We are before an extraordinary set of works by Antoni Tàpies from the period 1946-1977; that is, the beginning of his painting career through to the restoration of the Catalan government.
But if you're visiting the exhibition and you don't know anything about the moral and material grayness of the early postwar years, the isolation of a fascist dictatorship that had no qualms about shotting dissidents, or the debate among the intellectuals of the left, about the convenience of socialist realism, the efforts to articulate a civic resistance within the country, then you might not be able to get anything at all out of it. It also doesn't help that there are no explanations in the exhibition room, as they wanted the works to speak for themselves.
Some 70 impressive works – like the three cyclopean canvases that showed at the Kassel 'Documenta III' in 1964, regrouped for the first time since then – that set off a rereading of the artist's corpus in the light of the 21st century, and re-create a civic awareness: Tàpies is a creator who, in 1958, achieved international success. Must he, then, become a type of role model and contribute to the materialisation of a more just and democratic society?
In the exhibition there are classics worthy of any Tàpies anthology, such as the inks in the 'Natural History Series' (1950-1951), 'Metal door and violin' (1956), and the figurative and not very pleasing 'Nu' (1966). There are also works alluding to concrete events: 'November 7' (1971), the date of the constitution of the Assembly of Catalonia; 'In memory of Salvador Puig Antich' (1974), the anarchist executed by the Franco regime; and 'Composition with numbers' (1976), dedicated to Oriol Solé Sugranyes, who was murdered by the Civil Guard shortly after escaping from prison.
There are also gimmicky works that perhaps don't quite withstand the passage of time. Pieces with explicit titles like 'Pile of dishes' (1970) – oh, the ostentatious poetry of simple things!; 'Painting with handcuffs' (1970) – surprise: with handcuffs!; and 'Sheet with signatures of various people' (1974), featuring a big flag and a bunch of signatures serving as a tribute to Joan Miró.