Xavier Ribas, Sin Título (Bellvitge), 1994-1997.

The Condition of the Modern Universal Photographic Archive

Xavier Miserachs, Paris, Maig de 1968.

Jordi Secall, De la serie Barcelona sobre Barcelona, El Carrer del Passatge Marquès de St. Isabel deixa espai per al Parc Central, 2003.

Joan Vidal i Ventosa, Sin título, 1909, Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona – Arxiu Fotogràfic.

Berenice Abbott, Pine and Henry Streets, Manhattan, 1936, Cortesia IVAM. Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat.

Ana Muller, Sant Quirze de Vallès, 2007, © Ana Muller, VEGAP, Barcelona 2008.

Museu d'Art Contemporani Barcelona
Plaça dels Angels
+ 34 93 412 08 10
Universal Archive.
The Condition of the Document
and the Modern Photographic Utopia

October 23, 2008-January 6, 2009

The building of a universal visual archive has long been the historic mission of photography. Does the abandonment of realism in current debates about digital photography or post-photography mean the liquidation of this utopia? Is the photographic document just another anachronism of modernity? The development of this debate and its consequences is the aim of the exhibition Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia, which brings together hundreds of photographs and documents, from the "photointerpretations" of Lewis Hune in the early 20th century, to a series of today's works commissioned by the MACBA to various contemporary photographers. The display sets out from the texts written by August Sander in 1931 referring to photography as a universal language, and as a dialectical reference takes The Family of Man, the legendary exhibition that Edward Steichen presented in 1955 Lygia Clark at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in New York. Universal Archive is structured into two large parts: in the first place, the exhibition traces a historical path through some of the leading general debates on the photographic document in modern times (from 1850 to 1980); secondly, the city of Barcelona and its historical visual evolution is taken as a specific case study.

Debates over the document. These are structured into three areas: the dialect between reformism and revolution in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, the end of considering the role of the spectator, and certain major documentary projects of modernity. Works by Lewis Hine, the Photo League, Rodchenko, Ben Shahn, Helen Levitt, John Gurmann, Heinrich Zille, Walter Evans, Brassaï, Hill Brandt, Weegee, Paul Strand and Doisneau; documents concerning El Lissitzky's exhibition spaces and a number of German, French, Italian and Spanish exhibitions of the thirties; from the 1851 “Mission Heliographique” to the DATAR Mission of 1980, the Man of the Twentieth Century project by August Sander, classic photographic explorations such as those of 40th Parallel in the American West, and so on.

The photographic construction of Barcelona as a case study. This second part examines the tension between the construction of official images and counter-images based on a photographic historiography and its correspondence with the urban model. The documents brought together date from the 1888 World Fare up to the Forum of Cultures held in 2004. The climax consists in presentation of the photographic mission Barcelona 2007, a photographic survey commissioned by the MACBA to a group of today's photographers which sets out to produce an image of the new city emerging as a result of recent economic, social and political transformations. The display will include works by Sandra Balsells, Xavier Basiana, Lothar Baumgarten, Patrick Faigenbaum, Hans-Peter Feldmann, David Goldblatt, William Klein, Manolo Laguillo, Ana Muller, Marc Pataut, Xavier Ribas, Andrea Robbins & Max Becher, Gilles Saussier, Jean-Louis Schoellkopf, Allan Sekula, Ahlam Shibli.

2007. Metropolitan Images of the New Barcelona The exhibition ends with the presentation of the photo-assignments undertaken during 2007, which constitute a diagnosis of today’s city and of its areas of innovation for the 21st century. This project is a form of public interpellation through the appropriation of the model of the mission or photographic survey historically sponsored by government organs. The survey is born of the will to construct the image of the emerging city in a period of tremendous change. Unlike the 1950s and 60s, at the high point of a process of industrialization and urban expansion, today’s Barcelona lacks a strong image that shows the processes that are under way and which provides tools for the new urban majorities to understand the extent of the changes, opportunities and dilemmas that occur, and what is both new and singular about this process. In that sense, we still lack images and are therefore incapable of understanding the process of spilling over the metropolitan framework of the 20th century. Whence the need to find a new model and a new urban project.

The work method has consisted of detecting the phenomena that have to do with a transformation in the historical trajectory of the city, at the same time as reflecting its continuities. Consciously avoiding a topographical approach, the investigation has focused on these major axes. The works of Ahlam Shibli, Marc Pataut, David Goldblatt and Allan Sekula document different aspects of the change in relation between economy, forms of work and social networks; for their part, Patrick Faigenbaum, Sandra Balsells and Jean-Louis Schoellkopf demonstrate the social dimension of the city’s economic agents. The second axis goes into the changes in notions of the centre and the periphery using the work of William Klein, Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Gilles Saussier, Xavier Ribas and Xavier Basiana and Ana Muller. Finally, Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, Hans Peter Feldmann, Lothar Baumgarten and Manolo Laguillo concern themselves, in their different assignments, with representations of some of the city’s emblematic places.

Hans Peter Fe;dmann, El Rava;, 2007, by Arxiu, MACBA.

Robert Adams, Tract house and vegetable garden, Longmont, Colorado, 1973, Cortesia George Eastman House.