Joan Brossa’s Never-Ending Archive

In theory, classifying archive materials seems easy: there are the letters and the visual artworks, and then some documents should be just drafts, while some others are original poems. And there could also be visual poems, besides the edited versions of visual works. Et cetera.

In real life, however, things are more complex. The legacy of the versatile poet, playwright and visual artist Joan Brossa (Barcelona, 1919-1998), transferred to the MACBA Study Center in early 2012, is an excellent example of an archive whose structure simply blasts classical, straightforward classifications based on the typology of archive items.

Brossa-con-archivoBrossa’s library, his personal archive and his art collection (with works by him and by other artist friends), impossible to disentangle from one another, include three-dimensional objects, published and unpublished visual poems, manuscripts with different versions of his plays, prose and poetry, original visual works which were later turned into printed posters, letters which sometimes include visual poems… Many of these materials are interwoven, related in various ways, and creatively recycled over and over again in different formats. When tackling an archive such as this, many questions arise: should a visual poem be considered a work of art, and therefore placed in the art collection, while a text poem belongs to the archive collection? Given that most of the stuff kept in the archive remains unpublished, where to draw the line between drafts and finished pieces? Where do original drawings for posters belong? And the corresponding printed copies of such posters…?

We undertook to develop ab agreement by which the Brossa Foundation entrusted to MACBA the legacy of this extremely prolific artist, whose work still remains unjustly unknown, in and outside Spain. Besides going beyond traditional classification systems to find a way to describe the entire archive without breaking it up into independent units, we were expected to make him better known. For this purpose, among other strategies we devised some fairly innovative projects. For example: we set out to build up a solid collection of photographs of the artist, taken by a range of photographers spanning his close friends (amateur, familiar images) to some of Catalonia’s most renowned photographers of the 20th century. These images are now public on the Internet, in some cases even under a Creative Commons license.

More info about Joan Brossa here.