Controversial ‘political prisoners’ exhibit goes on display in Lleida
Censored artwork featuring jailed Catalan public figures opens to public today until April 22
The artwork by Santiago Sierra that was controversially removed from the ARCO art fair in Madrid in February went this evening on display in the Museum of Lleida. 'Presos polítics en la Espanya contemporània' (Political prisoners in Contemporary Spain) opened in Catalonia’s northeastern regional capital with hundreds of people queuing to see it, after its owner, businessman Tatxo Benet, expressed his intention to show the piece “wherever there is a demand for it,” beginning with his hometown of Lleida.
Sierra’s work, which features 24 black and white photographs showing the pixelated faces of political figures behind bars in Spain, includes ERC party leader, Oriol Junqueras, and the heads of two pro-independence organisations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez, the latter who is now the candidate to become the next Catalan president.
In his wish to display the artwork he bought before its controversial removal, Lleida was always top of Benet’s list. “I would like to start this process in the Museum of Lleida because Lleida is my hometown (although I live in Barcelona), and recently the Spanish police entered the museum to take religious pieces of art by force. It’s a kind of restitution from me to the city of Lleida," he said referring to the also controversial Romanesque pieces moved to Sixena last December. As for the museum’s head, Josep Giralt, he said: “If someone offers you a work that is at the center of the controversy, you cannot say no.”
Sierra’s exhibit was supposed to go on display at the ARCO art fair in mid-February, but the state-owned operator Ifema, which organises the event, decided to withdraw the piece arguing that it would become a “distraction.” Madrid's left-wing city council unsuccessfully tried to get the decision reversed, but in a statement, Ifema insisted that Sierra's exhibit was "damaging the visibility of [other artworks] that ARCOmadrid 2018 brings together." When the Lleida exhibition ends, the work will next be shown in Barcelona’s CCCB art centre.