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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art

What is the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona?

The Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, or Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art in English, is a modern and contemporary art in an eye-catching Modernist building designed by American architect Richard Meier.

Barcelona Museum of Contemporary

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Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona History

The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (or MACBA for short) stands less than a kilometre from the Gothic centre of the city, among antiquated churches and narrow streets. Nicknamed ‘The Pearl’ for its sleek Modernist design, MACBA’s building manages accurately to match, in boldness and style, the contemporary art collection it houses. The eye-catching structure was designed by American architect Richard Meier, whose work has always emphasised clean, light spaces. MACBA is no exception: its glass front and skylights let the day flood through the museum’s flat roof and into the spacious white rooms. In these light-drenched rooms you’ll discover a lively collection of modern and contemporary art, encompassing painting, sculpture, collage and assemblage, installation and multimedia.

Although the museum itself opened in November 1995, its originating idea can be traced back much further. Barcelonan art critic Alexandre Cirici i Pellicer first suggested opening a museum of contemporary art in 1959. Unfortunately, his idea wasn’t taken up by the city council until 1986; finally, a year later, the MACBA Foundation was born. The founding members held the firm belief that a city of such cultural standing should have in it an internationally significant museum of contemporary art. The next few years were spent acquiring just over a thousand new artworks in preparation for the museum’s opening. It has since grown to encompass over 6,000 pieces and counting!

The museum’s collection of innovative and experimental works covers the most important art movements from the second half of the 20th century onwards. Look out for emblematic works by postwar luminaries Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and Robert Rauschenberg. Later highlights include Jean-Michel Basquiat’s extraordinary Self Portrait and Keith Haring’s iconographic mural Together We Can Stop AIDS. Minimalism is well represented in the collection, with work by Rosemarie Castaro, Hans Haacke, Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt.

As well as international art, MACBA makes sure to showcase local talent, both Spanish and Catalan. Look out for photography and installation from the ground-breaking Àngels Ribé, considered one of the most influential Catalan conceptual artists of the 1970s.

The building seems to attract dynamic creativity and activity, as the adjacent square, the Plaça dels Àngels, is often frequented by street artists and the city’s skater community. Permanently located on a podium outside the MACBA building is Jorge Oteiza’s large abstract sculpture La Ola (or ‘The Wave’). When Oteiza was invited by the museum to produce a work, he decided to create something that would strike up a dialogue with Meier’s building. The sculpture’s black aluminium surface changes constantly under the alternation of light and shadow thrown down onto it by the building’s glass façade. In terms of sculpture, within the museum you’ll also find Lichtenstein’s original model for his 14-metre Barcelona Head, commissioned for the 1992 Olympic Games. And if seeing this miniaturised version inspires you to seek out the real thing, you can find the sculpture still standing on the Passeig de Colom, at one end of Barcelona’s Port Vell.

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