Reina Sofía museum planning Santander headquarters

New branch of Madrid gallery will house private collection of 20th-century art documents

A poster by Kurt Schwitters and Theo Van Doesburg (1923).
A poster by Kurt Schwitters and Theo Van Doesburg (1923).

Madrid’s Reina Sofía contemporary art museum has begun the paperwork to open a branch in the northern city of Santander.

The new building will house the Lafuente Archive, a valuable collection comprising 120,000 documents and 3,000 works focusing on 20th-century art in Europe, Latin America and the United States.

The project was set to top the agenda at this week’s meeting of the Reina Sofía board of trustees, and has the backing of secretary of state for culture, José María Lassalle.

The archive, which was put together by industrial tycoon José María Lafuente, will be transferred for a 10-year period with a purchase option at the end of it. The operation bears comparison with the way the state acquired the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum collection, which together with the Prado and Reina Sofía makes up the city’s “Golden Triangle” of art galleries.

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The new Reina Sofía branch will be housed inside the Bank of Spain’s Santander quarters, which are owned by the Cantabria regional government. Besides putting up the property, the Cantabrian authorities will also pay for the construction work required to convert the building into a museum.

Information regarding the final cost of the project, the name of the new center, the number of staff, and the opening date is still pending negotiation.

In any case, it will mark the first time that the Reina Sofía – which opened as an art center in 1986 and became a national museum two years later, reopening as such in 1990 – has permanently expanded outside Madrid.

The Lafuente Archive comprises artists’ books, magazines, engravings, manifestos, postcards and photographs dating back to the earliest avant-garde movements. The collection is especially strong on futurism, constructivism, surrealism, dadaism, conceptual art and land art, though its well-stocked Latin American holdings are perhaps what make it truly unique.

The Bank of Spain building in Santander will house the new museum.
The Bank of Spain building in Santander will house the new museum.Barbara Boenschimage (BROKER / age fotostock)

Three exhibitions now on in Santander offer insight into the depth of the collection: The Idea of Art at the Modern Art Museum; Sol Lewitt: Books at Cantabria University; and What Is an Artist Book? at the Palacete del Embarcadero.

On top of that a fourth related show opened last week at Madrid’s Círculo de Bellas Artes focusing on experimental writing in Spain between 1963 and 1983.

Exhibitions mounted by the Juan March Foundation and the Reina Sofía have helped fuel a growing demand for loans from the Lafuente Archive, which was previously almost unknown to the art world.

Faced with the impossibility of granting every request from researchers to consult its treasures, museum managers came up with the idea of creating the Santander branch, which will also function as a documents center.

The Lafuente holdings “totally coincide with the interests of the center since Manuel Borja-Villel took charge,” Reina Sofía museum sources said. “It is a collection that is in private hands but that was collected with public service in mind.”

In recent years, major institutions such as MoMA in New York, the Pompidou in Paris and the Tate in London have invested significant resources in acquiring and safeguarding documents relating to the art practices of the 20th century.

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