We had suspected for some time that culture minister Ferran Mascarell admired noucentisme; one of those unusual figures in Catalonia who, like Cirici Pellicer, Oriol Bohigas, Daniel Giralt-Miracle, Jordi Llovet and so on, have eschewed postmodern scepticism in their construction of contemporary Catalan cultural reality, stealthily perpetuating a series of humanist principles that were established in our country one hundred years ago: commitment to education, training, communication, active promotion of progress and innovation, belief in the values of work, the job well done, orderly common sense. However, we had never heard Mascarell make such a resounding conceptual vindication of noucentista ideas applied to a government programme as he did at ICUB in March, in his media-friendly head-to-head with Jordi Martí, Barcelona City Council’s delegate for culture. There, we were able to identify no fewer than ten noucentista-influenced principles that, despite the little attention paid to them by either the media or the sector, merit our in-depth thought and consideration.
Mascarell used the term Deucentisme as the title for the Government of Catalonia’s cultural programme for the coming years. The minister stressed the need to muster and lead a Regenerationist (1) movement, capable of placing culture at the centre of the political project by championing values that the minister summarises in terms of Memory (2), civic pact and future project. Unless culture plays a central role in articulating these three elements, social cohesion will not be possible, nor the consolidation of ethical values, and nor will the imagination be set free. The recovery of memory was one of the pioneering tasks of noucentisme whose political leader was Prat de la Riba: in the early-20th century, there was complete ignorance about the national past in Catalonia, a shortcoming that was corrected by many initiatives aimed at restoring memory based on a Scientific Attitude (3): excavations at Empúries; the revivals of the Romanesque and of arts and crafts (with the establishment of the School of Arts and Crafts), the creation of the Institute of Catalan Studies, the Library of Catalonia, the Museum of National Art, the Museum of Archaeology, and so on. All these initiatives were undertaken in what Mascarell remembers as Organising Common Sense (4), that is, the territorial organisation of museums, libraries, containers and disseminators of memory and thought. In other words, noucentisme provided a Structure (5), a system of basic pillars, communicating vessels, over which all the networks and peculiar features of the system can be organised. In one of his glossary articles, D’Ors argues that noucentisme and structure are synonyms, spiritually speaking.
We felt that what was missing in Mascarell’s discourse was a definition of the structural elements that need to be consolidated in the coming years. Certainly, he talked about networks of libraries and museums, but we need to go further, because we have all those things in spades. We need to identify areas where the pillars are shakier. In my opinion, from the point of view of the arts and museums, two major undertakings are still required: structurally speaking, a large container for our own art, covering Catalan works from the Art Nouveau period to the contemporary, without gaps or death-defying leaps; a central hub for the arts similar to the most outstanding centres in the world, such as Moma, the Pompidou, etc., that can also serve as a centre for thought, with a large, exemplary, scientific, well-stocked art library, with centres of study and training open to all, staffed by the leading experts in the field. I believe that it is structural to work to re-establish an annual reference show that brings local people together and attracts international audiences. And I do not mean a fair, but an updated version of the Salons de Primavera spring shows that took place during the times of the Republic, with all they signified.
Noucentisme, Mascarell reminds us, tipping his cap to Prat de la Riba’s proclamation, also means Training (6) and Innovation (7). What is certain is that the example given by that early-20th century generation, with their versatility and enthusiasm for education, has never lost any of its validity. In the words that Maragall borrowed from Goethe: “If you are wise, you must be useful”. Not only did some of the finest pedagogues that our country has ever produced (Pau Vila, Rosa Sensat, Francesc and Alexandre Galí) appear in the 20th century, but most artists also became involved in teaching. This is in stark contrast to the misanthropic attitude shown by the generations before and after. All this, supported by a network of schools (the so-called “school groups”) that was established in the 1920s and continued to operate throughout the years of the Republic, with the cooperation of illustrious architects, artists and teachers. Education encouraged the study, not only of the Classics, but also of new scientific developments in all fields thanks to grants for foreign study visits provided by the Mancomunitat (association of municipalities): accordingly, Torres-Garcia and Aragay went to Italy, Eugeni d’Ors and Aymat to France, Llongueras and Goday to Austria… It seems to me clear how this can be transposed into deucentisme: construction of public schools by the best architects and artists and graced by the finest pedagogues. And all this, driven by enthusiasm for The Job Well Done (8), that is to say, the juxtaposition of common sense, work and play, which Mascarell champions with the most contemporary concept of excellence in the field of creative art.
The minister made us think of D’Ors’ concept of Imperialism (9) when he announced that one line of action would focus on “making creativity universal”, since if we limit promotion of art and knowledge to the local level we run the risk of becoming complacent. However, all this requires the cultural strengthening of an urban and cosmopolitan capital, Barcelona; a City-State (10), to foster and promote enlightened values. Mascarell and Martí agreed on this point, noting that this has been the goal has driven the cultural action undertaken by ICUB in recent years. However, they also suggest that this objective may not have been extended to embrace the rest of Catalonia. For this reason, both are convinced that one of the main challenges for the coming years will be to link the national and urban projects together, seeing Catalonia, as Mascarell notes, not just as a city, but as a “system of cities”.
We can add one last concept that should be revived from noucentista thought: The Commitment of Civil Society (11). We should always remember that all the great initiatives launched during the noucentisme period were undertaken with an association of municipalities that had powers but no money and were powered by an exemplary alliance between private initiative and political tenacity. I would also add personal initiative: we should never forget anecdotes that could never happen today. For example, the story that Gaziel tells us about Josep Pijoan who, when there was not enough money to establish the Institute of Catalan Studies, did not hesitate to roll up his sleeves and help to build the rooms of the former headquarters of the new body. This is an example that Mascarell also clearly admires when he stresses his conviction that people make culture and that the public authorities should be a tool for “rolling out” culture.
Regenerationism, Memory, Scientific Attitude, Training, Innovation, The Job Well Done, Imperialism, the City-State, The Commitment of Civil Society. It is encouraging to see a cultural leader revive so often scorned by what the elites and academia call postmodernity: mistrust of science, ideals, hierarchies, study, the idea of centrality in favour of concepts that are much more vague: transversality, multiglobal spin, liquid reality. The problems of postmodern thought are what it often leads to: modernist scepticism, individualism and hedonism. Noucentisme is an asset we possess, which both enlightens and humanises us. In a country lacking a Renaissance, noucentisme means the adoption of classical and enlightened values based on the construction and organisation of the city, its social cohesion and spirit. The noucentistes taught us the need to communicate well, to appreciate the texts of today and yesterday, to find education abroad, to be concerned with our memory, our territory and our identity. Concepts that may be lacking in postmodern charm, perhaps, but that we should not underestimate if we wish to continue to advance and improve collectively.
[Bonart, July 2011]