The first comprehensive survey of its type ever mounted in America, this exhibition explores the diverse and innovative work of Barcelona's artists, architects, and designers in the years between the Barcelona Universal Exposition of 1888 and the imposition of the Fascist regime of Francisco Franco in 1939. The exhibition features some three hundred works, including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, posters, decorative objects, furniture, architectural models, and designs. Barcelona and Modernity offers new insights into the art movements that advanced the city's quest for modernity and confirmed it as the primary center of radical intellectual, political, and cultural activities in Spain.
The exhibition presents Barcelona as a booming industrial city with conflicting politics and revolutionary works of art, architecture, and design. To explore the relationships among the visual arts, broader cultural activity, and political events of the era, the exhibition is organized in nine thematic sections, beginning with the origins of the Catalan Renaissance. The remaining sections focus on the major artistic movements that followed: Modernisme, Noucentisme, and other avant-garde idioms such as Surrealism, with a final section on works of art influenced by the Spanish Civil War.
The exhibition is made possible by the Caixa Catalunya Obra Social and the Generalitat de Catalunya.
Additional support is provided by Angelo, Gordon & Co.
The exhibition is also made possible in part by Jane and Robert Carroll and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.
It was organized by The Cleveland Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in association with Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
An indemnity is provided by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
The exhibition begins with an introduction to the revival of Catalan culture in the nineteenth century, when Barcelona expanded rapidly, becoming the largest, most industrialized, and most culturally advanced city in Spain. This set the stage for Barcelona's transformation from a provincial city into one of the most dynamic centers of modernist art and architecture in Europe. Following the destruction of the city's medieval walls in 1856, the city expanded into an area known as the Eixample, home to most of the innovative Catalan modern architecture. In 1888, Barcelona celebrated its rising economic power and artistic growth by hosting a Universal Exposition of fine and industrial arts. Highlights in this section of the exhibition include Ildefons Cerdà's (1815–1876) Plan for the Enlargement of Barcelona (1861) and Lluis Domènech i Montaner's (1850–1923) iron sculpture Rooster Greeting the Dawn (1892), designed for the Café-Restaurant of the Universal Exposition.
Modern art in Barcelona originated with Modernisme, a broad Catalan cultural movement that emerged in the 1880s and lasted into the 1910s. During this period, progressive artists and intellectuals in Barcelona opened up to foreign influences and embraced radical new ideas and art forms, especially contemporary French art. Ramon Casas (1866–1932) and Santiago Rusiñol (1861–1931), the key founders of Modernista Catalan painting, turned to themes and subjects that reflected the new realities of modern urban life. They were followed by a second generation of Modernista artists led by Joaquim Mir (1873–1940), Isidre Nonell (1876–1911), and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Also featured are notable Modernista posters and graphic works by Alexandre de Riquer (1856–1929) and Adrià Gual (1872–1944). Highlights include Rusiñol's painting Café de Montmartre (1890), Casas' Portrait of Erik Satie (1891), and Josep Llimona's (1864–1934) sculpture Desconsol (Grief), (1907).
In 1897, Casas and Rusiñol joined with others to establish Els Quatre Gats ("The Four Cats"), a legendary café that became the focus of bohemian artistic activity in Barcelona and was the site of meetings, exhibitions, poetry readings, and puppet theater performances. Picasso, at age eighteen, became a regular member of the group and held his first solo exhibition there in 1900. Highlights include Casas' painting Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a Tandem (1897) and Picasso's portraits of his fellow artists at the café (1899–1900).
At the turn of the twentieth century, while the rapid industrialization of Barcelona created new fortunes and allowed for wide patronage of the city's artists and designers, poor immigrants worked in harsh and unjust conditions, leading to social conflict, labor strikes, and anarchist bombings. Although artists rarely made overtly political statements, they did look closely at both the wealthy bourgeoisie and the working poor. Paintings and drawings by Isidre Nonell and Picasso's Blue Period depictions of beggars, prostitutes, and the disenfranchised reflect on the striking differences between Barcelona's economic and social classes. Highlights include Ramon Casas' The Garroting (1894), Nonell's Two Gypsies (1903), and Picasso's 1903 oil paintings La Vie (Life) and The Blindman's Meal.
Modernisme also found expression in architecture, design, and the decorative arts. Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1867–1957), Josep Jujol (1879–1949), Gaspar Homar (1870–1953), and Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) designed Modernista buildings and interiors, which, while concurrent with Art Nouveau in northern Europe, were of considerable originality, often expressing aspirations towards a Catalan national style. A renewed interest in local traditions was responsible for remarkable works in wrought iron, stained glass, and ceramics. Among the masterpieces of the period are Domènech's Palace of Catalan Music (1905–1908); Gaudí's Casa Milà (1906–1910); and Gaudi's iconic church, the Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família (begun 1883), which has since become a symbol for the city itself. These and other buildings are represented by drawings, models, and original fixtures and furnishings. Highlights include Puig i Cadafalch's Ceiling Lamp from Casa Amatller (1898–1900) and Gaudí's Dressing Table from Palau Güell (ca. 1899) and Two-Seat Sofa from Casa Batlló (ca. 1907).
During the 1910s and 1920s, art and design in Catalonia was characterized by a return to order known as Noucentisme or "Nineteen-hundreds Style." Reacting against the perceived aesthetic excesses of Modernisme, Noucentista artists sought to revive the spirit of Catalonia's classical past through forms and themes infused with the timeless values of Mediterranean civilization. Joaquím Torres-García (1874–1949), Joaquim Sunyer (1874–1956), and Feliu Elias (1878–1948) led the way in Noucentista painting. The movement also influenced decorative art and architecture, encouraging a revival of interest in traditional handcraftmanship, especially in ceramics, such as those by Josep Artigas (1892–1980). Works by Picasso (1881–1973) and Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) are featured in this section as well. Highlights include Torres-García's Project for the Fresco "The Eternal Catalonia" (1912) and Enric Casanovas' (1882–1948) sculpture Persuasion (1912–1913).
Barcelona's Dalmau Gallery, established in 1912, was crucial in introducing avant-garde art to Catalonia. Beginning around 1916, international artists flocked to Barcelona and began to pursue inventive new art forms influenced by Cubism and Surrealism. Torres–García (1874–1949), Pablo Gargallo (1881–1934), and Joan Miró (1893–1983) were Barcelona's leading avant-garde artists. Paintings by Picasso, Miró, Dalí, and Francis Picabia (1879–1953) and sculptures by Julio González (1876–1942) are featured in this section of the exhibition. Original manifestos, calligrams, and magazines are also on view. Highlights include Miró's paintings Self-Portrait (1919) and The Hunter (Catalan Landscape) (1923–1924), and Dalí's 1931 painting The Dream.
In the late 1920s a new movement emerged in architecture and design that rejected historically rooted styles in favor of starkly minimalist rationalism. The innovative group GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture) dedicated itself to relieving social problems, such as overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions, through architecture and functional objects designed for the masses. The German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) also graced the city with one of the most celebrated buildings in the history of modern architecture, his pavilion for the Barcelona International Exposition of 1929. Architectural models are the centerpiece of the section, supplemented with drawings, period photographs, and period journals. Highlights include models of Casa Bloc (1932–1936) by GATCPAC and the Central Antituberculosis Clinic (1934–1938) by Josep Lluís Sert, Joan B. Subirana, and Josep Torres Clavé; and the BKF Chair Prototype by Grupo Austral.
Artists in Barcelona reacted to the crisis of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) with a powerful wave of paintings, sculptures, posters, films, and photographs. This section of the exhibition features important works created in response to the horrors of the conflict, including paintings by Dalí and Miró, sculptures by González, and Picasso's studies for Guernica, his famous painting commissioned by the Spanish Republican government. Josep Lluís Sert's Pavilion of the Spanish Republic for the Paris International Exposition of 1937—at which Guernica was first shown publicly—is represented with a large architectural model. Highlights from this section include Dalí's 1936 painting Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), Miró's 1937 painting Still Life with Old Shoe, and prints from Miró's Black and Red Series (1938).