By: Rachel Douglass
Should art always reflect politics? This question is a concern for the art world in Barcelona. Art galleries could play a part in the current political conflicts in Catalonia and the world, as a medium to debate and discuss. But others focus more on artistic developments and the works of a new generation of Catalan painters and sculptors.
Barcelona is famous for Gaudi, Picasso and their traditional Modernist frontrunners. Yet on discovering the city as an artistic centre, you may find yourself to actually be in one big contemporary art gallery. Simply walking around the districts of Gràcia to Aragó you will find a jumble of contemporary, small galleries displaying a variety of fascinating work to the public. Independent art has more freedom of expression when it comes to sharing political and social opinions to the public. Galleries have the ability to choose to embrace the messages being portrayed, leading to a diverse array of international talent.
Andrea Krafft, the director’s assistant at N2 Galeria, says, “The galleries in Barcelona are divided in two, generally. The first ones are more focused on modern Picasso and there is contemporary art and I really think there are a lot of new artists.” For 13 years now, the N2 Galeria has supported international and national artists, growing with them through collaborations. “We need to refresh the art scene because we are very stuck in the past, with Picasso and Miro. We always have the need to refresh the art scene here.” The desire for innovation is clear in their current exhibition by local artist, Kenor. The dynamic structures are physical adaptions of his typical street art, with swirling colours and abstract shapes clashing and colliding in 4D. It’s a clear artistic evolution that the gallery has strongly supported.
N2 is one of the many galleries, in this particular art district of Barcelona, that is a partner in the Barcelona Contemporary Art Tour. The organisation establishes relations and connections for those involved. Yet often, the approach taken by galleries appears more intimate and personal when creating exhibitions. Galeria Joan Prats is one of the small galleries embracing this theme, shown in their joint exhibition by Catalonian artists, Joan Brossa and Joan Ponç. “Both artists have big shows so we wanted to show something more intimate, something with more of a link to the gallery and the artists,” Olivier Collet says. Both the artist’s work focuses on the surreal, with an interest in magic and the occult being evident in their anthological creations. Their personal connection was built upon the involvement of avant-garde magazine, Dau Al Set released in 1949. “[The magazine] was made in reaction of the very traditional society of the time, it was very political and very creative,” Collet continues.
It now seems politics has come back into the conversation for the current international art world. Major issues from each country is brought up on a large scale, through world news making political events internationally discussed topics. It is a trend that Collet sees, not so much in the work of contemporary artists, but instead the world they create around them. “[The political world] doesn’t influence directly on the practice of the artist, however it does have some impact on everybody’s motivation, on the idea of working here or working abroad,” he says. It may be a possible reason for the choice of only displaying local artists.
Francesco Giaveri, manager of ADN Galeria, sees an artist’s involvement in politics as a step forward. “We need to suggest or propose some solution or point of view for a lot of political or social issues. The themes are more urgent. It is a different approach of finding a new narration or new way of thinking in the contemporary life,” he says. ADN focuses on a more conceptual approach to the art scene, with a less direct take on the messages the artist wants to portray.
The displays Giaveri tends to exhibit show connections between art, politics and society. Artists are given the possibility to express opinions through visual creativity, differing from the climate of saturated media outlets. “Artists can provide some very useful tools where the press is not so free and politics seems to obey to economic pressure.” The gallery’s current exhibition by Catalan artist Pep Vidal, currently based in New York, displays the process of shipping live goods – in this case, plants – into America. With stacks of packaged greenery displayed next to the necessary bureaucratic paperwork, the artist challenges the global network of mobility and transportation.
Others, on the other hand, don’t see eye-to-eye with the challenging of the tense political world. Director of Galeria Lleonart, Miquel Angel Lleonart, supports an art world less motivated by risk and trials. “I don’t think it would be too smart to relate [politics],” he says. “It is better to keep things separate, art must be as it was before. The arts inspiration and honesty is about what you want to translate and the political influence must be left for others.” Despite his thoughts, one of the first items he has displayed shows a disconnected wire with the inscription “fuck you” written underneath. The piece by Catalonian artist, Ramon Min, loosely references the referendum, displaying the star symbol – a sign of Catalonian independence – besides the cut off wire. “If you don’t show this disconnection of opinion, the ‘fuck you’ can stand for whatever you want. This is why I think, maybe politics and art are not smart to mix.”
His gallery, originally run by his father, is not part of the larger association of galleries and focuses on a more personal approach to displaying art. He shows a deep passion for each and every artist, regularly pointing out he knows them personally. It is this intimacy, which can be captured within each and every gallery of the area, making it the main focus for exhibition curators and gallery directors. Talking to those that work there, it is obvious their main goal is to spread the knowledge of artists they personally see something in.The general aesthetic of each gallery ensures this goal remains clear. The clean walls and evident focus on the unique pieces displayed ensures that visitors understand the messages and artistic qualities that aim to be shared. “Both artists were interested in something magic and surrealism, they had mutual influence,” says Olivier Collet on the current exhibition at Galeria Joan Prats. “Both artists have a friendship and relationship, but a different creative way of doing things that still have a lot in common.” It is a heart-warming difference to the tense politics that is currently surrounding the country’s situation.Many can see the political climate as being a strong influence towards art and culture but in this contemporary hub of Barcelona it is obvious that there can still be a sense of positivity in creative fields. Not everything needs to be focused around the international turmoil and that is something the Barcelona art industry is respectively highlighting.