A recent trip to Barcelona for the World Architecture Festival (WAF) made clear to me just how well the nations of the European Union do at updating their historic centers. American tourists, of course, go to places like Spain to see medieval or Renaissance urbanism not contemporary cities. And that’s a shame because we could learn a great deal about how to build today and add intelligently to our own 19th and 20th century cities.
The WAF takes place in a totally new city near the 2004 Herzog and deMeuron-designed Barcelona Forum, but even in the old city the Richard Meier-designed Macba Museum boldly asserts itself in the medieval core. Down La Ramblas from the quarter where the white Macba sits is another contemporary museum, the Santa Monica Museum, which is a kunsthalle. The museum does not collect art, but serves as a multidisciplinary center for art, science, thought, and communication. Even here Americans could learn a thing or two about contemporary culture, in this case, one of our favorites: television.
The exhibition, “TV/Arts/TV” details the history of video art and includes all the pioneers of the movement including Dan Graham, Muntadas, Chris Marker, Gary Hill and Wolf Vostell. The exhibition is comprised almost entirely of spatially compelling installations that should be of interest to architects for its content and power to communicate with an audience. One piece, “From Receiver to Remote control… channeling Spain 2010”, by New Yorkers Judith Barry and Ken Saylor with Project Projects, cork screwed through a dead end hallway with 91 photographs and 10 flat screens with audio that trace how television “transforms the social space of the home and family relations” (though the show closed on Saturday this piece has been extended through January).
Based on an earlier version of the installation that focused on American television and the home, this piece compares some of the differences and similarities in television history between Spain and the U.S. in relationship to the ‘participatory.’ It makes the point that “while television is often considered a monolithic entity, it differs from culture to culture. Tele-visual space produces personal and collective identities across ‘national’ and global boundaries where the viewer is implicated in questions of how media is democratized” and invites spectator participation.
The narrowness of the hallway exhibition space and the displays on all the surrounding surfaces envelope museum-goers bringing us literally inside television as much as when we view a TV screen from a comfy chair at home. With so many American artists involved, it’s only a shame that I had to go Spain to see this thought-provoking work.