Let us be clear: no one questions the paradigm of emerging art that has been proclaimed to the four winds in Catalonia in recent months and has just been given the seal of approval by the summer exhibition at La Panera, entitled The Question of the Paradigm. Genealogies of the Emergency in Contemporary Art in Catalonia? The exhibition is absolutely disheartening: an immense visual refrigerator lacking in creative tension, conceptual engagement, visual transgression, incisive irony, knowing winks at contemporary art tradition. Instead, we find the thin edge of contemporary creation: lazy neo-conceptualism, amateur sociology, in-jokes, puerile video and photography and a depressingly poor aesthetic built up from streamers, drawing pins, staples and photocopies. Is that really all we can offer as a representative sample of emerging Catalan art?
I should like to consider only the artistic merits of this exhibition, despite my profound disagreement with the way the show was organised and sold: this is not an eclectic selection of emerging artists, but a highly restricted faction, most of them acclaimed by the public contemporary Catalan art circuit. The chosen few amongst both acclaimed and acclaimers, we should add, because the show also presents the circuit from which these artists took off, as well as their adoring critics (there are even photographs of the protagonists on the walls…).
All this notwithstanding, what really worries me is the generally low standard of the pieces presented. I understand that it is not only the artists who are responsible for this, but also the selection made from their work. In fact, many of the pieces presented at the Estrany de la mota gallery in an earlier exhibition, Belvedere, which featured many of the “paradigm” artists, were much better than those selected for the show in Lleida. It is a shame that excellent artists like Gabriel Pericàs, who presented an excellent project at the Young European Artists biennial, and Alex Reynolds were not able to take this chance to display their talent in Lleida.
However, perhaps the weakest part of the exhibition was, in my view, the references that this group of young artists claimed for themselves. Firstly, because the selected works by such reference artists as Eulàlia Valldosera and Carlos Pazos, are completely unworthy of their high standing. But that is not the worst thing. What makes it worse, in my opinion, is the idea of presenting 1990s conceptualist artists as a paradigm. Enough time has gone by for us to stop insisting on something that did not work, that was unable to successfully cross the borders of the Peninsula and failed even to find favour within its own cultural establishment, understanding “culture” in its broadest sense, needless to say: that which is capable of reaching, not only the art and science intelligentsia but also society as a whole. The only thing we achieve with these exhibitions is to send the contemporary art balloon ever higher into the sky, becoming more and more distant from human latitudes.
No doubt we could find much more substantial references that would have prevented some of the working lines highlighted in the show from being made to look banal. Focusing on Antoni Llena would have prevented the vulgarisation of poor materials; seen through the prism of a Francesc Torres or a Muntadas, perhaps we might have understood that conceptual art without engagement is an insubstantial riddle; to say nothing of the photography, when there was an obvious school of reference: Txema Madoz, Joan Fontcuberta… Regarding the irony, the foundations are solid enough that we need not fall into outdated humour; and, finally, the fine arts, the real – and predictable – absentee from this show: do our young artists really find nothing of interest in the artistic power of Amat, Chancho, Artigau, Arranz-Bravo, Barceló, Miralda, Plensa, Evru and so on?
We are quick to reward young talent, we subsidise catalogues and major exhibitions too easily. Art takes time and patience to mature, not and playing around and improvising. We would do better to invest in diagnosing the failings of art schools, art factories, art criticism, emerging art venues – which, by the way, we all help to pay for – and to turn our attention to valid models at an international scale. What model are we proposing for young fine art students? What ties can possibly exist between this movement and society? Does this exhibition inaugurate a third decade of gray, official neo-conceptualism in Catalonia? And we call this a paradigm?
[Bonart, December 2011]