2 MAY – 10 SEPT 2008
Uprising. Freedom and Citizenship in the Contemporary Art Collection of the Regional Government of Madrid
IN COLLABORATION WITH THE DOS DE MAYO NACIÓN Y LIBERTAD FOUNDATION
The UPRISING exhibition aims to express the values of freedom and citizen resistance that inspired the uprisings of 2 May 1808 through works belonging to the Contemporary Art Collection of the Regional Government of Madrid. To celebrate the inauguration of the Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, the Regional Government of Madrid set itself the challenge of organising an exhibition that would commemorate the people of Madrid's revolt against Napoleon’s troops deployed around the country, while simultaneously providing an opportunity to show the works that have been added to its Contemporary Art Collection in recent years.
The photographs, videos, paintings and sculptures included in the exhibition reflect the personal world of each of the artists and have been chosen for their associations with the events that took place in the region two centuries ago. On 2 May 1808 a multitude began to gather in front of the Royal Palace. The crowd is alleged to have witnessed French soldiers removing the Queen of Etruria (Charles IV’s daughter) from the palace, but on seeing another carriage reach the conclusion that it was for the prince, Francisco de Paula. To the cries of “They’re taking him away!”, they broke into the palace. The prince then appeared at a balcony, exacerbating the commotion in the square even further. Taking advantage of the confusion, General Murat (in command of Napoleon’s troops in Spain) ordered a battalion of grenadiers from the Imperial Guard to open fire on the crowd. The desire to prevent the prince’s removal was combined with two further desires: to avenge the dead and to defeat the French in a battle that spread to the whole of Madrid.
This revolt was not only the rebellion of the Spanish against the French occupation – it was also the rebellion of the Spanish people against an occupying force tolerated (through indifference, fear or vested interest) by most of the government. It was also an unequal battle between Napoleon’s perfectly equipped soldiers – the Mamelukes and Cuirassiers, infantry regiments – and a virtually unarmed multitude that was actively joined in the combat by workers, women – such as the famed Manuela Malasaña and Clara del Rey – and a few rebels from the military.
Quite apart from the endless historical analyses of these events, which also subsequently generated numerous images – from Goya’s paintings to calls to arms in the Spanish Civil War – there are certain aspects to note about the early days of May 1808. The first is that the citizens of Madrid played a vital role in these events, because it was the sum of men and women, of ordinary people in the street and neighbourhood chiefs that put up a fight against the French. The second is that the catalyst of the royal family's departure demonstrated just how sick and tired the people of Madrid had become of the French presence in Spain. The final point to note is the extreme violence of the events, which ended with over 1,300 casualties on both sides caused by the killing – at one point of the battle, indiscriminately – of Frenchmen and Spaniards.
It is these three ideas that articulate the images included in the exhibition. The earlier works are accompanied by texts written by chroniclers of the day which narrate the events of 1808; these have been selected by the historian Jorge Vilches. By presenting these works alongside the images and ideas of contemporary artists, the exhibition highlights the ongoing relevance of the episode and the significance of the commemorations for this bicentenary.
The first section of the exhibition is devoted to the citizens of Madrid and comprises a series of portraits of Madrileño types produced by different photographers over the last 50 years (Luis Baylón, Toni Catany, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, Ricky Dávila, Alberto García-Álix, Pierre Gonnord, Ouka Leele, Encarna Marín, Ramón Masats, Ricardo Martín Morales, Humberto Rivas, Juan Pablo Santana, Antonio Suárez and Miguel Trillo). Thanks to the importance of photography in the Madrid collection, it has been possible to devote a whole room to portraits, most of them of people whose features probably have much in common with those of the people involved in the events of 1808.
The second room begins with different quotations that illustrate the frequent changes of sovereignty and flag at the beginning of the 19th century, then continues with a series of works by Spanish artists who address the idea of nation – the maps by Chema Mádoz and Gonzalo Puch, the pieces on borders by Cristina Lucas and Santiago Sierra, and the ironic works about flags by Juan Hidalgo and Mateo Maté.
Within the context of a relatively stable Europe for the last 50 years, we find it hard to imagine the changes of sovereignty of European and overseas territories that took place at the beginning of the 19th century as a result of peace agreements and treaties. Exhortations such as “Your country is in danger. Madrid perishes, a victim of French treachery. Spaniards, come and save her!” and “Die killing” taken from sources of the day reveal the severity of the events of 2 May 1808 and lead us on to the third section of the exhibition. Here, violence is clearly the latent theme, as manifested in works such as Fire by Annika Larsson , Last Riot by the AES+F group, Sín título (Cristal roto) by Sergio Belinchón, Una disputa by Biel Capllonch and, much more explicitly, in the works Villalar de los Comuneros by Bleda & Rosa, Barbarie by Ester Partegás and Rich Cat Dies of Heart Attack in Chicago by Fernando Sánchez Castillo.
The exhibition ends with the works of three contemporary Spanish artists – Eugenio Ampudia, Javier Arce and Jordi Ribes which make a direct reference to Francisco de Goya’s legendary painting The Third of May 1808, from 1814.
This exhibition offers a subjective, personal interpretation based on works now in the collection juxtaposed in a singular arrangement to commemorate the bicentenary.
Marina Abramovic, AES+F group, Eugenio Ampudia, Ibon Aranberri, Javier Arce, Luis Baylón, Sergio Belinchón, Mira Bernabeu, Bleda & Rosa, Biel Capllonch, Toni Catany, Juan Manuel Castro Prieto, Ricky Dávila, Alberto García-Alix, Kepa Garraza, Pierre Gonnord, Juan Hidalgo, Jano, Annika Larsson, Ouka Leele, Cristina Lucas, Chema Madoz, Luis de Madrazo Kuntz, Encarna Marín, Ramón Masats, Mateo Maté, Ricardo Martín Morales, Leonel Moura, Cas Oorthuys, Ester Partegás, Gonzalo Puch, Jordi Ribes, Humberto Rivas, MP&MP Rosado, Ixone Sádaba, Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Juan Pablo Santana, Santiago Sierra, Antonio Suárez, Miguel Trillo.