The MACBA Foundation celebrates its quarter centenary with a thorough reorganization of its collection – a collection that has grown, through numerous donations and deposit agreements, including one with ‘La Caixa’ Foundation, to reach a total of 10,000 artworks, 200 of which are on display in Critical Episodes (1957–2011).
These ‘episodes’ are designed to make up a sequence of reflections, sometimes in the form of tableaux vivants, on the events that have led to our current situation of systemic crisis. But as a sequence of reflections, they’re not dogma. And since a sequence of words – like the ones you’re reading now – are not dogma either, I feel at liberty to advise you to do some serious background reading before you approach the towering altarpiece of the MACBA.
The title of the first critical episode is Content Becomes Something to Be Avoided Like a Plague. And it’s a lie. The exhibition is dense, rich and dense, but absolutely not lacking in content. It speaks to the notion of creation as an analytic method of deaccumulation – if not deconstruction. To take one example, Portabella’s 1969 film shows Joan Miró erasing the mural he had painted on the façade of Barcelona’s architects’ college. There are also familiar names from the first wave of globalised political-pop, such as Öyvind Fahlström, Miralda, Hans Haacke and Gerhard Richter, as well as distinguished interpreters of signs such as Marcel Broodthaers and Dorothée Selz.
The section entitled Fissures will be harder for the general public to come to terms with – a group of accumulative works, installations with a shockingly dark sense of humour and punk metaphysics: Matt Mullican, Oriol Vilapuig, Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon and even the celebrated Pinocchiesque parodies of Paul McCarthy, to which, if you’ll excuse the irreverence, the years have not been kind.
Under the suggestive title Voyeurism, Fetishism and Narcissism, we find one of the dullest sections of the exhibition, which investigates ways of looking through video, photography and installation. Dara Birnbaum and Dan Graham’s videos are soporific. Jeff Wall’s only saving grace is his technical prowess.
The last two sections are dedicated respectively to Work, Power and Control, and Déconnage, the latter a video installation about the Catalan psychiatrist Francesc Tosquelles. It’s certainly worth watching – but it’s also worth asking what a work like this is doing in the MACBA. On the subject of work, a large-scale installation by Allan Sekula, created for Documenta 2007, contrasts the decline of heavy industry with the work of major sculptors such as Oteiza, Serra and Chillida. It left this reviewer nostalgic for old-school minimalism.