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Tàpies. An Artist’s Collection

Tàpies: An Artist’s Collection offers a look around the private collection of Antoni Tàpies, with works of modern Western art and of the artist.

In general, an artist’s collection consists of works by others together with the artist’s own works. The works by others come from two different sources: firstly, the most active one, consists of items purchased by the artist; the second, rather more passive, consists of works by other artists received either by exchange or by generous donation. The collection of Antoni Tàpies is no exception. Begun in the mid-1940s in parallel to his own artistic development, it was not until the 1960s, coinciding with the consolidation of his career, that the collection really took off.

Tàpies had in mind two references: firstly, the model of the artist-collector offered by Picasso and Miró, whose studios he had visited in his youth – Picasso with a remarkable collection of African and modern art, Miró with a collection of objects from popular culture and nature – and, secondly, the special Christmas 1934 issue of the magazine D’Ací i d’Allà, dedicated to the art of the twentieth century, and some numbers of Cahiers d’art, especially the 1936 issue devoted to the object, which contributed to his discovery of modern art and the relationships that it established with other manifestations, both artistic and popular. Tàpies wrote:

‘The D’Ací i d’Allà issue has been with me all my life and I still have it at home, now signed by its authors. The emotion brought about by Picasso’s Woman in a Shirt; the Braque still life; the Futurist paintings by Severini; the fabulous still life by Juan Gris, which disconcerted me with the ambiguity of its meticulous realism that at once wasn’t realistic; the geometries of Kandinsky and Mondrian; the magic of Max Ernst; the great glass of Duchamp; Miró’s Man with Pipe, which reminded me of prehistoric cave paintings; and the bursting yellows and reds of his stencil; it was all a shock that seemed to bring light to the inner landscapes of my imagination.’

Tàpies built a heterogeneous collection, which includes works of Western art and art from Africa, Asia and Oceania, samples of folk art and the art of the mentally ill, films, photographs and rare books, a collection that embraces a wide historical period from the Egypt and Mesopotamia of antiquity to Western art of the twentieth century, from the early avant-garde to German Neo-Expressionism. This collection documents the interests, affinities and ambitions of the artist, and establishes a network of relationships with his work, not in terms of mimesis, but rather of common inspiration, since Tàpies felt inspired by artists who, like him, wanted to create a kind of art that went beyond the mere decorative object and had the ability to make the viewer think.

Between 2014 and 2015, the heirs of Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012) gave on deposit to the Fundació a collection of 230 works that are part of that collection. Largely, this consignment is composed of works by Tàpies from the mid-1940s to the late 1980s, but also includes a selection of 31 works by artists of the twentieth century such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Kurt Schwitters, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis and Robert Motherwell, among others. The deposit has enriched the Fundació’s Collection, which consists of nearly 400 original works by Tàpies, including paintings, sculptures, objects and drawings from all periods of his artistic production, and more than 1,500 prints and rare books, donated by Teresa and Antoni Tàpies to the Fundació.

The exhibition Tàpies: An Artist’s Collection has been constructed exclusively from part of that deposit. It is not the first time that the Fundació addresses the artist’s collection. In 2010, to mark the reopening of the museum after the second renovation and refurbishment of the building, it organised the exhibition Antoni Tàpies. The Places of Art, which was comprised of a hundred works including paintings, objects and rare books, mostly by other artists, although it included two works by Tàpies himself. On that occasion, the exhibition focused on works from his library at home, and the close relationship that arose out of this proximity. More recently, in 2013, the exhibition Tàpies. From Within focused on a selection of works from the artist’s studio and from the Collection of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Presented jointly by the Fundació and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, the exhibition focused exclusively on works by the artist.

Tàpies: An Artist’s Collection offers a look at around twenty works of modern Western art and forty by Tàpies – these last covering the period represented in the deposit, with a special emphasis on previously unseen or lesser known works. The exhibition begins with works by artists whose direct influence can be seen in Tàpies’ early works – such as Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Max Ernst –, and works by Pablo Picasso, Kurt Schwitters, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp and Hans Arp, to whom Tàpies felt particularly attracted. This is followed by a selection of works by his contemporaries, those with whom he shared a feeling of affinity, such as Jean Dubuffet and the American artists Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis and Robert Motherwell. This section of the exhibition is accompanied by a selection of letters, photographs, invitations, catalogues and reference books from his personal library that were donated to the Fundació’s Library in 1990. Among them are editions of the special Christmas 1934 issue of the magazine D’Ací i d’Allà featuring the diaries of Paul Klee, of Woman with 100 Heads by Max Ernst, a selection of writings by Marcel Duchamp, and some issues of the magazines Cahiers d’art and Documents.

The itinerary continues with works by Tàpies on other levels of the building. His formative years are represented by an eclectic selection of works from 1945 to 1951: from the early works of 1945, of an Expressionist and dreamlike nature, full of symbolism and Nordic influences (especially Munch); to those inspired by Surrealism in the period 1947–49; followed by works from the period 1949–51, with representations of lunar landscapes, where both composition and colour bring to mind certain images of Klee and Miró.

The exhibition also includes a selection of Tàpies’ matter paintings from the beginnings of his mature period in the mid- 1950s, with examples from 1955–56 and works from the following decade characterised by the appearance of walls, the density of the textures and a limited palette – greys, ochres and browns – colours that, for him, are related to the inner world and thought. The exhibition continues with a large selection of works from the 1980s, accompanied by examples from the 1970s, in which heavy matter paintings are seen next to other works with almost empty surfaces where varnish is the protagonist. The return of the object, which Tàpies incorporated widely in his work in the late 1960s and during the 1970s, also features in one work from 1987.

The exhibition highlights many of the recurring themes in the work of Tàpies, which he repeated at different creative moments. Among such themes, walls suggesting the passage of time, enclosure or graffiti inscriptions in the 1950s, reappear in the 1970s and 1980s; landscape, specifically the Montseny landscape, where Tàpies worked during the summers, is both setting and self-portrait; fragmented parts of the body are represented in an iconic and indicative form; everyday objects that are attached to the surface of the canvas or represented iconographically signifying the importance that simple and poor objects held for the artist; the influence of Eastern philosophies that can be seen in the representation of a smiling Buddha or the reference to the universe in an outstretched hand; and the importance of delving into the knowledge that evokes the image of the scale. These are themes that exemplify the concerns Tàpies was addressing in his work in an attempt to explain through art his way of understanding the world.

The exhibition is accompanied by the screening of the previously unseen documentary by Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Antoni Tàpies, made in 1981, with music by Josep Maria Mestres Quadreny. The film, conceived as a sound photoscope, reviews the work of the artist, his artistic, literary and cultural references, and his historical and personal context. The recovery of this documentary was made possible thanks to the generosity of Adelaida Frías Borràs, and the collaboration of the Filmoteca de Catalunya.

1. TÀPIES, Antoni. A Personal Memoir. Fragments for an Autobiography. (Complete Writings. Volume I). Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, (1977) 2009: 92.

TÀPIES, Antoni. A Personal Memoir. Fragments for an Autobiography. (Complete Writings. Volume I). Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, (1977) 2009: 92.

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