In March of 2016, artist Catherine Opie and Philip Taaffe traveled to Madrid to speak to and engage with Spanish art students and art professionals about their work, and their artistic connection to Spain.
Both Opie and Taaffe’s work are featured prominently in the Art in Embassies exhibition at the Residence of Ambassador Costos and his partner Michael Smith, which includes a large selection of both American and Spanish artists, including a fountain by Christina Iglesias, works by Chuck Close, Josef Albers, Glen Ligon , Antoni Tapies, and Inigo Manglano-Ovalle.
The exchange program kicked off with a presentation by Catherine Opie on Friday morning, March 18, at the headquarters of PhotoEspana (the International Festival of Photography and Visual Arts of Madrid). The presentation by Opie, featured her overall photographic oeuvre, which is known for giving visibility to the LGBT community. Opie identified diversity with democracy, and she saw, in her approach, the importance of “creating humanity in the wake of indifference.” The presentation was then followed by a Q& A session with the organizers of the festival, students of the Master’s degree Program on Photography and members of La Fabrica, a private organization that specializes in cultural activities in Madrid.
In the early afternoon of that same day, Philip Taaffe presented a lecture to the students of TAI, a private Art Academy. Taaffe described how his artistic practice is situated around the constant research of history, world cultures, and art. These processes not only provide reference but result in the very source material for his artwork. Pointing out the “personal nature” of his art making, Taaffe saw himself as an intermediate to the art and the personal experience that a viewer has with it. Furthermore, he wants the depth of his own making to translate to the viewers’ own personal experience when seeing his work.
The Friday program concluded with a “Meet the Artists” Art in Embassies tour at the Ambassadorial Residence. A large group of students from the Escuela de Arte 10, TAI and PhotoEspana were invited to participate in the tour .These tours are given frequently by Embassy staff, but this time the visitors were led around the residence by Opie and Taaffe, reviewing and discussing the different artworks in the Art in Embassies exhibition, including their own works . Six pigment prints of Opie’s photographs from the series 700 Nimes Road are installed on the second floor of the residence, close to the canvas of John Singer Sargent, Dwarf with a Mastiff, Copy after Velazquez. For the series, Opie had the opportunity to photograph the late actress Elizabeth Taylor’s residence, and its contents, before and after Taylor’s hospitalization and eventual death in March 2011, resulting in an intimate portrait of the actress through her possessions. Opie also identified in these photographs of Taylor’s closets, “a kind of democracy to the elements …it’s not whether it’s a Valentino; it’s without a hierarchy.”
Philip Taaffe is represented in the collection with a mixed media on canvas Port Curtis (2011) as well as six acrylic-on-paper works in which he re-interprets traditional marbling techniques. In Port Curtis, Taaffe described that the naturalistic images of the snakes in the foreground are taped to the surface and “appear to be coming into the light.”
On Monday morning, Both Opie and Taaffe participated in an interview with Rut de las Heras for the art supplement of El Pais, Babelia. In a lively conversation with the journalist, the artists discussed their relationship with Spanish art and artists. As they discuss the collection at the Prado, both artists expressed their admiration for Goya. Taaffe emphasizes the brightness of the cardboard studies for the tapestries… “ I love the color. The emotions expressed in such a simple way, the celebration of life. For Opie… “I prefer the black paintings of the painter from Aragon, and all the mythological references that can be found in the museum.”
That Monday evening, the Matadero hosted a panel discussion, which included Michael Smith, the co-curator for the Art in Embassies exhibition, Catherine Opie and Philip Taaffe, and which was moderated by the well- known art historian and curator, Rafael Doctor. Catherine Opie introduced herself and her work to a filled room , on a very rainy evening, with a slideshow about her work. Opie discussed her creative process, that has a strong social component, as she focused her presentation on her work about demonstrations and people. Philip Taaffe during his presentation discussed his connection to Spanish art, such as Catalaan medieval paintings, as well as the Alhambra and the Real Alcazar of Seville. The moderator engaged the two artists and Michael Smith, after the artists presentations, to discuss on how art, diplomacy and diversity can intersect and connect. Both Opie and Taaffe believe that artists, through their work, can change ideas and mindsets. As Taaffe is quoted in Babelia “There are artists which say my work inspired them, that I changed their lives.”
The exchange concluded with a reception at the Residence of Ambassador Costos, where the artists could continue the conversation about art, diplomacy and diversity with representatives from the Spanish art community.