The Condition of the Document
and the Modern Photographic Utopia
23 October 2008 – 6 January 2009
Plaça dels Angels, 1
Curator: Jorge Ribalta.
Barcelona Survey 2007 Concept: Jorge Ribalta and Joan Roca.
Organisation: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).
Coproduction: MACBA and Museu Colecção Berardo-Arte Moderna e Contemporãnea, Lisbon.
Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia, an exhibition that brings together nearly 2,000 documents (of which the almost 1,000 vintage photographs and prints are of particular interest) dating from 1851 to 2008 by some 250 authors, including Lewis Hine, Eugène Atget, El Lissitzky, Herbert Bayer, Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott, August Sander, Weegee, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Agustí Centelles, Xavier Miserachs, Franco Pinna, Allan Sekula, Robert Adams, Martha Rosler and William Klein, to name but a few. Going beyond the presentation of a single, linear narration through the history of photography, the display offers an entire constellation of narratives on the genealogy of the document: the historic photographic missions, the reformist document, the workers’ photography movement, exhibitions, advertising, projects based around ethnography and the documentation of cities, and so on. The exhibition is brought to a close by the commission that initiated Universal Archive: the Barcelona 2007 Photographic Mission, which provides sixteen new looks at the city of the future.
The exhibition investigates notions of the photographic document through the study and restaging of some of the debates sparked by the genre at different moments in history. Though the first photograph in the display dates back to 1851 and the last to 2008, making its historical spectrum is as broad as the very history of photography, the exhibition does not attempt to present an exhaustive and chronological encyclopaedic archive of photography, but rather sets out to trace the possible genealogies of the photographic document and their conflicts. The resulting constellation of narratives offers surprises, tensions and overlaps, aimed at bringing about a rethinking of the role of photography today.
While Universal Archive is presented as a historical exhibition that adopts museum codes ad hoc, it is also a multidisciplinary project of public participation which has received the cooperation of dozens of institutions, as well as that of Catalan civil society as a whole. This involvement is underlined in the MACBA tradition of experimentation and concerns not only the conditions of the Museum in the city, but also the possibilities of a de-territorialised museum, immersed in social dynamics and capable of rewriting the role of the institution as a public space.
Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia brings together almost 2,000 documents, notable among which are the nearly 1,000 vintage photographs and copies, dating from 1851 to the present time. The exhibition seeks to highlight how these images really circulated in their day, so in addition to photographs it features 19th-century albums, magazines, publications, films, screenings of historic exhibitions and documentation material.
Standing out among the almost 250 authors represented in the exhibition are Lewis Hine, Walter Ballhause, Alexander Rodchenko, Morris Engel, André Kertész, Weegee, Eugène Atget, Paul Strand, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Walker Evans, Brassaï, Robert Doisneau, Bill Brandt, Dorothea Lange, El Lissitzky, Dziga Vertov, Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Edward Steichen, August Sander, Franco Pinna, Francesc Català-Roca, Ramon Masats, Oriol Maspons, Joan Colom, Xavier Miserachs, Carlos Pérez Siquier, José Ortiz Echagüe, Margaret Mead, Juan Rulfo, Charles Clifford, Jean Laurent, Robert P. Napper, Charles Marville, Robert Frank, Berenice Abbott, William Klein, Bernd andy Hilla Becher, Allan Sekula, Ed Ruscha, Dan Graham, Martha Rosler, Marcel Broodthaers, Garry Winogrand, Adolf Mas, Josep Brangulí, Pere Català Pic, Agustí Centelles, Margaret Michaelis, Otho Lloyd, Humberto Rivas, Manolo Laguillo and Gilbert Fastenaekens.
The photographers who took part in the Barcelona 2007 Photographic Mission include Ahlam Shibli, Marc Patault, David Goldblatt, Allan Sekula, Patrick Faigenbaum, Sandra Balsells, Jean-Louis Schoellkopf, William Klein, Gilles Saussier, Xavier Ribas, Xavier Basiana, Ana Muller, Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Lothar Baumgarten and Manolo Laguillo.
The exhibition is structured into two large parts. The first traces a historical path through some of the leading general debates on the photographic document in modern times (from 1850 to 1980), divided into four general areas: Policies of the Victim (1907-1943), Public Photographic Spaces (1928-1955), Compared Photography (1923-1965) and Topographies. The Culture of Landscape and Urban Change (1851-1988). The second section takes the city of Barcelona and its historical visual evolution as a specific case study. This second part is also subdivided into two areas: The Photographic Construction of Barcelona in the XXth Century and 2007. Metropolitan images of the New Barcelona.