On July 8, 1952 the library and art gallery Sur opens its doors in Santander. From then and for the following four decades the gallery owner Manuel Arce runs one of the most prestigious contemporary Spanish art galleries. Sur exceeds its peripheral geographical position and manages to be not only a pioneer in its exhibitions, but also respected for its consistency and ability to evolve and adapt to the new directions taken by the creative context.
Because of the difficult outlook for contemporary art in Spain during the Fifties some initiatives such as the debates at the School of Altamira emerge -held in Santillana del Mar in 1949- or the exhibition hall of the Alerta newspaper that presents, in that same year, an exhibition on the members of Pórtico, a group from Zaragoza and pioneers in post-war Abstraction. Proel is also highlighted, a poetry magazine launched by Pedro Gómez Cantolla. One year after the opening of Sur Gallery the famous First Congress of Abstract Art is held, organised by José Luis Fernández del Amo. However, the impact of these initiatives is limited and Sur Gallery does not seem at first to be an initiative which may bode well.
Manuel Arce asks the Cantabrian painter Pancho Cossío to inaugurate the gallery with a solo exhibition. Cossio's skepticism at the initiative of opening a gallery in Santander and his friendship with Nicanor Arce, Manuel's father, whose capital was at stake, means that he rejects the proposal. Without falling into despair, the young gallery owner later opens the gallery with Benjamín Palencia. Following this exhibition are exhibitions by ceramist Llorens Artigas and painter Juan Manuel Díaz Caneja. This is the beginning of a long journey full of successes, which does not end until late 1994, when Manuel Arce definitively closes the gallery; a personal decision.
The exhibition is held in the library of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and emphasises the historical importance of the Sur Gallery through the documentation that attests to its career. Thanks largely to the material donated by Manuel Arce to the Museo Reina Sofia, on display are: catalogues of the exhibitions, photographs of the gallery and artists who frequent it, invitations to openings and an extensive chronology of the over seven hundred exhibitions held.
Seen on its walls was the work of artists from the School of Madrid such as: Francisco Arias, Álvaro Delgado, Agustín Redondela, Luis García Ochoa and Cirilo Martínez Novillo. Artists from Catalan painting revival circles from that period include: Francisco Todó, María Girona, Josep Guinovart, Ráfols Casamada and Antoni Tàpie. Representatives of Cantabrian painting include: Agustín Riancho, Pancho Cossío and César Abín. In the Sixties some names are repeated and others added such as: Gregorio Prieto y José Caballero, Joan Josep Tharrats, Manuel Millares, Fernando Zóbel, Salvador Soria, Alfredo Alcaín, and Mari Puri Herrero. During the Seventies, Joaquín Peinado, Francisco Mateos, Hernando Viñes, Eusebio Sempere and Cristino Mallo are some names that stand out.
However, among all the exhibitions taking place in the gallery the monographs of the work of María Blanchard and Óscar Domínguez stand out the most, as does the anthology of Cossío and collectives such as Maestros Europeos, which includes works by Marc Chagall, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, René Magritte and Giorgio Morandi. Also to be noted is the exhibition dedicated to Clásicos Contemporáneos which celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the gallery with pieces by Eduardo Chillida, González, Georges Braque, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso.
In 1995 the Museo Reina Sofia also exhibited in the library a brief exhibition on the Gallery Multitud partially covering aspects of the transition in the field of arts. This exhibition shows how the Gallery Sur truly reflected the Spanish art scene at different times. At the same time it links in with the Museum’s initiative to make available the documented archive to the visitor as well as contribute to Spanish artistic memory.
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