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Portfolio of High and Low Culture in Madrid, Spain

Media Geographies - 3CP060 Assignment 2 - Portfolio

Name: Jessica Louise McCartney Student Number: 110027335

Plaza Del Mayor

Introduction This portfolio shall discuss high and low culture using the case study of Spain’s capital city, Madrid. In particular this study aims to explore how Madrid utilises its culture through identifying that both exist within the city’s space. Exploration will be made into the segmentation of these spheres of high and low culture by using the contemporary examples of street art and artwork in museums. The theories of Michel Foucault will be used in order to define different spaces and how they operate with relation to each other. It is important to note that this study is not offering a critique of high and low culture by stating that they signify good and bad, they are merely different portrayals of which and operate as differences in taste. I shall begin this study by focussing on high culture by discussing the case study of Madrid’s museums.

Artwork in the Museo Sofia

High Culture: Museums and Art Galleries For this section exploring high culture in Madrid I will use the example of museums and art galleries to show how Madrid utilises this culture in order to present Spanish history in the way in which they want to portray it. This is a representation of their cultural identity and effort is made to utilise it. Reference will be made to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 and the work of Guernica by Pablo Piccasso. Other notable artists will be discussed in this section including Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. In terms of theoretical concepts I shall discuss the theories of Michel Foucault. The “Golden Triangle of Art” is a term coined by the tourist industry to refer to the three main art museums located in the centre of Madrid. These are Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. This can be described as being a Bilbao effect in that it is an area which is specifically aimed at tourists and its location reflects this as they are placed close to each other and easily accessed. For this portfolio I will use the study of the two museums I visited whilst in Madrid, the Museo del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This is so that I can offer my own experiences to ensure that I capture an accurate portrayal of high culture. Museo del Prado is Spain’s main national art museum. The artworks in this museum are mainly historical and religious presenting the best of 19th Century Spain, with the most notable artist being Francisco de Goya. While the Museo Reina Sofia is famous for displaying the 20th Century surrealistic artworks of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, including Picasso’s world famous painting of the Guernica. High culture is defined as being products which are deemed to be held in the highest esteem, this is often

Las Meninas (Maids of Honor) - Velazquez (1956-57), Museo del Prdao

associated with art. Art galleries and museums can be perceived as being a form of high culture in that in the past it was generally just the middle-classes who were considered to have an appreciation of art. Many of the paintings in the del Prado are that of portraits of wealthy inhabitants, particularly those painted by Diego Velázquez. The realist artist painted portraits of the Spanish royal family, in particular King Philip IV, and other European figures of note. This is emblematic of high culture in that it was only the wealthy people from middleclass backgrounds and higher who could afford to have their portraits taken. The paintings indicate a sense of power, status, patronage and wealth. While these artworks are currently accessible to all to view, there is the notion that you must be part of the cultural elite and highly educated in order to interpret and gain enjoyment from such experiences. Its social role indicates that of status and high education. Museums can be considered to operate as private spaces. Marcel Henaff and Tracy Strong state that “private space is to be understood as distinguished from public as much by virtue of ownership as by virtue of the standards that have to be met in order to enter” (Henaff and Strong, 2001, p. 2-3). This can relate to an art museum in that to gain access you must ensure that you have a valid ticket which is obtained through purchase. In many cases you must also allow any personal possessions you have on you to be scanned to ensure that you are not a threat to the museum and have anything which may be damaging. Once inside, you then must operate under the museum’s rules. Foucault’s (1984) notion of a sense of heterotopia can be claimed to operate in these spaces with regards to how we must operate within the space. We are limited to where we can go and where we cannot. This exists as part of our subconscious and we are aware of what it is that is forbidden. We are aware that in that these spaces we must be quiet and not touch any of the artwork, while there are no signs which state this. Foucault (1984) states that museums are “heterotopias of indefinitely accumulating time”, they operate as an archive which hold representations of the time period in which they are portraying. This contradicts the perceived low culture of street art in that anyone can produce this, they do not need to be a recognised artist and this can be displayed anywhere within the city. There is also no such conditions which have to met by the

Guernica - Pablo Picasso

The Third of May 1808 - Goya (1814) Museo del Prado

people viewing the work. These museum spaces are selective in the artwork in which they choose to display as it is operates as a representation of the area. In the case of Madrid, art museums mainly display works in which celebrate Spanish history, showing that Spain is proud of its historical past. The main example of this is Goya’s artwork in the Museo del Prado, which exists as a permanent collection with other 100 works being displayed across three floors of the museum. The fact that this is a permanent collection offers the notion that his artwork is one in which Spain is proud of and the representations are ones in which they want to be portrayed. Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes is considered to be the most important Spanish artist of his time. His artwork reflects the historical changes Spain was experiencing at the beginning of the 19th century. Goya’s artwork portrays a change in Spanish culture, at the time of Charles IV’s reign his artwork was light hearted yet following the French invasion Goya began to produce scenes of violence. Once Charles IV’s son Ferdinand VII became the predecessor and began a reign of terror, Goya’s artwork became dark and pessimistic as he became isolated from patriarchy. Examples of which being the notorious Saturn Devouring His Son. Much of Goya’s work depicts the violence associated with such religion. While Spain is shown to be proud of its history, there are very few depictions of the Spanish Civil War. This could be due to the fact that debates are still ensuing as to whether Spain should remember or forget such a time. During the time of the Civil War, the inhabitants of Spain were politically divided between right-wing Nationalist and left-wing Republican parties, while mostly being largely fascistic. Franco ruled between 193975 and represented a fascist ruling. The reasons why Spain might wish to forget such a time is that the Civil War, while only lasting three years from 1936-39, split up families as people fled the country and children were evacuated at an estimated 450,000 while almost an equal number at 500,000 people were killed. The Pact of

Guernica - Pablo Picasso (1937), Museo Reina Sofia

Forgetting has been instated as a way of coping and to ensure that Spain looks towards a more positive and utopian future. One example of the few depictions of the Spanish Civil War is Picasso’s Guernica which is displayed in Museo Nacional De Arte Reina Sofia. This piece depicts the bombing in Guernica at the time of the Spanish Civil War, showing the tragedies of which were experienced at this time in portraying soldiers, grief and terror. This is a cultural icon which is well-known across the world. Art finds ways to smuggle in messages through what is referred to as codified discourse. This is subliminal in interpretation and exists as a resistance to rules. Guernica reflects this and art historians have attempted to interpret its symbolism by understanding the bull and horse as signifiers of Spanish culture. This famous artwork brought the war to the world’s attention. Moving this painting to the Reina Sofia was controversial as Picasso wanted the work to be displayed in the Prado. The displays in the Museo Nacional Del Prado mostly depict religious signs and signifiers, this is due to Spain being a predominantly Catholic country. Many of the paintings represent the birth of Jesus Christ and depictions of the Virgin Mary. Spain also seems to be proud of its religious heritage.

Street Art in Madrid

Low Culture: Graffiti and Street Art

This section explores the notion that street art is an element of low culture. Foucault’s notion of public spaced is used to describe the background of such art and how it exists within contemporary societies. Reference is also made to Banksy as a contrast to perceived notions of street art. Low culture operates as a form of a critique against popular culture. Gans states that low culture refers to a lack of “explicit concern with abstract ideas or even with fictional forms of contemporary social problems and issues” and states that it is an aspect of working class societies (Gans, 1999, p. 8-10). This contrasts to the notion of high culture in that operates within the societies of the middle-class and higher. As an aspect of working class societies it is also arguable one of the lower classes, existing as a subculture for the urban youth. In feeling disenfranchised from opportunities they feel that they are able to make their mark on the world and express their opinions through graffiti in order to gain empowerment. This is seen to be a form of low culture as it is created outside of the cultural conventions of art and the notions of an important educational system. Street artists do not need to be adept at producing art, it is accessible to anyone mainly the working classes as Gans notes. While to be an artist in contemporary times there is the notion that they must have attended university and gained a high degree. They represent a separation from institution. Understanding that street art is an integral aspect of Madrid is noted upon directly arriving in the city. The roads leading to the centre are surrounding by walls covered in graffiti. The graffiti counterculture movement mainly came to exist after the end of Franco’s dictatorship of Spain in 1975. This movement was named la Movida Madrileña, standing for the Madrilenian scene. This came as a form of expression for the people of Madrid to represent newfound freedom and the challenging of taboos. The spread of hip-hop culture in the 1980s continued this movement. At this time artist Juan Carlos Argüello

Graffiti in Madrid

began producing his logo of Muelle, Spanish for spring, and represented new beginnings for Spain. Many graffiti artists have since created their own works based on this. This became a counterculture for the youths in Madrid. It is important to note that Spain was not the first country to create the form of graffiti, it originated in America in the 1960’s. While graffiti is not legal in Spain, Madrid embraces its low culture of graffiti and street art. Although as is the case for many countries, graffiti is illegal, Madrid is a city which allows graffiti artists to successfully make a living. It has been accepted by the public and shop owners pay these artists to spray paint their shop fronts to prevent unwanted arson from anyone else. These are mainly produced on the shutters of their stores and become noticed mostly at night. This can be a form of commercialisation and advertising. Street art is adapted by its surroundings, whether this is by the subject of the graffiti or how it is displayed as there may be obstacles such as doors and windows. They are a creative form of expression in they are not limited by a set frame as standard artworks are. Street art and graffiti is a form of covert prestige in that celebration is made towards the taboo and socially uncouth. Street art relates directly to Foucault’s (1984) perception of public space. The spaces in which hold street art and completely public. In contrast to the private spaces in which museums exist in, there are no rules which protect street art as it is considered to be an illegal form of expression referred as graffiti. Street art is also not protected as it is in museums such as Del Prado. There is nothing to prevent it from being removed by the authorities as it is viewed as an act of vandalism or painted over by other artists. If it is removed then it brings reinforces the notion that governments are controlling the images in which we see. This form of art is different to the artwork displayed in private spaces which is produced by artists as their work remains anonymous. While the artworks in galleries and museums have signs to tell visitors who produced the work, graffiti has no such equivalent. Though many of the signs and symbols these artists use operate as their

Graffiti in Madrid


‘tag’ in recognising their work. While graffiti can be accepted as a valid art form, it can also be dismissed of this in that there is a lack of art history. The graffiti is seen almost everywhere in the city, with exception being made to the Paseo del Prado where this space is limited to embracing the high culture of the city through the stretch of museums and galleries which are located here. There is a sense of overt prestige in this area whereby pride is made in monarchy and maintaining a disciplined world. This is a subliminally understood code that this area should not be altered by the use of street art. High and low culture is thus separated not only in the work in which they produce, but also in terms of the space in which they operate. Generally street art is seen to have lesser merit than any other artwork. Exception is made to the street artist Banksy who is celebrated for his work. In this example the perceived low culture of graffiti is recontextualised as an element of popular culture. By displaying this work in a museum it is given a higher regard and is praised in society. This changes our perceptions of it. This is ironic as the original intent is to serve as a parody to high culture by remarking the art institution. Dickens suggests that Banksy offers “a critique of the undemocratic, elite nature of the art establishment,” which he describes as, “a rest home for the over-privileged, the pretentious, and the weak” (Dickens, 2008, p. 476). In critiquing the high culture of art and how it is elitist he is attempting to make it more accessible by producing his street art. This blurs the segregation of high and low culture. In contrast to standard street artists, Banksy profits from his work by selling his prints. While he remains anonymous in that he operates under a disguise, his work is universally recognised as being his own.

Exit Through the Gift Shop - Banksy Graffiti in Madrid


While there is the division of high and low culture this portfolio has recognised that there are examples which go against this perceived notion. Examples of which being the work by the world-famous street artist, Banksy. While in the past it was easier to understand these cultures as they related to the classes, this boundary has been somewhat blurred in recent times. This study has also observed how art operates within Madrid and what each of these cultures represent. While the work chosen to be in the museums offer a representation of Spain in which they wish to offer to visitors, street art portray the feelings of the public themselves. The perceived high culture artwork offers the notion that Spain is strong and proud of its past, while low culture shows that they are positive for the future.

Bibliography Adorno, T. (1991) Culture Industry Reconsidered. In: The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London, Routledge. Dickens, L. (2008) Placing Post-Graffiti: The Journey of the Peckham Rock. Cultural Geographies. 15, pp. 471-496. Foucault, M. (1984) Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. Architecture/Mouvement/ContinuitĂŠ, 5, pp. 46-49. Gans, H. J. (1999) Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. 2nd ed. Basic Books, New York. Henaff, M. and Strong, T. B. eds. (2001) Public Space and Democracy. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Media Geographies Portfolio  

McCartney 110027335