Divento interviews Berta Sureda

Meet Berta Sureda, director of public activities* of the Reina Sofía in Madrid, one of Spain’s most dynamic contemporary Museums

By Fiona Scott Lazareff

20 March 2015

Berta Sureda starts off by explaining her role in the organisation: “As director of public activities, I’m in charge of our communication, our cultural programs (such as seminars, debates…) and our library and documentary centre. The Reina Sofía is a very dynamic place, similar to a small city, which offers a great diversity of things to see, and exhibitions are constantly coming and going.”

The Museum hosts 18 to 25 temporary exhibitions a year, constantly renewing the pieces on display, and encouraging locals to keep on coming back. Although their permanent collection contains over 20,000 pieces, only 1,500 are exposed, allowing for a lot of flexibility with temporary exhibitions: “We like to show pieces within their cultural, political or economical context. But temporary exhibitions can also result from collaboration with other museums.”

Indeed, the Reina Sofía is part of “L'Internationale”, which is a confederation of 6 contemporary art museums including the Moderna galerija in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen in Antwerp, Belgium, the SALT in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Sureda explains that the objective of the association is not only to encourage more exchanges of pieces between these museums but also to share ideas, experiences, management tools…

When asked what exhibition to keep an eye out for, Sureda proudly tells us about the Collection from the Kunst Museum Basil opening in March. The building of the German museum is being renovated, so they are lending a selection of their masterpieces to the Reina Sofía in the meantime. “This will be a different exhibition, more tailored for the masses compared to our usual contemporary exhibitions, which can be more difficult to understand.” Indeed, the permanent exhibition covers art up till the start of the 80s, and the temporary ones usually focus on contemporary pieces.

Acquisition-wise, the museum has a budget of around 400 000 euros, which is far less than the 1 million euros available four years ago. “Because of the crisis, we have a smaller budget. However, at the moment, the director, Manuel Borja-Villel, is focussing on getting more pieces from the 80s, which is a period not quite so present in our Museum. Madrid’s contemporary art fair, at the end of February, is usually where acquisitions are made.” The Reina Sofía is 65% funded by the government, a proportion lower than previously due to hard times. However, Berta Sureda explains that the Reina Sofía has gained popularity in the last few years: “We’ve made up for the loss of government support with more sponsorships but also more ticket sales. In the last few years, the Museum has gone from welcoming 1 million to 3 million visitors annually, 80% of which are foreign.” When asked for the reason of such a surge, Berta explains that the arrival of the new director, Manuel Borja-Villel, four years ago was very publicised, putting the Reina Sofía in the spotlight. On top of that, the old director only had three to four temporary exhibitions a year, a number that has since been quadrupled, making the Reina Sofía much more active and present on the art scene.  

Finally, Berta gives us a couple of insider tips to the Museum and the area surrounding it.

“On a first trip, I recommend to visit the 30s section with Picasso’s famous Guernica, which truly cannot be missed. But, for a more personalised itinerary, we have art students who can advise visitors on the best sections to visit, tailored to their taste. After that, if you fancy a little break, head to the O Pazo de Lugo, a very local tapas place right opposite the museum, which serves the best tortillas in town. Finally, do not leave Madrid without going to El Parque del Capricho (the park of caprice), a little hidden gem on the outskirts of the city, particularly stunning in spring when the almond trees are in blossom.”

* Ms. Sureda is no longer in office at the Reina Sofía.