The Museo Reina Sofía and Museo del Prado pay homage to Eduardo Arroyo (1937–2018), an artist at the heart of the Museo Reina Sofía Collection and current temporary exhibitions The Poetics of Democracy. Images and Counter-Images from the Spanish Transition and Lost, Loose and Loved: Foreign Artists in Paris 1944–1968. Large in number were also Arroyo’s reflections on the old masters of painting and the Museo del Prado Collection, both artistic – most notably his pieces on the contemporary meaning of The Mystic Lamb by the brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck and The Fountain of Grace displayed in the Museo del Prado in 2012 – and in essay form, reflected in many of his writings and lectures. These close ties now bring both institutions together in a paean to the artist, in an act conceived as a lay memorial, with brief interventions by artists, essayists, critics, and art curators that interweave biography and affection to reconstruct Arroyo’s symbolic world.
The work of Eduardo Arroyo, often associated with European narrative figuration or critical Pop Art during the 1960s, profoundly explores a complex symptomatology of ‘Spanishness’ across the 20th century, returning to many of the concerns of pre-war avant-garde movements, namely: the frustrated search for modernity and cosmopolitanism, the shadow of authoritarianism in all its forms, and popular stereotypes linked to a fractured and questionable national identity. Arroyo would always wonder about the meaning of Spanishness, doing so by placing the stress on a medium such us painting, which he turned into an emblem with no univocal message or heraldry without power, into a narrative in which we identify the signs but no longer recognise ourselves in them. In this reaffirmation of painting understood as the flag of a frustrated project lies an indelible fascination with the figure of Eduardo Arroyo. Equally, this painter of histories and iconographies – who also interpreted sculpture – was a leading figure in the political landmarks in France and Spain in the second half of the twentieth century: anti-Franco resistance in exile, May ‘68 in Paris, the collective organisation of the 1976 Venice Biennale with Spain. The Artistic Avant-Garde and Social Reality (1936–1976), or the acerbic and disillusioned reflections on democratic normalisation and its narcotic effects on a transitional society.
Arroyo was, moreover, a great prose writer in Spanish, exploring the metaphor of the victorious and the defeated – or vice versa – in the boxing world, the memory of a surreptitious life of wandering, and the marginal figures of modernity. His essays most notably include Panamá Al Brown. Una vida de boxeador (Alianza, 1988, and Fórcola, 2018), Sardinas en aceite (Mondadori, 1990), El trío calaveras. Goya, Benjamin y Byron boxeador (Taurus, 2003), Los bigotes de la Gioconda (Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao and Museo Reina Sofía, 2009), Minuta de un testamento. Memorias (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2009), Al pie del cañón. Una guía del Museo del Prado (Elba, 2011), La oficina de San Jerónimo (Turner, 2015) and Bambalinas (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2016).
He was equally prolific in the correspondence between literature and painting, illustrating editions of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire (Abada, 2013), Don Julián and Paisaje después de la batalla, by Juan Goytisolo (Galaxia Gutenberg, 2001 and 1998 respectively), and James Joyce’s Ulysses (Círculo de Lectores, 1991). His theatre work was also considerable, resulting in broad international recognition for Bantam, his play on boxing, and his stage designs for opera and theatre in Arthur Adamov’s Off Limits (Piccolo Teatro Milan and Schauspielhaus in Dusseldorf, 1969 and 1972) Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (Theater Bremen, 1971), Bertolt Brecht’s In the Jungle of Cities (Schauspiel, Frankfurt, 1973), The Valkyrie, by Richard Wagner (The Paris Opera, 1976), The Architect and Emperor of Assyria, by Fernando Arrabal (Teatre Barcelona, 1977), Life Is a Dream, by Calderón de la Barca (Teatro Español, 1981) and David Mamet’s Edmond (Teatro María Guerrero, Madrid, 1990), as well as numerous other productions.
Alberto Anaut is the chairman of PhotoEspaña and director of La Fábrica, whose publisher released the books A la pata coja. Colección Eduardo Arroyo in 2017 on the artist’s photographic collection, and Eduardo Arroyo y el paraíso de las moscas, an illustrated biography written by Fabienne di Rocco. In 2011 he made the audiovisual piece Arroyo. Exposición individual and in 2019 has curated the exhibition Eduardo Arroyo. El buque fantasma in Madrid’s Jardín Botánico.
Félix de Azúa is an essayist, novelist and poet. He is a professor of Aesthetics at UPC’s Barcelona School of Architecture, and a member of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) since 2015. His numerous essays include Baudelaire (y el artista de la vida moderna) (Anagrama, 2006), Diccionario de las artes (Debate, 2011) and Volver la mirada. Ensayos sobre arte (2019).
Manuel Borja-Villel has been the director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía since 2008, with re-readings of the Museo’s Collection heavily featuring Eduardo Arroyo, both in the post-war period (Is the War Over? Art in a Divided World [1945–1968]) and in the years of developmentalism and post-Francoism in Spain (The Poetics of Democracy. Images and Counter-Images of the Spanish Transition). He has also served as the director of Fundació Antoni Tápies (1990–1998) and MACBA (1998–2008).
Bruno Bruni is an artist from Italy who works in the sphere of narrative figuration. He was director of photography on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1967 film Oedipus Rex and was a long-standing friend of Eduardo Arroyo, ever since Arroyo’s sporadic spells in Italy from 1968 onwards, with the two sharing a profound fascination with boxing as a metaphor for understanding failure and marginalisation.
Los Canguros, represented by Jean Labib, a film producer and member of this association of writers, journalists, editors and artists, of which Eduardo Arroyo was a member, and which, in its modes and rituals, imitates the cenacles of past avant-garde movements.
Fernando Castro Flórez is a professor of Art History at the Autonomous University of Madrid. He is also an art critic and the curator of such exhibitions as Eduardo Arroyo. Escenografías (Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 2005), devoted to the Madrid artist’s exhaustive stage work for opera and theatre.
Miguel Falomir Faus has been the director of the Museo Nacional del Prado since 2018. He has served as head professor at the University of Valencia, and head of the Department of Italian and French Painting (until 1700) and deputy director of Conservation and Research at the Museo del Prado. Moreover, he has curated exhibitions on Tiziano, Tintoretto, Lorenzo Lotto, Rafael and the Bassanos.
Yves Gagneux is director of the Maison Balzac house museum (Paris), a heritage conservator and one of the foremost specialists on Honoré de Balzac. His published works include Le musée imaginaire de Balzac: Les 100 chefs-d'oeuvre au coeur de la Comédie humaine (Relie, 2012) and Le carnaval à Paris (Paris Musées, 2011), among other essays, and he is an expert on the references and literary worlds of Eduardo Arroyo.
Carlos García Alix is an artist, writer and film-maker. As an editor, he won the Best Edited Art Book Award for Madrid-Moscú (2003, T ediciones) from Spain’s Ministry of Culture. He is also the author of the book El honor de las injurias, and director of the film under the same title, which won awards at the Seminci, Annecy and Atlantic Doc Film Festivals. Moreover, he shared editing projects with Eduardo Arroyo and featured as an artist in the exhibition La oficina de San Jerónimo, curated by Eduardo Arroyo and Fabienne di Rocco (Casa del Lector, 2015).
Elvira González is a gallerist who, in 1966, founded Galería Theo with Fernando Mignoni, primarily exhibiting the work of avant-garde movements and post-war modern art, including Eduardo Arroyo. In 1994 she unveiled Galería Elvira González, devoted to European and American art from the second half of the 20th century.
José Guirao Cabrera has been a cultural manager at Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sport since 2018, and served as director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía from 1994 to 2001, where, in 1998, he oversaw the retrospective exhibition Eduardo Arroyo. He was also director of Madrid’s La Casa Encendida from 2002 to 2014.
María Marsans is an entrepreneur and collector of modern art, with Eduardo Arroyo a strong presence in her collection.
Bernard Michel is an artist and an opera and theatre set designer. He has worked on the mise en scène and scenography of a broad number of theatre and opera productions by the likes of Jean-Pierre Vincent, Luis Pasqual, Jean Jourdheuil, Blanca Li, Louis Erlo and Davide Bombana, to name but a few. He worked with Eduardo Arroyo on the stage design Arroyo conceived for the operas of Klaus Michael Grüber.
Fabienne di Rocco is a curator who collaborated with Eduardo Arroyo on his exhibitions and publishing projects over three decades, and is one of the foremost specialists on the artist’s work. In recent years, she has published Eduardo Arroyo y el paraíso de las moscas (La Fábrica, 2017) and co-curated, with Eduardo Arroyo, La oficina de San Jerónimo (Casa del Lector, 2015). She has also translated the artist’s essays into French.
Joan Tarrida is an editor and translator and since 1999 has managed Galaxia Gutenberg and the Círculo de Lectores, which have published the illustrated books of Eduardo Arroyo. He was previously director of Publications for the Barcelona Olympics (1990–1992) and director of Creación Editorial, Plaza&Janés (1992–1999).
Hervé Télémaque is an artist from Haiti. His painting mixes Caribbean motifs, popular iconography and themes of art history, interpreted from a perspective of anti-colonialism and race. He has been the subject of solo shows at IVAM. Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno and the Centre Georges Pompidou. Together with other artists such as Gilles Aillaud, Valerio Adami and Erro, Arroyo and Télémaque were part of the narrative figuration movement.
Miguel Zugaza is the director of the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (from 1996 to 2002 and since 2018) and was director of the Museo Nacional del Prado from 2002 to 2017. From 1994 to 1996 he was deputy director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, where he curated, in 1998, the retrospective Eduardo Arroyo. In 2012, he organised the exhibition Eduardo Arroyo. The Mystic Lamb in the Museo del Prado, and in 2017 Eduardo Arroyo. Le retour des croisades (Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao), the last retrospective in Arroyo’s lifetime.
Presentation by José Guirao Cabrera, Miguel Falomir Faus and Manuel Borja-Villel
Interventions (by order of appearance):
Miguel Zugaza, Hervé Télémaque, Félix de Azúa, Yves Gagneux, Carlos García Alix, Joan Tarrida, Elvira González, María Marsans. Alberto Anaut, Fabienne di Rocco, Bernard Michel, Bruno Bruni, Fernando Castro Flórez and Los Canguros (Jean Labib).