Interviews with the ‘Fundació Antoni Tàpies’ former and current directors by Llucià Homs
An Interview with Nuria Enguita
Director of the Fundació Tàpies 1998-2008 Valencia, by telephone, 18 July 2018
Llucià Homs: Nuria, what was your personal experience like in the ten years you were in charge of the Fundació?
Nuria Enguita: They were wonderful years in terms of my professional life, both as regards what I was able to do there and with regard to my relationship with the Tàpies family, especially, in my case, with Miquel Tàpies, who was really a person who had a truly experimental and daring vision and who transmitted that ability to task risks to you. This meant the work there was very interesting and offered many opportunities.
LH: You took over the Fundació after ten years of Manuel, with all its social practices and exhibitions that were landmarks in Barcelona. How did you experience this changeover?
NE: I experienced it with a great sense of responsibility. Back then the exhibitions that were functioning best in every respect, including management, were, from my point of view, in Barcelona. The most interesting and most contemporary exhibitions were being done in the Tàpies, which was a pacesetter, and in the IVAM in Valencia, from whence I came. Madrid had great shows of modern art but the Reina Sofía was just getting going and wasn’t the great flagship institution it is today.
I arrived at the Tàpies when the standing of the Fundació was very high. And for me the most important thing was to maintain this. There were other social, political and family circumstances, slightly less budget too. Despite everything, when someone arrives it seems the change has to be noted very quickly, even though the institution might not need it, and in my case it was noticeable when I went, which seems to me to also be important for an institution, which always has to be above the individual.
LH: In terms of your experience there, how do you think the Fundació slotted into the artistic system of Barcelona? Both in your time and today.
NE: The curious thing is that when I arrived in Barcelona the former director of the Tàpies moved less than a kilometre away; he didn’t go 3,000 or even 300 kilometres. I’d worked with him earlier on. It was a moment in which culture and especially contemporary art occupied a very, very important place in the city. There was a series of institutions that specialized in it, and for me my first priority was finding my place alongside La Caixa, the MACBA, Santa Mònica, La Virreina… then, with the mainstay of Antoni Tàpies’s collection, I tried to bring it, perhaps, to a younger generation. Not so much to my own, because I was younger than the generation I worked with. In other words, to continue a bit with what had made the Tàpies a place of reference but opening it up to what specificity I considered we were able to find vis-à-vis other institutions. If the Santa Mònica was devoted to younger artists, and La Capella too, I felt the Fundació Tàpies was not a place for people with an emerging trajectory, I felt we had a capacity to do artists in mid-career, on account of budget, space, appropriateness. An obvious example would be Eulàlia Valldosera, a person who’d been in almost all the biennials of the time but who didn’t even have a book or catalogue in which one could see something of the evolution of her work. We did that with both Spanish and international artists (Sanja Iveković would be another example). And I think that at the time this worked, in the sense that for better or worse—because I was accused on a number of occasions of being a radical and I don’t know what else—a line of work was defined. And obviously then we were able to work with Tàpies, and although the great Tàpies exhibitions had been done, we worked on the more social Tàpies, the books, the posters. And in as much as we were able, also the connection with Tàpies through, for example, Asger Jorn, or the connection with Tàpies by way of contrast, or based on or through Valcárcel Medina.
Today, I wouldn’t know what to say about this slotting in with the city because for personal reasons I travel very little to Barcelona and Madrid. Moreover, I think the situation is much more complex now.
LH: You say you were accused of having a certain radicalness, but in the founding statutes of 1984 Tàpies spoke of the mission of putting impossible ideas into practice. He himself defined the Fundació as a space of experimentation.
NE: Yes. In fact Miquel Tàpies, I said this in the tribute, used to say that I shouldn’t worry about the criticisms, that the Fundació Tàpies was the R+D of art. It was a phrase that got a lot of coverage, that the media used as a headline. While I was there Antoni Tàpies never interfered in the programme, he respected the work we were doing as professionals and I think it interested him. But the person who was there, supporting those more experimental practices, was Miquel. And, of course, that line of work brings in less of an audience, but in the long run it has another impact.
LH: Undoubtedly. How do you see the Fundació’s relationship with academia? Do you think the Fundació has to play a key role in the study of the artist, in being a facilitator, for instance, of doctoral theses?
NE: I think that it does, and in fact I at least tried to do this, maybe without success, but I think that it does, that it also ought to become an Antoni Tàpies study centre. Which it is, in the sense that all the theses, all the researches, pass through or end up in the Fundació. But, yes, I believe it ought to be done in a more active way. Then we’d have to see if there are the resources, the skills. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that this is a space conceived more for exhibitions than for study. I mean that it’s there and all that needs doing is to articulate it. I don’t know whether the Fundació Tàpies on its own or in collaboration with academia itself, with the university, with some other study centre. This is the challenge, bearing in mind the difficulty involved in a scenario like the one we’re in now.
LH: How do you perceive Tàpies’s critical trajectory? How do you think it’s evolved?
NE: It has evolved. I think it would need looking at. I’m not an expert in Tàpies but it seems to me that
until the end of the 1990s, or even until the 2000s, there was a more continuous reviewing of his critical trajectory and of the impact of his work. That said, I go on seeing Tàpies influences in a lot of artists, but it’s possible that the new, the newnew, generations might look at Tàpies with the parameters and the references of now, which are completely different because the world has exploded and they think in a very different way to us. I remember the ten years I was in Barcelona and in those years everything changes radically. And the last fifteen years, it goes without saying… technology has transformed loads of concepts. But I think Tàpies ought to be re-examined using the new approaches curators have.
LH: Do you think that in Tàpies these generations encounter elements for articulating their own discourse?
NE: My generation looked towards the 1970s. It was my generation and the generation before it that brought Eva Hesse, Matta-Clark, and many other artists of the 70s who are now “best sellers” to people’s attention. But I don’t think it has to be the whole generation, although yes, there can be a person or a curator who does it. I must say I see curators who work with artists who convey the same concepts Tàpies conveyed. Indeed, the generations are the generations, with their approaches, their models, but I think that yes, absolutely, because Tàpies was posing questions like time and matter, to which there’s a return today, especially in artists who explore materials. But, yeah, it’s also true that when you’re young you often don’t want to look backwards… but I think that there are such elements.
LH: Has the work been done to bring Tàpies’s way of seeing up to date for these new generations? This is the ambition of the exhibition in the Mayoral Gallery.
NE: To me, what is being proposed seems very interesting because, to be sure, it’s possible help might be needed. As you know, I publish a magazine of contemporary thought, CONCRETA.
And I think all the teaching or all the references of many theorists who are very present in art, like Georges Didi-Huberman or Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Hannah Arendt—all of them talk about the importance of the historicity of things, ideas and processes. So I believe the challenge also lies there, but now there are many different schools of curatorship, curators change, there are other circuits with masters degrees, etcetera, and at times that formats things too much. So I think it’s important to try and focus on other places, to shift lanes a bit in order to see in another way.
LH: And do you think Tàpies has the international position he really deserves today?
NE: I don’t think so. And from my point of view it’s a little strange, insofar as he’s a primordial figure at a decisive moment, primarily in the 1950s and 60s. And in fact he’s in all the big collections, in all the great museums of the Western world. I’m of the opinion that it all goes together and it also has to do with the fact that we need these new ways of seeing, because there’s a retreat into nationalism in the world in general, and in culture too due to a crisis in values. The presence of Tàpies doesn’t only have to be an exhibition, a big exhibition in an Anglo-Saxon country—he can have another presence, an international one, as you say, with curators and critics who are working internationally. So there I think that, yes, there is a way because he isn’t, of course, as recognized as he ought to be. What’s more, I think he has enormous potential.
LH: Yes. Many of us see it that way.
NE: And it’s not only Tàpies, there are many Spanish and Catalan artists who don’t get the recognition they deserve. It has to do with globalization.
LH: To what would you attribute this? To an historically closed Spain?
NE: I don’t know. I think it’s a question that has a lot to do with the economic lines of power in the current world. As a matter of fact, we know that it was in the hardest moment of the dictatorship that the internationalization of a few artists came about. It has more to do with resources, with the way of externalizing a context. Possibly in Catalonia they are taking more positive steps than in the rest of the Spanish state, although there’s an enormous fear on the part of our rulers of ceding a little bit of power and resources to the professionals. Not only is it a geopolitical question, of economic and political power, that too, but other structures are needed in order to work in a global world like the one we live in. A traditional vision based on the idea of the nation doesn’t function now for culture, I think. An example which interests me is the Goethe Institute, it has a highly refined capacity to catalyse contexts of creation and production.
LH: Nuria, you’ve more than answered all the questions I wanted to put to you. Many thanks for your help.
NE: Thank you.