Artists’ expression of political commitment reached its peak with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936. One of the most significant projects in promoting the Republican cause abroad was the construction of the Spanish Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, held in Paris in 1937 and from which the Spanish Government, drawing from art, launched a resounding call for help for the Republic.
Although the inextricable link between art and technology was the central theme crossing the exhibition’s discourse, the event cannot enter into focus without being mindful of the growing atmosphere of tension waged in the political sphere. The existence of two clashing ideological poles such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, also reflected in architecture by way of their respective conflicting pavilions on the north shore of the Seine, as well as Spain’s presence at the show as blood was being shed in the conflict, demonstrated the unusual nature of the Parisian exhibition within the complex sociopolitical context of the 1930s.
In terms of Spain, although the country was submerged in armed conflict, the Cabinet President, Francisco Largo Caballero, viewed the event as an opportunity to garner foreign economic and political support given that, owing to the non-intervention agreement signed by most European States, except the Soviet Union, the Republican Government was at a clear economic and military disadvantage. To this end, he named Luis Araquistáin ambassador in Paris, his chief mission being to convince European powers to fund the defence of the Republic, demonstrating its stability and soundness, religious tolerance and independence from the Soviet Union. Araquistáin would shine a light on the liberal side of the Republic, focusing on issues like private property, agrarian and industrial reform, education programmes and the protection of the country’s cultural and artistic diversity.
Where architecture was concerned, Luis Lacasa was appointed the Pavilion’s architect in December 1936, although the slow selection process meant Araquistáin had already contacted Josep Lluís Sert, with both designing a functional building in contrast to the monumental nature of the other European pavilions. The incorporation of the Spanish architect with the biggest international reputation to build the Pavilion was essential in creating a logical setting for exhibiting art, culture and the Republic’s propaganda. Therefore, the Pavilion was conceived to demonstrate in unison the horrors of war, the Spanish Government’s optimism and the continuity of productiveness, while the participation of artists such as Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Julio González and Pablo Picasso secured the public and critical spotlight the Government sought in its attempt to drum up international support to fight fascism.
The Pavilion’s different spaces were coloured by film screenings, concerts, dance recitals and theatre performances which, along with the exhibited photographs, ceramics and textiles, bolstered the idea that the political situation must not overshadow the long history of popular tradition.