It was over three months ago that the global health crisis caused by COVID-19 started. It was then we were told that the schools had to close and that children could not attend classes, but we were not yet fully aware of the situation we would shortly be experiencing. The days went by and the news updates came fast and furious. It all seemed like a sci-fi movie, but it was not. Empty streets, cities practically closed down, grief for the deceased and the thousands of patients. But there were also heartfelt expressions of support for all those who were protecting society through these harsh times: applauses at eight in the evening from the balconies, solidarity with those most in need, neighbors offering to do the shopping for those unable to do so, video calls to see our loved ones… and so we drew up our new daily routine during the quarantine.

From Fundación MAPFRE’s Culture Area we also wanted to do our bit to alleviate matters in this complicated situation. Given our overriding passion, we have always believed that culture is an open window onto the world and that it can help us, if not to be better people, at least to make us feel a little bit happier. We swiftly set about the task in hand and, thanks to the exchange of ideas, the enthusiasm of all those of us who make up the team, and the love we feel for art, we created a small haven on the website and our social media to enable users, quarantined in their homes, to enjoy cultural contents they would normally visit in person. We had to adapt, just like everyone else. Staying at home is not always simple and it severely disrupted our routines, the way we manage our free time. The activities we proposed from this new digital outlet with the hashtag #stayathome aimed to provide a recreational area where people could devote five minutes to themselves. A private individual space for each of us, something rather hard to find in these difficult times.

This new tab offered an in-depth analysis of the works in our collections with the section ‘One day, one work of art’. At the start of lockdown, reading was one of the enjoyable options we had to spend our leisure time; literature and art are intimately linked and, as a result, we felt it would be interesting to couple the works from our collections with a short text or poem that could prove thoughtprovoking and act as a bridge between the two: Picasso and the poetess Ingeborg Bachmann, Egon Schiele and Pedro Salinas, or Baudelaire’s windows together with those of Juan Gris, those windows that have proved so important during this period. These reflections may help us discover distinct aspects, both of their authors and the piece in question, but also of ourselves, given that, as many artists remind us, art and life go hand in hand.

Every week in the section entitled ‘creative challenges for adults’, we put forward a suggestion for an activity based on our temporary exhibitions, both current and past. In this way, adults could give free rein to their imagination and, making use of a collection of tools provided, could, for example, take a picture of everyday objects to be found around their home, following in the footsteps of the photographer Stephen Shore, who was featured in one of our past photography exhibitions. Another possibility was to do a drawing, just as Rodin and Giacometti did, before using their sketches to guide them when it came to completing their sculptures. This could be clearly seen at the exhibit dedicated to these two artists which we opened last January.

Nor did we forget the children. We gave them the chance to experiment and model clay figures so as to feel like Alberto Giacometti, as well as take part in our competition #dibujamiro. Each week we suggested a work from the Espacio Miró so that the little ones in the house could be inspired to do a drawing, learning from the vision of this brilliant 20th-century artist. Come the final date, a compilation was made of the creations uploaded by parents on Instagram and a specialist jury awarded a prize to the drawing that best expressed the Majorcan painter’s driving interests.

In ‘Conferences à la carte’ you can still enjoy our previous talks on photography, literature and art, imparted by some of the most renowned experts from the world of culture, among them Estrella de Diego, Carlos Martínez Shaw, Alejandro Castellote, Manuel Vicent, Rafael Argullol, Valeriano Bozal or Francisco Calvo Serraller, to name but a few. These videos, freely available on Fundación MAPFRE’s YouTube channel, can truly become a gift, offering a new way of comprehending the artistic world.

All of these contents continue to this day filling both our website and a good part of our social networks, as we wish to maintain a dialog with the spectator, based on their interests and needs. We therefore present different ways of observing, so as to encourage an active, autonomous attitude on the part of visitors and enable them to identify and explore their own interests and predilections. We are aware that art is contemplative and, for this reason, we urge you to explore our contents from home; but it is also interactive and we therefore propose a range of activities we trust will become a source of entertainment and enjoyment for all those who, like us, #stayathome.

We must realize that society is changing and Fundación MAPFRE is ready and willing to change with it. Digital content, websites and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram have become indispensable tools for all of us. That is why we have employed all these media outlets, expanding and disseminating our activities in order to be able to continue offering the best cultural content possible.

Digital technology is here to stay and we will not forget its importance when the time comes to finally open our exhibition halls. We therefore hope that both will happily coexist and be enriched day by day, enabling culture to reach as many people as possible, which is one of the prime goals of your Foundation.

Red hair, bright eyes. Poetry to decipher a feeling

The Austrian painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and, shortly afterward, he founded the New Art Group, along with other dissatisfied students. He then started setting up solo exhibitions.

When he was still in Vienna, he met Gustav Klimt, who became his friend and mentor, and introduced him to one of his most famous models, Valerie Neuzel, known as Wally, whose red hair and bright shining eyes are easily identifiable. Likewise, her long eyelashes and seductive red lips, which remind us of Nabokov’s Lolita.

Schiele’s life was complicated and tortuous. His drawings were deemed pornographic on several occasions, but that has not prevented him from being considered, despite his untimely death, one of the leading exponents of Austrian Expressionism. “Forgive me for seeking you this way so clumsily, inside of you Forgive the hurting, at times.

It’s that I want to take out of you the best you.

The one you did not see and I see, A swimmer through your delicious sea depths.”

Pedro Salinas, My Voice Because of You, 1933.

Egon Schielle Muchacha dormida, 1909
Egon Schielle
The Sleeping Girl, 1909
Watercolor, pastel and graphite on paper
© Fundación MAPFRE Collections

Always Edith. Emmet Gowin, a world of intimate perceptions

We curators or exhibition organizers are truly fortunate. Of course, there are good and bad times, as in any job, but we are lucky enough to work shoulder to shoulder – sometimes for years on end to prepare a new project – with the artists we most admire. Those who had always seemed unreachable and, suddenly, or after a period of time, have now become friends for life. Gaining more profound knowledge of the work of each artist has that to offer. You end up enjoying a highly enriching personal relationship with them in every respect.That was how it was with Emmet Gowin (Danville, Virginia, 1941) when we organized his exhibition at Fundación MAPFRE in 2013.

Gowin is highly accessible and a great conversationalist who has earned the respect of all who know him, whether as an artist or as a teacher. One word perfectly sums up his nature: bonhomie, i.e. affability, simplicity, kindness and decency in both his character and behavior. With the ease and clarity of a philosopher, his declarations and interviews demystify the most subtle and complex aspects of art and life. And they also reveal his artistic and literary tastes, as well as why and how, with the help of photography, he constructed his world. Over all these years he has developed a poetic voice unlike any other, without wishing to draw attention to himself. With his rather solitary enthusiasm, he paid no heed to the pressures of current artistic movements and remained firmly bound to reality, to life. That is why, when Gowin’s work draws us in, it is like good poetry: it is never tiring, we always like to revisit it, given its ability to explain and convey sensations, the physical experience of emotions.

It could be said that Gowin’s photographs are like poems that contain traces of his innermost thoughts. “This is not an object seeking to make a thought ‘visible’, by visibly translating it; rather, this is about what we are unable to think with our own thoughts, nor see with our own eyes,” Régis Durand explained.

One of my favorite Gowin pictures is this portrait of Edith, his wife: taken from behind, her hair gathered in a bun and head slightly cocked, revealing her naked neck. Edith, his subject for numerous portraits and the leitmotiv not only of his work, but also of his life. Let’s pause for a moment and consider this transparent photograph, with its somewhat prophetic quality. It reveals so much about Gowin’s world, a universe crafted on the basis of intimate perceptions that materialize in each image. This photographic instant is a biographical moment and, like all his work, is related to his whole life; and just like his life, it rises from the depths of his soul and passes into Edith’s so as to see through her eyes, the two fusing into one single soul. It is surprising how he manages to put us in her shoes, in the place of Edith; with her gaze lost in that blurred landscape, she turns in on herself, toward that fleeting, unique moment of communion, which passes as briefly as a breeze, making this photograph’s theme fade away into invisibility. “For me, photos are a way to intensely retain a moment of communication between one human being and another,” Gowin wrote in 1967.

Carlos Gollonet
chief curator of Photography, Fundación Mapfre

Emmet Gowin Edith. Chincoteague, Virginia, 1967 © Emmet Gowin, cortesía Pace/MacGill Gallery, Nueva York © Colecciones Fundación MAPFRE
Emmet Gowin
Edith. Chincoteague, Virginia, 1967
© Emmet Gowin, courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
© Fundación MAPFRE Collections