Over the Christmas and New Year period I visited my home town of Valencia, in Eastern Spain. The city has a vibrant (if undermarketed) visual arts scene which is becoming more and more popular with visitors and locals alike. As I tend to do when I'm in town, during my visit I tried to catch up with as many temporary exhibitions as possible (please see my previous pieces on Valencia museums and exhibitions here and here). Due to pressures of time I was only able to visit the main public and private art institutions so this is by no means an exhaustive review and I am certain there were many more visual arts-related exhibitions and activities I did not find out about.
Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM, Valencian Institute for Modern Art), the city's flagship modern and contemporary art institution, is host to its usual programme of temporary exhibitions. Perduts en la Ciutat (Lost in the City, 18/05/2016 - 04/06/2017) carries on from last Summer (see my comments here). Richard Hamilton: Objectes, Interiors, Autorretrats i Gent (Richard Hamilton: Objects, Interiors, Self-portraits and People, 10/11/2016 - 26/02/2017) is a small (one room) but information-heavy exploration of the work and processes of this capital British Pop Art pioneer (1922-2011) and member of the 1950s Independent Group. The display covers Hamilton's experiments with readymade objects, collage and printing techniques and his playful reinventions of commercial graphic art. Fake: No és veritat, no és mentida (Fake: It is not true, it is not a lie, 20/10/2016 – 29/01/2017) provides hilarious, spellbinding or downright terrifying examples of the introduction of fake news and memes into modern culture, focusing mainly on the work of artists, social experimenters and activists (like the Yes Men, who have used the spectacular dissemination of false news to draw attention to hot societal and environmental topics), but including also Nazi Germany's creation of a heavily publicised 'model' internment camp in Theresienstadt during World War II to counter the growing rumours of the extermination of the European Jews. Coinciding with Any Pinazo (the Pinazo year, the centenary of the death of Valencian painter Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench, 1849-1916) a number of exhibitions have been programmed across the region and IVAM is hosting an understated but beautiful offering, Ignacio Pinazo i les Avantguardes. Afinitats Electives (Ignacio Pinazo and the Avantgardes. Elective Affinities, 08/09/2016 – 17/09/2017), in which Pinazo's most low-key, impressionistic and forward-thinking work (executed with touching playfulness and sensitivity) is juxtaposed with selected pieces by Modernist artists like Pablo Gargallo (1881-1934), Jean Dubuffet (1901-1981) or Pierre Soulages (b 1919). IVAM also houses the largest existing collection (on permanent display) of the work of Modernist sculptor Julio González (1876-1942), an absolute must on any visit to the institution.
In addition to its fine permanent collection (see my previous piece), and in the context of Any Pinazo, Museu de Belles Arts de València (Valencia Fine Art Museum) is co-hosting a major exhibition of the painter's work (Pinazo. La Història i el Retrat: De la Gran Tradició al Modernisme / Pinazo: History Painting and Portrait: From the Great Tradition to Modernism, 04/10/2016 – 05/02/2017), the other half of which is located at Fundación Bancaja (the Bancaja Foundation). The offering at Museu de Belles Arts contains many of Pinazo's best known works (many not usually on public display), including very freely executed portraits and self-portraits, along with chosen paintings by José de Ribera (1591-1652), Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) and Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), from the museum's permanent collection, which provided lifelong inspiration to Pinazo.
The second part of the exhibition (04/10/2016 – 05/02/2017) is housed at the privately run Fundación Bancaja, now supported by financial group Bankia. The focus here is on Pinazo's portraiture, often executed in the extraordinarily free brand of impressionism that became the Valencian painter's signature style, provided the tastes of his bourgeois clientele did not dictate a more conventional approach. Pinazo, a reclusive individual and, nowadays, practically unknown outside his own region (unlike fellow Valencian Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, 1863-1923, who would achieve worldwide acclaim in his own lifetime), is definitely worth checking out if you are interested in the grey area in which painters coming from a traditional background became progressively influenced by the spread of Modernist currents across Europe.
Fundación Bancaja also houses Sean Scully + Liliane Tomasko (16/09/2016 – 29/01/2017), a selection of works by these two painters and life partners. Scully's work barely requires an introduction but Tomasko's painting was entirely new to me and I was interested by the highly expressive and original quality of this work, inspired initially by fabrics (a pile of clothes, a crumpled blanket) or other domestic items which are then interpreted on the canvas, sometimes more literally, sometimes becoming totally abstract. Lastly, also on offer at Fundación Bancaja is Exposición Antológica de Equipo Crónica (Equipo Crónica: A Retrospective Exhibition, 23/09/2016 – 08/01/2017), a thorough exploration of the joint output of Valencian artists Rafael Solbes (1940-1981) and Manuel Valdés (b 1942). From its foundation in 1964, Equipo Crónica ('equipo' is Spanish for team) developed a technically flawless, pop-art inspired, unmistakeable signature style which often combined cultural and historical references into composite images to throw a curved commentary on contemporary issues (As in other authoritarian societies, this aesthetic and narrative ambiguity cultivated in many artistic genres, and which became almost a poetic of the absurd, was partly a reaction to the repressive atmosphere still prevalent in the last years of General Franco's regime).
Actively helped by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini (and aided by French and British passivity), General Franco's bloody reign came at the end of the bitter struggle of the Spanish people against Fascism known as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Centre Cultural La Nau, located in the building which was the original seat of Valencia University, is currently housing Tot està per fer: València Capital de la República 1936-1937 (Our work lies ahead: València, Capital of the Republic 1936-1937, 07/11/2016 – 19/02/2017), a moving and informative exhibition celebrating the 80th anniversary of the relocation of the legitimate government to Valencia at the end of 1936 once Madrid came under threat by advancing rebel columns. The exhibition at La Nau does a great job of reconstructing the febrile atmosphere of that critical year before the Republican government relocated once more, this time to Barcelona. A fascinating aspect of the desperate (and ultimately doomed) struggle to save the Republic is the gigantic propaganda and communications effort meant to strengthen the resolve of the population in the fight against Fascism, which resulted in true masterpieces of political art on a par with the output coming from the Russian Revolution a few years earlier and often following astonishingly avant-gardist design codes.
More Civil War-related material can be seen at Centre del Carme, another veteran public institution with an ongoing exhibition programme, located in a beautiful former monastery at the heart of the Old Town. There, La Mirada de Kati Horna: Guerra i Revolució, 1936-1939 (Kati Horna's Gaze: War and Revolution, 1936-1939, 01/12/2016 – 22/01/2017) displays a spellbinding selection of photographs taken in wartime Republican Spain by this Hungarian photographer, an associate of Bertolt Brecht, László Moholy-Nagy and Robert Capa. Another photography exhibition at Centre del Carme, Fragments. Mitologia del Periodisme Gràfic (Fragments. The Mythology of Photojournalism, 19/11/2016 – 22/01/2017) casts a shrewd eye on the history and communicative codes (explicit and implicit) of photojournalism. Carolina Ferrer / Encarna Sepúlveda: Angles del Buit (Carolina Ferrer / Encarna Sepúlveda: Angles of the Void, 02/12/2016 – 05/02/2017) is a joint exhibition by these two Valencia-based artists comprising paintings and a spectacular light, mirrors and poetry installation in the monastery's beautiful former refectory. Lastly, Que No Cap al Cap. Javier Garcerá (Does Not Fit Into My Head. Javier Garcerá, 04/11/2016 – 22/01/2017) presents a selection of Garcerá's (b 1967) medium- and large-format painting experiments using iridescent fabrics and other intricately worked materials.
Speaking of intriguing experiments with painting and sculpting media, Museu Valencià de la Il.lustració i de la Modernitat (MuVIM, Museum of Enlightenment and Modernity) is hosting a fascinating retrospective exhibition of the work of Valencian all-round artist Francesc Sempere, known as Messa (1915-1996), who never affiliated himself with any movements but drank from many different influences and became a radical experimenter in a very Mediterranean, endlessly playful, often light and tongue-in-cheek-looking style which actually hides a very strict formal rigour and a nuanced sense of the process, as well as a deep awareness of the art that has come before (Messa. Palpitacions i Art Gandul / Messa. Palpitations and Lazy Art, 03/11/2016 – 05/02/2017). Messa's paintings are sometimes reminiscent of the ferocious 1950s CoBrA artists, other times they become Modernist plaster reliefs loaded with sensuality. A particular favourite of mine are Messa's (again very sensual but very formally rigorous) ink drawings. MuVIM is also showing (Railowsky, 11/11/2016-05/02/2017) a small but spellbinding sample of work by ten photographers with historic connections to Valencia's veteran Railowsky art gallery and bookshop, well worth a visit in its own right if you happen to be in the area. These minimalistic, mostly black-and-white works focus mainly on daily life in different areas of Spain over the last few decades.
A loaded line-up of arts-related offerings for this Winter in the Valencian capital. Catch them if you can.