Visibility for the invisible in museums

Visibility for the invisible in museums

On The Square, the film set in a Swedish museum that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was voted best European film in 2017, its director Ruben Östlund makes a hilarious critique of contemporary art. In the film – apart from the terrifying performance starring actor Terry Notary as a gorilla – one of the protagonists is a room guard who controls from her chair that visitors do not photograph or damage the works. A zeal that does not prevent one of them, made up of piles of sand, from being destroyed by a night cleaner.

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The Silent Watcher is the example of one of the most important and invisible works of any museum. They are hardly perceived, but they end up knowing more about the works that are exhibited by dint of spending hours with them. If the observation time of a work of art is 28.63 seconds on average, they spend eight-hour days. To a few of these workers, Sophie Köhler dedicates, 8 hours with Tàpies, the exhibition that can be seen in Can Framis of the Vila Casas Foundation until September 19.

Abel, a room worker at the MNAC, between two works by Fortuny.J. Á. M.

Köhler (Essen, Germany, 1977) has dedicated more than two years to this project that he has carried out with workers from the Tàpies Foundation, the MNAC, the Macba and the Mapfre Foundation, after winning the 2020 photography award from the Vila Casas Foundation with one of the triptychs in which Abel, from the MNAC, is seen in the middle of two works by Fortuny. Like Abel, the ten workers portrayed are anonymous, since there are no signs that say who they are and where they are. But we can hear them in the interviews that are heard in the background.

They are Pablo Jesús Ladero and Bárbara Méndez, from Macba; Pablo Sánchez-Beato, Eugenia Montaner and Lluís de la Torre, from the Mapfre Foundation; Maria Carmen Sánchez, Abel Marco and Mònica Caravaca, from the MNAC and Pau Mondelo and Manolo Ferrús, from the Tàpies Foundation. In other photographs their chairs appear, empty, but key to each of them. “It all started from the game that MNAC staff play every time they visit a museum on vacation and send photos of the chairs they see to their colleagues,” says Köhler. The absence of the Picasso Museum is surprising, the museum with the most visitors in Barcelona, ​​which “did not want to host the project in its rooms,” explains Köhler, downplaying the only refusal he received during his work.

The photographer Sophie Köhler poses this Monday at the Can Framis museum along with three of her photographs about the room guards.Toni Albir / EFE

The room guard is the museum’s direct contact with the visitor. They can be asked where the toilets or the exit are, but also the meaning of the works or who their author is. There was a time when centers such as the Joan Miró Foundation searched among students of Art History or Restoration for their guards to offer a bonus to the thousands of people who, before the pandemic, visited them every year. Over the years these students ended up being heads of collections and responsible for the activities and public of the center. Some of them are even directors of foundations such as Vila Casas, which now dedicates this exhibition to them. The increase in outsourcing of these services has now made the directors of these centers not know the name, or who these people are who change from one day to the next. To top it all, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on this group. Even Köhler explains not being sure that some of those portrayed in her photos continue in their jobs.

'Artistic hiking in Collserola' installation by Emili Codina Català.
‘Artistic hiking in Collserola’ installation by Emili Codina Català.

From the faculty workshops to the privacy of your home

In parallel, the museum opens a second exhibition: Aesthetics of proximity, within the framework of the Patrim’20 project, with a selection of artistic works created by students in the last year of their studies at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Barcelona (UB). Open until July 25, it brings together works by Emili Codina, Inés Pedraza, Paula Pozo, Xènia Real, Laia Rodríguez and Rita Sala, and deals with topics such as climate change, gender and the relationship between human beings and nature. The Patrim has been carried out for more than 30 years, but this edition has the peculiarity that the works that are exhibited have not been developed in the University workshops, but in “privacy and solitude” due to the pandemic.

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Visibility for the invisible in museums