I was in my home town of Valencia, in Eastern Spain, over the Christmas holidays. Even though I was busy with personal stuff (besides visiting friends and family), and as I always do when I am in the city, I saw as many temporary exhibitions at the main local art institutions as I could (you can see previous reviews of the Valencian art scene on my blog, for instance this one from March of last year). Some of these shows are now in their last weeks and well worth a visit if you find yourselves in the area.
Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM, Valencian Institute for Modern Art), the flagship regional institution, has on its usual array of diverse and interesting offerings. L'Eclosió de l'Abstracció. Línia I Color en la Col.lecció de l'IVAM (The Abstraction Eclosion. Line and Colour in the IVAM Collection, 20/07/2017 - 16/09/2018) presents a selection of artworks from the institution's own holdings in an exploration of the development of a purely abstract language from roughly the mid-20th century onwards. Before the 2008 financial crisis (which badly shook public finances in Spain) IVAM had a pretty active acquisition policy and so this exhibition includes many substantial highlights by Spanish and international artists which, if you come from an English-speaking country, might reach outside your usual references. To name but a few, and moving past classics like Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) or Karel Appel (1921-2006), I really enjoyed paintings by French painter Pierre Soulages ('the painter of black', b 1919), as well as a spellbinding display of sketchbook-size surrealist works on paper by Dutch CoBrA movement member Lubertus Jacobus Swaanswijk, known as Lucebert (1924-1994), who knew Spain intimately and kept a home and atelier near Xàbia, in the Valencian region. One of the rooms is filled by large-format works by Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) and Manolo Millares (1926-1972), representatives of the so-called Informalist school who experimented endlessly with textures and incorporated all sorts of non-artistic materials into their paintings. The exhibition touches on other first-rate 20th century Spanish artists like Antonio Saura (1930-1988) and Eusebio Sempere (1923-1985) and moves eclectically through trends such as geometric painting, opt-art and minimalism, ending conclusively with José María Sicilia's (b 1954) huge 12-panel, wax and oil painting The Light That Fades (1996) and James Turrell's hypnotic installation Porterville (2004). A video introducing the exhibition with exhibition curators José Miguel García Cortés and Josep Salvador can be seen here (García Cortés is also IVAM's current director).
Another first-rate IVAM offering is Les Constel.lacions de Julio González: Entre la Figuració i l'Abstracció (Julio González's Constellations: Between Figuration and Abstraction, 23/03/2017 – 30/12/2018), which presents IVAM's truly outstanding collection (the largest in the world) of works by Barcelona-born Modernist sculptor Julio González (1876-1942) alongside the work of other artists like Andreu Alfaro (1929-2012) or Miquel Navarro (b 1945). You can watch a video featuring exhibition curator Josep Salvador here. IVAM's current 'case study' -a series of one-room, information-packed exhibitions exploring the work and ideas of a single artist- looks at Ignasi Aballí (b Barcelona, 1958), whose conceptual work refers to cinema and the moving image and explores the ambiguous territory in between telling and withholding, showing and hiding, natural to the medium (09/11/2017 - 04/03/2018, watch the introductory video with the artist here). I particularly enjoyed Aballí's Desapariciones (Vanishings) series of film posters based on the screenplays penned by French novelist, filmmaker and essayist Georges Perec (1936-1982), a big influence of Aballí's. It is up to the visitor to suss out which posters belong to actually realised movies and which are Aballí's interpretations of Perec's ideas. Next door (in the relatively modest exhibition space next to IVAM's library) is a small gem of an offering, Somnis il.lustrats: Grans Il.lustradors per a Lectors Menuts (Illustrated Dreams: Great Illustrators for Small Readers, 14/12/2017 – 11/03/2018), which looks at how the Modernist avant-gardes in the first half of the 20th century tackled the task of creating comics and illustrated publications for young audiences. There are classic examples here such as French painter Edy Legrand's 1924 illustrated story L'Ile Rose, based on playwright Charles Vildrac's description of a fantasy journey to a faraway island, or photographer Laure Albin-Guillot's stunning 1930 photoillustrations for Alain Fournier's 1913 classic novel Le Grand Meaulnes. Radical Soviet artists such as El Lissitzky (1890-1941), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), and avant-garde figures such as Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) (and, later, the likes of Andy Warhol and David Hockney) also produced output for young audiences and are represented here. The exhibition also looks at the evolution of children's illustration in Spain in the convulsed decades leading up to the 1931 Second Republic and the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War (here is an introductory video featuring exhibition curator Irene Bonilla and IVAM sub-director Álvaro de los Ángeles). Last but not least, Please Come Back- El Món com a Presó? (Please Come Back- The World as a Prison?, 28/11/2017 – 08/04/2018) gathers together a variety of responses in all media (from painting to video, conceptual proposals and oral histories) touching on the theme of conformity and the limitation of freedom and privacy in the modern surveillance society, a complex phenomenon which transcends the traditional categories of liberty versus socially dictated imprisonment. An interview (in English) with exhibition curator Hou Hanru is available here.
As mentioned, I was a little short on time on this occasion and I had to skip some of the institutions which I regularly visit when I'm in town, but I did drop by the region's main art history museum, Museu de Belles Arts de València (Valencia Museum of Fine Art), which, frustratingly, continues to be partly closed for reorganisation and refurbishment. As always I was very impressed by the institution's stunning collection of works (mainly altarpieces) from the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance by first-rate regional artists like Joan de Joanes (1507-1579). Another favourite with visitors is the permanent space devoted to the work of internationally renowned Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1862-1923), often compared in style and approach to John Singer Sargent. The current temporary exhibition, Intacta Maria- Política I Religiositat a l'Espanya Barroca (Intacta Maria- Politics and Religiosity in Baroque Spain, 30/11/2017 – 08/04/2018, introductory video with curator Pablo González Tornel here) examines the unlikely but astonishingly fierce debate which raged in the country in the 1600s (and which was not officially resolved by the Catholic church until 1854) in relation to the dogma of the immaculate conception of St Mary. From the point of view of the art exhibited this offering, frankly, is not on the same level as previous efforts by this premier institution. Another fixture worth checking out in the city's arts line-up is Fundació Bancaixa, the private foundation now run by the Bankia financial group and which operates a multi-level exhibition space with an active programme of offerings throughout the year. On this occasion, Sorolla- Un Jardí per a Pintar (Sorolla- A Garden to Paint, 07/11/2017-19/03/2018, see the introductory video here) focuses on Sorolla's depictions of gardens and, in particular, the garden he had built (and helped design) at his final family home in Madrid, completed in 1911, at a time when the painter already enjoyed international acclaim. Further offerings at Fundació Bancaixa look at the work of two living Valencian artists, sculptor Vicente Ortí (Vicente Ortí- L'Intèrpret de la Matèria - Vicente Ortí, The Interpreter of Matter, 27/10/2017 – 25/02/2018, watch video featuring curator Martí Domínguez here) and multidisciplinary artist Manolo Valdés (Valdés- Una Visió Personal - Valdés- A Personal Vision, 06/10/2017-25/03/2018, see the introductory video with exhibition curator Kosme de Barañano and the artist himself here). Valdés became well known for his politically charged work with the Valencian team Equipo Crónica in the 1960s and 70s (during general Franco's dictatorship) and now lives between New York City and Madrid, having achieved broad international recognition. The paintings and sculptures in the exhibition (influenced by pop art and employing a dazzling array of textures and materials) bear witness to Valdés's skill, and are well worth a visit, but, in all honesty, they are a tad too commercial for my personal taste.
In the current climate of austerity good news for the arts sector are often few and far between, but I am happy to report on the opening (in mid-2017) of a new major arts exhibition centre in Valencia, Bombas Gens Centre d'Art, a former hydraulic pump ('bomba' in Spanish) factory adopted as its main seat by Fundació Per Amor a l'Art, a private foundation devoted to art as well as a number of charitable causes. Once the foundation had gathered a sizeable art collection it decided to look for a suitable space to share it with the public and to kickstart an ongoing exhibition programme. The Bombas Gens building, in art deco industrial style, was built in the 1930s as a series of large rectangular spaces next to an office block and had been abandoned (and half-wrecked by fire) by the time the foundation started rehabilitation works in 2014. During the Civil War the business was taken over by the Republican government and retooled as a munitions factory; As such, it became a target for frequent Fascist bombing air raids from the island of Mallorca and an underground shelter for the protection of the workers was built on the premises. The shelter was uncovered in pristine condition during rehabilitation and has become a big hit with visitors (as, incidentally, have others from that time scattered throughout the city center- If your go for a walk in the Old Town watch out for the word REFUGIO, in large art deco lettering from the period, with arrows pointing to the entrance steps. Please be aware that access details vary- If you are planning a visit find out beforehand what shelters are open to the public and under what conditions).
The two current exhibitions greatly benefit from Bombas Gens's inner open plan distribution. Ornament = Delicte? (Ornament = Crime?, 08/07/2017 – 25/02/2018, watch the introductory video with Per Amor a l'Art's artistic director Vicente Todolí and Bombas Gens Centre d'Art director Nuria Enguita here) presents a selection of abstract painting and photography from the foundation's collection. The abstracts (by Spanish and European artists) cover the period from roughly the 1980s to the present day, an era perhaps underrepresented in major exhibitions nowadays but in which the influence of Informalism is apparent. Photography is a major focus of the Per Amor a l'Art collection and I greatly enjoyed work by world-class figures such as André Kertész (1894-1995) and Daidō Moriyama (b 1938). The second temporary exhibition at Bombas Gens, La Blancor de la Balena. Paul Graham (The Whiteness of the Whale. Paul Graham, 01/12/2017 – 27/05/2018, watch an introduction in English with Graham himself here) brings together three separate bodies of street photography in which Graham (b 1956), an Englishman, explores contemporary urban life in the US. Of these, the one that stood out to me was A Shimmer of Possibility (2004-06) in which an ordinary moment in everyday life (often in a marginal setting) is explored with great sensitivity, not by a single photograph, but by a linked sequence of images which combine to tell the whole story. A smaller display in the former office block, Històries de Bombas Gens (Bombas Gens Stories, 08/07/2017-25/02/2018, watch the introductory video with curator Paloma Berrocal here) introduces the history of the building and its connection to the local community through objects, photographs, and testimonials of local residents and former Bombas Gens workers.
I hope these suggestions are useful should you find yourselves enjoying the mild winters of the Med (The weather over Christmas was just gorgeous). Should you be planning a trip to the Valencian region for the coming weeks, do not miss the Joan Miró: Ordre I Desordre (Joan Miró: Order and Disorder) exhibition at IVAM which opened on 15 February (ends 17 June) and promises to be an absolute joy (feel free to leave a comment if you happen to see it!).