Memories of the Material. Rivera and Millares, in an Untimely Country ⎜Carles Guerra

Memories of the Material
Rivera and Millares, in an Untimely Country

by Carles Guerra


With hindsight, the success of Spanish art at the end of the 1950s is a case not very far removed from the success and the attention aroused by artists from countries which are currently undergoing a political transition. The absence of a democratic public sphere does not prevent the appearance of artistic practices which highlight these conditions. When a young Afghan artist uses his video camera to film in the streets of Kabul he is doing politics, whether he wants to or not. This would be the case of Aziz Hazara (Wardak, 1992), an artist who, despite the isolation imposed upon him by circumstances, works at the heart of a geopolitical dimension which is not exhausted by the limits of his country. As he himself explains, the visual exploration of his work is profoundly entrenched in “the endless conflict which is devastating my native Afghanistan”[1]. We could say that this quality of the art world appears shortly after the end of the Second World War. For better or worse, since the mid-twentieth century an artistic object is destined to exist in a borderless world. This hypothetical opening has an impact on its meaning. The places in which the object or work of art circulates do not necessarily recognize the political conditions of origin. This leads to a poetics which has one foot in ignorance of the local conditions of production. This ignorance is the key, and can even become the characteristic which defines the viewers of contemporary art, like the public which comes face to face with the works of Aziz Hazara in a biennial. This does not stop the young artist from being able to refer to himself as the common place where “national and international artists who participate in this space of trauma” go hand in hand[2]. However, the trauma is not reduced to the violent acts which mark the daily life of a city like Kabul, but rather to the fact that these traumatic events can expel an entire country and the artists who live in it from history. When we approach the works of Manuel Rivera (Granada, 1927 – Madrid, 1995) and Manolo Millares (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1926 – Madrid, 1972), more than 50 years after their respective public appearances, we feel that they too established themselves outside history and in an untimely manner. This is an essential quality when it comes to understanding them. Nevertheless, it is a condition lost after so many years circulating in international museums and collections, this having certified them as modern artists.

To gain a precise idea of the context of Rivera and Millares we need to place them side by side. We need to compare them not only with each other, but seeking a broader framework. They both emerge at the beginning of the 1950s in a dual postwar period, following the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Any display of modernity was unlikely in those conditions. Franco’s Spain unequivocally denied freedom of public expression. Even so, these two artists consolidated their position in a short space of time. They both became representatives of a singular abstraction which enjoyed an enthusiastic international reception. However, they soon obtained a recognition which was not free from contradictions. The IV Bienal do Museo de Arte Moderna of São Paulo, Brazil, held in 1957, was the scenario for this emergence. On that occasion, Millares and Rivera displayed a genuinely modern type of work. Its differential aspects arose, to a large extent, from the iconic nature of the materials and from an ambiguous identity as regards painting. Millares participated in that biennial with a selection of burlap works, a material which he did not abandon until his premature death. Rivera displayed, for the first time, his experiments with wire mesh, including works such as Composición 8 (Composition 8) (1957), produced in that same year. Both artists coincided in the general tone of Spanish representation, marked by an unexpected topicality. The group was also joined by Luis Feito, Antoni Tàpies, Jorge Oteiza, Josep Guinovart, José Vento, Francisco Capuleto and José Planes. This list of artists offered what the curator, Luis González Robles, described as a “Spanish participation with maximum balance”[3]. In short, a mixture of abstract and figurative aesthetics which guaranteed a “logical historical continuation of traditional Spanish painting”[4]. A narrative thus began to be established, whose objective was to concoct a homogeneous, exportable identity, nurtured by all those differences which then existed in the Spanish art scene. The effect of that diplomatic operation continued to endure in subsequent decades. Rivera and Millares never ceased to be associated with the hashtag of Spanish art, whether in São Paulo, at the Venice Biennale of the following year, in the exhibition New Spanish Painting and Sculpture, held in the New York MoMA in 1960, or in many other international events. This was despite their resistance to being instrumentalized starting from 1960, a date which coincides with the break-up of the El Paso group, also founded in 1957. The group brought together names such as Antonio Saura, Rafael Canogar, Pablo Serrano, Juana Francés, Luis Feito, in addition to the aforementioned Rivera and Millares. “The revolutionary vision”[5] which was present in their ideas, as stated in the group’s manifesto, and which referred to “our dramatic tradition”[6], did not prevent the group from enjoying official support. Its break-up was the result of this instrumentalization which figures as important as André Malraux began to condemn in 1959[7]. Juan Manuel Bonet thus suggested that it would also be legitimate to consider them as examples of a “critical Spanishness”[8]. Therefore, re-establishing the tensions which accompanied these two artists, Rivera and Millares, is the best way to come to terms with them.

Almost a decade after the above-mentioned São Paulo Biennial, we find an explicit effort to demonstrate the anomalies of Franco’s Spain. In 1966, the annual supplement of Cuadernos de Ruedo Ibérico, produced in exile, published “a comprehensive and detailed analysis of Spanish society”[9]. The first of the reports was entitled “Spain: a society of diachronies”[10]. Its author, Esteban Pinilla de las Heras, referred to the economic conditions, indicating that “what is unique about the Spanish experience since 1960 is that all these not at all homogeneous and diachronic variables in the historical connotation of each of them, coincide in a synchronic whole, and that this is truly operative”[11]. The article said that the coexistence of obsolete and modern traits, and the simultaneously regressive and progressive trends, did not constitute an obstacle for the development of the economy. The fairly unorthodox Spanish case required models to be put aside. As for the analysis of the cultural aspects, in the prologue Jorge Semprún stated that this was hardly the main shortcoming of that collective report: “First, a critical, coherent vision is lacking, which would have been deployed in one or several essays, on the Spanish cultural problems”[12]. The writer, in his role as editor of that compilation, admitted that “the works received […] do not go beyond the level of a sectorial, fragmented approach”, concluding that “their publication would have underlined even more the absence of a comprehensive critical vision”[13]. This perception is even more shocking if we take into account the external Spanish cultural policy of the 50s and 60s. It was quite simply as contradictory as the economy. Culture could flaunt a modernity which did not correspond to the reality experienced in the precarious system of Spanish art. While the modern abstraction represented by Rivera and Millares was interpreted in absolute synchrony with what was occurring outside Spain, from within it involved a heroic anomaly.

Accepting these tensions required an acceleration which was simply a symptom of the backwardness provoked by the ravages of the Spanish Civil War, which infected all spheres of society. However, on extrapolating the situation of the Spanish postwar period to that of the Italian postwar period, artists such as Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri and Piero Manzoni allow us to establish a certain parallelism with the conditions of Rivera and Millares, contemporaries of the defeat. The deployment of the economic aid of the Marshall Plan starting from 1948 not only Americanized European culture, but also unified diverse traditions from a geopolitical viewpoint. If in Italy the Marshall Plan promoted a modernity which linked the survival of painting to the new capitalism and to consumption[14], in Spain it was not very different. Despite being excluded from the group of countries which benefited from the Marshall Plan, the United States helped the economic recovery of the Francoist regime throughout the 50s. This allows us to say that the progress of artists such as Fontana, Burri and Manzoni –marked by monochrome abstraction– no longer responded to art’s own, exclusive evolution. Here a paradigm shift comes into play which affects an art accepted at the heart of a reconstruction economy. It is not, therefore, strictly an ethical or subjective reconstruction art, as these authors are often characterized. Burri’s sacks as the basis of his paintings are the same sacks which were thrown from the sky with basic supply products when the war had hardly ended. When he later adopted plastic as the raw material of his paintings, he simply devoted himself to the material of the economic miracle. The qualitative leap revealed by both Rivera and Millares through their works at the aforementioned São Paulo Biennial in 1957 was in line with this type of both economic and cultural progress. However, the interpretation which gains the most weight, in relation to Millares, is that which understood his painting as “a poetic and moral action”, in the words of José-Augusto França[15], one of the critics who discussed it the most. In this case, Millares’s sacks of sugar and Rivera’s wire mesh would be the sign of a complex shift. The myth of the postwar subjectivity emblematized by modern abstract painting is not without a material base. Abandoning the legacy of the constructivist painting which each of them had taken to their own extreme did not imply a change of style like any other. On the contrary, it opened the door to transforming painting into an object invested with qualities similar to those of the objects which follow the principles of the political economy. Objects inserted in a circulation which will make them cross geopolitical borders while gaining a capacity to be resemanticized, even to achieve seemingly diametrically opposed meanings. The abstractions, innocuous in the eyes of the Franco regime authorities, acquired a precise and explicit political value once displayed outside the country. The similarities and differences with French Informalism, the closest setting against which the new abstraction of these Spanish artists could be measured, are still a subject of debate. They could be materially comparable and equivalent to the genealogy of L’art informel which Jean Paulhan published in 1962, based on a hashtag coined by the critic Michel Tapié[16]. Indeed, the virtue of that term consisted of bringing together the radical and heterogeneous differences of an increasingly globalized world of art. In France, George Mathieu, Jean Fautrier and Jean Dubuffet, to mention just a few, were the subject of this campaign which even incorporated artists from the other side of the Atlantic, such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Tobey, Franz Klein and Robert Motherwell. Rivera and Millares formed part of that system of art which became global thanks to promoters like Michel Tapié and at the expense of effacing local differences. Therefore, with hindsight, the efforts to characterize the respective styles of Rivera and Millares appear to be sterile. So many critics strived to deny the similarities between Burri and Millares, all to protect the myth of authenticity, but none of them was able to see that what should have been explained was the fact that the burlap works drew their raw material from a shared economy in southern Europe, despite the different regimes in the two countries[17].

Except for the aesthetic differences between Rivera and Millares, the shift that we referred to above was played out dramatically in the São Paulo Biennial. Both artists sent a selection of works which appeared to reset the counter in more than one sense, as if both of their artistic careers began there, in 1957. They both stopped using conventional titles. On the flyer distributed in the Spanish pavilion, all of the works had the same caption, that is Composición (Composition). To highlight this shift or restart, the works had consecutive numbering. They both presented the same number of pieces, ten, being the first referred to following these guidelines. They both thus began a cycle of numbered titles, as if beginning a new era. The numbering by Millares reached Cuadro 210 (Painting 210), in 1962, then reverting to conventional titles. On the other hand, Rivera interrupted the numbered sequence earlier. In the following year, 1958, he embarked on a new cycle entitled Metamorfosis (Metamorphosis).

Another common trait, visible in that biennial, was in the way of hanging the work on the wall. Both of them, Rivera and Millares, separated it more than usual from the background of the wall. We know that Rivera recommended a distance of ten centimetres. As for Millares, the photographs that we have seen of his participation in São Paulo indicate that his works maintained a very similar separation. This guaranteed, also in both cases, that the work allowed the wall to be seen through the holes and the fabric of the burlap, or through the wire mesh which did not cover the entire work. If we observe both cases closely, they even combined walls painted in white or in black on which to hang the pieces. Consequently, Rivera’s wire mesh displayed on a black background acted like a film frame, converted into a surface which received the light more intensely than the background of the wall. Apart from the São Paulo Biennial, the photographs that Ramón Masats took of Rivera’s works in order to document them accentuate this effect. Thanks to this dark background, the wire draws in white on black, reversing the most usual perception of the works. Thus, not only did they lose the small volume that they had, but also the relationship between figure and background was called into question.

To all this it should be added that, beyond the notable differences between Rivera and Millares, theirs was, in general, a type of works which included the void. This statement relates them to Oteiza’s sculptural investigations, displayed in that biennial a few metres from Rivera and Millares. This void did, however, receive different names in each case. Millares referred to “the lost dimension”, as he entitled one of his canvases from 1956. For his part, Rivera suggested “infinite pits of mystery”, very much in keeping with his lyrical vocation. At this point, the comparison with Fontana’s knifings would not be out of place either. His Concetti Spaziale (Spatial Concepts) replaced the gestures of American painting with the void opened up by the knife. These observations would allow us to think that, despite the colonizing strength of abstract expressionism, in southern Europe the relations between gesture and support result in works such as those of Rivera and Millares, in which the material achieves full prominence. In their works the relations between figure and background have been cancelled for the sake of the visibility of the support. The importance of the support increasingly allows them to shed the heritage of canonical gestures.

With everything that has been said about destruction concerning Rivera and Millares, it has always been to refer to a literal destruction, echoing the violence unleashed by the Spanish Civil War. It is as if the tears, the darning, the stitching and the wires –all these terms being interchangeable between the works of Millares and Rivera– were the sublimated gestures of this violence inflicted on civil society. At this point it would appear that Millares provided a more iconic and dramatic response. He himself defined it as “my free and anguished protest”[18]. His 1961 text, published in the magazine Acento Cultural, “Construction-destruction in my painting”[19], attested to this. However, the fact is that it is Rivera’s words which radicalize this step toward the object as a symptom of the destruction experienced literally with the war and, more or less figuratively, with the inheritance of those vanguards which liquidated painting. We could say that, once the Second World War ended, painting wandered around Europe like a corpse. In an interview with Yolanda Romero, toward the end of his life, Rivera admitted that shortly after beginning his career he became conscious of his condition: “I am beginning to become aware that my painting, in actual fact, was just an epigone of the European vanguard”[20]. In a text from that time, Rivera already pointed toward “the destruction, in painting, of a visual and psychic space, in order to reach a real and absolute space”[21]. He understood this as a leap toward a new type of painting, and he even doubted whether it could continue to be called painting. In short, the result is “an object-art which synthesizes the two problems [painting and sculpture] in a single one”[22]. We could extend this debate to the “specific objects” of Donald Judd who, by the way, wrote a critical note starting from the works of Rivera and Millares displayed in 1960 in the Pierre Matisse Gallery of New York. They included Metamorfosis (Metamorphosis) (1959), a work from which the possible heritage of Paul Klee which Rivera’s first wire meshes exuded has disappeared. In its place there is a more evolved production which introduces the tension of the wire and which opens up so many formal possibilities. Judd did not miss the chance to insist on unambiguously saying that “Millares’ holed paintings on burlap and Manuel Rivera’s constructions are objects”[23].

However, the weight of pictorial tradition prevented a more uninhibited celebration of Rivera as the architect of objects with all the implications involved. A critic like Juan Eduardo Cirlot preferred to underline the transitional nature of Rivera’s works: “he always conserved that sensation of transition”[24], a declaration which evoked a text by the artist in which he said that “the infinite possibility of a changing universe, […] gradually develops until it ends in something else”[25]. Furthermore, in 1963, he gives us a good excuse to analyze this question in depth. An intervention in the showcases of a department store in Calle Preciados in Madrid again brought Rivera and Millares together. Those interventions in the showcases of El Corte Inglés also included the participation of César Manrique, Gerardo Rueda, Eusebio Sempere and Pablo Serrano. Despite the ephemeral nature of that proposal, the dimensions of the showcases made it necessary to consider what they did, in particular Rivera and Millares. A three-dimensional space measuring approximately 2.5 x 5 x 2.10 metres, with the uncanny atmosphere of a white cube, was the closest thing to a laboratory in which it was possible to test the new identities of painting. Facing the street and the passing pedestrians, these artists constructed an enlarged version of their most significant findings. Rivera, forced by the dimensions of the space, had to do without his usual material. He was obliged to replace the wire mesh with more ductile tulle. The lyrical connotations of his more canonical works continued to be present. Millares introduced 24 metal drums with traces of tar which he had found on a main road. Taking into account the unusual choice of this waste material, Millares achieved a convincing analogy of his works made from burlap. The showcase, intended to display consumer objects, here becomes an ideal place to take abstract painting to its ultimate consequences. The shift that we were talking about before occurred in the natural space of the goods. It was like saying that painting belonged, starting from that time, to the space of advertising. It did not matter that the aesthetics of Rivera and Millares remained immune to the new discoveries of Pop Art. Their painting, despite its differentiated character, had entered a consumer space which now also became the space of cultural consumption. Years later, Carlos Areán described Millares’s showcase in the following terms: “It is a neo-Dadaist sculpture which occupies an interior, but which just by its presence transforms the container itself and its surroundings”[26]. Shortly afterwards, he added that the intention consisted of “converting the showcase itself into an object”[27], as if the function of the work by Millares consisted of infecting this condition of an object to everything which surrounded it, including those who contemplated it. This became apparent when the society of the spectacle became a popularized and accepted idea just before the end of the 1960s. Finally, the espadrilles added to the drums were a discreet sign of continuity with the works on the wall. This is proof that this new experiment sought a bolder conclusion of Millares’s formal universe without forgetting the materials of the past.

It should be taken into account that the conclusions on the works of Rivera and Millares can never be found in the work itself, but rather in an ostensive relationship, either with the viewer who approaches it or with other images and events which are associated with it. In 1966, Millares was filmed by Alberto Portera. In that film, the studio images, with the artist sewing the burlap sacks, give way to a surprising action. Lying on the floor, Millares is getting ready to make a bed out of recycled sacks; he stitches them together with the sewing needle and then smears the body with paint. Despite the difficulty of applying it himself, he tries to complete the action practically immobilized. As an exegesis of painting, this short film reveals Millares’s most characteristic technique. The close-ups offer abundant visual information on the preparation of the paintings with sacks from the Sociedad Azucarera Española, as the camera lets us glimpse. However, as the artist from the New York School, Barnett Newman, would say, although the whole process which allows the painting to be created is filmed, you cannot get across the truth about it. In the tradition of the artists of the sublime, and in this respect Millares is one of them, the painting tends to communicate through a phenomenological relationship. The presence is a prerequisite to interpret it. In the case of Millares, the viewer comes across the lumps and patches of fabric which often leave part of the frame visible. However, Portera’s film does not respect the distance that the observer usually maintains with the paintings. The film proposes such a short distance that the camera lens appears to penetrate the fabric of burlap threads. The effect is that of a medical film which examines the work as if it were a sample of human tissue. These are the shots which are followed by the action of Millares closing the sarcophagus which he himself produced. If, in this 1966 film, an organic vision of painting predominates, in another film from 1970 Millares and Elvireta Escobio, the artist’s partner, relate the activity of the studio to footage shot in the trenches and bunkers of the Spanish Civil War. The artist wanders around like someone setting foot in a homeland which has alienated him. The evocation of recent history, which has always been referred to in a very tangential manner, is clearer than ever here. The images of the holocaust and a large number of photos vaguely related to the two world wars are inserted in the editing of the film. Millares situates his works in a traumatic dimension directly influenced by the most violent events of the twentieth century. We can identify the artist’s studio as a place linked to the time of the painting, but we cannot date the documentary images, which have been detached from synchrony with historical time. Thus, the editing of the film links what we could consider to be a diachronic example of violence. This effect destroys any possibility of recovering the link which merged the events with the images. This is indeed another consequence of the trauma. The painting which could be an exponent of this violence cannot claim a direct relationship with the events. It is, in itself, another event. Hence the fascination of these two films to show the process of making the painting into an autonomous object.

No such intense footage of Rivera has been conserved. We have interviews and the occasional studio recording, but nothing like the viscerality which Millares deploys in front of the camera. In his case we only have images of the production of works in an almost industrial sense. This may be because the display conditions of Rivera’s works have sufficient ingredients to consider them as a paracinematic variant. In addition to the distancing from the wall which favoured the appearance of shadows of variable intensity, there was also the explicit recommendation of indirect lighting. Works such as Metamorfosis (Máscara) (Metamorphosis [Mask]), from 1961, still have instructions on the back to be hung how the artist wished. Except for many distances, Rivera’s constructions could work like the “Light-Space Modulator” (1928-1930) of László Moholy-Nagy. The result is a changing perception of light and reflections which, however, refuses to forget or deny the material which inspired it. There is no fetishism in the perception. Hence, crit-ics as well informed on Rivera’s work as Alfonso de la Torre never fall into the temptation of seeing a kinetic inclination: “Rivera was very interested in exploring a world with a clear three-dimensional vocation, in integrating in the image the perception of the shadows projected by the meshes, which appeared to compose a subtle immaterial or evanescent work on the wall which accommodated the paintings, giving rise to suggestive possibilities”[28]. As Frank O’Hara said, these effects were achieved “without any temptation toward the relief”[29]. At this point, it would be good to recall that the inspiration for such a peculiar object is just an experience in front of a shop win-dow. The artist always recalled that episode in which, shortly before 1956, he discovered by chance a set of hardware tools hanging on a metal grid. It is no coincidence that his decisive experiments were catalyzed by a vision dazzled by the quality of the goods displayed, viewed from the double perspective of consumption and postwar art. As we mentioned above, postwar painting could be sustained in so far as it did not ignore what it had become: the spectre of painting from before the war. This, however, did not prevent a sublime function from being reserved for painting. When Rivera states in a very personal tone that “I try to trap the unknown on the spider’s web of my matter”[30], he is telling us that he tries to resist a strictly literal and object-based version of his work.

This tension was put to the test in 1964. In that year, Rivera began to produce a work entitled Me duele España (Spain Hurts) (1964-1966), which now forms part of the collection of the Museo Patio Herreriano, in Valladolid. He finished it in 1966 but, –if we pay attention to the title– it is likely that the campaign of the 25 years of peace organized by Franco’s government in 1964 formed part of his motivation. Despite the fact that this propaganda operation by the regime arrived at the time when the 1959 Stabilization Plan was beginning to bear fruit, it is also the period in which dissident discourses began to appear. In the field of art quite a few responded to the campaign in a more or less explicit manner. Nevertheless, Rivera avoided referring to it openly. On recalling this work years later, he believes that it is “the com-pendium of almost everything that I have produced until now. On the one hand, its conception is somewhat aformalist, […]. It also contains the constructive meaning and the serenity of my latest searches. It is a dramatic work and I am happy with it”[31]. The version that the artist gives of this work, which we would like to interpret as linked to a policy of discontent, is anything but clear. However, in order to have a more precise idea of the scope of the tension at this point, it is preferable to read the historian Javier Tusell. He underlines the ambivalence of the painters who formed part of the El Paso group and attributes to them “a very characteristic mixture of fascination and repulsion for the situation of the homeland”[32]. To corroborate this, he cites the work that we are debating and says that “it is not in vain that a work by Rivera is called Me duele España (Spain Hurts), with a title which could have been used for an article by [Spanish philosophers like Miguel de] Unamuno or [Ramiro de] Maeztu”[33]. His reading concludes that it was all a sign of “cosmopolitanism”[34]. However, if we undertake a similar exercise with Millares, we have to pay attention to a series of objects produced between 1963 and 1964. The genesis of these objects, which he entitled Artefactos para la paz (Artefacts for Peace), leaves no room for doubt. In the first instance they are entitled Artefactos al 25 (Artefacts at 25) and belong to a broader series produced in collaboration with the artist of Argentine origin Alberto Greco. Three of these artefacts were displayed on 18 May 1965 in Edurne, Estudio de Arte, Madrid. One of them, Objeto (Object) (1963), still evokes, thanks to its square shape, a certain idea of painting. However, from 1960, Millares talks about the making of “nameless objects”[35]. One notable example is the piece conserved in the Daniel Cordier collection, who was his gallerist in Paris and Frankfurt. It is also entitled Objeto (Object) (1960) but, despite being earlier, it does not show any link which can remind us of the canonical object of painting. It is a difficult to identify object. In any case, it is a vestige of painting. Furthermore, Alfonso de la Torre indicates that the first information about these objects can be found in a letter from Millares to the art critic Enrico Crispolti. In it, the artist cited his concern for suc-cessfully eliminating the frame of the paintings on constructing works “which are neither paintings nor sculptures”[36]. It is as if, in order to erect a counter-commemoration of the 25 years of peace, it was necessary to disassemble the painting so that a barricade is raised up with its remains.

We have fewer doubts about the intentions of Millares. Works such as Cuadro 186 (Painting 186) (1962), with abandoned shoes in the lower part, could have inspired a poem by Rafael Alberti devoted to the artist. From exile in Rome, in 1965 the poet wrote these lines which situate the burlap works in a chain of terrible evocations: “still in so many places, / there is ripped sackcloth, / worn out shoes, stuck to the bone, / stumps, hard remains…”[37]. In that same year, his exhibition in the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York was entitled Mutilados de paz (Mutilated peace). With the aim of reinforcing this idea, we can go back ten years in the artist’s career and see, in 1955, the appearance of the “perforated walls”, which invite us to think about the urban landscape after a war. This is a direct precedent of the Composición con dimensión perdida (Composition with Lost Dimension) (1956), in which the fabric has lost part of itself. In short, a series of references difficult to find in Rivera with the same degree of intensity, which does not mean that his work did not play a role in the many forms of cultural dissidence which coexisted in Franco’s Spain. Already in the initial stages of his career, in an entry in his personal diary, Rivera, at the same time as celebrating the interest of the New York MoMA in his works which he had displayed in São Paulo, regrets the pressure being experienced at the heart of the El Paso group, which had recently been founded. “Artistic ideas have been politicized too much; egoisms are very strong and the atmosphere has become stifling for me”[38]. We would say that protecting the autonomy of the practice of art was, right from the start, Rivera’s prior-ity. Otherwise, it would be wrong not to understand that this was also a way of doing politics in the Spanish postwar context. This politics was seamlessly identified with affiliation to critical modernity. In an undemocratic country like Franco’s Spain, being modern required doing politics before it was possible to do politics. Therefore, the politics of Rivera and Millares is not antagonistic but rather diachronic in nature. They necessarily act in an untimely manner in a country which, as the collaborators of Ruedo Ibérico suggested, had distanced itself from historical orthodoxy after the Civil War.



Carles Guerra (Amposta, 1965) has pursued a career in art criticism, teaching and research. He has been director of Primavera Fotogràfica, director of the Virreina Centre de la Imatge, chief curator at MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and, from 2015 through 2020, executive director at Fundació Antoni Tàpies. His main line of research has often delved into dialogical practices, in the field of both art and visual culture. Critical pedagogies, documentary practices and the working conditions of cultural production under Post-Fordism have been a predominant subject in his many publications. He has been associate professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and faculty member at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. On top of a vast number of monographic exhibitions devoted to individual artists such as Perejaume, Joaquim Jordà, Xavier Ribas, Ahlam Shibli, Art & Language, Allan Sekula, Susan Meiselas, Harun Farocki, Oriol Vilanova and Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, he has curated projects like 1979. A Monument to Radical Instants and Antoni Tàpies. Political Biography. These last two projects responded to an ongoing commitment to rethink the legacy of modernism from a perspective that urges us to articulate a potential history of our past.


[1] 22nd Biennale of Sydney: Nirin. Sydney: Biennale of Sydney Limited, 2020, p. 118.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Por este motivo, sendo nosso propósito arepresentar nesta IV Bienal una participaçao espanhola equilibrada ao máximo, tentamos mostrar as últimas tendências da nossa pintura dentro de suas grandes linhas tradicionais.” GONZÁLEZ ROBLES, Luis: “Espanha. Delegaçao organizada pela direçao geral de relaçoes culturais e museu de Arte Contemporanea, Madrid. Comissário: Luis Gonzales Robles”. In: IV Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo. Catálogo geral. São Paulo: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 1957, p. 187.
[4] “Mas a atual pintura espanhola é uma lógica continuaçao histórica da pintura espanhola de sempre”. Ibid.
[5] “We are moving towards a revolutionary vision –within which our dramatic tradition and our direct expression are present– and which responds historically to universal activity”. In: “Manifesto El Paso Summer 1957”. Quoted in: Canogar, Millares, Rivera, Saura: Four Spanish Painters [exh. cat.] New York: Pierre Matisse Gallery, 1987, n.p.
[6] Ibid.
[7] André Malraux, then the French Minister of Culture, secretly visited the exhibition 13 peintres espagnols at the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs. There he communicated to Manuel Rivera, among others, the advisability of distancing themselves from the cultural initiatives of the Spanish government.
[8] Juan Manuel Bonet evokes these terms, coined by the critic Vicente Aguilera Cerni. See BONET, Juan Manuel: “Para un retrato de Manolo Millares”. In: Millares [exh. cat.] Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 1992, p. 25.
[9] SEMPRÚN, Jorge: “Presentación”. In: COLECTIVO RUEDO IBÉRICO. Horizonte español 1966, I: La economía fran-quista [Supplement of Cuadernos de Ruedo Ibérico]. Paris: Éditions Ruedo Ibérico, 1996, n.p.
[10] PINILLA DE LAS HERAS, Esteban: “España una sociedad de diacronías”. In: Op. cit. pp. 1-12.
[11] Ibid., p. 2.
[12] SEMPRÚN, Jorge. “Presentación”. In: Op. cit.
[13] Ibid.
[14] MANSOOR, Jaleh. Marshall Plan Modernism. Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016.
[15] FRANÇA, José-Augusto. Millares. Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 1977.
[16] PAULHAN, Jean. L’art informel (éloge). Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1962.
[17] 17. AMÓN, Santiago: “En torno a Millares”. In: Millares [exh. cat.] Madrid: Patronato Nacional de Museos, 1975, n.p.
[18] 18. FRANÇA, José-Augusto. Op. cit.
[19] 19. MILLARES, Manolo: “Construcción-destrucción en mi pintura”. In: Acento Cultural, no. 12-13 (1963).
[20] 20. ROMERO, Yolanda: “Entrevista a Manuel Rivera”. In: Manuel Rivera [exh. cat.] Granada: Ediciones de la Diputación de Granada, 1991, n.p.
[21] XYZ [ARÓSTEGUI, Antonio]: “Manuel Rivera, un pintor granadino que triunfa en Madrid”. In: Patria (30/06/1957), n.p.
[22] Interview with Cirilo Popovici. Quoted in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Seis escaparates. El Corte Inglés, Calle Preciados, Madrid, marzo de 1963. Madrid: Ediciones El Umbral, 2005, p. 83.
[23] “In that critical review about the exhibition Four Spanish Painters in the Pierre Matisse Gallery of New York, the then art critic Donald Judd added: “[…] they have been built; they have an actual existence in three-dimensional space, in contrast to a painting–and this further suggests deliberation”. JUDD, Donald: “In the Galleries”. In: Arts, vol. 34, no. 7 (April 1960).
[24] CIRLOT, Juan Eduardo: “El Grupo El Paso y sus Pintores”. In: Canogar, Millares, Rivera, Saura: Four Spanish Painters [exh. cat.] Op. cit.
[25] Quoted in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Seis escaparates. Op. cit., p. 83.
[26] Ibid., p. 22.
[27] Ibid., p. 23.
[28] DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Manuel Rivera. De Granada a Nueva York, 1946-1960., Op. cit., p. 15.
[29] O’HARA, Frank: “New Spanish Painting and Sculpture”. In: New Spanish Painting and Sculpture [exh. cat.] New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1960, p. 9.
[30] RIVERA, Manuel. “La tela de araña”. In: Papeles de Son Armadans, year IV, vol. XIII, no. XXXVII (April 1959), p. 73.
[31] TUSELL, Javier: “Manolo Rivera: dos vertientes de una trayectoria” (1997). Quoted in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Manuel Rivera. Catálogo razonado de pinturas 1943-1994. Madrid: Diputación de Granada y Fundación Azcona, 2009, p. 238.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] DE LA TORRE, Alfonso: “Objetos, artefactos… esculturas en definitiva. Artefactos, tres artefactos al 25”. In: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Manolo Millares. Pinturas. Catálogo razonado. Madrid: Fundación Azcona; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2004, p. 602.
[36] Ibid., p. 602.
[37] 37. ALBERTI, Rafael: “Millares 1965”. Reproduced in: Millares. Madrid: Patronato Nacional de Museos, 1975, n.p.
[38] RIVERA, Manuel. Memorias 1928-1971. Granada: Diputación de Granada, 2007, p. 97.