Sunday, November 28

From cows to Las Meninas: a decade of “tacky” culture in the streets of Madrid

An immense inflatable white rabbit, lying at the foot of the equestrian monument dedicated to Carlos III, in bronze, in front of the Royal Mint. A polyester Menina decorated with the colors of the brand of a restaurant chain with an Italian name, in the Plaza del Callao. Another in a square beyond with the logo of some credit cards. Nobody can say that Madrid is a city without spectacle at the moment: a few days ago the Festival of Light was held in the streets, defined by Andrea Levy as “a cultural proposal of enormous tourist attraction”. The person in charge of the area of ​​culture of the Consistory insisted that she will continue betting “on this type of cultural events that place our city in the reference and at the forefront of cultural events and being pioneers in this type of event to attract tourism.”

Literature takes the cafes of Malasaña with the Writers Week-end festival MMM!

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“It is not dandruff like Esteso’s films, but they are just as poor”, this is how Jaime Brihuega, professor of Art History at the Complutense University of Madrid and former director general of Fine Arts and Archives of the Ministry of Education, sums up the luminous experience. Culture (from 1988 to 1991). For the historian, the street is a privileged place to reach everyone and “educate a society driven by Telecinco in aesthetic criteria.” “It’s a stupid festival. Placing Meninas or gigantic rabbits in the squares is setting up a culture of entertainment so that people are happy. But it completely lacks rigor and dignity and it is typical of this different, cheerful and sugary Madrid, to drink. reeds, “adds Brihuega on the other end of the phone.

The first invasion happened in 2009, with the “cow parade” that dispersed around the streets of Madrid a hundred full-scale fiberglass cows weighing 60 kilos, decorated by artists and celebrities. The mayor then was Alberto Ruiz Gallardón (PP) and since that battalion of bad taste, each mayor has proposed his own occupation of the public thoroughfare, with sculptural elements that, in reality, are advertising media. And mayors. Manuela Carmena took to the public streets, in 2018, the Meninas of the celebrities, which were added to an infinite string of chicken and tourist details that she had taken for a walk on the sidewalks, along with soldiers from Star Wars and the junk and sad from the Harry Potter movies.

From meme to memo

Behind the initiative called “Meninas Madrid Gallery” is the Venezuelan businessman Antonio Azzato, who assures that he has brought art to the streets and that he has turned Madrid into the largest open-air museum in the world. The father of these creatures designed by personalities such as Antonia Dell’Atte, Marta Sánchez or Asier Etxeandía also emphasizes the showcase that this initiative represents when it comes to attracting tourists and that its editions are already “an act of pilgrimage” and of me you like on Instagram.

“Corny is the effect produced when the means (economic, cultural and social) are insufficient to achieve the desired ends”, writes Noël Valis in the magnificent essay The culture of kitsch. Bad taste, class and kitsch in modern Spain (Machado Libros). The popularly known as “I want and I cannot” was revealed, above all, in the consequences that the cultural delay complex would bring after the Franco regime. The professor of Spanish literature at Yale University investigated how Spain imitated the behavior and ideas of other national cultures, especially French and English, to make up for a lack of its own identity and runaway kitsch, which has not disappeared today. with the importation of most of these street events.

As Fernando Castro Flórez Madrid explains, Madrid has been a “tacky cradle” and points out the eighties, with the Movida, as a “hyper-saving” moment. “Then there was a hideous twist with the cavalcades of the Magi and the Meninas by Manuela Carmena. So we went from those sordid cows to this one that is much worse because it is the art of celebrity, the one that the celebrities of the reality shows. It is a virus that has come to stay “, predicts the philosopher and art critic, author of Aesthetics of cruelty. Artistic framing in unhinged time (Forcola). Of course, it is not an exclusively Madrid phenomenon and Vigo and its festival of lights are there to prove it, says Castro Flórez. “The excuse is that they are sculptures that convey joy and positivism. They are nothing more than cachirulos. Under that uncritical role, for example, the head of Julia, by Jaume Plensa, which was going to be temporary and no one else has ever considered removing it and it is worse than pain. Madrid has had very bad luck with the monuments: we go from meme to memo “, sums up the art critic.

The excuse that allows the invasion of the corny is the fundraising for social organizations. It happened during the pandemic, with the installation in Callao of a huge sculpture-doll that paid tribute to the nurses and, above all, advertised the brand of those dolls. The company put this doll up for sale to raise funds for the foundations of the Hospital La Paz in Madrid and the Clinic in Barcelona. The nursing groups showed their discomfort because this type of campaign only succeeded in diluting responsibilities due to the lack of public resources.

The art of propaganda

Andrea Levy concluded after his Festival of Light that “a large number of locals and visitors” took to the streets to see the city in a different way. “Illuminated by visual artists,” he said. Can art resist being part of the political initiatives that make the streets a part of attractions? “Not all of us accept this type of proposal. Artists continue to be used to gentrify the city, with actions such as’ Pinta Malasaña ”. No artist with criteria is going to participate in something like this, because we help to commercialize the city “, responds the artist Eugenio Merino, who exhibits at CentroCentro Cibeles a piece in which he reflects on monuments to hatred, with eight commemorative bronze plaques, each one with the geolocation of a Francoist monument still existing in Spain.

Merino quotes the cultural critic Terry Eagleton, who in his book Culture (Taurus), clarifies that art bites the hand of those who feed it. The British essayist also explains in that book that culture has become “a convenient way to displace politics.” Merino believes that Madrid has become a center whose only interest is tourism, in which the authorities are not even interested in proposing culture to the community, “simply attracting tourists because culture by itself does not make money.” The appeal in that sense is the selfie and the amusement park, two of the highest peaks of cheesy culture.

In this conflict “we must not dynamite the option of intervening on public roads, but we must redirect it”, in the opinion of the artist Sandra Gamarra, with an exhibition in the Alcalá 31 room entitled Good government. She is convinced that art needs to open up, conquer new spaces and go out onto the streets to come into contact with audiences beyond the places it traditionally inhabits. “There is a danger of spectacularize the public thoroughfare, but the street is a gateway as long as they are rigorous proposals. So far I feel that the initiatives suffer from professionals who are dedicated to mediation in these spaces. I think there is a fear against art that goes beyond the fear of freedom of expression and that is the fear that no one will understand it. This prejudice exists and may be part of the truth. There has to be a mea culpa for our part too “, says Gamarra. However, he does not forget that cities have found a tourist vein to activate the economy and that Madrid has become a tourist company. But Spain is no longer so” different “.

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