WHY DO WE STILL TALK ABOUT MONTMARTRE TODAY?

The fame of this place, a melting pot of creativity and a haven for uprooted and unorthodox art, still represents the Bohemian spirit of yesteryear, when it was the cradle of some of the most important pictorial movements of the 19th century. But what factors met in this neighbourhood to become what it was?

Jules Grün. Motmartre's Song, 1900 Litographic proof for a cover © Private colection (image from caixaforum.es)

Montmartre was an independent population, which, in 1860, was added to the city of Paris to become its eighteenth district. The proliferation of brothels, cabarets and show halls of scant reputation made the neighbourhood a very badly considered area that, nevertheless, strongly attracted some artists. The reasons were diverse, but above all, gentrification phenomenon stands out. Napoleon III, together with his leading urban designer Baron Haussmann, wanted to make Paris the most beautiful city in Europe. As a result, there was an ordering of the centre and the displacement of groups of citizens who were relocated to nearby towns, as happened in Montmartre.

Maxime Dethomas, “Poster Montmartre”, 1897 (image from nataliamartinlago.com)

This hill was also the main stage of the Franco-Prussian War, which took place between 1870 and 1871, and the rise of the revolutionary movement "the Paris Commune". Turned into a battlefield, chance made that its name, "mount of martyrs" gained meaning after the numerous casualties in the French army. At the end of the conflict, in 1873, the National Assembly agreed to build the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur in homage to the fallen. Today this temple is an emblem of the neighbourhood that shines on the hill illuminated by the sun and can be seen from the old city.

Pierre Marie Louis Vidal, Cover of “La Vie à Montmartre” (detail), 1897. Litography © Private collection / Photographer: Elsevier Stokmans Fotografie (image from caixaforum.es)

We can imagine that an atmosphere full of meaning like the one that reigned at the end of the 19th century, in a marginal neighbourhood, punished by war, decadent, indecent and proud was a natural refuge for those who wanted to live outside the system. They wanted to be free from the confining of liberalism, the formalities of high society, the artifices of Parisian pomposity and life away from the real vital pulse that connects the human passions, good and bad, in an environment where they can run freely. To all this ideological context joins, of course, money, because survival is easier and cheaper in a neighbourhood of a bad reputation.

View of the exhibition room in CaixaForum (image from caixaforum.es)

This set of elements constituted the breeding ground of an unprecedented cultural flowering. The artists met and shared experiences around the Bateau-Lavoir, a building that served as a welcome centre for many creators and where Picasso and Modigliani were at the beginning. Montmartre and, on the opposite bank of the Seine, Montparnasse were the cradle of a creative interest that fed back. Pissarro and Johan Jongkind, and then Renoir, Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gen Paul, Villon and many others set at that time several associations of artists and consolidated a link today inseparable between the neighbourhood and art. With their determination and their desire to be above the established canons, they managed to write a chapter of their own in the history of world art.

We recommend you take advantage of the last days of the exhibition "Toulouse-Lautrec and the spirit of Montmartre" at CaixaForum Madrid, to relive a part of that time and immerse yourself in an episode of history that brings together 350 works from around the world (untill May 19th).

 

Among the specialised professional profiles that we find in the cultural sector, and more specifically, in the field of visual arts, one of the most recent occupations is that of the curator. The ‘80s put attention on the role of the artist, with its innovative character and the enhancement of its figure as an essential articulator of creative proposals, while the end of the century moved the interest towards the exhibition centres themselves and their work as custodians of current production and as spaces to accommodate all proposals. The change of millennium strongly introduced in this panorama the role of the curator. Perhaps together with a social identity crisis, perhaps with the complexity that contemporary projects are currently acquiring, the need for building, articulating and delving into artistic discourses became evident.

Although the functions entrusted to this profession are not entirely new, since previously they belonged to conservatives, critics or experts according to the themes, the role has gained solidity because it combines all these purposes while allowing the specialisation of other professionals in their fields of competence. Now, as some curators themselves point out, the genuine spirit of this figure, who was born to facilitate the understanding of the discourse, create narratives within a sometimes chaotic and scattered context, mediate between the works and the spectator and create bridges between contemporary art and society.

The art of our day raises a multitude of unknowns for the visitor who must face proposals many times away from the aesthetic standards, which gives way to uncertainty and confusion; but, in turn, these works employ a closer language, materials and even compositions detached from the sophistication and the technical display of yesteryear, something that, far from favouring proximity to the message, generates some distancing. What we have just described is part of the very essence of current art. The questioning of the formalist guidelines and the recourse to tangible elements that are more utilitarian than embellishing are the new criteria of creation, where, above all, the message to be conveyed stands out.

Likewise, another inherent characteristic of the work of our time is the artists' concern for more immediate themes, for social, political and economic issues that seek to create a narrative and conceptual revulsion, leaving behind the aesthetic priority or, rather, making of the message its own aesthetic. In this context, strange as it may seem, contemporary creation encounters a linguistic barrier hindering the viewer's understanding. And to this circumstance, the abundant current production is added, covering a wide range of themes that are nothing more than a transcript of our diverse and globalised society.

The curator helps to facilitate this understanding by articulating a coherent discourse that allows the grouping of related ideas to set up the message. This requires to have an in-depth knowledge of the current state of the art, the lines of work of the creators, the most recent aesthetic proposals and the real demands of society to bridge the dialogue and allow the approach to art. If art deals with the same issues that concern us all, how can we not share its postulates? Cultural mediation requires the work of the curators to open a small window for reflection and to enable a space for exchange and idea generation. We share the thought that José Guirao expressed in a recent interview: "The curator is someone who reveals something new, and it would be a mistake for curators to become managers."

Understood this way curator’s role, many institutions have joined the trend of creating specific calls for new professionals to give light to their proposals. Let us remember, as an example, the call "Unpublished" of La Casa Encendida, or "Curator wanted", of the Community of Madrid or the call of Curating of La Caixa.