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Four years ago, when the Spanish Ministry of Culture awarded him the National Prize for the visual arts, those who were aware of Isidoro Valcárcel Medina's work received the news with a mixture of puzzlement and delight. The brief text in which the Ministry justified granting the prize mentioned 'the coherence and rigour' of Valcárcel Medina's work, 'developed over four decades', which described in a concise manner the tireless devotion of this artist to his task. However, the text also referred to 'a committed attitude, detached from the dynamics of the art market',1 words that seemed to allude with calculating vagueness to the chasm that has always separated Valcárcel Medina's creative practice from the ways in which both cultural institutions and the large majority of artists understand art. Those who valued Valcárcel Medina's activities couldn't help wondering about the prize's significance. Did the highest Spanish art institution share a view of art that for half a century has appeared to conflict with that of museums and art centres? Could the Ministry of Culture afford to support the work of an artist who time and again has stated his complete disagreement with the notion of art that cultural institutions uphold and promote, an artist who has never concealed his scorn for these institutions, which he sees as isolating art from the life of citizens so as to better serve their own political ends?
The paradoxes generated in 2007 by granting Valcárcel Medina the National Prize were not new. The last few decades have made it clear that the institutions charged with the task of constructing and increasing the value of artworks in
Ministerial Order CUL/3742/2007 of 5 December 2010, Boletín Oficial del Estado, 20 December 2007. This is the publication in which all Spanish state decisions appear. All translations from Spanish by the author↑
Valcárcel Medina in conversation with José Díaz Cuyás and Nuria Enguita Mayo, 'Valcárcel Medina Speaks Out', Ir y venir de Valcárcel Medina (exh. cat.), Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies, 2002, p.235.↑
Valcárcel Medina does not title his works; however, for the purposes of clarity I have here referred to them by the titles commonly used elsewhere.↑
'El carácter cotidiano del arte', 'El momento histórico (la realidad del testimonio)' and, below, 'El arte, menester ético por naturaleza'.↑
'La razón fundamental que "justifica" a las obras es que se han realizado y que supuestamente esa acción ha sido justa'; 'La obra de arte ha de ser tan fiel a su momento que sea el momento mismo.↑
'Things exist; we do not have to create them - we only have to grasp their relations.' Stéphane Mallarmé, Oeuvres complètes (ed. Bertrand Marchal), vol. II, Paris: Gallimard, 2003, p.702.↑