Exhibition: ‘Playgrounds. Reinventing the square’ at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 29th April – 22nd September 2014

Curatorship: Manuel J. Borja-Villel, Tamara Díaz y Teresa Velázquez

Artists: Vito Acconci, Efrén Álvarez , Erich Andrés, Karel Appel, Archigram, Archizoom, Ricardo Baroja, Bernardo Bertolucci, Lina Bo Bardi; André Vainer and Marcelo Ferraz. Photography: Paquito, André Breton, Hans Bruggeman, Caja Lúdica, Camping Producciones, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tranquillo Casiraghi, Mariana Castillo Deball, Francesc Català-Roca, Mario Cattaneo, Agustí Centelles, Chto Delat?, Julieta Colomer, Joan Colom, Constant (Constant Nieuwenhuys), Waldemar Cordeiro, Corneille, Violette Cornelius, Margit Czenki, Guy Debord, Maya Deren, Disobedience Archive. Curator: Marco Scotini, Ed van der Elsken , James Ensor, El equipo de Mazzanti (Giancarlo Mazzanti, Carlos Medellín, Stanley Schultz, Juliana Zambrano, Eugenia Concha, Lucia Lanzoni and Mariana Bravo), Escuela de Valparaíso, Marcelo Expósito, Aldo van Eyck, Kattia García Fayat, Priscila Fernandes, Ángel Ferrant, José A. Figueroa, Robert Filliou, Peter Fischli, Peter Friedl, Alberto Giacometti, John Goldblatt, Francisco de Goya, GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel), Grupo Contrafilé, Eric Hobsbawm, Lady Allen of Hurtwood, Internationale Situationniste, Cor Jaring, Kindel (Joaquín del Palacio), Henri Lefebvre, Fernand Léger, Helen Levitt, Liverani, L.S. Lowry, Maruja Mallo (Ana María Gómez González), Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky), Melchor María Mercado, Boris Mikhailov, Masato Nakagawa, Beaumont Newhall, Palle Nielsen , Isamu Noguchi , Nils Norman, Nudo (Eduardo Marín and Vladimir Llaguno), Hélio Oiticica, OMA / Rem Koolhaas, Cas Oorthuys, Amédée Ozenfant, Martin Parr, Jan H Peeterse, Erik Petersen, Adrian Piper, Cedric Price, Ab Pruis, Edgar Reitz and Alexander Kluge, Oliver Ressler, Jorge Ribalta, Xavier Ribas, Marcos L. Rosa, Emilio Rosenstein (Emil Vedin), Roberto Rossellini, Otto Salemon, Louis Sciarli, Alison y Peter Smithson, Kenneth Snelson, José Solana (José Gutiérrez Solana), Carl Theodor Sørensen, Humphrey Spender, Christensen Tage, Túlio Tavares (comp.), Teatro Ojo, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour, Jean Vigo, Nuria Vila, Dmitry Vilensky, Pedro Vizcaíno, Peter Watkins, Weegee (Arthur H. Fellig), David Weiss

Many thankx to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'

Installation view of the exhibition 'Playgrounds. Reinventing the square'


Installation views of the exhibition Playgrounds. Reinventing the square at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid



Through a selection of works from different time periods and in different mediums (paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, photographs, archive devices…), this exhibition analyses the socialising, transgressive and political potential of play when it appears linked to public space. The premise of Playgrounds is twofold: on one side, the popular tradition of carnival shows how the possibility of using recreational logic to subvert, reinvent and transcend exists, if only temporarily. On the other side, there has been two fundamental constants in utopian imagery throughout history: the vindication of the need for free time (countering work time, productive time) and the acknowledged existence of a community of shared property, with a main sphere of materialisation in public space.

The historical-artistic approach to the political and collective dimension of spaces of play, on view in this exhibition, gets under way in the second half of the 19th century, a time that signals the start of the process of free time becoming consumption time; a process that threw the concept of public space into crisis as it started to be conceived not only as an element for exercising (political) control, but also one for financial gain. Thus, cities started to become the objects of rational and utilitarian planning, where the field of architecture was redefined, providing spaces for play with new values, built as one of the key points of the modern ideology of the public.

This ideology was reshaped in the early decades of the 20th century; for instance, during this time projects were implemented that allowed the recovery and increased value of land that had been completely torn apart by war, turning it into areas of play aimed at nurturing children’s independence. The significant turning point in this process of restructuring took place during the 1960s, when, as demonstrated by numerous artistic and activist experiences and practices in recent decades, the festive subversion and anti-authoritarian outbursts from carnivalesque logic started to be employed as political tools attempting to generate other ways of making and contemplating the city, as well as organising community life.

With some 300 works, the exhibition recounts a different history of art, from the end of the 19th century to the present day, whereby the artwork plays a part in redefining public space by exploring the city as a game board, questioning modern-day carnival, vindicating the right to laziness, reinventing the square as a place of revolt and discovering the possibilities of a new world through its waste. The exhibit takes the playground model as an ideological interrogation of an alienated and consumerist present.

Text from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website


Frank Burke. 'A kids scooter race at the Paddy's Markets in Sydney, 19 August 1956' 1956


Frank Burke (Australian, 1920-1984)
A kids scooter race at the Paddy’s Markets in Sydney, 19 August 1956
Silver gelatin print


Helen Levitt. 'Boy with Ribbon' 1940


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Boy with Ribbon
Silver gelatin print


Agustí Centelles. 'Barcelona, España. Guardería infantil en Vía Layetana' [Babysitting in Layetana Road] 1936-39


Agustí Centelles (Catalan, 1909-1985)
Barcelona, España. Guardería infantil en Vía Layetana [Babysitting in Layetana Road]


Fernand Léger. 'Les Loisirs - Hommage à Louis David' [Leisure - Homage to Louis David] 1948-1949


Fernand Léger (French, 1881-1951)
Les Loisirs – Hommage à Louis David [Leisure – Homage to Louis David]


Palle Nielsen. 'A group of activists from different organisations in Denmark cleared a backyard in Stengade 52'


Palle Nielsen (Danish, 1920-2000)
A group of activists from different organisations in Denmark cleared a backyard in Stengade 52 in the area Nørrebro in Copenhagen the 31 of March 1968 and build a playground for the children instead. This was done to create attention of the lack of playgrounds as well as an overall redevelopment of the area
© VEGAP, Madrid, 2014


Louis Sciarli. 'Le Corbusier. Marseille: Unité d'habitation, École Maternelle' [Le Corbusier. Marseille: housing unit, Kindergarten] 1945/2014


Louis Sciarli (French, b. 1925)
Le Corbusier. Marseille: Unité d’habitation, École Maternelle [Le Corbusier. Marseille: housing unit, Kindergarten]


Maruja Mallo (Ana María Gómez González) 'The Fair' 1927


Maruja Mallo (Ana María Gómez González) (Viveiro, Lugo, Spain, 1902 – Madrid, Spain, 1995)
The Fair (La verbena)
1927 (September)
Oil on canvas
119 x 165cm



In 1928, at a one-woman exhibition put on by Ortega y Gasset in the rooms of the Revista de Occidente, Maruja Mallo showed the four oil paintings in the Madrid Fair series from which La verbena (The Fair), currently in the Museo Reina Sofía collection, is taken. In this colourful painting, an example of her personal world-view, the artist creates Baroque-filled scenes that are apparently without logic, where the motifs self-multiply into a whirlwind of lines and sensations. Imbued with a sharp critical sense, which is translated by the painter into subtle satire, the painting contains all the elements of the traditional popular Madrid fairs (the shooting gallery, the test-your-strength machine), alongside the principal characters and other, stranger kinds of characters like the one-eyed giant, the priest enjoying one of the sideshows or the man with deformed feet, begging with a guitar on his back. All this contributes to an undeniably Surrealist atmosphere.


Helen Levitt. 'New York (Two girls with ribbon)' c. 1940


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
New York (Two girls with ribbon)
c. 1940


Marcos L. Rosa. 'Revisitando los playgrounds de Aldo van Eyck' 1974/2011


Marcos L. Rosa
Revisitando los playgrounds de Aldo van Eyck



The exhibition addresses the socialising, transgressive and political potential of play in relation to public space. Ever since the popular tradition of the carnival, it has been recognised that it is possible, even if only temporarily, to subvert, reinvent and transcend an everyday life reduced to a mere exercise in survival. The recognition of the existence of communal goods and the need for free time, in direct contradistinction to working time, are two fundamental constants of the utopian imagination throughout history.The public space, as an ambience which synthesises the notion of communal goods, is materialised as part of the experience of citizen participation.

Adopting as its premise the notion of carnival pageantry as a practice that alters the established order, the exhibition Playgrounds. Reinventing the square will explore the collective dimension of play and the need for a “ground” of its own in order to engage in the construction of a new public arena. Playgrounds (curated by Manuel J. Borja-Villel, Tamara Díaz and Teresa Velázquez) takes a historical and artistic approach to the space reserved for play and its socialising, transgressive and political potential from the dawn of modernity to the present day. The show to be seen at the Museo Reina Sofía aims to explore the recreational, playful, festive side of life that puts the humdrum reality of the everyday on hold, subverting, reinventing and transcending it for one fleeting moment.

With approximately 300 works in several formats (painting, sculpture, facilities, video, photography, graphical arts, cinema and documents) of artists like James Ensor, Francisco of Goya, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Alberto Giacometti, Ángel Ferrant, Hélio Oiticica, Lina Bo Bardi, Fischli and Weiss, Vito Acconci, Priscila Fernandes, or Xabier Rivas, Playgrounds. Reinventing the square shows how the playful element, understood as creative strategy, coexists with questions related to the public sphere Departing from this idea, the exhibition explores the recognition of the time and the space of the game as areas of essay and learning.

The show adopts the model of the ‘playground’ as an ideological interrogation of an alienated and consumerist present. After the industrial revolution and the gradual implantation of labor systems based on the capitalist principle of minimum investment for maximum gain, there emerges an indissociable identification between producer and consumer, one of whose immediate consequences is the conversion of free time into consumption time. The alienation of labor dominates modes of life and gives rise to a crisis in public spaces, threatened in their turn by economic forces. Derived from a rational and utilitarian planning of the city, the public park is instituted as a surrogate collective paradise, leading from the mid-19th century to great urban facilities for mass consumption and entertainment. From architecture, within the Modern Movement and its derivates, comes the definition of the playground, endowed with new social, pedagogical and functional values while at the same time emerging as one of the key points of the modern ideology of the public.

The ideas of a “junk playground”, proposed by the Danish architect Carl Theodor Sørensen in 1935, and of an “adventure playground”, which was promoted in the United Kingdom by the landscape architect Lady Allen of Hurtwood and spread to several European cities after the Second World War, are means of retrieving and attaching significance to wastelands and bomb sites as play areas aimed at child autonomy. In the sixties, the child is vindicated as an autonomous political subject in a context dominated by the vindication of the right to the city, and coinciding with the high point of the revolt of the homo ludens (borrowing from the essay of the same name by Johan Huizinga) in the context of May ’68. As evidenced by the numerous processes of social activism in recent years, festive subversion and the anti-authoritarian overspilling of boundaries by the carnival become new ways of practising politics. The movements of 2011 in such scattered locations as Tahrir (Cairo), Sol (Madrid), Syntagma (Athens), and other squares, streets and neighbourhoods restored the public and democratic dimension of such spaces. This temporary occupation, articulated through virtual communications networks, implied a reappropriation of the political and experimentation with other forms of organisation and communal life.

The introduction to the exhibition will provide background on the carnivalesque concept of life, underscoring certain aspects related to the notion of free time in modern life. The show will also revisit the street as a place of play and self-realisation, through examples of adventure playgrounds as well as photographs and films that will give a historic panoramic since the 1930s from a documentary perspective. The nucleus of the exhibition is devoted to the model of the modern playground and its contradictions, with relevant materials accounting for the urban revolution of the 1960s, the consideration of the city as a relational and psychological construction and works that parallel aesthetic and political transformations.

The last section of the show will consist of a series of experiments based on anti-hegemonic exercises, such us the civil appropriation of the street for “playground” use and works that challenge passive recreation through the emancipative power of play, not to mention recent experiences that resume the collective reinvention of the square and have become essential in envisioning new ways of doing politics.

Press release from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía


Helen Levitt. 'Untitled (Boy and gun)' 1940


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Untitled (Boy and gun)
Silver gelatin print


Francesc Català-Roca Valls (Tarragona, Spain, 1922 - Barcelona, Spain, 1998) 'Games in an Empty Lot' 1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003


Francesc Català-Roca Valls (Tarragona, Spain, 1922 – Barcelona, Spain, 1998)
Games in an Empty Lot
1950 (circa) / Posthumous print, 2003
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print on paper


Helen Levitt. 'Fruit and candy' Nd


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Fruit and candy


Joan Colom (Spanish, 1921-2017) 'No title' 1958-1961


Joan Colom (Spanish, 1921-2017)
No title
1958-1961 (circa) / Vintage print
From the series El carrer (The Street)
Gelatin silver print on paper



Joan Colom published his series on Barcelona’s Chinatown in the magazine AFAL (1962) with an autobiography: “Age: 40. Profession: Accountant. Hobbies: Apart from photography, obviously, none.” Of his method, Colom said: “I have decided to only work with subjects that I have predetermined.” Oriol Maspons adds the technical details: “Everything was taken using a Leica M2, shot from the hip without framing or focusing. A real photographer’s work. More than a year on the same subject.” The series had been exhibited with some success (and controversy) at the Sala Aixelá in Barcelona the previous year, under the title El carrer (The Street). In 1964 it was finally published by Lumen in one of the finest photo-books in their Palabra e Imagen collection, “Izas, rabizas y colipoterras”, designed by Oscar Tusquets and Cristian Cirici. Camilo José Cela contributed a text based around Colom’s (surreptitious but captionless) photos that was full of broad, cruel humour, pitilessly mocking the women, photographed by Colom and judged by Cela. Somewhat ahead of her time, one of the women actually sued the photographer, the only result of which was the photo-book’s withdrawal from bookshops, and Colom’s retirement from photography for years. From the 1980s onwards public obscurity became public recognition, which has continued to grow.


Helen Levitt. 'Children playing with a picture frame, New York' (Niños jugando con un marco, Nueva York) c. 1940


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Children playing with a picture frame, New York (Niños jugando con un marco, Nueva York)
c. 1940



Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Sabatini building. Room A1
Calle Santa Isabel, 52
Madrid 28012 Spain
Phone: (+34) 91 7741000

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday from 10.00am – 9.00pm
Sunday from 10.00am – 2.30pm

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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