Pablo Palazuelo (Madrid, 1915 – Madrid, 2007) is one of the key figures of Spanish art of the second half of the 20th century, although unfortunately, he has still not gained the international recognition that his work so richly deserves. This retrospective exhibition, organized by the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona and coproduced by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, emphasizes the least-known aspects of the work of this artist, incorporating many pieces that have not been shown to the public before. With more than 300 works, Palazuelo: Working Process includes a broad selection of drawings, gouaches, paintings, and sculptures.
In abstract paintings that are often considered idealistic or spiritual, the artist feeds off currents of thought associated with the esoteric, the kabbalah, and non-Western cognitive philosophies and processes, but mathematics, physics, and scientific thought are also essential features of his work. The development of abstraction and the use of geometry in his oeuvre are intimately linked to a rational, performative process based on the discovery, rather than the invention, of new forms. This constant sense of discovery creates a tension that manifests itself in an endless variation of forms.
Palazuelo's work has often been overlooked by historians because it falls outside of what had been the prevailing ideas of the course of abstraction in 20th-century art. This interpretation focused on a linear and formalist understanding of abstraction, beginning with Cézanne and Picasso, through Constructivism and reaching forward to Minimalism. Palazuelo's attention to spiritual, philosophical, and scientific practices challenged this rigid and limiting version of art history. As a result, Palazuelo's oeuvre, complex and layered, existed apart from this overly simplified notion of abstraction.
Rather than follow a traditional, chronological retrospective format, the exhibition, curated by Manuel Borja-Villel and Teresa Grandas, highlights the artist's search for a type of abstraction closer to notions of process, performativity, or relatedness. While the reconsideration of issues such as geometry and matter is crucial to his work, his own poetics generate a bond between the formal structure of the oeuvre and the ambiguity and multiplicity of its references. While falling within what might be termed modern abstract visuality, his output is linked to practices and aesthetics that are closer to symbolism. In works that explore the interstitial spaces generated from what is visible, the viewer's mediation is crucial to their continuing exploration and eventual blossoming.
Palazuelo's work is the setting for a paradoxical blend of forms of visuality proper to modern abstraction with performative, theatrical work methods, close to the notion of theatricality Michael Fried discussed in his 1967 critique of Minimalism "Art and Objecthood," which argued for the discursive, the performative, and the textual, as opposed to the pure, autonomous, and self-referential visuality of modern art.