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.


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