visual arts

visual arts
   Spain has had a long tradition of excellence in the visual arts, covering the entire range from the Moorish palace of the Alhambra in Granada to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century flowering of painting represented by artists like El Greco and Velázquez, to local crafts such as the brightly coloured hand-painted pottery from Talavera.
   It is, however, to the early 1980s that one may date a significant increase in public awareness. Major art exhibitions were mounted, testifying to renewed interest in the artistic heritage of the past, most notably the Velázquez exhibition in the Prado Museum in 1990, which was visited by half a million people. In addition, the public showed an increased appetite for attending exhibitions of contemporary art, and acquiring original works. In the mid-1980s, it was estimated that one in five people visited an art gallery twice a month. The International Festival of Contemporary Art, sponsored in 1983 by the ARCO Foundation, was the first of a series of art fairs held in the 1980s and 1990s, which stimulated private purchases of art works. Though sales began to decline after a peak in 1990, this probably reflects a reduction in individual purchasing power rather than a fallingoff of interest in art. The number of visitors to galleries and art fairs continued to increase. The reawakening of public enthusiasm has been paralleled at official level by increased support for the arts, reflected in the improved level of arts funding from central and regional government, which increased by some 70 percent in the 1980s. Though there were severe cuts in arts budgets by the mid-1990s, overall support from non-govern-mental sources is still considerable. Banks, private individuals and foundations both own significant art collections and also subsidize museums and galleries. The savings banks (Cajas de Ahorros) in particular are obliged by law to devote half their profits to community enterprises.
   Increased funding from either public or private sources has enabled the refurbishment and extension of the large number of existing museums, such as the Prado and the Museum of the Americas, as well as the establishment of new ones, particularly the Queen Sofía Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Guggenheim Museum, all opened between 1986 and 1997. These developments have not only ensured that major works from the past are preserved using modern standards of conservation, but have also, through enlightened acquisition policies, increased the range of contemporary painting and sculpture from other countries which is directly available to the Spanish public. Furthermore, the need to create new installations or upgrade existing ones has provided opportunities for new creative additions to Spain's already flourishing traditions of architecture. The Institute of Modern Art in Valencia (IVAM) is a good example of a project which brings together the two enterprises of displaying works of art, and providing an appropriate and striking setting for them.
   The burgeoning of interest in the visual arts is attributable in part to the reaction against what was perceived as the cultural impoverishment of the Franco era. The heady excitement of the 1930s, when Spain could boast avant-garde artists of the calibre of Dalí and Joan Miró, had largely given way, in the years after the Civil War, to an unadventurous academicism, represented in painting principally by Zuloaga, who, having moved in radical circles in the 1930s, became an establishment artist, painting portraits of Franco in heroic poses. This is not to say that the avantgarde tradition disappeared completely. Miró returned to Spain in 1940, and although Picasso continued to live in France, he still exercised a powerful influence on Spanish artists. In Catalonia, Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies experimented with new forms and materials, as did Madrid-based painters such as Antonio Saura. The sculptor Eduardo Chillida departed radically from conventional norms by cultivating a style which became known as Informalism. Nor was avant-garde experimentalism the only approach open to those opposed to the conformist art favoured by the regime. Pastiches of figurative and representative painting could be turned to good account to satirize artistic convention and make a political point, as with the 1973 version of the portrait of Philip II by Equipo Crónica, and the ironic treatment of establishment figures by Eduardo Arroyo. Even a figurative sculptor like Jorge de Oteiza transcended his earlier style and evolved towards a degree of abstraction which caused some of his religious statuary to be rejected as too avant-garde, providing eloquent testimony to the rapid development and vitality of the visual arts in contemporary Spain.
   Further reading
   - Dent Coad, E. (1995) "Painting and Sculpture: The Rejection of High Art", in H.Graham and J. Labanyi (eds) Spanish Cultural Studies, an Introduction: The Struggle for Modernity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 299–304 (a useful brief overview of the main trends since the Civil War).
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (chapter 23, "Art and the Possible: The Politics of Culture", places "art fever" in the context of general changes in the cultural climate).
   - Wright, P. (1992) " State of the Nation", Museums Journal, June 1992: 25–33 (a very informative and wide-ranging article on the situation in the early 1990s).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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