Art Revolutionaries in London at Mayoral Gallery

6th February 2017

Mayoral Gallery presents an exhibition inspired by the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition International des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, commemorating the 80th anniversary of an era defining event for the Spanish people. The Spanish Pavilion was organised by the Spanish Second Republic to draw attention to their plight in the fight against the Nationalists, led by Francisco Franco, in the Spanish Civil war (17 July 1936 – 1 April 1939).

The Spanish Pavilion was designed by the architects, Josep Lluís Sert and Luis Lacasa, in the International Style. José Gaos curated the exhibition, which featured one of the most significant works of the twentieth-century: Guernica by Picasso, which was commissioned for the Pavilion. Other notable works included: Mercury Fountain, by Alexander Calder; The Reaper (El Segador), by Joan Miró; Montserrat, by Julio Gonzãlez; and The Spanish People Have a Path that Leads to a Star, by Alberto Sánchez Pérez.

Installation View, Art Revolutionaries at Mayoral, 6 Duke Street, London. Image courtesy Mayoral.

This show presents a number of works by the key artists featured in the original pavilion, and supplements them with facsimile reproductions of parts of the pavilion and the furniture, original posters, and archival material. Candid Magazine met with the Director of Mayoral Gallery, Jordi Mayoral, and the curator, Juan Bonet, to find out more.

Candid Magazine: “Many of the famous works that were exhibited at the Pavilion by Picasso, Calder, Miró, and Gonzalez, are not available to be exhibited here, for various reasons, so could you talk me through why the pieces that are shown were chosen?”

Jordi Mayoral: “Our aim is to show the fight for democracy and freedom during the Spanish Civil War, and it is for this reason that we created this show, to recreate the atmosphere and the Republican ideas. We reconstructed the architecture of part of the pavilion. We have copies of the chairs and the vitrines that were used in the pavilion, and play the music that was played in the real pavilion. Our intention is not to create a replica of the pavilion but to engage the audience in this moment.

We have different kinds of work, for example we have some works from the period of the Spanish Civil War, and at the same time we have pieces which connect directly with the pieces that they exhibited at the pavilion. For example, with Calder’s Mercury Fountain, the idea of movement was important, and so we knew that we had to include one of his Mobiles in the show. In the case of Miró, he painted The Reaper [which disappeared after the Pavilion was dismantled]. We decided with the Miró foundation and the Grandson of Miró (Juan Punyet Miró) to recreate this piece and to explain again the importance of ‘Miró’s Guernica’, as Miró’s Grandson says. Miró was Catalan and he always said that the best way to be universal is to be very local, so he tried to represent the spirit of Catalonia. The reaper is an icon in Catalonia. At the same time you can see different pieces by Miró, also featuring stars”. This corresponds to the star and the sickle in The Reaper.

Juan Bonet: “In the case of Gonzãlez you see we have some pieces of the same time, and you see he was very pure cubist sculptor, but in Montserrat, he was more realistic than he usually was, more figurative. He adapted his style to express his preoccupation about the Civil War and the women in the Civil War.” Bonet is referring to Small Cut-Out Monsterrat Mask and Sharp Mask by Gonzãlez, which are more severely cubist than Montserrat, the sculpture that Gonzalez produced for the Pavilion, featuring of a woman holding a sickle in her right hand, and a child in her left arm.

• Joan Miró painting El Segador (The Reaper), 1937. © Successió Miró, 2016. Successió Miró Archives, Courtesy of Mayoral.

CM: “Was it a collective decision by these artists to create works that were more figurative than usual?”
JB: “No there was a not a decision, it was just Gonzãlez. Josep Renau, the Director General of Fine Arts of the Spanish Republic, was a Communist. He could have done a different pavilion, one with more propaganda art. But he had the great idea to choose the leaders of new Spanish art, and three of them were living in Paris: Picasso, Miró and Gonzãlez.

They were not asked to do a work with a command – it was more like, ‘you have to do something for the Spanish Republic which is fighting, you have to evoke this’. For Miró he decided to create a work about Catalonia, it’s a symbol, but it has the same characteristics of his surrealist work. Picasso did Guernica: this work is the most well-known painting, it is the most important historical painting in the 20th century. I was reading of a Spanish official who was looking at a painting of the bombing of Madrid and he said: ‘oh this is better for propaganda, you see better the bombing in this painting than in the Guernica’. The Spanish government wanted more figurative works in the place of Guernica, but the curator [José Gaos] said: ‘No we have Picasso and we respect his style’. It is funny because there is always somebody who prefers propaganda than a great work.”

Pablo Picasso, Standing woman and sitting woman, 1939, Gouache and brush and black ink on lined paper, 26.9 cm × 21 cm, courtesy of Mayoral.

CM: “Can you explain to me the exhibition’s connection to London?”
JB: “Guernica travelled to exhibitions in other countries, this part of the exhibition here evokes the fact that the Guernica was a key element of propaganda in London. It was exhibited at the New Burlington Galleries in 1938. The tour of England was organised by Roland Penrose and the British Surrealists. They were very pro-Picasso and pro- Republican at the time.

We have here a poster which protests the British policy of non-intervention by the Artists International Association, which included Eileen Agar, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Herbert Read and Roland Penrose. Penrose was a very strong friend of Picasso, he was close to Miró, and also close to Antoni Tapiés. And Herbert Read was very important and very close to many of these artists. It is a very beautiful testimony.We have also evoked the life of the painter Felicia Browne. Browne was a communist painter from England who arrived in Barcelona in the summer of 1936 for the opening of the Olympics – which was stopped by the beginning of the war. Browne decided to remain in Spain and fought in the Aragon front, where she was killed in battle. Here we have homages given to her by her colleagues.”

Outside view of the Spanish Pavilion by Josep Lluís Sert and Luis Lacasa, 1937, Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans le Vie Moderne, Paris. Arxiu Históric del Col.legi Oficial d’Arquitectes de Catalunya, Barcelona, Photo by Roness-Ruan, Courtesy of Mayoral.

This show pays an important homage to the ability of art and artists to rally to a cause. The use of documentary evidence has helped to produce a touching portrayal of the support which artists offered to each other, and to the Republican cause.
By Hannah Barton
Art Revolutionaries in London is on at Mayoral Gallery until 10th February.

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