Text published on the occasion of the exhibition mentioned in the title
Madrid, 2020: José de la Mano Gallery.
THE GARCÍA RAMOS DOCUMENTARY HOLDINGS
[AN EXPERIMENT WITH TIME]
Alfonso de la Torre
Reasoning is something retrospective: judging a present situation in the light of a past experience. Intuition is closer to the scrutiny of a field guide. The first procedure, used at the expense of the latter, is the concomitant to a life of adventures.
John W. Dunne (1927)
Like an experiment with time – to refer to the title of the book by the visionary John W. Dunne, who reminded us that spatio-temporal dimensions can overlap, reaching our life from the past while they can also sound out certain notes from the future – once the dimensions are joined together we are constituted in their totality, given that time flows in series, with one time incorporated into the other. In the end, according to Dunne, these dimensions can become an explanatory machinery capable of contemplating events in succession: “The question which now has to be answered is whether an inspection of that machinery will enable us to account for anything else. And the reply is in the affirmative.”
The archive is memory; what we were and what we are. It even allows us to explore what we will be, like a time machine. It is a fundamental tool for those of us who investigate and write about art but it also takes the form of an extraordinary portrait; of a period and its events and of artists and their presence in exhibitions. In the case of this archive we should mention some particularly important references such as those relating to our presence at the Venice Biennial (1958, 1964 and 1978), as well as other exhibitions that would have been lost for ever were it not for this holding, such as the one devoted to graphic art (Segovia, 1974) and to outdoor sculpture (Madrid, 1974). Archives associated with celebrated artists are like multiple monads, some now revealed like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle previously considered lost but which now allow for an attempt at reconstruction (Alberto, Alfaro, Barbadillo, Berrocal, Canogar, Echevarría, Gargallo, Guinovart, Manrique, Mignoni, Millares, Mompó, Oteiza, Puig, Saura, Sempere, Serrano, Sobrino and Tàpies), alongside other artists who remain to be analysed with the seriousness they deserve (Baixeras, Mier, Montoya, Aurèlia Muñoz, Permeke and Raba).
The exhibition now being presented at José de la Mano, a gallery characterised by the seriousness of its proposals and the depth of its research, arises from the fortunate encounter of two archival holdings: the first relating to Luis González-Robles (1916-2003), the ineffable “curator” of the Regime, whose undertakings led to part of the controversial visibilisation of Spanish art of the 1950s and 1960s, at times seemingly despite his own intentions. And secondly, the holding accumulated over the course of his life and professional activities by Pedro García Ramos (born 1942) through so many of his research, museographic and communication projects, as well as in relation to his career as a painter and cultural manager. This is a true fount of documents and a conservation strategy undertaken with care by García Ramos (1942). He has maintained and expanded that exploratory archive for years as a result of his close association with it, thus avoiding its dispersion, as often happens with archives, and preserving it to ensure its survival into the present day, as we were able to appreciate at the last edition of ARCOmadrid (the present writer having become annoyed in the face of official inaneness).
Like the after-trace of a question, the material that can now be seen consists primarily of photographs and a very extensive documentary holding (correspondence, comments, exhibition catalogues and designs for projects). This is a group of material which could be described as a temporal paradox given that Spain, a country particularly susceptible to amnesia, has patiently constructed those black holes in our history, particularly with reference to art from the 1950s onwards. This period is frequently referred to through the narration of key events but it is one for which few original sources on those events exist. It is not surprising that some researchers have amassed similar material, constructed on the margins of history and calling out to us like fireflies in the night from their frequent state of abandonment in second-hand bookshops or street markets. In some cases the existing holdings in collections are limited to a few modest institutional collections, frequently associated with critics or gallery archives.
This exhibition thus represents an invitation to explore; a delineated bridge that is particularly appropriate for the world of the internet but also – and let’s not forget this – a salute to Walter Benjamin and to the notion that the archive travels with history of art itself, given that Eugène Atget and August Sander’s compilations are images but they also take the form of the true archive of the memory of the history of our time: they are the real “atlases of instruction” in the words of the latter. Furthermore, in his “Atlas Mnemosyne” the indefatigable Aby Warburg set out to tirelessly delve into the immemorial traces and the spiritual heritage of images. This is the untiring dynamic of the archive which has populated the world of art in the form of other “Atlases”; in addition to Warburg’s archive we could for example mention Gerhard Richter’s extended and enigmatic ones or Sol LeWitt’s “Autobiography”. These are archives as incandescences in the knots of time, the stampede of fragments of poetic forces.
With the light that Sempere uses to illuminate his luminous box as symbol, the train of images, this archive also arises from a self-awareness, like Walter Benjamin’s “tree of conscientiousness”, the tree of conscious care, of the care of those who exercised a state of careful consciousness capable of bequeathing this holding to the future. Thus, like observers in the infinite, we can now contemplate these materials, tools for our self-portrait, and perhaps the most important lesson of this archive, of which a part is now being presented, is the fact that the road has not ended and that everything remains to be known.