The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) in Barcelona is best known for its medieval art, particularly its collection of Romanesque murals, which is considered one of the most important in the world. But a significant chunk of the museum’s holdings of around 30,000 pieces is modern art, dating back to the beginning of the last century, and up to the 1950s. Now, around 1,300 pieces, half of them never exhibited in public before, are to go on display in a specially prepared space covering 4,000 square meters of the museum’s first floor.
The walls of the space, formerly a neutral off-white, have been painted in bright colors, while the paintings have been hung seemingly willy-nilly.
One of the MNAC’s main tasks is to showcase Catalan art through the centuries, but the collection now on display also includes work by Juan Gris, Julio Romero de Torres, Alfred Sisley and Edvard Munch. “These all form part of the collection and help to put it in context,” says the museum’s director, Pepe Serra.
When Serra took over three years ago, he made it clear that he wanted to break with tradition, and put the modern art collection in context. As a result, painting, sculpture, posters, cinema, illustrations, furniture, advertising, photography, and particularly architecture are all on display. Together the pieces tell the story of the beginning of modern art, and how realism gradually emerged as the dominant trend in the early 20th century. Paintings such as Mariano Fortuny’s The Battle of Tetuán, which harks back to the styles of the 19th century, become superseded by more lifelike depictions of events.
The exhibition brings the period to life through the faces of the artists as depicted in their self-portraits, as well as those of their wealthy patrons. “We have tried to avoid focusing on styles such as Impressionism, Futurism, Cubism, Expressionism, etc., and have instead presented a big picture of what society was like, with all its contradictions,” says Serra. “The major works are there as well, and are enriched by being seen alongside others created at that time.”
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