The CAAM, administered by the Gran Canaria Island Council, was first opened on 4th December 1989. CAAM’s first programme text already expressed the firm intention of combining two courses of institutional action in the cultural life of Canarian Society, namely to constitute itself as an Art Centre in which the most current artistic debates could be collected and disseminated through various activities; and at the same time, to build a Museum of Contemporary Art that aspires to becoming an incontrovertible point of reference for our historic memory through the creation of a permanent collection.
Until now, the most notable and public facet of this Centre has been the programmes of seasonal exhibitions and seminars and courses which it presents, being focused, in general, on the pivotal theme of our blend of Atlantic cultures. The concept of tri-continentality, product of the archipelago’s status as the cultural crossroads between three continents: Europe, Africa and America, not only guides the the CAAM Art Centre as a whole, but also forms the central focus of its art collection.
In a past memorandum it was stated that “…the desire of the Gran Canaria Island Council is to provide the Island with a new, vibrant and dynamic museum that meets the needs of the plastic arts, while also functioning as a Centre that revitalises socio-cultural live… It must be a living and dynamic entity that presents seasonal exhibitions on a rotating and dynamic basis, while also having a perfectly catalogued and ordered permanent collection…”.
These were the objectives with which the current Centre was built in the Los Balcones no. 11 street, in the historical quarter of Vegueta, in a noble house of 935.70 squared meters. In accordance with the provisions of the ordinances applicable to the historic centre of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the building could only consist of a basement, two stories and an attic, with a main facade from the 18th century that has to be respected. Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza was instructed about the requirements that needed to be met and which formed part of the architectural brief, namely:
- Three exhibition floors
- Library and Documentation Centre
- Studies and Offices
- Warehouse of works of art
- Restaurant – Café
- Necessary supplements
The current building was constructed in Los Balcones no. 11, having a total built surface of 3,682.14 square metres in accordance with this brief.
At present, having been remodelled and renovated, all offices and restoration workshops are situated in the annex, in Los Balcones no. 9, in addition to 3 exhibition rooms which are designed to house small format art works and other types of exhibits, such as photography, architecture, and design, which also renders these spaces suitable for housing exhibits from other institutions that approach this centre with collaboration proposals.
Utilising this formula, CAAM has hosted various exhibitions organised in collaboration with the Official Architects’ Association, in addition to the exhibition, “La Otra Mirada” (“The Other Gaze”), a proposition from Gran Canaria creators who lay claim to a new craftsmanship, organized by the Foundation for the Ethnography and Development of Canarian Crafts (FEDAC, by its Spanish acronym) in collaboration with European Community – Leader II project, and the exhibitions of works created by interns of the Centro Canario de Diseño Integrado (Canarian Centre of Integrated Design) falling under the Institute of Technology (ITC) (Instituto Tecnológico de Canarias, S.A.) of the Island Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Canary Islands Government, among others.
With these collaborations, CAAM fulfils one of the objectives with which it was created, namely to establish itself as an Art Centre that collects and disseminates the most current artistic debates, while also being the motor that revitalises the cultural life of Canarian Society.
The San Antonio Abad exhibition hall, annex of the CAAM, was inaugurated in May 1999 after the remodelling work was completed and is dedicated to the research, analysis and dissemination of the latest plastic creations by artists who work in the Canary Islands. This task of disseminating Canarian artistic works, mainly works by young, emerging artists, enables this Centre to consolidate an extraordinary work tool, which is in all respects beneficial for heightening local sensitivity to the artistic tradition of the Canary Islands.
Over the course of these years, CAAM has done important work in the presentation of exhibitions. The Centre’s image archive already includes more than one hundred exhibitions, some of the most notable being Surrealism between the Old and New World; Contemporary Russian Artists; Towards the Landscape; Displacements; Africa Today; The Imagined Museum; Parallel Automatisms; Natural History: The Double Hermetic; Voices of Overseas; Millares; The Russian Avant-Garde; Painting Genres; The Other Country-African Sojourn; Miguel Martín; Heresies; German Expressionism; Óscar Domínguez; Cuba 20th century; Gaceta de Arte Magazine; On Juan Hidalgo; Islands; Transatlantic exhibition; Juan Ismael; Forging Space; A Rebours; Convergences/Divergences; Breezes: Light and Shade in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; Machines; Abstract Art and the Denise René Gallery; Directions of Spanish Sculpture; Radical Architecture; Messoamerica; The Collection –the most visited exhibition in our history, with more than eighteen thousand visitors–, Dokoupil. Candle Paintings. In tandem with this, the Centre has laboured intensively to facilitate dissemination and analysis through the presentation of courses and seminars, thereby establishing its management team as an incontrovertible point of reference in its field.
The Colection and the CAAM new exhibition hall
The Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno Collection is the product of more than fifty years of public collecting in the Canary Islands. It was in the early forties that the first articles started appearing in the Island press, demanding the establishment of a fine arts museum for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria that would serve to stimulate the development of the arts in the difficult post-war era. The Gran Canaria Island Council implemented a museum plan during the fifties, which lead to the opening of the Christopher Columbus House, a museum which housed the first public collections and which hosted the first exhibitions under the patronage of local island institutions.
During the sixties, but even more so during the seventies, the Island Council expanded its collection with further acquisitions, one of the most notable being the Martín Vera collection, which later became one of the central pillars of CAAM’s collection. These acquisitions, together with the incorporation of works that formed part of seasonal exhibitions, constitute a unique testament to the Canarian art produced during the seventies and eighties.
The Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno Collection owes its origins to the deposit of a significant part of the 20th century of the Gran Canaria Island Council’s own collection at the inauguration of the museum in 1989. The first works in the collection included pieces by Canarian artists from the 30s and 40s related to the famous Luján Pérez School of Decorative Arts. José Jorge Oramas, Plácido Fleitas, Eduardo Gregorio, Felo Monzón and Santiago Santana, which were part of the first lot that was deposited by the Island Council. This initial lot also included works by other artists from the archipelago dating from the eighties and nineties, which were acquired from exhibitions presented in the Cristopher Columbus House Museum and in the San Antonio Abad Exhibition Hall.
One of the initial goals was to build up CAAM’s own collection around the El Paso group. The acquisition of pieces by Manolo Millares and Martín Chirino, and other representatives of the informalism school, such as Saura Genovés, Canogar, Viola and Serrano, formed a foundation stone on which the Collection could be built. The work by César Manrique must also be included in this context.
The exhibitions that were held in the museum during the nineties, being based on CAAM’s founding thesis of tri-continentality – i.e. to pursue open dialogue with the rest of the world, especially with the African, American and European continents, given that Canarian culture is largely a product of these tri-continental relationships – opened up the museum’s collections to artworks created in Africa and Latin America. With the intention of being able to exhibit the most significant movements and personalities that sprang up at these latitudes, CAAM acquired certain pieces that were exhibited in its halls. The artworks by African artists such as Willie Bester, Dakpogan, Sokari Douglas Camp and Billi Bidjoka, by and Latin-American artists Kcho, Marcos Lora Read, Manolo Ocampo, Miguel Rio Branco, Santiago Rodríguez Olazábal, Severo Sarduy, Jesús Soto, José Ángel Toirac, Marcos Ricardo Barnatán, Korda, Marc Latamie, Roberto Matta and Manuel Mendive, just to mention some examples, were acquired during this decade.
At the same time, the Centre started with the process of acquiring works dating from periods and by authors that were regarded as insufficiently represented, such as Spanish art from recent years. Thus, works by Carlos Alcolea, José Manuel Broto, Miguel Ángel Campano, Alberto García Alix, Ferrán García Sevilla, Luis Gordillo, Pello Irazu, Francisco Leiro, Pablo Palazuelo, Guillermo Pérez Villalta, Manolo Quejido, Adolfo Scholosser, José María Sicilia, Cristina Iglesias and Juan Muñoz, among many others, found their way into the CAAM Collection.
The re-opening of the Antonio Abad hall heralded a new dynamic in the collection, through the incorporation of the latest assets in the Island’s plastic creations.
During the year 2002, the CAAM Collection entered into a period of reflection and re-evaluation, which led to the acquisition of the archipelago’s most important private collection, namely the APM Collection, composed of over one thousand and six hundred artworks. Many of the works in this collection were pivotal in the development of cultural movements in the Canary Islands during the last thirty years. Installations, sculptures, works in photographic and infographic mediums, graphic work, postal art, in addition to exhibition projects and newspaper files of documents and catalogues, filled the gap that had opened up between the El Paso group and the Spanish art of the nineties. Artists with links to Madrid, Valencia and Seville are especially significant in this regard. The APM collection includes works by artists such as Miquel Navarro, Broto, Guillermo Pérez Pérez Villalta, in addition to historic artists of Spanish conceptual art such as Esther Ferrer or Nacho Criado. It must also be mentioned that works by Central American artists, such as artists with ties to the Cologne and Berlin groups –Walter Dahn and Schmalix, among others- or artists such as Scholte and Andreas Schulze, also form part of this vast collection.
It was also in 2002 that the Memory Paper Collection was acquired from the Leyendecker Gallery by CAAM, which included 48 original works on paper and canvas by Central-European artists, such as Dokoupil, Kever, Baechler, Roberto Cabot, George Condo, Kippenberger, Longobardi, Mosbacher and Penck who played key roles in the eighties and nineties. To these latest acquisitions must be added further purchases from and commissions to emerging artists in recent months, such as Miguel Ángel Pascual, Pipo Hernández Rivero, Julio Blancas and Palenzuela.
The inauguration of the Collection took place in November 2002 and represented an enormous public effort to preserve, safeguard and exhibit a unique heritage in the archipelago; a collection that reflects, like none other, the processes which have moulded the history of art in the archipelago; a European and Atlantic history with Latin American and African influences; therefore, a unique collection that is presented by us in this enlarged museum. In order to exhibit the collection, the CAAM opened a new exhibition space in the annex to the museum situated in the no. 13 Los Balcones street. This new exhibition area with its three exhibition halls, which were conceived in Francisco Javier Saénz de Oiza’s original design for CAAM, increased the museum’s exhibition capacity by twenty-five percent. The remodelling of this building also enabled us to open a new and attractive shop and bookshop with direct access to the Los Balcones street and an additional archive for artworks with six hundred square metres of storage space.