COLLECT. COLLECTING. COLLECTED
An art collection is many things. Above all else, it is a way of building a worldview, of creating a narrative from the individual meaning of all its constituent parts and from the multitude of more or less visible lines connecting them. A collection is a story grounded in the work of the artists comprising it. It is a set of works, but also of proper names. And behind it all, are individual persons. For that reason it also contains something of the artists themselves: over and above their pieces, what is represented are the artists, as seen through their trajectories and even through other works.
A collection is also a context, a backdrop where readings and rereadings of one work are influenced by the others. It is more of an irregular weave than a constant, unmodulated one. It has some kind of discernible motif running through it. One could view it as a net or mesh in which the meaning comes from each one of the works and from their interrelationships with all the others. And it is this play of subjectivities, conditioned by the history of each collection, that makes it such a hugely complex entity. In addition, a collection is a place where the categories existing in our society are exerted and underscored. Its driving notion derives from the 19th century modern project in the sense that it bestowed a seminal value on the object at a time when industrial production was taking off, global trade was being promoted and, in other words, the object was praised insomuch as its objecthood. As Didier Maleuvre pointed out, this idea was behind the birth of hundreds of museums in the West at a moment when “being” and “owning” went hand in hand. Furthermore we ought to introduce the principles of unicity, originality and fetish and also, at the same time, a concept that lies behind the colonial museum that perversely treasures objects from the very societies it dismembers. The end result is that the collection came into being, and remains virtually unchanged, as a succession of rare and unrepeatable objects that gave rise to new modern forms of worship.
Questioning the very notion of collection from within a collection is tremendously fraught. Tying in with what I said earlier, it is quite telling that post-capitalism has not yet invented some different way of collecting. As the world economy advances, progressively moulting its traditional relationship with the object and the accumulation thereof, rejecting its industrial dimension—at least formally—it would seem clear that the moment has finally arrived to imagine a different way of collecting, a form of collecting beyond the physical accumulation of material goods. However, that seems to be far from the case. The storage of collections today still requires stable conditions of temperature and humidity, and mobile racks to hang the pieces on, insurance policies… the evident signs that they treasure “things.” Accepting that this is the case, it is not because art, and even less so the artist, has not tried to disassociate itself from the object. Non-objectual practices have been rife for at least five decades now. Since a date closer to hand curators, exhibitions and critics came to accept this as the norm, and by this stage there is hardly anyone who seriously questions it. For all that, the art market and collections—particularly museum ones—continue to be based on the unique object.
A collection is also a tug-of-war with the notion of value, always measured from the tensing forces of the original price and the present-day evaluation. Its overall value should always be calculated greater than the sum of each one of its works, insofar as its generates a surplus value of and for the collection. There is also the question of the very notions of value, of those which make one work or another more or less coveted and appreciated on the basis of equally subjective criteria. But, as could not be otherwise, a collection is usually valued in comparison with other collections, thus firing the pistol for a sprint that has its own rules (how the works have been acquired, with what means, with what goals, how the collection is displayed, who sees it) and contradictory criteria. The lasting success of the collections of some major museums with worldwide prestige is the combination of having made key acquisitions coupled with the power to demonstrate that these are indeed seminal works, to which end they have had to deploy formidable critical muscle.
A collection is unavoidably a political place. It is subject to power relations that it at once alternates with its own activity. It is a place where a symbolic, economic and de facto authority is exerted on the ownership (or custody, as we shall later see) of some particular work or other. It is a poor substitute for political action itself, but it does indeed play at being a mirror reflection, a tangential, fuzzy way of analysing the collective taking of certain decisions. A collection is not an archive. It distinguishes rather than accumulates. Not everything is worthy of being archived, and even less so of being collected. I do not know whether there can ever be such a thing as the infinite archive, but I most certainly believe in the impossibility of the infinite collection, basically because the abovementioned notion of value would lose all sense. In an archive, excess is not an obstacle to be avoided but, in a collection, each work it contains must be appraised as part of the whole.
A collection—at least a contemporary art collection—can never aspire to explain art in its entirety. It will always be biased by many factors: geographic, chronological, ideological, of meaning, financial constraints or storage limitations. Disregarding such limitations would be to ignore what is self-evident: any human action is conditioned and subject to judgment. Any collection—and even more so a contemporary art collection—also entails certain contradictions. It is created to preserve. It is often forgotten that the commitment is, or should be, the survival of the works for decades and even centuries. It is an act of responsibility. Yet this leads to a paradox: What is acquired as contemporary will soon cease to be so. At different moments it will be shifted to a different classification until finally reaching the category of “historical.”
No matter how insistently we define a collection as present-day, modern or contemporary, a collection of the now, it will soon become a collection of the past. In any case, more than an owner the museum is a mere custodian. It has the duty to preserve it, but never with the restrictive meaning of regarding it as “its own.” A collection is also a study of the conditions under which it was created, of the history of those who set it in motion, who fixed its lines of work and defined how to carry out the acquisitions. It is also a portrait of the way that notion evolved over time, adapting to changing circumstances. Thus, a collection speaks about the person or institution behind it. A collection, and even more so a public one, lacks all meaning unless it is exhibited, known, studied and valued in its own right. And this, ultimately, is the reason behind this publication. To some extent, the history of the Colección CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo is the history of the Comunidad de Madrid itself. Taking as its starting point some of the holdings belonging to the former Diputación or Provincial Council, the decision to collect art was taken shortly after the inception of the Comunidad de Madrid as the regional institutional body. From the very beginning, it was envisaged as a narrative of its time, a collection built in the present day, with the term contemporary being part of its foundational premise. Nowadays, the fact that a public body—particularly one that has been created recently—shows a clear interest in contemporary art is accepted with certain institutional normality. But that normality was far from the case in the late years of Spain’s transition from a dictatorship to a democracy when the Spanish institutional and administrative map was drawn. The primary difficulty faced by those who began the collection, and even by those who had to consolidate it, lay perhaps in the dearth of role models existing in Spain at the time. The lack of public contemporary art collections which could help define guidelines, and in general the absence of a meaningful cultural policy, were some of the reasons explaining the difficulties faced in those early days. Something makes me believe that those who acquired pieces for the collection at each given time had a consciousness of building a new history, writing on a blank sheet of paper a narrative that would be read some time in the future. The first purchases in the 1980s were made by the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage through its Visual Arts Advisory Board. These acquisitions were mainly works produced for exhibitions organised by Comunidad de Madrid itself. More recently, an acquisitions committee was created, belonging to the General Directorate of Archives, Museums and Libraries, leading to a notable increase in its holdings.
The successive purchasing committees availed of the consultancy services of Victoria Combalía, Rafael Doctor, José Guirao, Lorena Martínez de Corral, Berta Sichel and Carlos Urroz. The acquisitions invariably responded to the notion of newness, though with some leaps backwards into the past to purchase pieces from previous periods. In the early 1980s, the collection mirrored the tensions existing between the most visible movements of the time: a new figuration neatly dovetailing with what was going on elsewhere in the world, and a continuity of the abstract experiences from the previous decade. By opting for this duality, it discarded other types of practices—those that, in turn, had drawn from the conceptual languages of twenty years before—which were naturally less perceptible notwithstanding the importance they would regain later in the decade. It was then when the collection started to view the temporary exhibitions organised by the Madrid Region in its various venues as a source for pieces to add to its holdings. The first installations and sculptures started to arrive. Shortly after 1990, the acquisitions took on a notably photographic overtone. The Comunidad de Madrid itself organised a significant number of activities revolving around photography: the programme of Sala del Canal de Isabel II (a unique venue in a former water tower), the Visual Studies Seminars (an event pioneering a rethinking of the meaning of the image in contemporary society), or the Comunidad de Madrid Awards. It was a logical development. At a moment when Spanish collections began to create their own identity, it was necessary to adopt a policy that would be consistent with the acquisitions to be made. The choice of photography as a support involved manifold advantages—a medium more prone to research than others, constantly subject to technical innovations (even though the digital revolution had not yet arrived) and that maintained, for its own definition, a close relationship with reality and with its questioning. A medium in which there was also an implicit message of an intense relationship with contemporaneity. The result was a collection that increased in volume very quickly. The inherent circumstances of photography allowed for a rapid incorporation of a large number of works in a very brief lapse of time.
A number of constants have remained unchanged throughout the years, like the commitment to gauge the evolution of art in Madrid through its artists, galleries and exhibitions. Furthermore, in retrospect, it is a collection conceived as public—the dimensions and the very nature of the works make them reasonably suitable for public display. In recent years, the collection has benefited from a wise political decision: to set aside a part of the 1% the public administration devotes to cultural investment for the acquisition of artworks. That 1% is an achievement of European heritage preservation policies. I always believed that the law was conceived with this type of case in mind: given that the railway, motorway, airport, or dam we are building will alter its beautiful natural setting for ever, the least we can do is to restore old buildings that would otherwise be unable to endure the passing of another four or six centuries. The “heritage balance” of an operation that is necessarily intrusive, such as the building of infrastructure, would then find a certain equilibrium. That well thought-out normative has helped Europe’s architectural heritage to ensure the survival of a substantial number of buildings. However, to extend the concept of heritage “preservation” to that of heritage “increase” is an equally sound decision. And it is doubly so in a region in which its contemporary culture is precisely one of its main assets. This made it possible, from 2005 onwards, to carry out more ambitious purchases and open up the horizons of the collection.
CA2M was built and set in motion, under the then Head of Dept of Culture Santiago Fisas, with the goal of coupling its mandate to safeguard the Collection with its task of ensuring an intensive, meaningful programme of exhibitions and activities. After opening in 2nd May, 2008 a new period began for the collection, in which the conditions of preservation and study go hand in hand with the possibility of exhibiting and publicising it. The new storage areas allow for more complex acquisitions in terms of dimensions and preservation requirements. Some guidelines were also decided in this step, namely: to maintain a strictly contemporary collection, allocating older holdings to other Comunidad de Madrid collections, such as the superb collection of paintings of the Madrazo family of painters obtained through the formula of donation in lieu of taxes. In the still brief history of the new centre, the collection has continued to grow in parallel with the exhibitions it hosts. In the opening years of the new CA2M it has acquired works produced by the centre itself and works on view in its solo and group exhibitions.
This is a collection that tells many stories and poses many questions. The most recurrent one would perhaps be the analysis of the very value of the image, its contemporary status, its validity to question reality. It is a collection about the ways of seeing, the power it offers to art, as a generator of images, to look at the world, to find the reason for its specific organisation, while continuing critiquing it and highlighting its contradictions.
The study of the image and of its meaning is one of the most exciting contemporary issues. Very few concepts contain as many definitions and approaches, many of which are highly charged with rare poetry. If we wished to strip someone intellectually then there would probably be no better way than asking him or her to write a definition of “image” and then express our wish for that definition to be concise. And if we were to repeat the exercise with many people we would probably end up with as many definitions as there are individuals. Images are explained from the experiential (dreams, memories) to the organic (the retinal) or the practical(materialisation). Moreover, it is a concept influenced by both culture and religion on one side, and by the present-day exposure to a myriad of images on the other. Image creation no longer holds any secrets. Digital photography puts the production of an image within everyone’s reach and the Internet allows for its immediate and apparently democratic dissemination. It is said that in 2002 as many photographs were generated as in the whole history of photography up until then, and that in 2010 that number had already multiplied by six. Nobody can verify this for certain but it may not be that important after all. And that is due to the fact that the power of the image of each one of them remains untouched as a spectacular system of setting subjectivities into motion.
It is likely that these questions are the same ones posed by the works of any contemporary art collection. And this is probably more so in our particular case. Indeed, it is a collection generating questions about the very meaning of seeing and the action of generating artworks to be seen. Obviously, its photographic essence is the key to that, but also the circumstances in which the works are created. I have always believed that Madrid is a place where the image has special significance, a city subject to continuous tension between reality and its representation. This catalogue covers the whole collection, and was conceived thanks to the invaluable contribution of Andrés Carretero and Carlos Urroz, at the time Deputy Director General for Museums and Visual Arts Adviser to Comunidad de Madrid, respectively. It features acquisitions up to and including the first half of 2010. This volume does not contain the extensive holding of graphic art which is built on the contributions from Actilibre Foundation made at the Estampa art fair. This is a major axis of the collection in its own right and will require a more detailed separate study in the future.
The publication includes images and detailed entries of the 1190 works in the collection, featuring these holdings in one single volume for the first time. However, the most significant section of the book consists of the 100 pieces selected to be highlighted with a larger image and accompanying text contextualising the work and assessing its meaning within the overall collection. Choosing these 100 works was not an easy task. To carry it out we relied on the invaluable collaboration of the team of experts who provided their consultancy services to the successive acquisition committees throughout the years. There was nobody better equipped to know the details involved in each purchase, the reasons why one work and not other was eventually incorporated into the collection. They are not the best 100 works, but those that had given shape to the very meaning of the collection, those articulating and providing consistency to a way of seeing art and to viewing its recent history.
The writing of the entries was then entrusted to Francisco Carpio, Juan Manuel Costa, Kristian Leahy, Alberto Martín, Mariano Mayer, José María Parreño, Abel Pozuelo, Andrés Isaac Santana, Virginia Torrente and Elena Vozmediano. Ten art critics each writing about ten works: a total of one hundred pieces. Together with the essay by Mariano Navarro, they compose, from their own subjectivities, a narrative that gives us the opportunity to acquaint ourselves better with these works while placing them in their context.