Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Teams Up with Córdoba to Revitalize Spanish City

In a three-year-long partnership forged with officials of the Andalusian regional government, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), which has outposts in Madrid and Vienna, will bring its enviable art collection to Córdoba, Spain, in an effort to bolster the medieval city’s status as a cultural hub. The official agreement, which will begins in 2022, was finalized during a ceremony in Cordoba on Friday.

TBA21’s collection includes works by John Akomfrah, Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson, and more, and was assembled by Swiss heiress Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza. As part of the plan, works from it will be installed at the Córdoba’s Center for Contemporary Creation of Andalusia (C3A). Both the Andalusian regional government’s department of culture and historical heritage, which oversees institutions in the southern Spanish region where Córdoba is located, and its city council are funding the initiative, in the hope of bringing more people to the city.

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With the plan, Thyssen-Bornemisza is leveraging her deep ties in Spain, where her family’s namesake national museum also resides, to move TBA21’s mission onto a larger stage. “This is the greatest gift,” she said. “We’ve never been able to do a show about our collection on this scale anywhere. There’s a huge sense of openness to us coming there.”

For years, Córdoba city officials have struggled to compete with its neighboring city of Seville, which boasts a strong network of museums. With a population of around 800,000, Córdoba is home to four UNSECO World Heritage cites, among them La Mezquita, a Moorish style cathedral converted from a mosque in the 13th century. It is one of the handful of structures still standing from the medieval era, when the city was once a hub for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. During the pandemic, the site saw its tourist traffic plummet due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Now, the city is making a recovery and aiming to reshape its image.

The first exhibition that will be mounted as part of the partnership series is scheduled to take place in April 2022, to mark TBA21’s 20-year anniversary. Under the title “Abundant Futures,” it will feature major commissions made by TBA21 in the past, including Akomfrah’s Purple (2017), a six-screen installation about the effects of climate change. Matthew Ritchie’s The Family Farm (2000), an installation inspired by the artist’s family’s property being confiscated by the U.K. government to build an airport, will also be featured, as well acquisitions of works by Cerith Wyn Evans, Ana Mendieta, Sarah Lucas, Pipilotti Rist, and Sound Walk Collective.

In 2023 and 2024, TBA21 will share an exhibition space with C3A, which was established in 2016. Together, the institutions are eyeing performance artists to bring to the museum campus for three-year residencies. Because urgent issues like climate change have long been a focus for Thyssen-Bornemisza and her collection, both she and C3A are aiming to collaborate on programming that places emphasis on those themes.

John Akomfrah installation

John Akomfrah, Purple, 2017, installed at the ICA, Boston.

It’s not just contemporary issues that Thyssen-Bornemisza is aiming to illuminate, however. She has already tapped curator Sofia Lemos to lead a symposium that mines the history of medieval Sufi poets and philosophers that once populated Córdoba. The three-day event is scheduled to take place next fall. “This area of Andalusia may in the future become quite a global reference for culture that has been lost,” said Thyssen-Bornemisza, speaking of the various primary documents penned by these poets and philosophers, many of which have were destroyed in various conflicts.

C3A director Juan Antonio Álvarez Reyes said the goal for the joint venture between the two institutions is twofold. “On the one hand we seek to bring one of the most important collections of contemporary art to Andalusian citizens,” Reyes told ARTnews. “On the other, it’s to reflect on some of the most pressing issues we face: the ecological emergency, and how to build a world in peace.” He added that he wants the TBA21 project to “have a lasting impact on the people here.”


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