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The museum and his building


More than fifty years have passed since the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español [Spanish Abstract Art Museum] opened its doors in July 1966 in the already celebrated and recently remodeled space of the historic Casas Colgadas [Hanging Houses], in the city of Cuenca. The result of a generous initiative on the part of Fernando Zóbel, who benefited from the outset from the invaluable collaboration of Gustavo Torner and Gerardo Rueda—among other artists—the museum was a pioneering project, given that until the 1980s Spain had almost no public or private institutions devoted to collecting and publicly displaying contemporary art—in this case abstract art—under modern museological conditions.

"Entrada original del museo, 1966." Foto: Jaume Blassi
Entrada original del museo, 1966 Foto: Jaume Blassi

In this context, the creation of a museum by artists was an extremely surprising event, which is perfectly understandable given that the result was a true "artist-run space," an expression that has come into widespread use to define the spaces created by artists in Europe and the United States from the 1960s on, and that best describes the museum initiative in Cuenca: a space entirely conceived, created and supported by artists. Furthermore, the fact that the museum was established outside the official cultural circuit in a country that had yet another ten years to wait before the arrival of a democratic system, and that it was installed in a unique space handed over for this purpose by the city council of a small provincial capital, rapidly attracted worldwide attention.

The Museo de Arte Abstracto Español soon became a reference point for both Spanish and international museums. Firstly, of course, because of its collection, which comprises a select group of paintings and sculptures ranging from the 1950s to the 1980s, but also because of the historic building which houses it, a group of fifteenth-century houses that hang over the Huécar River Gorge and that still preserve some of their original features.

In 1980, Fernando Zóbel donated his collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints to the Fundación Juan March. He also donated his library, his diaries and more than 130 sketchbooks. Since then, the Fundación Juan March has been the title-holder of the museum and is responsible for the preservation and expansion of the bequest it received, which it has enriched with works from its own holdings and through new acquisitions.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the museum’s founding and with the second edition of its catalog recently out of print, this new, third edition has been published both in Spanish and English. It is a corrected, expanded version of the previous one. Following a brief introductory essay, it includes entries on original works on display in the museum, as well as on new additions; updated photographic material; alphabetical and chronological lists of works and artists; and an essay on Cuenca’s Hanging Houses by Professor Pedro Miguel Ibáñez Martínez, the leading expert on the age-old history of these houses. The Fundación Juan March would like to thank him for his collaboration. Our thanks also go to Javier Maderuelo and Juan Manuel Bonet for checking their original entries and writing new ones.

In 1966, in the prologue to the museum’s first catalog, Fernando Zóbel wrote that, "its collection, although modest in comparison to that of any museum with a history, greatly exceeds the display capacity of the Hanging Houses in Cuenca.... For this reason ... the museum's formula will be ... a slow rotation of the works." Today, the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español is a museum "with a history." The works in the permanent collection and those by the Spanish and international artists represented in the museum’s temporary exhibitions continue to be rotated with an appropriate slowness in order to allow for contemplation, appreciation and learning on the part of the museum’s visitors.