Barcelona museum cancels exhibition over piece depicting ex-Spanish king

Unprecedented decision follows disagreement between Macba director and the curators

Barcelona -
The controversial artwork 'Haute Couture 04 Transport' by Ines Doujak.
The controversial artwork 'Haute Couture 04 Transport' by Ines Doujak.

The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Macba) has canceled a show following an insurmountable disagreement between museum managers who wanted to remove an artwork from the exhibition and curators who refused to comply.

The artwork that triggered the unprecedented move depicts three figures who appear to be engaged in acts of sodomy.

The controversy arises from the fact that one of them is meant to be former Spanish King Juan Carlos, although his name is not mentioned anywhere in the description of the artwork.

Nevertheless, Macba director Bartomeu Marí has decided to pull the plug on the entire show, titled  La bestia y el soberano (The beast and the ruler), a decision that a museum employees’ representative described as “unheard of” in the history of the influential Catalan art center.

I have been working at museums for over 25 years, and I had never heard of anything similar happening” Macba Director Bartomeu Marí

Known as Haute couture 04 Transport, the sculpture is by Austrian artist Ines Doujak and forms part of a research project called Loomshuttles / Warpaths that began in 2010.

“Ines Doujak is a recognized artist with a history of research into the dynamics of colonialism,” said Valentín Roma, one of the curators of the canceled show. “Loomshuttles / Warpaths sheds light on the complex and asymmetrical relations between Europe and Latin America.”

In any case, the sculpture does not represent a particular monarch so much as monarchy as an institution of power, added Roma.

The sculpture shows a man on his knees being straddled by an apparently indigenous Latin American woman who simultaneously seems to be being sodomized by a beast. The floor is littered with combat helmets. The woman represents a Bolivian feminist and labor leader named Domitila Barrios de Chúngara.

“For centuries, art has been caricaturing the archetypes of power and that is what Doujak’s work does, which is why we could not accept eliminating it from a project that rethinks sovereignty in modern times,” he said.

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Doujak’s piece was exhibited at the last São Paulo Art Biennial.

Macba director Bartomeu Marí said he had not been informed about the presence of Doujak’s work until Monday, despite the fact that he should have been aware of the entire selection for the exhibition.

The museum dropped Tuesday’s media presentation, before announcing the cancellation of the exhibition on Wednesday.

“I have been working at museums and cultural institutions for over 25 years, and I had never heard of anything similar happening,” said Marí. “An exhibition always involves a mediation process between the curators and the institution, and it is surprising and deplorable that an agreement could not be reached.”

“I will not go into a description of the artwork, which I consider inappropriate and in confrontation with the museum’s editorial line,” he continued. “I have always fought to defend contemporary art and its role in our surrounding reality, but in this case I am in complete disagreement with the relevance of this work in a selection that reflects on the concept of sovereignty in all its aspects.”

The disagreement between Marí and the new team of curators, made up of Valentín Roma and Paul B. Preciado – who was hired a little over a year ago – opens up an internal crisis at the museum.

Patricia Sorroche, a union representative for the museum employees, said the latter have requested a meeting “to know the exact implications of the disagreement between the curators and management, and to clear up what kind of precedent is being set with this decision to cancel a show.”

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