe that works of art, or poetry, or cultural in general, can help us see reality differently – and it’s performative and it changes and affects our lives. For us, that’s exactly what this little photo did.

In any case, he adds, “I would have signed the letter myself because I completely agree with it”.

Borja-Villel says that the reorganization – or “re-reading” – of the museum’s collection is the result of a decade of work to ensure that the Reina Sofía lives up to its responsibilities as a cultural institution of the world. 21st century.

About 70% of the 2,000 works currently on display have never been exhibited before, allowing the museum to broaden its exploration of issues such as migration, colonialism, gender and the environment, to incorporate architectural elements and to include more women artists.

The purpose of the reorganization – called Communicating ships, 1881-2021 – it is also to reflect on the relation of society to art, and the relation of art to museums. In the age of cyberspace, fake news and raging culture wars, says Borja-Villel, we need to think about information and how it gets to us.

“We seem to live in a loop where the future is presented as a dystopia and the past as an idealized past, with rather complicated or xenophobic prejudices like the idea of ​​a land of one’s own”, explains Borja-Villel.

“In this context, I think that museums have an important role to play in explaining how we receive our ideas and our perceptions of the world, because this reception is never neutral.

Communicating ships, 1881-2021.
Communicating ships, 1881-2021. Photography: see picture

The director also wants the museum to encompass recent socio-economic changes, including the 2008 financial crisis which brought Spain to the brink and profoundly altered its political landscape.

“All of a sudden this neoliberal, selfish, individual and entrepreneurial system that we had since the 1970s collapsed and failed dramatically,” he says. “And we’ve seen other alternatives appear around the world, like the indignados movement here.”

Humanity’s impact on the environment is embodied in the photographs of the calamitous Prestige oil spill in 2002, while the large number of works by Latin American artists raise questions about colonialism, migration, exile and cultural imperialism.

“We have always seen things – and museums – as linked to the territory,” explains Borja-Villel. “But we must decolonize our thinking and understand that Europe and the West are just provinces of the world. We have to understand that there is an element of structural violence in colonization.

The director also points out that while the recently revamped collection ends with works by three female artists – Victoria Gil, Joan Jonas and Carmen Laffón – there is still much to be done to recognize and reclaim the achievements of generations of creative women.

“They were obviously still there, but we didn’t always know how to see them correctly,” he says. “We need to change our way of seeing things and integrate women artists. It’s very easy in the contemporary part, but more difficult historically, because in the past, women were pushed to the limit.

And, while this is just the start, Borja-Villel says the number of visitors suggests the reorganization is going very well with audiences.

Attendance at the museum will swell again on Friday afternoon when a delegation from the Save Peironcely group, led by the former head of Unesco Federico Mayor Zaragoza and the Irish Hispanist and writer Ian gibson, arrives to see the Capa photo in situ on the occasion of the 85th anniversary of its publication.

“We are so happy and proud that all the stories behind the photos are recognized,” says José María Uría Fernández of the Fundación Anastasio de Gracia.

“The image, which has become a world benchmark for horror, is now where it should be – and very close to Guernica itself. It’s amazing how one little negative managed to generate a wave that helped change the lives of so many so many years later.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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