MACBA Museu d ́Art Contemporani de Barcelona

Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia

23 Oct 2008 - 06 Jan 2009

© Berenice Abbott
Pike and Henry Streets, Manhattan, 1936

23/10/2008 - 06/01/2009 MACBA [Plaça dels Àngels, 1 08001 Barcelona 93 412 08 10]

The building of a universal visual archive has long been the historic mission of photography. Does the abandonment of realism in current debates about digital photography or post-photography mean the liquidation of this utopia? Is the photographic document just another anachronism of modernity? The development of this debate and its consequences is the aim of the exhibition Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia, which brings together hundreds of photographs and documents, from the 'photointerpretations' of Lewis Hune in the early 20th century, to a series of today's works commissioned by the MACBA to various contemporary photographers. The display sets out from the texts written by August Sander in 1931 referring to photography as a universal language, and as a dialectical reference takes The Family of Man, the legendary exhibition that Edward Steichen presented in 1955 Lygia Clark at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York. Universal Archive is structured into two large parts: in the first place, the exhibition traces a historical path through some of the leading general debates on the photographic document in modern times (from 1850 to 1980); secondly, the city of Barcelona and its historical visual evolution is taken as a specific case study.

• Debates over the document. These are structured into three areas: the dialect between reformism and revolution in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, the end of considering the role of the spectator, and certain major documentary projects of modernity. Works by Lewis Hine, the Photo League, Rodchenko, Ben Shahn, Helen Levitt, John Gurmann, Heinrich Zille, Walter Evans, Brassaï, Hill Brandt, Weegee, Paul Strand and Doisneau; documents concerning El Lissitzky's exhibition spaces and a number of German, French, Italian and Spanish exhibitions of the thirties; from the 1851 “Mission Heliographique” to the DATAR Mission of 1980, the Man of the Twentieth Century project by August Sander, classic photographic explorations such as those of 40th Parallel in the American West, and so on.

• The photographic construction of Barcelona as a case study. This second part examines the tension between the construction of official images and counter-images based on a photographic historiography and its correspondence with the urban model. The documents brought together date from the 1888 World Fare up to the Forum of Cultures held in 2004. The climax consists in presentation of the photographic mission Barcelona 2007, a photographic survey commissioned by the MACBA to a group of today's photographers which sets out to produce an image of the new city emerging as a result of recent economic, social and political transformations. The display will include works by Sandra Balsells, Xavier Basiana, Lothar Baumgarten, Patrick Faigenbaum, Hans-Peter Feldmann, David Goldblatt, William Klein, Manolo Laguillo, Ana Muller, Marc Pataut, Xavier Ribas, Andrea Robbins & Max Becher, Gilles Saussier, Jean-Louis Schoellkopf, Allan Sekula, Ahlam Shibli.

Direction of the project: Bartomeu Marí
Curator: Jorge Ribalta
Survey Concept 2007: Jorge Ribalta and Joan Roca
Production: Exhibition organized by Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona and coproduced with Museu Colecçâo Berardo-Arte Moderna e Contemporânea, Lisboa

Tags: Lothar Baumgarten, Brassaï, Lygia Clark, Patrick Faigenbaum, Hans-Peter Feldmann, David Goldblatt, Lewis Hine, William Klein, Helen Levitt, El Lissitzky, Jorge Ribalta, Xavier Ribas, August Sander, Allan Sekula, Ahlam Shibli