Opening Constant. Nueva Babilonia at Museo Reina Sofia Madrid
It’s been four years since the idea of a large New Babylon retrospective was conceived and a co-operation with Gemeentemuseum, Fondation Constant and Museo Reina Sofia was suggested. In those four years the exhibition grew from a suggestion into a full grown exhibition, which opened last Tuesday, October 20, 2015. And from the friendliness of the Reina Sofia staff to the passion and engagement of the audience I can only use superlatives to describe the experience.
On Monday, a day before the exhibition Constant. Nueva Babilonia opened we got a private tour through the exhibition space with Manolo Borja Villel, director of Reina Sofia and the curators, Doede Hardeman and Laura Stamps of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Seeing this many New Babylon works (150) together in such a beautiful space literally sent shivers down my spine. The way the works were combined gave every room a specific character and since the main rooms are connected by doors in the middle of the wall incredible sight lines were created. The objects were presented in such a way that every work could breath while at the same time was connected to other works in the space. The team had assigned an architect specifically to look at the way the work was placed in the space. It showed.
It’s not only the scale of the exhibition, which makes Constant. Nueva Babilonia a unique exhibition but also the fact that two reconstructions, Purple and Blue room, 1952, and Door Labyrinth, 1974, are included and that the curators reconstructed some of the presentation techniques designed by Constant himself, the dark room and the high tables.
Tuesday was the big day. At breakfast we practiced Trudy’s speech for the press conference and finally at 12 o’clock we met at the auditorium with the board of Fondation Constant, the Reina Sofia team, the Gemeentemuseum team and Katja Weitering, artistic director of the Cobra museum, who had also come to see the opening. Everybody was slightly giddish with anticipation. Manolo Borja Villel, Benno Tempel, Laura Stamps, Doede Hardeman and Trudy would would do the press conference, we all got a translation head set and sat down in the auditorium.
Manolo, Benno, Trudy, Laura and Doede all got to express their gratitude for the fruitful co-operation and talk about their share of the exhibition. After this it was time for questions and we were curious as to how the journalists would respond. In total one question was asked and that was it! I was startled…. What had happened? Had the journalists not been interested? Later someone explained that besides being shy with the English language, Spanish journalists are probably not as brutal as the Dutch journalists. They seemed to take the words of the speakers at face value.
Then there was the press viewing and a lush Spanish lunch with some of the lenders the curating team from the Reina Sofia and the Gemeentemuseum, the directors, several stakeholders and the Dutch ambassador in Madrid. Unfamiliar with the Spanish lunching habits I lavished my appetite with the abundant tapas that were being served. Little did I know that these amazing treats were only an appetizer. By the time the first course was served I had trouble getting up from my chair. I felt silly about my misjudgement and tried politely to eat a few bites of every course that came after. There was risotto, fish with vegetables, the meat course was cancelled because I wasn’t the only one struggling, dessert and coffee. Somehow I made it back to the hotel. The copious lunch and the hard work of the last couple of weeks all of a sudden came out and I slept instantly.
As we returned to the museum at 20 o’clock that evening for the official opeing we weren’t sure what to expect. We had heard that exhibition openings in Spain follow a slightly different path than the Dutch openings, which are usually drenched in alcohol and snacks and consist of networking and shoulder rubbing. When we arrived at the door of the museum there was a line to get in….. I asked one of the RS staff whether this was normal. She said that usually exhibition openings of Spanish artistst have a line, foreign artists only ocassionally attracht enough public. When we finally got inside I was amazed at how diverse the public was. In the Netherlands exhibition openings are mostly frequented by slightly older, well educated audience with an appreciation for the open bar. But here I saw young kids attentively reading the room texts, peering at the objects from all angles, waiting in line to walk through the reproductions and watch the film with no open bar waiting at the end….
Besides the amazing exhibition, the friendly staff at the museum this felt like another gift to Constant and his work. I think Constant will feel at home here for while at Museo Reina Sofia.
Kim van der Horst