Caixaforum is one of Barcelona’s top cultural venues. It is located in an old textile factory with a lovely Modernista exterior and run by a bank (La Caixa). It offers a very diverse and abundant cultural menu; mainly concerts, conferences and art exhibitions. La Caixa has a substantial collection of contemporary art and likes to show it every now and then. The selection made for the occasion bears the title of Three Narratives and it is a small show; only a dozen works – and although the pieces are big in size the gaps between them are considerably large. The names, though, are important: Giovani Anselmo, Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Andreas Gursky, Xavier Grau, Peter Halley, Jonathan Lasker, Tino Sehgal, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Juan Uslé, Agnes Martin and Bruce Nauman. These names correspond to the Minimal and Post-Minimal international art scene of the last three decades of the 20th century. For those who need further explanation about what a Minimalist piece of art might be, please check it on Wikipedia or buy this: a painting or a sculpture just about not being so.
My favorite piece is a painting by Catalan artist Xavier Grau. It doesn’t look Minimalist at all – it must be Post- Minimalist then. It is an abstract, atmospheric and somewhat playful work in the way the old masters of American abstraction – Pollock and de Kooning – were playful. The most spectacular piece is perhaps a work by Giovanni Anselmo: a stack of large blank canvases supporting a pile of very heavy looking blocks of stone. According to my Contemporary Art Identification Unit I inevitably carry around in my brain, Anselmo’s piece looks more Arte Povera than Minimal Art, but I suppose that these duplicities are as acceptable as coming across cider in the wine section of a supermarket; there is some link.
After giving a good look at most of the other works in the exhibition I realized that I had to revisit my distant art school days and recall the ideological lines that supported the progress of Contemporary Art in order to grasp their meanings. It was either that or to plunge into the convoluted texts included in the show. In other words: one might think that most of this art only makes sense from an academic point of view and leaves very little for the enjoyment of the lay visitor. But this is not completely true: these works are strongly visual and it is that visual quality that redeems them from the critical jargon surrounding them wherever they are exhibited. Take, for instance, the 1988 painting Cell with Conduit by Peter Halley. It is manufactured in a professional wall paint roller style; no visible layers, no brush work or any other “artistic” trace on the surface. But its magnetic orange glow will certainly attract your gaze no matter what else is being shown in the room.
Other artists take different strategies to steal the show. Bruce Nauman is always very good at that. He is perhaps the biggest name in the exhibition. Again, he can be sorted in different sections of the Art scene (Minimal, Post-Minimal. Objectual, Conceptual, etc.), and I’m not sure why this 1997 piece of his has been labelled as Post-Minimal this time. Its title is Shit in Your Hat- Head on a Chair and consists of a hanging chair with a plastic head on top of it plus a film projected on a screen. The film shows a mime following some spoken instructions. The instructions are dry and abusive (they have to do with the words of the title). It really attracts the attention – and repels the taste.