Logo Fundació Antoni Tàpies

March 5 – May 2, 2010

Antoni Tàpies. The Places of Art

The main feature of the exhibition with which the Fundació reopens its doors after its architectural reform is the fact that it transcends disciplines, periods and geographies. It is presented in various parts of the Fundació and embraces the complexity and plurality of interests in Antoni Tàpies’ work, from a selection of his pictorial work of the last twenty years, with a number of counterpoints of more remote works that are their embryo, including a fragment of what he called his “manifest” and his “museum,” [1] which corresponds to the spiritual and artistic setting of “three thousands years of friendship,” [2] a long search for values that go beyond aesthetics.

In the first place
Level -2 (Space D)

The basement of the Fundació displays a selection of works ranging from ancient Egyptian to modern western art, from ritual objects to scientific books. These works do not only constitute the artist’s living environment: they are closely related to his way of conceiving art, and represent a heterodox interrogation concerning its origins, history and meaning.

In the second place
Level 1 (Space A) and Level -1 (Space B)

This exhibition of Antoni Tàpies’ works is based in particular on a selection of the pieces he has created in the last twenty years, pieces that open up a path from an inner light and from a memory of gesture: a trajectory of over sixty-five years of uninterrupted work that has enabled him, in maturity, to continue creating powerful images that are still imbued with magic, expressiveness and rebellion. The exhibition commences with a work from the summer of 1945, with the apprentice painter who questions the social function of art and the motivations of the artist, and who poses himself all manner of existential doubts (a questioning that, over the years, will become the touchstone of an artistic production that is as expansive in variety as it is in time).

In the first place

The Fundació Antoni Tàpies was opened in 1990 with the aim of studying the role of art in the constitution of the modern consciousness. Twenty years later, the Fundació is reopening its doors after two years of architectural reforms with the presentation of a fragment of the constitution of the consciousness of Antoni Tàpies the man and the modern painter. As if it were an X-ray, a cut made in an organism, this first fragment displays a part of this body that is the collection of associated objects Tàpies has brought together over the years: “In contrast with other similar anthologies, this is constructed from my own artistic evolution, that is, from my need to explain to myself the personal concerns I have dealt with during more than fifty years of everyday work.” [3]

GENEALOGY The “three thousand years of friendship” and this anthology began eighty-six years ago, or even earlier, in a family characterised by erudition and marked by the geo-political circumstances of the time. It is not vacuous to relocate the presentation of a part of the artworks that not only surround but also inhabit and possess Antoni Tàpies in the narration of his history, of his genesis as a man and an artist.

He himself, in Memòria personal. Fragment per a una autobiografia (1977), refers to this family genealogy, which is inseparable from his literary and aesthetic discoveries. The references to objects and books trace the rhythm of the youngster’s spiritual development.

Tàpies’ constrictive experiences of religious education and the fascinating insights into magic and dreams, added to his successive illnesses, reinforced his private feelings of strangeness. These illnesses would be alleviated by his explorations of the family’s collections of objects and books.

In his early childhood the Spanish Republic was being consoli- dated, and to the now-legendary discovery of the magazine D’Ací i d’Allà, of the cinema and other magazines, there would be added magic and books. Books that ranged from Ecclesiastes to the writings of Karl Marx, which his father consulted to prepare his lectures.

The relationship with life and death, and with religions and political dogmas, were the framework for the formation of his identity prior to the artist he would become. He mentions his parents as an example of the reconciliation between the dominant religion in Spain and the struggles for the freedom of Catalonia in the 1930s. A family that was gripped by the transformation of values and rules in a society that would lead to the Second Republic, proclaimed in 1931 – and that would dramatically witness the destruction of this ideal. In a sick society, Antoni Tàpies’ ailing body looked to an inner world perturbed by religious rites and objects. Confronted with himself – literally, following the painting of his self-portraits in 1944, while convalescing – he saw the world, and gathered together its everyday objects and the beings that were closest to him. Oriental references offered a frame- work for thought for the young man tormented by his relationship with things: an aesthetic and ethical framework that preceded the birth of the Catholic religion itself. He would be captivated by another strange and fabulous world, from Mesopotamia to ancient Greece by way of shamanic practices and mediums, in a tireless quest for elusive truths. If there was another world of forms, of objects related with the existing world and objects related with the Beyond, why should he unquestioningly accept what was imposed by the Church? Tàpies placed the Catholic religion in doubt, and finally abandoned it altogether.

The associations he created through his readings and his philosophical and aesthetic explorations, between the aesthetic productions of other far-off lands, from the present or the past, and the sciences, and modern art, are found again in the magazines he perused from his childhood until he chose to become an artist, and subsequently with Révolution surréaliste, Documents and Minotaure, among others. Within this vision, Antoni Tàpies has conceived his work – and still does – as a means of broadening his knowledge, a way of sharing his questions and answers with everyone. He believes in art as a vector of relationship with the world, a bond and a place joining what is real and what is unreal, but also as a means of resistance against political, aesthetic or ethical impositions.

In 1955, what Tàpies expected of art was a shock, a commotion for the public. Later, when he questioned himself about what traditions and schools had influenced him personally and therefore his work, he asserted his identification with the tireless, restless rupture of the avant-gardes: a free expression that defends its origin in the Oriental masters of the past who formed the central axis of their society and represented an art that rejected the idea of a progress that would construct the new on the basis of destroying the old.

We have now arrived, then, at the crucial point where we seek the origin, the moment when the boy, the teenage Antoni Tàpies creates himself, places himself within an artistic genealogy of the past and the future, and from here, by association, at the manner in which he has constituted himself as an artist, has produced art, has surrounded himself with art, with science, with literature, because this was what he was becoming, what he was and wanted to be.

The artworks gathered together in the exhibition that make up part of his habitat are his double, his mirror and, after a fashion, his ideal history. He is possessed by an ancestral history, and he possesses it in return, since, as he says, artworks have to become everyday objects, handled and studied. This culture, this collection, is the result of a construction, an acquisition of an origin: an origin for himself and for his work, because the artist’s spirit and thoughts must come from somewhere. He thinks and expresses himself within a system of thought that goes beyond frameworks of space and time, but above all he does so from the particular standpoint of a life situated in his own time.

This association of works juxtaposes time and places. If we make an inventory of the pieces, we observe a majority of non- western objects and works: a majority of old, non-western works that nevertheless are often associated with a modern western artwork, a painting or various paintings. And always with a link to an ancient work. On a table in the library, a wooden Catalan Romanesque virgin stands beside a warrior from an ancient civilisation. Nearby, the Goddess of the Void. Tàpies names the history, the authors, the references, the sources; he surrounds himself with them, he displays them and shares them. This “unity of differences,” this body, is a space for constructing a polyphonic discourse on art that interlaces the points of view of art, literature and science. An art that would never be separated, distanced from other subjects, and that entwines with esotericism, religions, the collective and individual unconscious, the sciences and all their representations. The Koran alongside the Bible. Courtly love, the thoughts of Bergson, Marie Curie’s investigations, and the anatomic drawings of Vesalius. Robert Fludd’s infinity is not far removed from Duchamp’s breast on the cover of Le Surréalisme en 1947. The systems of representation of Anasthasius Kircher, of Ramon Llull, of the mandalas, and so on, every wall, every altarpiece in the exhibition or in the artist-collector’s studio, echoes this cosmogony, this “automatic” association. In the same space as Francisco de Zurbarán’s stabbed friar, there is a god- dess Shiva with her hands outstretched. And there, a Goya, and behind the Goya, Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté. It is not a question of assimilating non-western art into the history of art, but of incorporating art into the collection of gestures used by mankind in its dialogue with realities. In a number of his texts, Antoni Tàpies recalls the magical, curative power of the artwork, but for him it is first and foremost a means of relating, of learning, of exploring and discovering himself and the world.

The museum, the exhibition venue, displaces the objects, relocates them to give room for thought. This selection of works, then, gives us here for the first time the opportunity to explore a fragment of this “body”, this “consciousness.” Like a mutilation to a living being, this exhibition allows us to establish relationships between these objects, to come closer to acquiring an awareness (a collection, like an exhibition, removes the objects from their original habitat and function and permits new interpretations). The public will have access to a first approximation, an initial exhibition space of works, books and objects which, in contrast with their meaning in their customary habitat, with their associative and relational mechanism linked to the imagination and other psychic drives, come to form part, in being exhibited, of a repertoire, are named and are displayed in relation with a specific temporal and geographical origin, thus opening up a space of interrogation of and connection with the origins of art.

In the second place

The early works from the years 1945-47, displayed on Level 1 of the Fundació, reveal a strong primitivist nature, linked to Dada and infantile art or the art of the mentally ill, and therefore close to Art Brut. At the same time, these works – which in some cases already foreshadow Tàpies’ work with matter – evidence a certain Symbolist character with regard to the importance this movement attributes to allegory, myth and metaphor.

Symbolism had arrived in Catalonia with the Modernista (Art Nouveau) aesthetic in the late 19th century, and was made very visible in Barcelona by the Modernista architecture of numerous buildings in the city, particularly those of Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. As occurs in the work of Antoni Tàpies, the goal of the Symbolists was to express an ideal – or an absolute truth – to which access was gained through spirituality, the imagina- tion and dreams. In this way, they endowed images or objects with a symbolic meaning by means of metaphor and suggestion. During these formative years, Antoni Tàpies laid the foundations of a system of thought and creation that in time would become the touchstone of his artistic production. It is for this reason that the Fundació displays a very brief sampling of works from this period as an introduction, beside a selection of works produced during the last twenty years, a period that coincides with the life of the Fundació itself. The aim of this exhibi- tion is to show that the works of the last twenty years display, in a cer- tain manner, a reworking and reinterpretation of the works of the 1940s (self-portraits, references to death), as well as biographical shifts.

One of these first self-portraits shows, at the same time, a young Tàpies facing himself and criss-crossed by demons and symbols. The series of engravings made on the basis of Karl Marx, Història Natural (Natural History), and the other drawings and canvases inspired in the Surrealist movement of the same period continued this exploration, terrifying and dazzling at the same time, of a world torn apart by war and Tàpies’ own existential questions, a world that was also witnessing scientific discoveries and the artistic avant-gardes. The numerous motifs that would emerge in Tàpies’ work during these early years of exploration of his “being in the world” as an artist would be repeated almost obsessively throughout his career. In all of his work, Tàpies refers to the first stage described by the mystics, which consists in studying the “infernal cycle” before attaining serenity.

Objects, parts of the body, would be represented in different ways according to the stages of the artist’s evolution, and would adopt and superimpose his successive aesthetic and spiritual affiliations: from the magic and mystery of appearances to a material presence that would take shape in the 1950s. Materials, objects, instead of being the representation of an idea, of a projection of themselves, become a presence, a reality of themselves. Magic and mimetics,2 alchemy and working with matter are two practices and two references in Tàpies, transforming what is insignificant and everyday into art and allowing the structure of matter to live and appear, whether it be the “walls” made of marble dust, sand or earth of the 1950s or the varnishes of the 1980s, which we can find in the selection of works of the last twenty years.

Antoni Tàpies will always occupy a particular, tense place, which his work explores, between the storminess and violence of isolation and the quietude of contemplation. He lives and paints the dismembering of the body of art and the artist, as a transitional space, a space in transit located in the deepest, rawest reaches of the human condition and of the artist himself. In tune with his interest in the mystics, he identifies with their practice of uniting what is attractive with what is repulsive, in order to attain a state of contemplation. An art made up of debris, of everyday objects, of hieroglyphics, of sublimated, condensed waste materials placed at the very centre of art, of the history of art. Tàpies also mentions the Oriental practices in which the sublime can be found in the smallest of things, in what is mundane or abject. This abjection disturbs order, system, identity. What is abject (to borrow Julia Kristeva’s definition) precedes signs and language. It speaks to us of what is unnameable, of the moment when the exterior and the interior form a single thing, mixing pleasure and pain. What is unnameable is this lack of distinction between outside and inside, between what is seen and what is felt.

Uniting object and subject, Antoni Tàpies often expresses the desire to strike his viewers both physically and visually. It is also a question of making them feel pain, of making them see it in order for them to recognise it, of making them see it in order to cure them. So it is not so much a matter of looking horror in the face – severed torsos, heads and feet torn from the body and cast aside – as of feeling the forces that pierce the body. The cuts, the wounds, the perforated skin of the canvas, mark the limits. The limits of the body or of the canvas. “What is abject is enveloped by what is sublime.” [4] What is shown to us as cut, holed, liquefied, makes us perceive the boundaries between an ancestral, primitive, incorporate fear and an exterior that is known, delimited, named.

Looking horror in the face can turn us to stone. Tàpies combines the enjoyment of our contemplation of matter, of colour, and our fascination with sexes floating in matters bordering on the celestial, erect or open sexes in a liquefied varnish that represents bodies without heads, without organs. “Bodies without organs,” or rather without organisation, without organism, as opposed to the anatomical bodies of medicine, whose organs are identified and whose functions are enumerated. An intense and intensive body made up of variations, of vibrations, of fluctuations. A suitable definition for the varnishes that appear in the 1980s. These varnishes literally incarnate the liquid bodies that pour out and take shape on the canvas. Skin and canvas are one and the same thing. Gesture, calligraphy, writing … the bodies unfold, deform. And here too, language, symbols, emerge once again, take possession of what is unnameable, of what is formless. The bodies are marked by crosses, letters, writings, figures. The canvas is trapped in the movement of creation and at the same time reminds us of the concreteness, the conditions of production of the work, the object made of canvas and wood that finally results from it, albeit sublimated. The works Cap i filferro (Head and Wire), from 1999, or Cos i filferro (Body and Wire), from 1996, use, for example, a wire that at the same time painfully pierces the canvas in braided form and the body or the head represented there. The bodies are cut, the wire wounds them and at the same time ties them to the support. The bodiless head is marked by a sign of possession and compas- sion: the cross, the + or the initials “at.” Most of the works exhibited here live in this back-and-forth movement between language, signs and corporate matter. The brutal wire that penetrates a sock (Mitjó (Sock), model, 1991, a sculpture created and sited on the terrace of the Fundació in 2010) can also rise up into a cloud set on top of this very building: Núvol i cadira (Cloud and Chair), 1990. Opposites always attract, coexist, tauten and complete each other.

The works selected here and the description given of them aim to exemplify a ritual. But a ritual without myth, without divinity; it is more a question of repeating gestures of common rituals. A body that walks around the canvas, approaches it, moves away from it to the sound of cracking fingers. Antoni Tàpies, aged eighty-six, goes down to his workshop every day, and paints or draws, according to the seasons, ritually, calmly, cut-up bodies or signs of infinity: a spiral, a circle, a cross, a fingerprint, figures. Sometimes there is another moment of peace: a wave that washes away the signs and the scissors, three fingers that invite us to be silent … and the rhythm is taken up again. The fingerprint turns into a sun, a puff of breath.

Painting, drawing, as an everyday act, like eating when we’re hungry or sleeping when we’re tired. If we follow the advice of T. Suzuki in the prologue of Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens (Zen in the Art of Archery), by Eugen Herrigel (1884-1955), a true master of archery has to become one with the target, and to do so he has to harmonise what is conscious and what is unconscious, eliminate the separation between the body and the object aimed at. As he says, it is a question of going beyond technique to demonstrate a knowledge, a practice that resides directly in the body, the head and the organs: “His hands and feet are the brushes, and all the universe is the canvas on which he will paint his life for seventy, eighty or even ninety years. The pic- ture so painted is named ‘history’.”

The hands, the feet, are freed from the dominion of the eye. In Antoni Tàpies’ work, the feet walk over the canvases, the eyes are hands covered with paint. He practises a vision that discovers a function of touch. [5] The eyes, the gaze, as in the self-portraits and faces of his early years, persist, as he himself says: “I began painting eyes, and I’ll finish painting eyes”: eyes that paint. The materic paintings, like the bodies also, make us feel matter through our eyes. An earthy, physical matter, recorded in our memory thanks to games, work or contemplation. The canvas or earth become magma that shakes or devours pieces of paper, that expels its own excrescences. A canvas, an earth, a bronze that, in turn, can swallow up the objects and petrify them forever. Here also, in this fluid, gripped, petrified matter, are engraved the signs of possession, of transcendence. In this way, the materic works of the 1950s and 1960s are traversed by their tremors and reveal bodies, or are even split open, marked. At the same time Tàpies shows the matter, allows it to manifest itself, and then he repeats the gesture of marking the ‘wall’ with a graphism, with a blow. In this way he marks out the territory. The mark is not lacking in substance: it is rarely a mere stroke, it is an imprint, a sign, letters, figures, formulas, symbols. The circle, the empty space bear Tàpies’ figures, his writings, they are gripped and fixed in the space of the canvas. An ordered code that would give access to what is unsayable. A whole repertoire, a code that has run through his work for over sixty years.

Tàpies unites opposites, what is unnameable, matter and signs, in a flux, in the flux of his ‘history.’

We should not neglect this captivating, magical, mystic aspect under the pretext of science, of order, of decency. In keeping with ancestral knowledge and the arguments of contemporary sociologists and anthropologists, Tàpies is fully aware of the interplay between the sciences, the arts, policies and beliefs. Just as the first sampling of his museum-anthology presents him to us in the basement of the Fundació, especially in the books displayed there, it is a matter of preserving this nexus between our bonds, our systems of representation and relationship with the world, whether they be language, mathematics, spiritual systems or our deepest fears. Art, or the artistic act, is therefore this shuttle in the loom, this space that weaves, unites, tenses the different cords that we are made up of.

When he describes a children’s game, Antoni Tàpies suggests that we look at a chair, especially an old chair, and imagine all its possible lives. [6] From the wood it’s made of, passing through the factory, the work that has gone into making it, the sale, the bodies and feelings it has supported. A chair is a chair, but it’s also a sign. Upside down, right way up, a medium, a means of crossing the frontiers between here and there, outside of this time. Objects become objects of power, thanks to the matter they’re made of, their history. And their transformation, “as if by magic,” brings them into contact with mysterious powers. If we invert the object, the points of view, we invert our heads. Personatges (Personages), from 1946, one of Tàpies’ first works, and numerous drawings of the time turn faces and objects around in a mystic or fearful experience. Tàpies has often literally glued, cut, enclosed and displaced objects, has transformed them into works of art. Sometimes he has altered their status, giving them another name and another place. Because a chair, a paintbrush, an overcoat, can enter an exhibition hall and find their place there. A T-shirt could be mislaid there, but here it is found in a graffiti-game of cut-off plaster feet. Objects and matters become transformed, but they are also what they are. Their solidity, their atoms are important. The artist, with his work, with his study, will transform them into objects of power, aware of the insignificance and the greatness they have. In these writings, and thanks to the choice of the objects that surround him and inhabit him in everyday life, Antoni Tàpies takes an interest in this genealogy of the object that contains a “charge of energy” transmitted by its artifex to matter itself. Art is an artifice, an artefact – Antoni Tàpies would say magic. The Fundació invites you, then, to step through the mirror, or rather, to walk through the door.

1. Antoni Tàpies, El arte y sus lugares, Madrid: Siruela, 1999, p. 11.
2. Antoni Tàpies, ‘3.000 ans d’amitié/Tres mil anys d’amistat,’ Vogue, December 1991 – January 1992.
3. Antoni Tàpies, El arte y sus lugares, Madrid: Siruela, 1999, p. 11.
4. Manuel J. Borja-Villel,’The Collection.’ Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2004, pp. 26-95.
5. Julia Kristeva, Pouvoirs de l’horreur. Paris: Seuil, 1980, p. 19.
6. ‘I speak with my hand, you listen with your eyes,’ Shitao (quotation taken from the chapter ‘Tattooing and the body,’ El arte y sus lugares, Antoni Tàpies, Madrid: Siruela, 1999).
7. Antoni Tàpies, ‘The game of knowing how to look,’ Cavall Fort, (Barcelona), nº 82 (January 1967).


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