Vicenç Altaió

On the legacy of Joan Brossa

'Brossa wanted to change the world through artistic language'

Writer, essayist, poet and critic Vicenç Altaió has taken over at the helm of the Joan Brossa Foundation with the mission of breathing new life into it. To Altaió, a man who calls himself a “dealer in ideas”, there is no shortage of initiatives for relaunching the enterprise. And he has the perfect launching pad: the new Espai Brossa, which opens on December 30.

Brossa once said: “There are too many artist foundations. Having one is like a posthumous pedestal.”
I was the first to be surprised when the Foundation was formed after his death. As I knew him well, I didn’t think it was in his mental orbit, especially because his was more of a street culture approach. Everything that emanated from noucentisme, which he was by nature opposed to, was a complete paradox as far as Brossa was concerned. However, I also know that at that time there was great concern to preserve his work, and that was what the Foundation was meant to do. To understand where he was coming from you must bear in mind his antagonism towards Tàpies and the idea he had of a foundation.
Where did the animosity stem from?
In the seventies, when the Maeght Gallery started up in Barcelona, Brossa was very critical of Tàpies’ relationship with the market. Now, years later, I can be open about the tension behind the quarrel: Tàpies demanded our loyalty and Brossa thought that was a joke. Brossa is a proletarian poet, a poet who wants action as a revolutionary, who wants to change the world through artistic language.
Let’s talk about his Foundation. What has been happening all this time?
In the first stage, in order to keep itself going, apart from protecting the rights to his work, they tried to sell the Brossa who was fashionable for his postmodernism: the poem-object encapsulated, packaged, outside his more comic and transgressive self. I think he was turned into a consumer item. In the second period, and without such a strong influence from Pepa Llopis [Brossa’s widow], it was Mestres Quadreny who, as president, decided to put the collection into the hands of Macba, which took on the central role in research and especially in international projection. This was extraordinary, because here was Brossa, who had been criticised in a literary context, being ushered into a temple of art through the front door. It’s very strange that his legacy didn’t go to the National Library, but to MACBA.
So, at that point the Foundation could easily have disappeared.
Yes, but that’s when the City Council appeared and offered us premises. They suggested that I take over as president to launch the third stage. I accepted as part of the debt I owe Brossa and the culture of the country. Given that I know more about directing than presiding, my profile is more hands on. That’s how I see culture.
When did you meet Brossa?
In 1978, he was visiting the painter Alfons Borrell in Sabadell, where I had the Èczema magazine. He really liked what I was doing. Then in 1982, he and Mestres Quadreny asked Glòria Picazo, Rosa Queralt and I to take charge of Espai 10 at the Miró Foundation. That is to say, a poet and a musician invited me inside the world of art. Being the intellectual that I am, I had a special relationship with Brossa. We had very deep conversations about the cultural landscape, about museums... What really brought us together was cultural activism. Brossa was a permanent activist. In the seventies, he was still very critical of political reform, wary of capital and the role of the banks and financial institutions, he didn’t trust the mission of institutionalised culture. Brossa is more an observer of the city from the outskirts, rather than delving underground, and that was the way we saw things. Brossa overlapped with the up and coming generation and enthused us with his nonconformity. He was a ruffian, daring, but very young at heart. He had a tremendous relationship with young people.
And where do you see the Foundation headed now?
The past, present and future all at once. My contribution so far has been the creation of the study centre, which should become the engine behind the Foundation. The challenge is to continue the projects that are already underway – the publication of the complete body of his poetry and carefully cataloguing all the visual and object poetry. We need to define the real Joan Brossa space and, even more importantly, convert the Espai Brossa into a scenario for practising a new written expression and turn it into a centre of poetic activism. The other part is research, along the lines of KRTU. That has been neglected and I want to bring it back.
Are there any exhibitions in the pipeline?
We’re getting there. Perhaps figures like the designer and intellectual Joan Josep Tharrats, and the psychiatrist Joan Obiols.
Is there an opening date?
It will open on December 30, on the anniversary of Brossa’s death, even if it’s just an empty space. We’re working on the idea of a young artist creating an installation evidencing this dialogue between past, present and future. I also want to make a place for the boards of the various art foundations existing in the city: Miró and Tàpies, and Macba should also be included. We have also invited the Catalan government. We’re very hopeful. We wouldn’t understand them saying no.
What do you think of the Macba exhibition?
I think there are two very interesting things. First, historical coincidence. Brossa, a vital poet, unshaven and with holes in his shoes, in the convulsive years of the 1970s went from being an artist of the minority to becoming popular, swept into the museum space in a time of institutional democratic revolt. The second is the new perspective provided by someone who is not really one of the gang. Pedro G. Romero has managed to compile a careful documentary exhibition, but one with open meaning so everyone has to make the effort to interpret this huge pile of papers. From the Foundation, we’ve done everything possible so that the exhibition goes well and the curator will be able to work freely to renew the proposal. The responsibility of a foundation is mainly not to get in the way or set limits, but to present a work to be interpreted by many people of different generations and with radically different views.
Speaking of the current turmoil... Where would Bro ssa stand today?
We didn’t open the exhibition on September 20, to protest the attacks of the Spanish government on our institutions. Brossa is still on the streets. But there’s a difference: in the 70s, culture was a leading powerful, symbolic and even moral force. Today, the excesses of the model of industrialised culture has somewhat pushed aside the role a figure like Brossa would play.
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