Tàpies and Miró: Spanish artists facing Franco: the long journey from Falangism to the opposition | Culture

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Cover of 'La Vanguardia' of May 4, 1939, with a young 15-year-old Antoni Tàpies in a Falangist uniform.
Cover of ‘La Vanguardia’ of May 4, 1939, with a young 15-year-old Antoni Tàpies in a Falangist uniform.

On May 2, 1939, four months after the entry of Franco’s troops into Barcelona, ​​a ceremony was held in Plaça de Catalunya presided over by an obelisk raised in memory of the nationals killed during the Civil War. Speeches were read by Mariano Calviño, provincial head of the Movement, and by the writer Ernesto Giménez Caballero, who listed the evils of democracy, Freemasonry and the Republic for having granted “the independence of Catalonia and the Basque Country and of women from their husbands.” The day, suspended by the rain, was reported in the newspapers. The Spanish Vanguard reproduced on its cover, full-page, the photo taken by Antoni Campañà of a young man in the uniform of honor of the Spanish Falange next to the obelisk.

The young man was none other than the future painter Antoni Tàpies, who at that time was 15 years old and who decades later tried to make the image disappear from the newspaper’s archives. The unexpected photo, taken at a time when it was not necessary to join the Falangist Youth, is one of the many stories that the journalist Josep Massot tells in his book Joan Miró under the Franco regime (1940-1983), published in Catalan by Galàxia Gutenberg, in which he portrays postwar Spanish art and its implications for politics and gives light to stories such as the support given by the Nazis refugees in Spain after World War II to the informalist art that III Reich had called it “degenerate.”

“During one of my visits to Tàpies, he asked me to remove the photo from the newspaper’s archive. At that moment I found out about her existence, despite the fact that she had referred to her in her autobiography Personal memory”, Explains Massot, author three years ago of the latest Miró biography published in the same publisher.

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Joan Miró in his studio in 1942, in an image made by Joaquim Gomis.
Joan Miró in his studio in 1942, in an image made by Joaquim Gomis.

For Massot, Tàpies is the example, along with Eduardo Chillida, Manuel Sacristán, Josep Maria Castellet, Carlos Barral, José Maria Valverde, José Luis Aranguren, Francesc Farreras, Pablo Palazuelo and a long etcetera, “of the rapid evolution of young intellectuals since a critical Falangism, after considering that Franco had betrayed the promise of making the fascist revolution, to the approach to the left, from the sixties, which ended up leading democratic activism.

Massot collects episodes such as the beating that Chillida and Palazuelo gave in 1949 to two Catalan activists for removing a Franco flag from a building in Paris shouting “we have not killed enough separatist reds”, which the painter Xavier Valls recounted in his memoirs.

Tribute in 1974 to Joan Miró at the Moulin de la Galette in Paris with the presence of Sert, Calder and Gimferrer.
Tribute in 1974 to Joan Miró at the Moulin de la Galette in Paris with the presence of Sert, Calder and Gimferrer.

After the staunch defense of the eclectic and autarkic realism of the 1940s, Franco’s Spain of the 1950s began to promote informalisms in the face of the need to reopen an internationally asphyxiated regime. Miró, explains the author, was intransigent in the face of pressure to disguise the dictatorship and refused to participate in the art biennials under the baton of Luis González Robles. “He claimed that he had no new works because they were in the hands of his dealers Pierre Matisse and Aimé Maeght,” according to Massot. Yes, Tàpies, Eduardo Chillida, Jorge Oteiza, Manolo Millares, Antonio Saura and Modest Cuixart did, obtaining international recognition and fame. “They had no other option to make themselves visible, while Miró counted on New York and Paris to exhibit his works. Miró was saved by his friends from the United States, such as Josep Lluís Sert, Alexander Calder, Pierre Matisse and the leaders of MoMA, who saw in him a possibility of removing the New York public from provincialism ”, explains the author.

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Tàpies was the first to rebel. In 1959 he refused to have his works shown in international exhibitions. Saura and Millares followed, but not Cuixart. In 1960, the Franco regime agreed with the MoMA and the Guggenheim on a campaign to promote young informalists. An unpublished letter from the New York museum proves that an attempt was made to hide the participation of the Spanish Government. Those were the years of the Cold War, in which the United States fought with the USSR for cultural dictates and with Paris for the capital of art. “These attitudes illustrate like few episodes the misery of the cultural system, in which only a few individualities are saved and, although it is difficult to recognize it, the efficient Francoist diplomacy”, explains Massot.

Showcase of the Buchholz library-gallery in Madrid, in April 1956, after the death of Pío Baroja.
Showcase of the Buchholz library-gallery in Madrid, in April 1956, after the death of Pío Baroja.

For the author, without the tutelage of Miró from Barcelona and Picasso from Paris, the promotion of the new Spanish avant-gardes would have fallen exclusively into the hands of Nazi refugees in Spain. Like the spy Werner Mathias Goeritz, settled in Madrid in 1947, where he presented himself as Jewish, anti-Nazi and Swiss, a friend of Max Jacob, Picasso and Paul Klee, despite being claimed by the allies to be subjected to a denazification process. He united the defenders of new art scattered throughout the Peninsula in the days of the Altamira School of 1949 and 1950 with the aim of developing the modernity of art, especially abstract art. It had the support of Rafael Santos Torroella, Ángel Ferrant, Llorens Artigas, Sebastià Gasch and Modest Cuixart and the poets Luis Felipe Vivanco and Luis Rosales, among others. But not from Miró, who Goeritz was unable to convince to participate in a visit he paid him in 1948.

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Karl Buchholz was also in Madrid, one of those commissioned by Goebbels to sell the “degenerate” works of art confiscated from museums or bought from Jews, after opening a library-gallery with his name in 1945. His capitalist partner was Erich Gaebelt, right-hand man of Johannes Bernhardt, the man Hitler put in charge of the powerful conglomerate of companies that managed the sale to Franco of the German weapons that helped him win the war and who also led the Condor Legion. that devastated Gernika. At the Buchholz gallery, which was highly regarded among intellectuals and artists, the Pórtico group and the El Paso painters exhibited.

Confinement of intellectuals in Montserrat in 1970, as a protest against the Burgos process.  Standing, Josep Maria Castellet, Miró and Tàpies.
Confinement of intellectuals in Montserrat in 1970, as a protest against the Burgos process. Standing, Josep Maria Castellet, Miró and Tàpies.

For his part, Abel Bonnard, former Minister of Education of the Vichy Government sentenced to death after the liberation of France, opened the Palma gallery in Madrid and in Bilbao Willy Wakonigg, former combatant of the Blue Division and Palazuelo’s partner in Franco’s aviation, created Stvdio. “Many of the authors promoted by these galleries or by the Franco regime were subjected to censorship in the sixties and seventies, imprisoned or attacked by far-right groups,” says the author.

Massot’s work, rich in unpublished data, draws on public and private archives, correspondence, memoirs, oral testimonies, newspaper archives and catalogs to place Miró in the Barcelona, ​​Catalan, Spanish and international context, distancing him from the image of a cloistered painter in her studio in Mallorca, where she took refuge in 1939. It also highlights the harshness of the contempt she suffered during the postwar period, when her work was not understood: Josep Pla criticized her because she was distancing herself from reality and Salvador Dalí said that Miró was doing a “decorative” work and that he was “a tie painter”.

Attendees at the Altamira Conference in 1949, in Santillana del Mar, to spread the new Spanish art.
Attendees at the Altamira Conference in 1949, in Santillana del Mar, to spread the new Spanish art.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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