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Art & Culture

“Connections and Confrontations: The Spanish National Photography Prize” (awarded for the years 1994 to 2008)

[from Nov. 2012]

To view images full size, left click on each

“LATINO/US Cotidiano” continues through May 12th at the 16th and Fuller Streets, NW former Spanish ambassadorial residence. (We reported on this historic building and its restoration and re-purposing for showcasing Spanish arts one year ago. See, “16th Street’s Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence Being Considered for Use as a Center to Showcase Spanish Culture, Arts,” InTowner, May 2012, issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/preview.php?num=cz4chgw).

A catalog is available at the exhibition which is open to the public at no charge Wed.-Fri., 5-8pm; Sat., 11am-8pm & Sun. to 6pm.For more information, email to contact@spainculture.us or visit www.spainculture.us/calendar/809.

“LATINO/US Cotidiano” continues through May 12th at the 16th and Fuller Streets, NW former Spanish ambassadorial residence. (We reported on this historic building and its restoration and re-purposing for showcasing Spanish arts one year ago. See, “16th Street’s Former Spanish Ambassador’s Residence Being Considered for Use as a Center to Showcase Spanish Culture, Arts,” InTowner, May 2012, issue PDF page 1; http://tinyurl.com/preview.php?num=cz4chgw).

A catalog is available at the exhibition which is open to the public at no charge Wed.-Fri., 5-8pm; Sat., 11am-8pm & Sun. to 6pm.For more information, email to contact@spainculture.us or visit www.spainculture.us/calendar/809.

With a large, bravura exhibition — that had been on view through December 9, 2012 — of masterworks of photography by 14 recipients of the Spanish National Photography Prize which had been awarded during the close of the 20th and opening years of the 21st centuries ,  the Spanish Embassy had participated in Washington’s “FotoWeek DC 2012” by celebrating these artistic achievements through the display of outstanding contemporary works by these prize-winning artists.

The exhibition venue for the show was the unadorned walls of the former residence of the Spanish Ambassador at 16th and Fuller Streets, NW. These works are installed with a minimum of elaborate installation techniques, which only serves to highlight the powerful presence of these exemplars of fine art photography.

Alberto García-Alix, La Gata (2001).

Spanish photography first burst onto the world stage with the extraordinary documentary filming and photojournalism which chronicled events in Spain during the 1930s with a focus on dramatic and poignant depictions of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the depredations occurring throughout a country already suffering from civil unrest and the impact on Spain of worldwide depression.

These images were widely distributed only to be ironically displaced after the triumph of Franco and the fascists in 1939 with photographic images of Franco and acceptable right wing patriotic tableaus in framed reproductions, posters, and postcards — photography as pervasive propaganda, relieved only by bikini-clad glamour girls advertising Spanish beach resorts during Franco’s successful tourist promotion and the development of Spain’s Mediterranean beaches. All other artistic and journalistic expressions were strictly censored during the 40 years of Franco’s dictatorial reign.

With Franco’s death in 1975 following the assassination of his President and Prime Minister — Franco’s strong man and putative successor Admiral Carrero Blanco — and the successful transition of Spain into a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy by 1978, Spanish art and culture were once again allowed both to flourish and be published and performed.

Photography and film were immediate beneficiaries of this new democratic regime, as the multiplicity of style and wide-ranging nature of content in the works on display by these 14 artists demonstrate.

Most of the works are black and white or monochromatic. A few use color to dramatic effect. Many were made but not widely displayed or published in Spain during the waning years of Franco’s rule. Realism and pictorialism are the major stylistic formats of many of these works, with figurative and portrait photographs predominating.

Gabriel Cualladó, Rue de la Paix (1962).

Also exhibited are powerful still-life works that present conceptual appreciations of flowers and stones. Classical ruins and urban decay are also captured in iconic images, and works by two different photographers are often paired in contrasting and complementing couplings.

For example, an hilarious satirical color photograph by Pablo Pérez-Minguez  of a skinny, long-haired matador lamely holding a lamb is juxtaposed with a deeply moving black and white image by Christina Garcia Rodero of a muddied adolescent boy cradling a goat on his back and left shoulder while crossing a shallow stream or ditch.

The extraordinary street scenes and urban landscapes of Joan Colom appear throughout the show. My favorites include a street scene with a mysterious splotch on the paving; it could be the classic psychiatrist’s ink blot or perhaps the patterning of a blood splatter; another is the scene of a young girl in her Sunday best running down a street, her head crowned with a bouquet of confetti. In the show’s section on “Hands,” Colom has an enigmatic, engaging work featuring an arm and a hand pointing sideways above three boys in a deceptively typical street scene. A small, almost street urchin-appearing boy centered in this disturbing composition is dressed in soiled but respectable clothes, with his clothing all askew, perhaps from rough-housing on the street or simply from poverty.

Another of the color photographs is one of the Spanish film maker Pedro Almodóvar in drag by Pablo Pérez-Minguez. The color is essential to the photograph. Almodóvar is depicted wearing a quilted, colorful, floral patterned bright aqua house coat over a lace bordered pink ladies slip revealing his hairy chest and topped with garish spherical earrings; his facial expression with its five o’clock shadow is appropriately apprehensive. Almodóvar in this fun photograph is no Joan Crawford!

Pablo Pérez-Minguez, Pedro Drag (1983).

The work of Toni Catany encompasses subject matter rigorously banned during the Franco years — male nudity, gender ambiguity, male coupling, and, like other photographers, religious symbolism. Catany achieves his art with a profoundly deft touch. His nudes and portrait heads are either classically sculptural or mysteriously non-gender specific. His exhibition photograph titled The Sand Boy is ingeniously ambiguous; it presents an almost completely nude body laid out on a paisley patterned background below a stone exedra. In the catalog accompanying the show it is paired with a gorgeously colored photograph of a barely loin-clothed Saint Sebastian, a work by Pablo Pérez-Minguez.

Another work in the “Religion” and “Exotica” section features a black and white photograph of a figure from the underworld; it depicts a lean and ferocious appearing body of a syncretic saint, his head completely covered and crowned with the horns of a bull. He wears a chain that stretches to provide the belt for his trousers and holds a struggling large lizard in his left hand. This powerful photograph is by Christina Garcia Rodero.

Toni Catany’s portrait photograph titled Josu is the most striking figurative work in the show; it is a photographic version of a sculptural portrait bust in a commanding pose of the head of, perhaps, a principal male dancer of a forceful ballet company, a man about to dance the lead in Spartacus. Catany’s untitled work of the feet and legs below the knees of another strong male nude punctuated with a centered burst of light is yet another of his mesmerizing works, as is his Dreaming About Gods, a work featuring a nude body lying horizontally in acute tension on a nondescript pavement. Pablo Pérez-Minguez’s The Dead Above combines the mysteries of two sheet- or shroud-covered bodies lying on the floor, one hairy leg touching the hairy legs of the other.

Alberto García-Alix, Los Malheridos (1988).

Some of the works are simply charming. For example, Gabriel Cualladó’s Kids on Steps is a beautifully composed photograph showing five casually dressed boys sitting and standing on a staircase stretching up the side of a rustic brick and stone structure.

Toni Catany, Untitled (1987).

Humberto Rivas’ Flower captures a dried or bronzed blossom against a similarly textured wall. Another Rivas work, this one titled Montmajour, depicts in a dark green-tinted monochromatic print a mysterious and beautiful staircase.

More grand photographs await the visitor to this show, which continues through December 9th, together with a companion show of stunning photographs assembled by the Iberian-American Cultural Attachés Association’s Committee for FotoWeek D.C., which is also on view until the 9th. Extraordinary works in this show, titled “Transitional Bodies,” include Chilean photographer Cecilia Avendaño Bobillier’s portrait image of a saucy, heavily lipsticked young woman from her “Pride” series; Guatemala’s Jaime Permuth’s pair of nudes in a building’s basement greased as though having worked on the building’s mechanicals and lying like sculptures on an informal palette of opened newspapers from the series “The Completely Visible World”; and Paraguay’s Carlos Bittar’s photograph of a young boy joyously bathing himself in a swampy pond and titled Niño y Arroyo.