After negotiating our way through the narrow Catalan streets with little more than a depleted paper map, brought two days before at a road side kiosk, we were finally confronted by a modernist masterpiece. Set in a large, minimalist square, a collection of white pillars and vast walls towered above us. Only the plastered exhibition posters signalled that we had finally reached our destination: Barcelona’s museum of contemporary art (MACBA).
With no permanent collection and little idea of what we were about to face, we walked into the gallery completely open-minded. A row of assistants greeted us along with space. So much space. White cube galleries are famed for their understated display approaches but never had I been anywhere so vast. After succeeding with the language barrier (Yes, I’m your typical ignorant Brit abroad), we learnt that only two temporary exhibitions were housed in the gallery, enraging my travel companions slightly as we had just exchanged eight euros each for an exhilarating, cultural experience. With a mix of confusion, anguish and hope we entered the first presentation: Andrea Fraser’s: L’5% C’est Moi.
Known globally for her controversial performance pieces which challenge and critique the art world, L’5% C’est Moi, Fraser’s first solo exhibition in Spain, echoes these themes, bringing together pieces from across her career. We were confronted by comedic sketches, overwhelming sculptures and row upon row of documentation. This complete mismatch of medias and subject matter encouraged questions: what is art? Why is it made? How should we view it? But of course, this was Fraser’s point exactly. Institutional critic is at the heart of her work. Although my friends felt as if they had been slightly ripped off, standing in a room looking at photocopied sheets and watching recordings of Fraser talking to herself, her work seemed to do what the art world usually shies away from. Emphasises flaws rather than perfection. Therefore it provokes thought and emotion unlike any I have ever witnessed or experienced before.
After climbing two flights of spiralling stairs we finally found the second exhibition named Punk. It’s traces in contemporary art. The exhibition itself was varied, with emphasis placed on music, rebellion and violence. A kind of punk history lesson was available from the first section and the second focused on ‘actual art’…whatever that may be. Thought as a typically British youth movement predominant in the seventies, I was very surprised to learn the impact it had around the world, and continues to today. The experience was quite unsettling as themes of terrorism, sexuality and censorship were at the forefront. Artists such as Basquiat, who worked in a sketchy, neo-expressionist style, were placed alongside Christopher Draeger, who’s work comments on and recreates the harsh realities of the ongoing Israel Palestine conflict. The exhibition sparked further questions: to what extent is punk, as a movement and way of life, still relevant and present in the modern world? Although a concrete answer is somewhat unreachable and varying, the presentation offers the tools to develop an informed decision.
Contemporary art galleries aim to shock and excite, and the MACBA certainly fulfils both aims with their current exhibitions.
Fraser’s collection can be viewed up until the 4th September 2016 and Punk. It’s traces in contemporary art is displayed until 25th September 2016. For more information visit https://www.macba.cat/en/exhibitions
Words by Saffron Ward