TEXT: IGNACIO GONZÁLEZ CASASNOVAS IMAGES: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE

The calendar of exhibitions put on by Fundación MAPFRE constitutes a cultural offering which, for quite some time now, has been the subject of continued interest and recognition by large swathes of the population avid for culture in both Spain and many other countries. Were we to try to summarize this assertion with a figure, we would only need to cite the 15 million-plus people who, over the past three decades, have visited close to 570 art and photography exhibitions organized over that period.

It all began in 1988. The Foundation managed to acquire a significant collection of drawings and oil paintings by the Madrid-born illustrator Rafael de Penagos (1889-1954), who had produced MAPFRE’s first advertising poster back in 1933. To mark the occasion, an annual award was launched with a view to distinguishing an illustration by a Spanish artist. This first edition was accompanied by an exhibition, Seven Sculptors with the Penagos Award, in which well-known artists of that time were invited to use sculpture to open a discourse on Penagos’s work.

This two-pronged initiative signaled the start of Fundación MAPFRE’s involvement in the field of artistic and cultural creation. The project started up in the Azca Hall, on one floor of a shopping mall belonging to MAPFRE, right in the heart of Madrid’s financial district.

Our two hallmark characteristics were thus already clearly laid down: the preparation of exhibition projects and the progressive creation of our own artistic collection.

1989-1993, in search of our own, unique, meritorious project

The intervening years – up to 1993 – were to be a period of learning and training. The soaring rate with which exhibitions were put on was astonishing: in 1989 there were just five exhibits, while 1992 came to a close with a total of 19 successful events. These figures reveal both the effort made to maintain a regular calendar of quality shows and the eclectic nature of their themes (exhibitions on Gargallo, Eugenio Granell, Julián Grau, Surrealism, etc.). Moreover, there was already clearly an unequivocal desire to extend these offerings to a wider public. Thus, between 1990 and 1992, the exhibitions dedicated to the oeuvre of José Gutiérrez Solana and to the Penagos Award could be visited in a total of 14 cities around Spain.

1993-2008, Modernity comes to the fore

October 1993 saw the opening in the Azca Hall of the exhibition Julio Romero de Torres (1874-1930), which proposed a new interpretation of the Cordobaborn painter, his significance in the Spanish pictorial tradition, and the merit of his painting. This event truly marked a turning point. It was unquestionably a great public success (with nearly 120,000 visitors) and enabled a venue away from Madrid’s city center such as the Azca Hall to earn its place in the city’s cultural circuit.

That was the start of a long-term exhibition project based around a central idea: to disseminate and reinstate the important manner in which artistic modernity became known to, taken on board and reinterpreted by Spanish artists.

Casa Garriga Nogués Hall 1

In order to fulfill this purpose, the Foundation was to maintain a comprehensive, sustained effort (310 exhibitions, 176 of which took place outside Madrid and 22 outside Spain), as a result of which it consolidated its role as a prestigious cultural agent within Spanish society (with over three and a half million visitors); it forged links with major museum and artistic institutions in Spain and other countries, and consolidated its sustained acquisition program (131 exhibitions were dedicated to its own collections).

Those years focused on several lines of action: first of all, the major anthological exhibitions of the protagonists of our pictorial modernity, with the milestone event being the one dedicated to Joaquín Sorolla (1995) – another important episode in the institution’s existence, given its profound impact (nearly 160,000 visitors) – as well as those held between 1997 and 2005 dedicated to Rusiñol, Sunyer, Nonell, Casas, Regoyos, Echevarría and Joaquim Mir; moreover, there were the thematic exhibitions, such as those dedicated to landscaping (Painters of the Soul, 2000), The Generation of 1914 (2002) and Gaslight. The Night in Spanish Painting (2005) or Amazons of New Art (2008); the gradual incorporation into the program of international offerings (among others: Poland, Turn of the Century, 2003; Serge Charchoune, 2004; Steinlen. Paris 1900, 2006. Camille Claudel, 2007; Rodin. The Naked Body (2008) and, finally, the relationship that was forged at that time with institutions such as the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, the Musée Rodin, etc.

2008-2015, cultural actors and promoters on the international stage

15 years after the opening of Julio Romero de Torres a new, decisive stage was to begin. October 24, 2008 saw the opening of the exhibitions Spain 1900. Between Two Centuries, Degas, The Process of Creation and The Brown Sisters and, with them, the Foundation’s new exhibition hall, located in one of MAPFRE’s main buildings, the Palace of the Duchess of Medina de las Torres, at 23 Paseo de Recoletos, right in the center of Madrid. That was much more than the opening of a new, dedicated space; the Foundation was moving on to become a cultural actor and promoter on the international stage.

In effect: the exhibition Impressionism. A New Renaissance, which opened in January 2010, categorically manifested this new international vocation. Organized with the collaboration of the Musée d’Orsay, it offered, for the very first time in Spain, an exceptional anthology of the grand masters of Impressionism. Given its quality and the huge support it received (327,000 visitors), Impressionism… clearly reflected the essence of the Foundation’s new statutes. The new venue thus firmly established itself within Madrid’s cultural axis (Paseo del Prado and Recoletos), the so-called Golden Mile which is home to one of the world’s greatest museum offerings (with the Prado, Queen Sofía and Thyssen- Bornemisza Museums).

Since then, and up to the present day, the visual arts exhibitions have maintained this level of major international productions, focusing generally on the Modernity period and always with the assistance of internationally renowned art museums and institutions (the aforementioned Musée d’Orsay; Jeu de Paume; Pompidou Center; Galleria degli Uffizi; MUNAL, Mexico. This is the case of Portraits of the Pompidou Center, Giacometti. Playing Fields, Picasso in the Studio, Pierre Bonnard, The Fauves o Rediscovering the Mediterranean, among others, up to a total of just over 60 visual art exhibitions to date, 15 of them overseas, bringing in nearly two million visitors.

Great visitor numbers at the Fundación MAPFRE exhibitions

Shortly before this, the Foundation’s cultural offering had taken another leap forward: a systematic dedication to photography, as one of the great artistic languages of our time. Over the years, photographic exhibitions and collections have fleshed out this new project in which three lines of interest converge: the undisputed masters who, since the start of the last century, have written the history of artistic photography (Eugene Atget, Paul Strand, Lisette Model, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus…); artists actively working, but already considered “classics” of our time (Graciela Iturbide, Nicholas Nixon…); and those who, with more recent careers, have already achieved international recognition for the maturity and uniqueness of their pictures (Fazal Sheikh, Dayanita Singh, Anna Malagrida, among others).

In little more than a decade, the Foundation has achieved widespread international acclaim in this field: more than 120 exhibitions, about half of which have taken place in other countries in Europe, United States and Latin America – in artistic and photographic institutions of international renown: MoMA; Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam; The Morgan Library & Museum, Nueva York; FOAM Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, etc. — which, altogether, have received 2.8 million visitors.

The third relevant episode of recent years was the opening, in the fall of 2015, of an exhibition hall in Barcelona. After a much celebrated launch (the exhibition The Triumph of Color, again dealing with the Impressionist movement, which attracted more than 150,000 visitors), Casa Garriga Nogués (a notable example of Catalan Modernist buildings) slotted effortlessly into the cultural life of Barcelona.