With works that were censored or considered controversial for political, social or religious reasons, such as the crucified Christ on an air force plane by the Argentine León Ferrari or a sculpture of Saddam Hussein tied up, a Museum of Forbidden Art has just been inaugurated in Barcelona which brings together 42 pieces from the collection of a Catalan journalist and businessman who has been collecting uncomfortable or controversial art for five years. Five years ago, Tatxo Benet began collecting works that the art system or society considered inappropriate: controversial, violent, discriminatory, obscene, offensive, harmful or scrupulous. Thus, the businessman acquired a heritage that today consists of 200 pieces, of which 42 are exhibited in the brand new museum.
Recently inaugurated, the Museum of Forbidden Art brings together works from that collection and loans. There are Goya, Klimt, Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei – artists whose productions have sometimes had a “but” for the readings they evoked – but also pieces that captured the attention of the public and the press, such as the statue of Francisco Franco stuck in a refrigerator, for which its author, Eugenio Merino, was denounced, or the Christ submerged in urine by the American artist Andrés Serrano. The works that can be seen cover a wide period of art history, from the 18th century to the present, which reveals that censorship of art has had echoes throughout the centuries and is not a contemporary phenomenon.
Argentina is also represented in the Catalan museum: with León Ferrari, the collection includes a plate of the first letter to the Pope (2008), a piece from the series “Ideas for hells” and the republished work “Western and Christian Civilization” , in which Christ is depicted crucified on a US Air Force plane. With that piece, Ferrari denounced in 1965 his shock due to the Vietnam War and its exhibition generated controversy among religious sectors. Marta Minujín also takes place in this museum with the model and the film and photographic record of “The Parthenon of Forbidden Books”, a participatory work from 1983 that she made in the days before the return of democracy, a tribute to the acropolis of Greece, covered by 20 thousand books that had been banned during the last civil-military dictatorship. This record can also be seen simultaneously in another city in Europe, Milan, on November 21 at the PAC museum (Padiglione d’Arte Contemporánea).
“We do not collect or show scandalous or controversial works in the museum, we show works that have been censored, attacked, violated, prohibited,” explained Benet. These are, in the words of the creator of this space, works “with history.” The works that make noise go beyond the scope of the academy and for that very reason draw the attention of sectors that perhaps do not necessarily access the spaces of art: by swimming in the terrain of symbolic action, any reading is possible and the Literality often wins, if there is no context or guide behind it. In that sense, from the museum, they point out in their manifesto: “At this point in the 21st century, censorship, prohibitions and cancellation policies are the order of the day. Given the current context, Noam Chomsky’s phrase that says that ‘If we do not believe in the freedom of expression of those who do not think like us, we do not believe in it’, is absolutely valid.”
And the text continues: “The history of art is plagued by cases of censorship. Michelangelo suffered it while painting the Sistine Chapel and, also, Francisco de Goya, of whom the Museu de l’Art Prohibit exhibits some engravings from the Caprichos series.” Hence, the museum “was born with the desire to be a space for creative freedom and a laboratory to address acts of censorship in the arts,” he explains in his presentation.
I am an author and journalist who has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. I currently work as a news editor at a major news website, and my focus is on covering the latest trends in entertainment. I also write occasional pieces for other outlets, and have authored two books about the entertainment industry.