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Civil war had raged in Spain since 1936. Fierce fighting on the Iberian peninsula pushed the republic's ambition of making a dignified contribution to the World Exposition completely into the background. Only when the Spanish ambassador in Paris recognised the major propaganda value of the World Exposition as a vehicle to influence public opinion did the Spanish enthusiastically push ahead with the construction of their pavilion. Their exhibition was intended to raise international public awareness of the critical situation in Spain, which had developed into a European conflict with the intervention of the German and Italian governments. Spain wanted to warn the world of the dangers of fascism and to improve the image of the republican government by presenting its successes.

Today, the Spanish Pavilion is primarily remembered because of one exhibit - Pablo Picasso's "Guernica". Picasso created a large wall painting in memory of the German air force attack on the Basque town - and created an anguished symbol of the horrors of 20th century warfare. Even the contemporary critics praised the Spanish Pavilion for its architectural conception, in combination with outstanding works of art, as a masterpiece of avant-garde pavilion design. The architects Jose-Luis Sert and Luis Lacasa were responsible for the architecture. After laying the foundation stone in February 1937, the building was erected in only five months in an extraordinary act of determination. A tour of the building started on the garden path embellished with sculptures which took the visitor into the room housing Picasso's Guernica and Alexander Calder's Mercury Fountain. Directly adjacent was a roofed quadrangle with a bar and stage where screenings included the films of Luis Bunuel. Two rectangular storeys lay directly above the ground floor and were approached via a horseshoe-shaped ramp. The upper exhibition level containing the folklore exhibition and some works of modern art inspired by the horrors of civil war was reached first. Access to the first floor took visitors past a large painting by Miró "The Reaper" - another response to the war in Spain. The first floor displayed photomontages covering social, political and economic life in Spain.

A simple steel girder structural framework created rooms in which some of the walls remained transparent whilst others were used as display surfaces for photomontages or texts. Even some distance away, the transparent facade revealed some of the contents of the pavilion like the front page of a glossy magazine. Unlike a simple reflection of an ideology, or a demonstration of elite power ambitions by way of classical sensational architecture, the Spanish Pavilion provided a wide-ranging picture of Spanish culture thanks to the intellectual collaboration between artists, film makers, writers, politicians and architects. The overwhelmingly light, transparent architecture, which dissolved the boundaries between interior and exterior created the ideal location for communication by the different media and different areas of the exhibition.

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The Paris World Exposition 1937
Promoting the People's Front
Year: 1937City: ParisCountry: France
Duration: 25th May - 25th November 1937



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