Landscape after Tropical Storm Rodin

A DANA swept Santa Cruz de Tenerife with particular hardness in recent weeks, shaking up the political and cultural scene until it produced a perhaps unexpected epilogue, undoubtedly gimmicky, that left victims everywhere. It could be considered that tropical storm Rodin has been like a DANA, because it responds precisely to the acronyms that define this adverse meteorological phenomenon: it has been a depression, due to the level of bitterness that the debate on finally not reaching has reached. born capital museum; it has been isolated, because it has limited itself to running among the political, cultural and media interlocutors of the Tenerife capital, without ever transcending towards a true civic debate; and it has moved, like a DANA, at high levels, in the form of a fictional recreation of what should be a true collective conversation about the museum policy of a medium-sized city, its current diagnosis, plausible objectives for the near future, and its interaction with the local economy. And from that mold, what has resulted is a debate that is neither original nor false, in allegorical resemblance to the works from the original bronzes of Auguste Rodin, which will no longer come to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Let’s recap, then, the landscape that results after this windstorm.

The government group did not see it coming. The first pronouncements about the arrival of a franchise from the Rodin Museum in Paris to Santa Cruz de Tenerife were clearly bloodless. We go back to October 2021, when the agreement for the acquisition by the capital of up to a hundred works by the great French artist was made public, and whose confirmation by the municipal government group was received without enthusiasm, also without any reproach, except made from some criticism coming from highly specialized circles. At that time, the Rodin file had a promoter, the mayor José Manuel Bermúdez, and a multitude of indifferents, either due to ignorance, caution or caution. Then it was known that the museum would be located in the Viera y Clavijo Park, an excellent idea to recover a cultural container forgotten for decades, and it was made clear that the agreement with the Parisian institution would be based on the acquisition of works of art, not on the loan of the same, for a price that would have to be evaluated by independent experts after, is not a trivial detail, an initial selection (with price included) of the original museum itself. In those weeks it was impossible to predict that the storm would break out a year later.

The weight of the “cultural sector”. The leadership of the Canary Islands Coalition and the network of cultural managers on the island of Tenerife have looked at each other with suspicion for years, even decades, in an exercise of necessary cohabitation (for both), which has experienced some episodes of disagreement in the past, especially from the opening of the TEA (Tenerife Espacio de las Artes), the great cultural infrastructure of the capital and the building with which the managers of CC have already spent the bullet of what could be called Guggenheim effect, with uneven results by the way. What has happened with the Rodin file is not new either, what varies in this case is the intensity of the conflict and the importance that it has acquired over the weeks. But more than criticism, which has been closely identified with specific people (the artist and teacher Claudio Marrero, the architect Federico García Barba, respectable people with whom one can disagree, but who cannot be labeled as hitmen for the opposition). What is surprising about this matter is the resounding failure to gather support for the Rodin file. The mayor of Santa Cruz appointed his councilor for the Treasury as spokesperson for the project, a correct decision from a tactical point of view that the designated person, Juan José Martínez, assumed with solvency and verve. It has not been of any use, because there are causes that it is impossible to support alone, they need the support of certain prescribers capable of envisioning future success and being credible in their efforts. And what CC has encountered with this matter is the following: some critical voices with a clear discourse and, above all, an eloquent silence from possible allies, something that in this case it was not possible to compensate with media support. First, because journalists are not a source of authority on cultural matters (are we on any?, one might ask immediately). Second, because the most complete piece on the Rodin affair was perhaps the hardest, signed by the art critic Elena Vozmediano in the cultural.

Reasons for yes, reasons for no. At this point, the government group in the City Council reached the conclusion that there would not be a single cultural manager who would put his name in defense of the creation of the Rodin Museum in Santa Cruz. On the contrary, opposition voices were added, such as that of the Faculty of Fine Arts, in a cacophony that began to twist the triumphalist forecasts of the preceding months. And speaking of forecasts, a projection of visitors and economic performance of the museum itself did not help either, which, due to the magnitude of the figures, has always seemed to be out of reality, with estimates that far exceeded the modest figures of the aforementioned TEA and even they were comparable to those in Auguste Rodin’s house in Paris. This was reminiscent of the thousands of jobs that the port of Granadilla was going to create, which is still waiting there for a ship to dock many years and 300 million euros later. In response to the skepticism of the island’s cultural sector, the government group argued that other comparable projects, such as Bilbao’s own Guggenheim, had suffered similar criticism in their launch phase. Something that, by the way, is true: a powerful platform, led by the plastic artist Jorge Oteiza (no less), led the rejection of the great Bilbao-American museum back in 1991. But this argument, even being valid, was still insufficient, because it is complex to explain that you make a relevant cultural decision without having a certain complicity from the local cultural sector itself, something that would be inconceivable in other areas of public management. Here the government group began to lose the battle: on one side were the Canarian nationalists, erected as buyers of works of art by an eminent foreign artist (the fascination that the foreign product produces in the leadership of CC would lead to an exercise in psychoanalysis ), and on the other, some cultural managers and the municipal opposition endorsing the banner of defending the local creative ecosystem. The story of David against Goliath… who won it?

The defensive message and the letter from the Rodin Museum. There was a moment, a couple of weeks ago, in which the mayor of Santa Cruz chose to change the script. And the new one involved wrapping the Rodin project in a more ambitious purpose to rescue the cultural infrastructures and the historical heritage of the capital of Tenerife, abandoned for decades. And from then on, the new franchise museum would no longer come alone, but accompanied by the rehabilitation of buildings and the provision of spaces for local creators (there are, for that the TEA was also created, let’s remember that you cannot shoot the same rocket twice). This purely defensive message has given way at the beginning of the year, at which time the final collapse of the Rodin project has occurred through the letter sent by the director of the Parisian museum, from whose reading two conclusions can be deduced: the first , that Mrs. Simier knows the argument of the government group in detail, because she literally includes it in her letter, with a precision that invites skepticism and even produces tenderness. The mayor, when asked on Canarias Radio about this aspect, denied previously knowing the content of the letter or having participated in its drafting. The second conclusion is that in Paris they also know the meaning of the word victimhood: the director of the Rodin Museum attributes to the modest chicharrero cultural network a malevolent intention: the “questioning of Rodin as a universal artist, of the originality of his works and of the motivations of a national public institution like ours”. The director of the museum forgets that she herself is the promoter of the capitalist commercialization of the work of genius, which she has left in writing. The Rodin Museum would be a good or bad idea, but of course in this matter the French managers were not acting as patrons, but as sellers. They cannot be outraged now that they have been treated as such.

And now? Reactions and a humble proposal. The reactions to the announcement that there will no longer be a Rodin Museum in Santa Cruz de Tenerife conform to each person’s manual of style. The PP has been in profile for days, because it did not have and does not have anything to gain in this matter. Canary Coalition regrets “the lost opportunity” and promises to open, now yes, a process of dialogue with the island’s cultural sector, already with the intention of containing the damage of what is undoubtedly a political defeat, although with very limited repercussions in the chicharrero artistic microworld. The PSOE has smelled blood and gloats over the failure of the project, although it has not said a single word about what it would do with those 16 million that will no longer go to the coffers of the French institution; and to govern it is not enough to criticize, an alternative vision must be offered. Izquierda Unida councilor Ramón Trujillo prides himself on having stopped “a beach bar” and on this argument he builds the best structured discourse that has come out of the municipal opposition. At this point things are, the truth is that everything is quite predictable. And perhaps it would be good to also renounce originality in the development of future actions. Santa Cruz has a success story to tell in his relationship with sculpture. It was the international street art exhibition of 1973, articulated in difficult times, and not from power, but from society, by distinguished people who put their knowledge, talent and contacts at the service of a collective idea for the benefit of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and its urban space. Why not learn from that to repeat that generous vision, why not extend the city’s artistic brand to the neighbourhoods, why not think more about passers-by and less about tourists? It will be cheaper, and it will require more work. A first action would be to take better care of the legacy of the already distant 73, because some works on the Rambla are in a lamentable state and remind us that, before projecting idyllic futures of uncertain materialization, public managers must attend above all to the city that already exists.

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