“That Valentí Roma and I should be the curators of an exhibition at the Picasso Museum is like a bank commissioning a group from the Occupy Wall Street movement to design their advertising”, joked the Andalusian artist Pedro G. Romero during the presentation of Economia: Picasso (Economics: Picasso). He was not far off the mark, for Roma and Romero are two of the most combative practitioners against modern art, which they perceive rather as a crime syndicate organised around painting, money and capitalism. Their counter-proposal has always revolved around the ineffable territory of the archive, a tendency first launched in our country by Antoni Muntadas that, in the last decade, has become one of the leading movements on the contemporary art scene in Barcelona. In the case of G. Romero, his specialisation centres exhaustive documentary study of “anti-sacramental political iconoclasm in Spain from 1845 to 1945”, since 1999 exploring this theme in a series of exhibition projects entitled Arxiu F.X. (FX Archive), which he has now been commissioned to size up against the colossal figure of Picasso.
Romero’s exhibitions – such as, for example, the project La Comunitat inconfessable (The Unmentionable Community), presented in Venice in 2009 – are usually steeped in cryptic quality, intellectual haze, and documentary thickness. However, the discourse behind all this is really interesting, particularly from the critical and sociological standpoint. The “FX Archive” is an arsenal of the most unusual images – photographs, videos, assorted documents – from some of the tensest moments in modern history, such as “Black Week” and the Spanish Civil War; unusual documents that link up to contemporary events. And, obviously, Picasso has a clear relation to his whole project: on the one hand, he is the founding figure of 20th-century art capitalism, the alchemist who turned everything he touched into gold; on the other, he is a paradigmatic example of the politically-engaged artist. Regarding both aspects, an infinity store of anecdotes and contradictions exist that the curatorial pair have taken this chance to explore in open, up-to-date fashion.
The exhibition at the Picasso Museum is more interesting than the show the pair presented in Venice. They still fail to resolve a communication problem – the spectator is adrift without a compass amid images and cultism – but, once we have got through the initial post-modern stage, seven highly illuminating themes for reflection about Picasso emerge. Really, the curators have gone straight for the throat. We feel that we can distinguish these themes of Picassoesque conflict as follows: cubism as play, the woman as object, colonial primitivism, strategic deceit, appropriation and ambiguity of political engagement. These are Picasso’s seven deadly sins, the seven ambiguities towards which society often turns a blind eye due to the supremacy of the romantic myth of the genius. In turn, each exhibition section is contextualised by five areas of reflection: historic documentation (letters, photographs, videos); intellectual equivalences (bringing great titles of 20th-century artistic literature into play); illustrative works by Picasso; the conceptual equivalent in contemporary art (the exhibition features works by Hamilton and Jorn, amongst others); and, finally, an artistic colophon by Pedro G. Romero. If we complete the exhibition route correctly, we should leave the show with a crossword printed on a bag, a poster from the period, some “For Sale” stickers and sweets wrapped in coded messages. In this way, fresh contemporary initiatives, halfway between play and social engagement, compensate for the opaque nature of the exhibition. This, then, is Pepe Serra’s gift to the Picasso Museum: a high-risk performance which seems to us interesting for its ground-breaking nature, self-criticism and faith (which we share) in converting conventional museums into “temples” open to innovation and transversality.
[published in Bonart, July 2012]