Once the new regime had been fortified in the 1940s, Francoism’s search for international legitimacy would come in part through Spain’s presence at international events such as the Milan Triennial, where it could test out, almost risk-free, the cultural diplomacy that would have to refute the darkness of post-war Spain. Through the convergence of handicrafts and contemporary artistic creation, Spain would convey its own image to allow for a modern profile that also clung to tradition.
The first time Spain took part in the Milan Triennial was 1951, although not through its own initiative. Gio Ponti, director of the magazine Domus, would table a proposal to include Spain in the event via his ongoing contact with Antonio Coderch, whom he had met in 1949 in Barcelona, and the latter’s relationship with the Directorate-General of Architecture. Another key figure in the conception of the pavilion’s staging, along with Coderch, was art critic Rafael Santos Torroella. With a proposal from both, a padiglione model was consolidated and Spain returned for subsequent editions, its proposals bearing little resemblance to the other countries.
The official discourse of the 1951 edition was as a showcase for the most innovative domestic décor and quasi-Futurist electrical appliance equipment, for which countries such as the USA flew the flag. In contrast, Spain had little or nothing to contribute, and was the European authoritarian exception whose industry would not take off for another decade. Nevertheless, it was this technological flaw that led the people in charge of the 1951 pavilion to show off a compendium of art and crafts underscoring Spanish uniqueness.
Thus, Spanish cultural diplomacy took pride in showing a decisively modern image of the country that was also indebted to popular culture in an attempt to make international expectations compatible with the reaffirmation of official traditionalism. This would explain why, along with xiurells from the Balearic Islands and blankets from Zamora, the works of Ferrant, Serra and Miró appeared and, above all, responded to the presence — and use — of a Republican icon like Lorca in presenting Francoist Spain’s official pavilion. The presence of the last two, Miró and Lorca, was conspicuous since their works featured in the last event of Republican Spain: the pavilion at the Paris International Exposition of 1937.
The positive reception of the 1951 pavilion undoubtedly led to participation in the two editions that followed. At the Eleventh Triennial, José María García de Paredes and Javier Carvajal were chosen to design the Spanish Pavilion, the last Milan event with a convergence of craftworks and art, with works produced by Jesús de la Sota and Miguel Fisac alongside valises and bags from the historical Casa Loewe; 1957 would mark the end of Spain’s participation and see its focus shifting to the Venice Biennale to put on show contemporary Spanish artistic creation.