Introduction An Interview with Portabella
Extraterritorial Portabella Vampir at MoMA, 1972



MoMA presents Pere Portabella, a retrospective of the films of the veteran Catalan filmmaker who remains at the forefront of avant-garde Spanish cinema. Over the past forty years, Portabella (b. 1929, Barcelona) has produced a wide range of narrative and documentary works known for the formal beauty of their composition and their complex interrelationship of image and sound—many of them involving symbolic resistance to the 1939–75 regime of General Francisco Franco. The exhibition includes films that have consistently expanded the expressive potential of the medium through the director's subversion of the notion of genre—particularly for horror films, fantasy films, and thrillers—and have served as allegorical critiques of the right wing Spanish administration. Presented from September 26 to October 6, 2007, in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, Pere Portabella features the director's first appearance in the United States for the U.S. premiere of his latest film The Silence before Bach (2007) on September 26.

The exhibition is organized by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Mark Nash, Professor and Head of the Department Curating Contemporary Art, Royal College of Art, London.

Pere Portabella is made possible with the support of the State Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad SEACEX (Sociedad Estalal para la Acción Exterior, Madrid). Films and texts for the exhibition were lent by MACBA (Museu d'Art Contemporani, Barcelona) and Portabella's own production company, Films 59.

Pere Portabella
I was introduced to the work of Pere Portabella during our planning for Document11 in 2002. It was a great pleasure to view all his films and explore the work of an artist who had developed such a unique cinematic language, but whose work had, for historical reasons (Francoism and the lack of interest in Catalan culture in the new Spain), not received the recognition it deserved. I was familiar with the work of his compatriot, friend and collaborator Joan Miro, but not of the other Barcelona based artists and writers such as Joan Brossa and Carles Santos with whom Portabella collaborated so successfully.

Portabella's concerns with the complexity of language and subversion of cinematic codes mark him as a key, and until recently relatively unrecognised, participant in both the political and materialist avant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s. Portabella's cinema interrogates the indexical bond between image and referent; his use of structural materialist devices to loosen this bond serves to focus the viewer's attention on their role in the political and cultural processes of the circulation of meaning. His cinematic range is extensive, from the celebration of the intertexuality of horror cinema in Vampir/Cuadecuc (1970) to the clandestinely shot documentaries Informe General (1976) and El Sopar (1974) and the experiments with multiple narratives of Warsaw Bridge (1990). His work bears comparison with the best of European art cinema—Godard, Antionini, Straub and Huillet. There is also a playfulness and lightness of touch in his work which comes I think from his working collaboratively both culturally and politically, with a group of artists, all concerned not to compromise artistic research with false populism.

Portabella understands that cinema can give us tools, admittedly complex ones, for looking at and representing reality, tools that can help construct a critical and complex way of thinking, one as important now as at anytime in his career. I feel particularly privileged that we are able to present the North American Premiere of The Silence before Bach, one of the most important art films I have seen recently. This season would not have been possible without the generosity of Mr Portabella himself and that of Marcello Esposito, the curator of the 2001 MACBA exhibition.

Mark Nash

Warsaw Bridge. 1990. Spain. Directed by Pere Portabella