Nothing to be spared.
Apparently my last post with some ideas about the MNAC was well received, so I am closing these longer summer pieces (instead of the customary seven short news items) with some lines about the star museum of this blog. For those who want it in one sentence: the point I am making today is that MNAC must deal with all aspects of Catalan art, including the less brilliant ones.
Last week we said MNAC may profit from engaging itself in a cultural dialogue with a European accent. Romanesque, Gothic and fin de siècle Art Nouveau (know here as “Modernism”) were the times when this corner of the Mediterranean produced its best art. Therefore, the corresponding collections at the MNAC would provide it with the works most suited for the international layout we advance.
However, something would be lost were the museum not moving beyond these three movements. It is true that the Renaissance collections are near to non-existent, and that the best pieces in the Baroque and Neoclassicism sections are Spanish and Italian. That’s why the museum has tended to manage these collections as a mute custodian, just keeping them, and lending them to third parties only when asked. Even when this was its only role, the Museum could be more active in attracting the outside projects, and making them also be shown in Barcelona.
But it can do more. First, it can foster a more thorough research of its own collections – which include these four wonderful still-lifes by the misfortunate Madrid court painter Luís Meléndez (1716 – 1780). They also feature some Catalan works – among them, the paintings of Antoni Viladomat (1678-1755), which can deepen our understanding of the moment. Another suitable subject could be the history of these collections, and its relation with the MNAC as a museum. Since they were not seen as obviously Catalan, why were they incorporated? When? How well did they fit into the general discourse of the museum?
But perhaps more interesting, they could be used for a kind of broader research. Given the lack of outstanding works, the MNAC could focus itself on some other questions, e.g.: can the absence of great masters from Catalonia be explained just on economic grounds? Since the Catalan artists were not serving a growing, self-centred Madrid court, what other clients did they cater to, and what roles did their art play? Why did their works follow certain models, and why did they ignore others? In which moment was the decision made, to start something of their own? Which parallels can we find in Europe?
Sure, an exhibition on these subjects will not become the season’s continental blockbuster. But dealing with them is a job the MNAC can do, and can give the lead to more general patterns across Europe. And that could be welcomed by someone else – at the end of the day, we did not lose the the train of post Medieval Europe, but like some other Europeans we were not travelling in first class.