{Spain} Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona

June 11, 2012


So often I’ve attended conferences and other events at museums where you don’t actually get a chance to see the museum, so I made some time (a.k.a. skipped a session) during MuseumNext to check out our host venue, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, or MACBA. If visiting MEAM earlier that week had taken me out of my comfort zone, then MACBA really pushed me to the limit. My Timeout travel guide app described MACBA as a place of “cryptic minimalism…where art is taken very seriously indeed”, with a permanent collection that is “inaccessible to the uninitiated”. I guess that would be me. It was everything I always imagined contemporary art to be: baffling video installations in darkened rooms, tiny minimalistic prints on large and otherwise bare walls, and the occasional random piece, in this case an empty room with walls dripping in blue paint (though the paint had at least dried).

Timeout also says though, that a trip to MACBA can be extremely rewarding, notably if you accept it for what it is and are prepared to do your reading. And to be fair, I hadn’t really prepared myself at all, and could all but ponder over the wax head on a chair suspended in front of a TV screen where a mime artist was acting out instructions received from a voice over, entitled ‘Shit In Your Hat – Head On A Chair’ (Bruce Nauman). I can imagine that lovers of contemporary art would relish what MACBA, which has become a significant player in Barcelona’s art scene since its inauguration in 1995, has to offer. And the architecture of the building itself is also very impressive.

Interior of MACBA

My big discovery, however, was an exhibition on the first floor on the Centre Internacional de Fotografia Barcelona (CIFB), which runs until the end of August. The CIFB was a short lived experiment which opened 1978 in Barcelona’s red light district and lasted until 1983, after funding for it ran out. The exhibition consists of  three rooms/sections of mostly black and white photographs documenting daily life in the city – one of my favourite kinds of art. The photographs range from the mundane to the disturbing, from beautiful to moving, but most of all they just capture the various districts and daily city scenes across Barcelona in the late 70s and early 80s. There’s also about half a dozen slide projectors, whose rhythmic clicking is kind of soothing.

The first section presents Barcelona’s working class neighbourhoods, including the seedy area of town where the CIFB was located. The captured scenes include urban portraits of children playing in the street, old men smoking cigars and reading newspapers, shopkeepers and waitresses, homeless drunks and prostitutes flashing their breasts, back streets with washing hung out to dry, and a woman with a cat on her shoulder. There are also sets from specific locations or events, such as a dog racing track or a wrestling match, a car park or a slaughterhouse, Barcelona port or a Romany slum. The second section is dedicated entirely to a slide show of an old psychiatric hospital that three CIFB photographers had documented, presented just as it was seen at a public viewing in 1980 on a large screen and accompanied by piano music.

The third section showed a selection of photographs representing popular entertainment, including wrestling, carnival and – the absolute highlight of the exhibition for me – a set of photos from behind the scenes of a circus. It showed children playing between caravans, men putting up the circus tent, and women hanging up washing; performers posing in their costumes or showing off their tattoos; workers eating their lunch and posters being hung up; a dancing bear, an elephant having his toenails trimmed, and a not so behind the scenes shot of a mesmerised audience. I was mesmerised too – have I ever mentioned that I LOVE the circus? – and for this alone my visit to MACBA was more than worthwhile.


MACBA’s opening times vary between summer and winter, and weekdays and weekends, but generally it’s open every day except Tuesday. Admission fee is currently 8 Euro, with various concessions available, and ICOM members get in for free.

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  1. Berlin Transit | Museum Diary - June 13, 2012

    […] me “go see this exhibition”, and I’m so glad I did. If you read my post about Barcelona’s Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, you will already know that black & white photographs documenting daily life is on of my […]

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