Luis Buñuel, still from Ángel Exterminador – Courtesy Heirs of Louis Buñuel.

Dionisio González, Fotografía, Ipiranga III, 2006, Fotografía siliconada sobre metacrilato.

Ambivalence between Interior and Exterior, when Claustrophobia Strikes

Jacobo Castellano, Fotografía, Serie Corrales. 2004. Nº 7, Fotografía en color. Edición de 3+1 PA. Código: JC-256, 55 x 75 cm.

Bernardi Roig, Instalación tridemensional, Wittgenstein House, 2007, Glass fibre, Two LCD monitor 12'' and DVD player, Aprox. 180 x 100 x 102cm.

José Ramón Amondarain, Pintura / Fotografía, Leroy Snyder Coal Co., Donaldson, Schylkill Country, 2008, Se compone de 2 piezas: 1 óleo sobre lienzo y 1 fotografía, Óleo: 300 x 240cm; Fotografía: 40 x 30cm.

José Ramón Amondarain, Pintura / Fotografía, Leroy Snyder Coal Co., Donaldson, Schylkill Country, 2008, Se compone de 2 piezas: 1 óleo sobre lienzo y 1 fotografía, Óleo: 300 x 240cm; Fotografía: 40 x 30cm.


Centre for Fine Arts
10, rue Royale Koningsstraat
+ 02 507 82 00
The Exterminating Angel
A Room for Spanish Contemporary Art

April 29-June 20, 2010

An allegory of Luis Buñuel's film of the same name, the El Ángel Exterminador exhibition explores the ambivalence between exterior and interior, the visceral need to escape and the equally deep-rooted desire for isolation. When claustrophobia strikes, however, one has to adapt; indeed, learning how to live with alienating constraints becomes a matter of urgency. Through paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations, 27 Spanish artists of our own time portray the notion of limit. An intriguing circuit: a veritable tableau vivant that has to be escaped from...

El Ángel Exterminador brings together works by 28 contemporary artists from Spain. The group exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, photographs, videos, and installations. The curator, Fernando Castro Flórez selected a number of well-known artists, including Enrique Marty, Bernardí Roig, Santiago Sierra, Rodrigo García, Dora García, and Lara Almarcegui. This allows the exhibition to offer a varied picture of the contemporary Spanish art scene.

The exhibition's starting point is the Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel's 1962 film El Ángel Exterminador. Buñuel's claustrophobic film follows what happens to a number of upper-class gentlemen and ladies who are invited to a luxurious dinner in a villa. After dinner it turns out that, for some unexplained reason, the guests are unable to leave the room. Days go by and tensions soon mount between the guests; this leads to the death of one guest, a double suicide, hysterical quarrels, and hallucinations about demons from Hell. Buñuel makes use of symbols, associations, and visually stunning images to strip away the bourgeoisie's veneer of civilisation until they become completely dehumanised and behave like wild animals.

Fernando Castro Flórez has taken the film as a starting point because he believes that a group exhibition — like the room in the film — is also a space within which anything can happen. The exhibition space takes advantage of the field of tension between the need to escape and the desire to stay inside. In this exhibition the curator investigates the experience of limits and the different ways of overstepping limit.

The exhibition is conceived as a tableau vivant (a living picture) in which the theatrical dimension is central. For this reason, El Ángel Exterminador also includes a complementary section with performance art. Five artists (Paco Cao, Rodrigo García, Olga Mesa, La Ribot, and Esther Ferrer) each perform a dance or theatre offering in the adjoining room.

Artists in El Ángel Exterminador include: Abraham Lacalle, Amparo Sard, Belén Uriel, Bernardí Roig, Bestué Y Vives, Concha Pérez, Diego Santomé, Dionisio González, Domingo Sánchez Blanco, Dora García, Enrique Marty, Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Fernando Sinaga, Gonzalo Puch, Jacobo Castellano, Jaume Pitarch, Javier Pérez, Jesús Segura, José Ramón Amondarain, Juan Luis Moraza, Lara Almarcegui, Mateo Maté, Nacho Criado, Pep Durán, Rodrigo García, Santiago Sierra, Txomin Badiola, Xavier Arenós

Following his long exile from Spain, since the Spanish Civil War, Luis Buñuel was invited back to his country of origin in 1960 by General Francisco Franco and asked to direct a movie of his choice. Buñuel wrote and directed Viridiana, which starred Silvia Pinal and was produced by her then-husband, Gustavo Alatriste. It was the first film Buñuel made in his native country. Released in 1961, the film sparked controversy both in Spain and the Vatican, and as such, all existing negatives were ordered to be destroyed. The film, however, won the Palme d'Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, and copies of the movie that had been shipped to Paris survived and were subsequently distributed. Viridiana would be released in Spain 16 years later, in 1977.

Following the Viridiana scandal, Buñuel returned to Mexico, but kept his production team and decided to make another movie starring Pinal. The movie, originally called The Outcasts of Providence Street, was renamed The Exterminating Angel after Buñuel picked it from an unfinished play his friend José Bergamín was writing at the time. The movie was released in Mexico in 1962, and was just as critical as its predecessor had been.

Buñuel would complete a trilogy of sorts working with Pinal and Alatriste in a third film released in 1965 —Simon of the Desert.

The Film
During a formal dinner party at the home of Señor Edmundo Nobile and his wife, Lucia, the servants unaccountably leave their posts until only the major-domo is left. After dinner the guests adjourn to the music room, where one of the women, Blanca, plays a piano sonata. Later, instead of leaving, the guests remove their jackets, loosen their gowns, and settle down for the night.

By morning it is apparent that, for some inexplicable reason, they are trapped in the room. Unable to leave, the guests consume what little water and food is left from the previous night's party. Days pass, and their plight intensifies; they become quarrelsome, hostile, and hysterical - only Dr. Carlos Conde, applying logic and reason, manages to keep his cool and guide the guests through the ordeal. One of the guests, the elderly Sergio Russell, dies, and his body is placed in a large cupboard. Béatriz and Eduardo, a young couple about to be married, lock themselves in a closet and commit suicide.

Eventually, several sheep and a bear break loose from their bonds and find their way to the room; the guests take in the sheep and proceed to slaughter and roast them on fires made from floorboards and broken furniture. Dr. Conde reveals to Nobile that one of his patients, Leonora, is dying from cancer and accepts a secret supply of morphine from the host to keep her fit. The supply of drugs is however stolen by Francis and Juana, an incestuous brother and sister. Ana, a crazed guest and a practitioner of witchcraft, invokes the demons of hell while lapsing into feverish hallucinations.

Eventually, Raúl suggests that Nobile is responsible for their predicament and that he must be sacrificed. Only Dr. Conde and the noble Colonel Alvaro oppose the angry mob claiming Nobile's blood. As Nobile offers to take his own life, a young, foreign guest, Letitia (nicknamed La Valkiria) sees that they are all in the same positions as when their plight began. Obeying her instructions, the group starts reconstructing their conversation and movements from the night of the party and discover that they are then free to leave the room. Outside the manor, the guests are greeted by the local police and the servants that had left the house on the night of the party.

To give thanks for their salvation, the guests attend a funeral mass at the cathedral. When the service is over, the churchgoers along with the clergy are also trapped. It is not entirely clear though, whether those that were trapped in the house before are now trapped again. They seem to have disappeared. The situation in the church is followed by a riot on the streets and the military step in to brutally clamp down on the rioters. The last scene shows a pack of sheep entering the church in a row, accompanied by the sound of gunshots.

Santiago Sierra, Fotografía, Muro cerrando un espacio.

Concha Pérez, Fotografía, Arquitectura II, 2007, Fotografía en papel RC brillo/ FOAM con marco de madera lacado, 70 x 86cm.