In November 2021, A.i.A. spoke with Elvira Dyangani Ose, director of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), which was started as an exhibition series in 1959 by art critic Alexandre Cirici Pellicer and a group of contemporary artists, with the goal of cultivating a collection for the city. It officially opened to the public in 1995. Ose, who grew up in Barcelona, previously helmed the Showroom Gallery in London. Below, she details her plans for local engagement and increased accessibility.
In the 1990s, I was a young girl in Barcelona. So when, after years working in London and elsewhere, I joined MACBA in September 2021, I had a full-circle moment. I recognized places in the city that reminded me of the potential we see in things and in ourselves when we are young. It prompted me to consider the importance of institutions, the role of private and public organizations, and the need to create a space for the public in conjunction with the preexisting community. While finishing some projects that were already on the books, our team at MACBA will spend the next few months to a year bringing together our plans for the future of the museum.
I’m thinking of MACBA holistically. It’s critical to set the tone for the organization as it moves forward, and to adjust not only its programming but also its institutional structure.
One of my primary goals is to generate a more reciprocal dialogue between the museum and the local community. I came to MACBA from the Showroom, which has an incredible history of that kind of engagement. I have colleagues here who run groups that support kids, older people, and those in marginalized situations. They create consistent community links to the museum. But I think we can do much more.
Now that our building is expanding, we hope to create some physical spaces with free access. Currently, we have a space called the Kitchen (la Cuina), which faces the public square that we share with the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. But we would like a dedicated space for educational and engagement purposes.
In 2021 the museum started a program called Panorama, which is a series of transdisciplinary projects that create not just an exhibition but also a moment to reflect, every three years, on a particular theme. Panorama is intended to engage with the here and now of Barcelona as well as a plurality of possible practices. The 2024 edition will be dedicated to radical pedagogy, for which we are considering a series of activations, reenactments, and presentations. That same year, we will also open our expanded building, enabling us to show the majority of our collection. Those holdings are currently under reconsideration. We are trying to think strategically about the kinds of work we have represented in the past and how we can diversify our holdings.
The most difficult part of accomplishing these goals, apart from the funding challenges, is gaining the trust of the community—especially those who have felt alienated. As a public institution, we need to find ways to support our community as much as they support us. Ultimately, we are trying to create a platform that allows a multitude of voices to be heard. This is an opportunity to include artwork that never previously had the chance to appear in these kinds of spaces.
Our Rafael Tous Collection, one of the most significant donations the museum has ever received, contains works that exemplify alternative art-making and exhibition initiatives, primarily in the 1970s and early ’80s. For a major institution like MACBA, the ability to think beyond the limitations of established bourgeois concepts and to be in dialogue with developing countercultures is, I think, the key.