Salient in the cultural policy implemented by the Franco regime during the 1950s were the Hispano-American Art Biennials. These art events organised by the Institute of Hispanic Culture sought to exhibit and reward works by contemporary Ibero-American artists. The 3rd Biennial showed the importance of abstract art and, furthermore, its concerns came to represent a successful form of propaganda which raised awareness of the Spanish art scene internationally, as well as international art inside Spain.
Three Hispano-American Art Biennials were eventually held. The first took place in Madrid in 1951, the second moved to Havana in 1954 and the third and final Biennial was unveiled in the Barcelona Municipal Exhibitions Pavilion in September 1955. The event assembled a substantial number of works classified in different genres — sculpture, painting, watercolour, drawings and engravings, architecture, gold and silversmithing, and ceramics. Hugely successful publicly and broadly covered in the mainstream and specialist press, the exhibition displayed diverse pieces made by heterogeneous artists, some of whom, including Martín Chirino, Will Faber, Ángel Ferrant, Oswaldo Guayasamín, Manuel Millares, Enric Planasdurà, Pablo Serrano, Juan José Tharrats, Antoni Tàpies and Fernando Zóbel, feature in this room.
Despite the different aesthetic conceptions represented, critics saw the 3rd Biennial as an official success story for abstraction. Therefore, among the multiple official and unofficial cultural events developed to the same end, the exhibition Modern Art in the USA: Selection of Collections from New York’s Museum of Modern Art cannot be ignored. Spread across two sites (Palau de la Virreina and the Municipal Exhibitions Pavilion), it displayed a selection of pieces encompassing architecture, sculpture, engraving and twentieth-century American painting, offering the chance to contemplate works from Abstract Expressionism for the first time in Spain. The political readings of this project, executed in the context of the Cold War and after the signing of the Spain-United States Agreements of 1953, have not passed under the radar. Twinned aesthetically, the USA was presented as an artistic and political friend which, while benefitting from Spain’s strategic position, had the capacity to promote the modern vision of the Franco regime both nationally and internationally.
By the closing date of the 3rd Biennial, Spain had finally been admitted to the UN. In the years that followed, the act of US dissemination would still mark certain milestones in Spain through US presence at the Barcelona Trade Fair (1956 and 1957) and the International Country Fair in Madrid (1959). In both cities, the architects Peter Harnden and Lanfranco Bombelli erected their respective pavilions with structures and pre-fabricated materials to showcase the American way of life, reflected in raw materials such as cotton and sugar and in the economic powerhouse’s major technological advances.
The decade, pivotal in the art world, concluded with an embrace, both real and symbolic, that made the front pages of newspapers and magazines: between Franco and Eisenhower, the US President visiting Spain.