In 1966 the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español (the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art) was opened in the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses), in Cuenca, exhibiting a collection of paintings and sculptures by Spanish artists associated with this movement that Fernando Zóbel had been amassing, by and large, in the preceding years. The museum opening represented a memorable event for the world of culture and, of course, for the small provincial city which Cuenca was at the time.
It was my city. Visiting the museum meant to delve deeper into a completely different and stimulating world; not only due to the nature of the works on view, which I always saw with the naturalness of something discovered early on, but because everything was so painstakingly thought out: the placement of the works, the lighting, the floor… the skirting boards! It was something truly out of the ordinary.
Out of these different and carefully plotted details graphic material took centre stage: from the museum symbol to the posters, via tickets, postcards and handbooks. Every graphic piece published immediately became a collector’s item, and every new thing hit the spot time and again.
From the very beginning the museum had a graphic art department run by Jaume and Jordi Blassi, who together, as photographer and graphic designer, and with the occasional contribution from some of the most representative artists in the collection, created a significant repertoire of graphic pieces that were admirably conceived and executed. For instance, in my eyes nobody before them had portrayed the Casas Colgadas quite like they did.
This 1969 catalogue expertly synthesises that graphic experience. The double pages explore the project and its nuts and bolts, starting with an old print featuring unrecognisable Casas Colgadas encapsulated within a red frame, which inscribes the building housing the collection in a historical context. The texts – laid out with great formal simplicity, with no tricks – and the black and white photos of the different exhibition rooms and works that comprise the museum, alternate with conviction and with the elegant rhythm that characterised the museum itself. The publication was printed by Ricard Giralt Miracle in his Institute of Graphic Art – another eloquent detail on Zóbel’s ability and eye for assembling valuable people on his project.
On the last double page in this a catalogue there is a photo showing the museum’s library in its original place, before the area became today’s white room. Among other things, in the background and almost inconspicuously, there are four Barcelona chairs designed by Mies van der Rohe; an unorthodox choice in a place and at a time that was more inclined towards another horrific “Hispanic culture” style of furniture, as Fernando Zóbel ironically called it.
Those four chairs could be a symbol of the modernity that began to become established and live and breathe in Spain.
By José María Cerezo