Tàpies: An Artist's Collection

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Tàpies: An Artist's Collection
Tàpies. Col·lecció d’artista

Sometimes, I love reading the small print. For example, there's a letter in this exhibition that records how Tàpies exchanged nine of his own works for five by other artists, which were the property of US gallery-owner Martha Jackson. I look at the measurements and characteristics of the pieces by Tàpies, and the measurements and names of the artists his work was exchanged for: Pollock, Kline, Motherwell, de Kooning and Sam Francis. The proportion is approximately two to one, both in number of works and size.

This small detail highlights the worth of the young Antoni Tàpies at the height of the New York informalism movement, when it was the new capital of the artist world. It also reveals that he wasn't very taken with Dalí. The Empordà artist had introduced Tàpies to Jackson and promoted him through articles in the city's specialised art press. Tàpies, in constrast, had a copy of the special Christmas 1934 issue of the monthly Catalan cultural magazine D'Ací i d'Allà and he tried to get works from all the artists featured in that showcase of modernity... Miró, Kandinsky, Picasso... all of them except Dalí.

But let's get to the heart of the matter. This show displays 31 works by artists acquired or exchanged by Tàpies, and 43 works by Tàpies himself painted between 1947 and the mid-1980s, all taken from the last donation made to the Foundation by his family. Accompanying the art on the walls is a previously unreleased film by Maria Lluïsa Borràs, made in 1981 and with music from Mestres Quadreny. Having watched it, I have to wonder why the documentary hasn't been shown until now. Take a look, you might find the answer...

Overall, what can we learn from this show? A) Tàpies was an intelligent, sensitive and ambitious man (which is all good), b) Tàpies encountered a kind of linguistic-creative disorientation once he made the jump to informalism: his work between 1962 and 1980 is too 'theatrical', and C) the best Tàpies is that which starts with his varnish paintings from 1981, and the simplification and purification of his semiotic language - he moves from theatrical magic to interior scenography. 

But none of this would have possible without the enormous confidence of the artist with his work, capable of proposing exchanges with the big names, and writing his own version of art history, whatever anybody else might think. Let time be his judge...

By: Ricard Mas

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