09/06/2013 01:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Barcelona Beckons: Repositioning the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA)

Bartomeu Mari, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA) is not a man to be easily discouraged. Over the past five years, MACBA's budget has shrunk one million Euro a year, dropping from a high of 14 million in 2008 to a low of 10 million today.

"We did not know that we were rich," said Mari who was the museum's chief curator for four years before becoming its director in 2008. Born on the island of Ibiza, Mari calls Barcelona home, having lived in the city for six years in the 1980s and, more importantly, proudly identifying Catalan as his mother tongue.

MACBA's financial woes are not unique. Like many museums around the world, public funding for the arts is drying up and, the "new normal" for MACBA involves public and private. "In Spain," he said, "Public is going out and the private has not yet come in."

In collaboration with the MACBA Foundation, a private board that solicits funding from companies and individuals, Mari is determined to reposition MACBA, stressing the relevance and complexity of its collections which have matured since the museum opened in 1995. Focused on contemporary art from the second half of the 20th century until today, with an international perspective, Mari believes that its geography is a major factor in repositioning the museum. "It is a young museum, in the south of Europe, on the periphery of Spain, and in the Mediterranean basin," he said.

"We have a lot to share with art in Eastern Europe and we are beginning to specialize in art of the middle east." To Mari, MACBA can be the museum in Europe that provides perspectives on areas that are close geographically but far away, culturally. "Algiers is just as close -- in flying time -- as Madrid," he said.

Mari is working on a project with Israeli artist Sigilit Landau and he is also collaborating with Egyptian and Lebanese artists.

The current exhibit, ART, TWO POINTS, BARCELONA LIVES CONTEMPORARY ART, (July 18, 2013-January 6, 2014) is a joint effort, drawing entirely for the first time from the collections of the merged MACBA and the CaixaForum, Barcelona and displayed at both venues. The exhibit includes 400 works by 120 artists including Joseph Beuys, Joan Brossa, Eduardo Chillida, Tony Cragg, Joan Hernandez, Jenny Holzer, Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Manolo Millares, Antoni Miralda, Joan Rabascall, Haim Steinbach and Craigie Horsfield, whose The City of the People -- in the final gallery on the museum's third floor -- features large-scale black and white photographs of Barcelona residents.

At the beginning of the MACBA exhibit, there is a photo booth. The idea is to take a picture before and after seeing the show to answer the question of how the art affects the viewer. The first gallery of the MACBA exhibit opens with Oriol Vilanova's Copia (2000), an art work composed of hundreds of postcards of arches from all over the world, including the triumphal arch that was the entry to the 1888 Universal Exposition, Spain's first international exposition. The piece is a metaphor for the entrance to the show.

In adjacent rooms, there are various architectural images including four by Thomas Ruff-black-and-white, pink, reddish and out of focus -- of Mies Van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion (designed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition), and Gunther Forg's photograph of the Barcelona Pavilion with a statue inside.

Subsequent galleries focus on Barcelona history: correspondence from Joseph Lluis Sert to Le Corbusier about new schools (1932), a section on GATCPAC, a group of progressive Catalan architects who promoted architectural rationalism (social architecture to improve the living conditions of workers) through their magazine A.C. (Actividad Contemporanea) and Jean-Louis Schoellkopf's powerful 1957 photos of different families with different furnishings, living in identical Corbusier apartments in Firminy, France.

Throughout the MACBA venue, there are stunning works from the collection: Leandre Cristofol's Lyrical Construction (1934), Paul Klee's Wing Links (1930), Joan Miro's, Woman in the Night (1970), Manolo Millares' Painting 61 (1959), constructed from burlap and Antoni Miraldi's Bride's Chest (1969) which includes miniature toy soldiers with guns, all spray-painted white. There's an entire wall devoted to Jenny Holzer's Inflammatory Essays (1979-1982) and a sculptural installation of wooden furniture with screws and hooks by Tony Cragg.

Fittingly, Horsfield's The City of the People closes out the MACBA exhibit -- leaving the viewer with out-size images of the real citizens of Barcelona. "He was trying to find an alternative to the city," Mari said, because, in 1992, the city tried to sell the city."

The ART, TWO POINTS show will be up until January, a longer than usual run to accommodate a bigger audience and, Mari added, ever thinking of the museum's new financial reality, "to save money."


Craigie Horsfield, Javier Anguera, from The City of the People (1996) Collection MACBA


Tony Cragg, Sense Titol (1993) "la caixa" collection


Joan Rabascall, Atomic Kiss (1968), Collection MACBA