Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Road Map for Catalan Culture in New York

The first important sign may have been the proliferation of non-stop flights between New York and Barcelona—first Delta, then Continental, and, finally, American. The next was the manifest interest of the great cultural institutions of New York in programming Catalan cultural events: the Lincoln Center Film Society programmed a Catalan film retrospective (2006); the Metropolitan Museum showed “Barcelona and Modernity: From Gaudí to Dalí,” (2007); the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) wanted to program a festival of Catalan performing arts (this, unfortunately, did not come about).

A generation of museum directors and arts curators with an interest in and sensibility for the underexplored treasures of world culture—and hence in Catalan culture—was taking a leadership role at major American arts institutions. Richard Peña, at the Lincoln Center Film Society; Curator Bill Robinson of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who traveled in 1999 to Barcelona to study one Picasso painting, discovered Catalan art, and devoted the next seven years to laying the foundations for the great “Barcelona and Modernity” exhibition, which opened in 2006 at his museum. Robinson found like spirits in Jared Goss and Magdalena Dabrowski of the Metropolitan, who co-curated and hosted it in 2007.

In 2006 all these things were blossoming. But the New York Times, for example, still tied itself into a knot when it had to explain that something was Catalan, or that someone was from Catalonia. The “newspaper of note” feared that its readers would not know what it was talking about.

Over the next five years, this, too, would change. Ferran Adrià appeared day after day in the food pages of American dailies, and on his coattails an interest not only in his theories and methods, but in the flavors and traditions that underlay them. Now when food writers want to spice up an article, they will often add something like romesco to a recipe to give it an interesting “Catalan” touch.

Barcelona is in fashion, and will continue to be. Some feared that the interest in Barcelona would not translate into an interest in Catalonia, but this fear was groundless. Those non-stop flights, in part a response to the happy situation of the Barcelona port at the start or finish of Mediterranean cruises, have spawned guide books, airline magazines, travel articles in newspapers, which all reflect the specificities of Catalan culture.

New markers of the Catalan image continue to emerge. One of them is the Barça. For years Americans ignored soccer. Miraculously, the last World Cup changed all that. And U.S. sports reporters made the point that 8 of the players on the winning Spanish team were the product of La Masia. One reporter at theChicago Tribune, Kevin Williams, is such a culé that he has set up a blog about the Barça [].

Yet not everything is gastronomy and sport. When Jordi Savall brought Hespérion XXI to the Metropolitan Museum, The New Yorker declared the concert to be the best musical experience of 2005 (“Savall is not only a performer of genius but also a conductor, a scholar…”). The Gotham Chamber Opera staged Montsalvatge’s “Gato con botas” last season to weeks of sold-out audiences. If the Institut Ramon Llull programs dance at the BAC, or The Catalan Center brings talks on Guastavino or Enric Ruiz-Geli to the American Institute of Architects, audiences flock to the events.

Promoting Catalan culture in New York is a highly gratifying experience. The American history of minority cultures has generated a positive predisposition toward lesser-known cultures. If a Catalan institution approaches a New York counterpart with a good idea and a modicum of funding, it finds a warm reception. While food, sport, travel, and fashion build excitement and interest, cultural, academic, and scientific events bestow knowledge and prestige. Everybody wins.

The next stage in assuring the place of Catalan culture in New York can be very exciting: committees of local experts advising Catalan institutions (as the Col.lectiu Emma does with journalists); networks of U.S. and Catalan institutions working together; bilateral exchanges of artists and creators; networks of businesses supporting the arts… This is an important time to keep building on an already fertile field; let us not let austerity nip this process in the bud.

Mary Ann Newman

Former Director of the Catalan Center at New York University. Member of the Editorial Board of In-Transit.

Reprinted from "Catalan Views" a monthly blog of the Catalan News Agency.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Creative Documentaries from Barcelona

As Director of The Catalan Center, I am pleased to welcome Mr. Gerwin Tamsma as guest blogger to open the semester by offering his view of the Master's in Creative Documentaries of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

This semester we are delighted to be offering a series of films produced in the framework of this M.A. program. We are honored to welcome the founder and director of the program, Professor Jordi Balló, for the opening and closing of the series, to frame the mission of the program and discuss the films. In the following article, Mr. Tamsma, who focused on the UPF Masters in a "Signals" section of this year’s IFFR, tells us why these films are important.

Mary Ann Newman

The Master’s in Creative Documentary of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra at the Intersection of Genre and Technology

The films produced in the context of the Creative Documentary MA of Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra are more than ‘just’ the impressive result of years of dedication of some of Spain and Catalonia’s most talented filmmakers. They represent the cutting edge of arguably the most important trends in cinema. This film series offers an overview of this program and its role in these developments.

Much, if not all, of the vitality in contemporary modern cinema in the last twenty years is related to two developments: the rise of digital technology, and the disappearance of fixed borders between fiction and documentary.

Modern recording technologies opened up affordable possibilities for filmmakers to shoot anytime and anywhere, uncovering a wide array of new subjects and aesthetics. This helped to establish a certain type of personal and hybrid filmmaking, one that allows creators to combine documentary research not only with the joy of experiment, the reason of essay, the emotions of social commitment and self-examination, but also with the fantasy of fiction, poetry, and re- enactment.

It is this type of cinema that is proposed, thought, and produced by the Master’s in Creative Documentaries of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Characteristically, the films are full of people and places familiar to the filmmakers: rarely is there a film without mothers, fathers, uncles, neighbors or friends. Though the settings are distinctly Catalan and certainly Spanish, the films are very cosmopolitan – like the city of Barcelona itself, one could say.

These films are almost the exact opposite of the fare we are offered in the multiplexes: they are too caringly and patiently made to become mainstream: too contemplative, too intimate, too obsessed with the passage of time, with finding the right form. And this is why I care for them.

Gerwin Tamsma

International Film Festival Rotterdam

Gerwin Tamsma is responsible for programming the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s feature films from China and Korea, Latin America and - in Europe - Belgium, Scandinavia, Spain and Portugal, and he also coordinates the ‘Bright Future’ section. Mr. Tamsma is part of the selection committee for the Tiger Awards competition, as well as the committee of the Hubert Bals Fund. He has curated retrospectives as well as special programs for the festival.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Catalonia, Land of Missegetes

In the 5th century, Hecataeus of Miletus described the part of Iberia now known as Catalonia as a land of missegetes: mixed peoples. Catalonia has always been a crossroads and the Catalans have always been travelers.

The Fall program of the Catalan Center highlights and celebrates these to-and-fros of Catalan culture through a focus on scholarly literature and documentary cinema.

American scholarship: Americans here and abroad and Catalans at U.S. universities are producing original works of scholarship in English about Catalan culture. Stephen Jacobson’s Catalonia’s Advocates: Lawyers,Society, and Politics in Barcelona—1759-1900 reads European social history through the resurgence of Catalan law in the 19th century. Hot off the presses, John Ochsendorf’s Guastavino Vaulting traces the development of this remarkable construction technology from its Mediterranean roots to to the Oyster Bar at Rockefeller Center or the 59th Street Bridge. Finally,Professor Sara Nadal will return to NYU to speak on The Invisible Tradition: Avant-Garde Catalan Cinema Under Late Francoism, the first issue of the venerable Hispanic Review to be devoted to Catalan culture, and a new approach to Pere Portabella, Joaquim Jordà,Jacint Esteva, et al.

Film, form, and genre: Professor Jordi Balló, the founder of the M.A. in Creative Documentaries at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, will join us to explain the origins and influence of the program and kick off the semester-long film series. To quote Gerwin Tamsma of the International Film Festival Rotterdam: “The[se films] represent the cutting edge of arguably the most important trends in cinema: […] the rise of digital technology, and the disappearance of fixed borders between fiction and documentary.” The seven films on view in this series do their part to blur these borders; it is a rare opportunity to see them in the U.S.

Catalan Artists See the World: Under this rubric The Catalan Center presents work by Catalan artists on countries other than Catalonia. This fall we are proud to collaborate with the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center on an exhibition of Catalan artist Mireia Sallarès’s work, Las Muertes Chiquitas/ Little Deaths. Her exhibition/film/documentary archive reflects three years of interviews with Mexican women who, invited to talk about orgasm, proceeded to discuss life, death, gender, sexuality, violence, politics, and family. This gripping portrayal of the contemporary life and thought of Mexican women, part of a long, ongoing conversation between Catalonia and Mexico, will be shown at the CSV Center from October 16-28.

Missegetes one and all, please join us on these fascinating journeys!