Sonorous promenade

Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes

If every exhibition is a complex act, every artistic intervention programme in public spaces is even more so. If many actors and intervening factors are involved in every exhibition, in every public art programme those participating actors and produced intertwines of intervening factors make the complexity innate to every artistic process and to its public exhibition multiply. If in every exhibition opposing interests and conflicts are very present, in every artistic intervention in the public sphere those opposing interests and conceptual and development conflicts rise to the surface with more intensity. Complexity and conflict should therefore be recognised as fundamental and constitutive parts of every public artistic process, but also – as an inevitable element- the contradictions with which it is constructed. MADRID ABIERTO is, in this sense, a complex programme where inevitably one must work with conflicts and contradictions of varying nature, ranging from aesthetics to political, urban to social, artistic to audience, ultimate meaning to materialisation. And because contradictions must be assumed, one must inevitably part from the stance of recognising them

Public presence today is, first and foremost, a presentation for initial circulation and distribution. The temporality of the projects and their immateriality speak from an activity that has lost all centralism in the composition of dominant discourses and, like traditional ideas relative to the museum inherited from the Enlightenment theories, simply remain there, at discourse level, given that a shift has been produced as a result of the application of advanced capitalist formulas. The artist and the public ceased to be antagonists a long time ago to both become mass-actors within a supra-structure which they both work for as mediators. Michael Fried –in Absorption and Theatricality- has traced an antagonism between works that establish a theatrical relationship with the spectator and others that ignore him, that treat him ‘as if he did not exist’. In his essay he holds a theory on French art of 1800 which is worth hearing to subsequently contrast it with others relative to the same historical time in the composition of modern political and aesthetic theories: the artist “had to find a way of neutralising or denying the presence of the spectator, of establishing the fiction of his inexistence as such before the painting”. This situation is termed by Fried as paradoxical, given that “the attention of the spectator could only be captured and maintained fixed on the painting through that denial”. On his part, Thomas Crow –in Painters and Public Life in 18th-Century Paris- studied a fundamental occurrence in that period: “the birth of a public space”. Crow stops to study the Parisian Salons and the emergence of a new artistic genre, ‘the public one’ (and inseparably attached to it, ‘the artistic press’), which mediatises the aesthetic experience and its dissemination. Prior to that, Crow observed something of obvious relevance to an event like MADRID ABIERTO: the relationship between ‘the Salon and the street’, initially investigating street exhibitions where paintings were exhibited on the walls of Place Dauphine. That is, contrary to Fried’s theory that painting in that period sought to deny the existence of the spectator, Crow investigated and defended that that was precisely the period when the concepts of ‘public’ and ‘public space’ emerged. However, those theories are not conflicting, but they work on different planes that are somehow worth bearing in mind within the complexity and contradictions inherent to today’s public art space and in relation to this edition of MADRID ABIERTO.

Robert Musil –in The Man without Qualities- wrote “cities can be recognised by their pace just as people can by their walk”. In this respect, the proposal of this year’s MADRID ABIERTO is essentially a promenade that goes from the Metrópolis building – on the junction of Gran Vía with Alcalá- to the Colón monument –on the square that bears his name, inaugurated in 1892, on the fourth centenary of the ‘journey’ and six years prior to the ’98 Disaster’-, along Paseo de Recoletos. Furthermore, it will mainly be a sonorous promenade, though with some exceptions. A promenade along the centre of a city is a journey through a distinguished place which, as such, also has its artistic tradition (from flâneur to situationism, from land art to Alÿs, through initiatives that hold similarities with conceptual art). In this sense, the contextualisation of the proposals of MADRID ABIERTO 07 is the result of a history that makes reference to a specific period: the Enlightenment Thought period and its expansion, with its consolidation and the resistance to which it was subjected in the 18th and 19th centuries (Paseo de Recoletos, as a prolongation of the Prado Salon, one of the main Enlightenment projects of Carlos III), following which, the ultimate fall of the Spanish Empire was produced, symbolised by the loss of the last colonies (Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines). Therefore, the promenade between the monument to Colon and the French-aesthetics Metropolis building is already full of powerful images. No other images need to added, although indeed some sounds to accentuate them: they alone talk to us about our history and our present, about power and its representation in buildings and monuments that symbolise and house it: banks (among them, the Bank of Spain), insurance companies, the Army Headquarters, the Palace of Communications, etc., but also cultural and artistic institutions like Círculo de Bellas Artes, the National Library and the recent Centro Cultural de la Villa, given that, as Edward W. Said studied in detail, “the relationship between imperialist politics and culture is surprisingly close”. This promenade with its emblems needs and excludes the public on a daily basis in a similar way to that previously recalled when quoting Michael Fried and 1800 painting. In addition- and in relation to that studied by Thomas Crow- the ‘democratic’, ‘competitive’ and selected open call for presentations to MADRID ABIERTO is heir of the idea of the Parisian Salons; besides linking up with the street exhibitions – mentioned by Crow as stemming from the Salons- and urbanism as clear precursors of what is termed today ‘public art’. A term and a concept already fully extended which has broken its previous specificity, as in the case of sculpture – from which it generated into a concept-. In this latter sense, our intention is not to question ‘public art’ but the recognition of its expanded specificity, its contradictions and problems, have been overlapped by another specificity that is different and more widespread among the interventions that make up this edition: voices, songs, music and sounds. Added to this is a curatorial decision: the possibility of a stroll through a space distinguished by the ideas that underlie the composition of its history, heirs of Enlightenment Thought and of the concept of Empire –something that is also entirely associated with a ‘global coloniality’ present, to use the term employed by Walter D. Mignolo-. Therefore, a detour was preferred, a sonorous promenade, precisely running in the opposite direction to the ‘Art Promenade’.