Barcelona, zona neutral

Art, Contemporary art
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Barcelona, zona neutral
Camille Pissarro. La Seine à Port-Marly, le lavoir, 1872. Musée d’Orsay, París

Explaining what happened in Barcelona between 1914 and 1918 is quite a difficult task. And even more so if we try to do it from the point of view of the arts. But that's what the curators of the exhibition Barcelona, neutral zone (1914-1918), Fèlix Fanés and Joan M. Minguet, have tried to do.

So have they managed to pull it off? The effort is laudable, although there are literary references that go far beyond exhibition resources. Barcelona, at the time, was one of the most interesting cities in Europe in terms of social concerns. The city was also home to an intelligentsia that debated whether to create national art from the best of the international avant-garde, or from popular arts and the glorious medieval past. They were times of Commonwealth, the first attempt at self-government – however greatly limited – since 1714. They were also times of speculation, banditry, gambling, disease and 'special friends'.

Barcelona was a sanctuary, a refuge. On the one hand, all the Catalan artists were going to Paris in search of fame and buyers, much like now. Paris was a 24-hour train journey, and you didn't need any special papers. And the best French art magazines could be bought on La Rambla. Paris was the spiritual home of Catalan thinkers and creators.

There were also Catalan artists who championed the French cause, such as JM Junoy and Feliu Elias, who collaborated on propaganda magazines and even visited the front. There, for example, Josep Clarà made some sketches of the trenches and the soldiers that belie preconceptions about Noucentisme.

On the other hand, many French artists went to Barcelona waiting for the fog of war to clear. Artists such as the Delaunays, the millionaire Francis Picabia, cubist Gleizes, the Lloyd brothers and Olga Sacharoff. Many collaborated with the gallery owner Josep Dalmau. But this whole contemporary art thing, as we know, was and is about just a few.

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