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Barcelona museum chief resigns after row over sculpture of ex-Spanish king

Dispute over inclusion of work in Macba show also prompts dismissal of two curators

Macba board director Jaume Ciurana.
Macba board director Jaume Ciurana.

The row at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Macba) over an exhibition featuring a sculpture apparently depicting Spain’s former King Juan Carlos being sodomized has ended with the resignation of the institution’s director, Bartomeu Marí.

But in a final act of his tenure Marí also dismissed, with immediate effect, the two people responsible for the show, chief curator Valentín Roma and head of public programs Paul B. Preciado, because of an “irrecoverable loss of trust.”

Both curators had refused Marí’s request to withdraw the artwork from the La bestia y el soberano (or, The beast and the ruler) exhibition after he deemed it “inappropriate,” leading him to take the unprecedented decision of canceling the entire show last Wednesday.

After being canceled last week, the show finally opened on Saturday with the controversial piece in place

Under pressure from cultural associations, artists, the public and museum workers, Marí later went back on his decision and opened the exhibition on Saturday with the controversial piece by Austrian artist Ines Doujak still in place.

Barcelona deputy mayor for culture Jaume Ciurana, the president of Macba’s board, explained the changes on Monday evening after an extraordinary meeting of museum governors, including representatives from Barcelona City Hall, the regional government, the Culture Ministry and the Macba Foundation.

The two curators are to leave but will continue to work on the projects relating to this year’s program, he said. The governors also decided to delay Marí’s departure for a few months so as to ensure the museum is affected as little as possible by the transition.

The sculpture that sparked the row. ampliar foto
The sculpture that sparked the row. EFE

Titled Haute couture 04 Transport, the sculpture in question shows a man on his knees being straddled by an apparently indigenous Latin American woman who simultaneously seems to be being sodomized by a beast. The floor is littered with combat helmets.

The controversy arises from the fact that the male figure is meant to be former Spanish King Juan Carlos, although his name is not mentioned anywhere in the description of the artwork.

The woman represents a Bolivian feminist and labor leader named Domitila Barrios de Chúngara.

In its meeting on Monday, the governing board failed to decide what to do with a letter from two co-directors of Stuttgart’s Württembergischer Kunstverein center, which co-curated the show with Macba, in which they defended the two sacked Spanish curators.

Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ said Roma and Preciado had “acted correctly and professionally at every moment” and should not suffer any reprisals. They also demanded that the museum issue a public apology to the 30 artists involved in the project.

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