The exhibition Tension and Freedom is the result of an encounter between three contemporary art collections from the Iberian Peninsula: that of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), of the "la Caixa" Foundation, and of the Modern Art Centre (CAM) of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Throughout the twentieth century, the social and political existence of both Spain and Portugal was marked by tension and freedom: there were wars in both countries - one civil, the other colonial - and both were subjected to long dictatorial regimes that only came to an end in the mid-1970s.
This fact would be enough to inform the choice of works and artists. Yet it is not only in the work of Portuguese and Spanish artists that we come across the dichotomy of tension and freedom, but also more generally in western art of the second half of the twentieth century, through three major themes or approaches: the socio-political and revolutionary sphere - represented by the works of Ana Hatherly (Porto, 1929), Antoni Muntadas (Barcelona, 1942), Richard Hamilton (1922-2011), João Abel Manta (Lisbon, 1928), Asier Mendizabal (Ordicia, Guipúzcoa, 1973) and Nuno Nunes Ferreira (Lisbon, 1976); issues of race, gender and sexuality, and the consequent presence of the body - Roni Horn (New York, 1955), Jeff Wall (Vancouver, 1946), Antoni Miralda (Terrassa, 1942), Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) and Ramon Guillén-Balmes (1954-2001); and formal and physical tension within an exploration and destabilisation of modernism in Damián Ortega (Mexico City, 1967), Pepe Espaliú (1955-1993) and Miroslaw Balka (Warsaw, 1958).
Bruce Nauman (Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1941) is the artist most extensively represented in the exhibition, not only because he is a key artist and point of reference for all contemporary art - particularly conceptual, minimal and performance art, from sculpture to video, and from installation to photography - but more specifically because his work is characterised by the concepts of tension and freedom.
Gender and sexuality as the root of social tension are also present in the works Mulheres d'Apolo (Apollo's Women) by Vasco Araújo (Lisbon, 1975) and Senhora! by Luísa Cunha (Lisbon, 1949).
Sexuality, art and politics intertwine in the work by Mike Kelley (1954-2012), The Trajectory of Light in Plato's Cave (From Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile), 1985-96, an installation that evokes a cellar or a cave, its entrance blocked by a large painting with the inscription 'Crawl worm. When spelunking sometimes you have to stoop… Sometimes you have to go on all fours… Sometimes even crawl' and the viewer realises that to enter the cave it is necessary to crouch down and crawl.
Sexuality, gender, race, art history and self-representation intertwine in Gabriel Abrantes' (Chapel Hill, 1984) Olympia.
The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 Years without Images, a 2011 film by Eric Baudelaire (Salt Lake City, 1973), revisits the history of the Japanese Red Army and one of its leaders, Fusako Shigenobu, who lived for nearly 30 years in exile in Beirut, and his daughter May, who was born in Lebanon and who only discovered Japan at the age of 27. Her voice is interwoven with that of Masao Adachi, a screenwriter and filmmaker who also lived clandestinely in Lebanon. In the Super 8 documentary, archive images are combined with panoramic film sequences of Tokyo and Beirut in a complex and beautiful work about exile, politics and cinema.
Ângela Ferreira's (Maputo, 1958) sculpture For Mozambique is also about revolution and cinema.
These three collections thus not only contain physical works of art, but also the ideas and actions that have shaped our recent history, which so often take place between tension and freedom.