CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Colonial Memory in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections

25 June - 20 October 2024

Colonial Memory in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections

Exhibition: 25 June - 20 October 2024

Colonial Memory in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections addresses the role of museums and the works they house in the context of the creation and legitimization of the Eurocentric narrative. The exhibition is the result of possible re-readings of the Thyssen collections (some of which have already been presented in exhibitions such as American Art) which intersect with the aim of renewing and updating the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in relation to the challenges of 21st-century society, such as the climate crisis, gender equality, migration and, in this case, decolonization. This last undertaking has been ongoing for some years in the form of studies, talks, seminars, publications, performances, tours, educational activities and of course exhibitions, in every case led by the museum’s commitment to a varied program aimed at all sectors of the public and to “the diversity of interpretations of its collections, open to different currents of thought and perceptions.”

Through 55 works from the museum’s historical collections (the permanent collection and the Carmen Thyssen Collection) in addition to eighteen contemporary pieces from the TBA21 collection, this exhibition highlights the consequences of the colonialism that began in the sixteenth century and its presence in Western iconography through idyllic, exoticizing images which mask inequality and colonial violence.

As the exhibition’s curators write in the introduction to the catalogue, in many cases “what the paintings hide is more important than what they reveal” adding that “with this exhibition the narrative is turned on its head and it is those invisibilized realities that take center stage as part of a process of justice of knowledge.” They also propose “a historical analysis from viewpoints critical with Western narratives in order to emphasize the processes of occupation of territories, domination of populations and exploitation of resources.”

A Eurocentric image prevails in the works in the museum’s collections, generally indulgent with the colonial structure and its consequences. In contrast, the 21st-century creations featured in the exhibition provide a critical perspective, the result of reflection on colonialism and its legacy and also of the experience of artists from the so-called “Global South”.

Dutch Art

The first section of the exhibition includes still lifes constructed through objects imported from overseas, such as ceramics and porcelain – among them Still life with a Chinese Bowl, Nautilus Cup and Other Objects (1662) by Willem Kalf. The commercial rivalry between Western powers is reflected in The Dutch Fleet in the Goeree Roads (1672-1673) by Willem van de Velde II.

Frans Post (1612-1680), View of the Ruins of Olinda, Brazil, 1665
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Other works by Dutch artist on display in this exhibition are a Frans Post’s View of the Ruins of Olinda, Brazil (1665) and large canvas by Frans Hals, Family Group in a Landscape (1645-1648). According to recent research, this is possibly the family of Jacob Ruychaver, diretor general of Elmina Castle, Ghana, who was employed by the Dutch West India Company from 1641-45 and 1651-56, while the African youth depicted in the painting would have been sent directly to the United Provinces to work as a servant.

Curatorial Team

The work of the four curators has been based on debate and negotiation, and also on openness to other viewpoints through the inclusion of the voice of grassroots cultural organisations. This multi-faceted team comprises Juan Ángel López-Manzanares (museum curator and project director); Alba Campo Rosillo (art historian); Andrea Pacheco González (independent curator and director of the FelipaManuela space); and Yeison F. García López (director of the Espacio Afro cultural centre).