Art and Tourism Imaginaries I

Beneath the Paving Stones, the Beach: Otto Muehl’s Commune in the Canary Islands

Tuesday, 5 June 2018 - 7pm
Free, until full capacity is reached
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200
Organized by
Museo Reina Sofía
El Cabrito, La Gomera (Canary Islands). Photography: Ralph Kistler
El Cabrito, La Gomera (Canary Islands). Photography: Ralph Kistler

This lecture leads into an annual series which explores the relationship between tourism imaginaries and the visual arts from 1960 onwards. In collaboration with the inter-university research group TURICOM. The Tourist Experience: The Image, Body and Death in Leisure Culture, the Museo will present, once a year, a case study which reflects upon the way in which mass tourism, as an industry of experience, has been linked to the search for experience characterising art since 1960.

Relevant inside this frame of reference, and part of the group’s line of research, is an analysis of the paradoxical process of modernisation that began in the later years of Franco’s Spain, whereby economic internationalisation was dependent upon the re-creation of local customs and cultural elites aspired to an imported cosmopolitan modernity. Thus Spain’s most experimental avant-garde movements made headway inside this contradictory tension from the 1960s and 1970s onwards. 

The first lecture in the series, therefore, presents a research project initiated by José Díaz Cuyás, art historian and coordinator of the TURICOM group, and taken and developed further by the artist Ralph Kistler, who focuses on the El Cabrito commune, analysing the context which bore witness to the emergence of these utopian-inspired communities and their hope of emancipatory freedom, often resulting in opposing experiences which were devoured by internal contradictions and ideological perversions. The analysis of this case also calls for a consideration of its impact on the rise of tourism in Spain, the support for selling public spaces in the early years of democracy, the innovative art movements after the 1970s that were part of El Cabrito, and the tensions between new permissive behaviour and lingering moral restrictions.   

El Cabrito, founded by Viennese artist Otto Muehl in 1987, was a leafy ravine on the island of La Gomera, a colony which would prolong what he had created before, in 1973, close to Vienna as he developed the idea of an art-life fusion through the synthesis of psychoanalysis and Actionism. This model sought to establish political and social order based on sexual freedom, collective property and free creativity, chiming with an international context open to similar experiences. In just a few years, the commune grew rapidly to become one of the greatest countercultural spaces in twentieth-century Europe.    

In the early 1990s, however, El Cabrito became the focus of criticism from the Spanish and international media, largely due to the scandal surrounding Otto Muehl’s imprisonment in Austria for different sex offences. El Cabrito would eventually peter out in 1992 and today the commune is a rural tourist destination based on sustainable agriculture, yet with an awareness of its turbulent past: Ultimately, it remains the final stage in which the emancipatory mythology of the commune was broken down and drained by its own internal contradictions.


José Díaz Cuyás is an art historian and professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at the University of La Laguna. He has curated exhibitions such as Ir y venir de Valcárcel Medina (Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Sala de Verónicas and Centro José Guerrero, 2002) and The Pamplona Encounters 1972: The End of the Party for Experimental Art (Museo Reina Sofía, 2008). He also coordinates the research group TURICOM. The Tourist Experience: The Image, Body and Death in Leisure Culture and directed issue 10 of the magazine Concreta, focused on the relationship between art and tourism.

Ralph Kistler is an artist and author of the largest research project to date on Otto Muehl and the El Cabrito community, also the subject of his doctoral thesis La modernidad y los territorios del ocio: el caso de El Cabrito en La Gomera (Modernity and Leisure Territories: The Case of El Cabrito on La Gomera, 2014).