Art law News Market Spain

Franco can stay in the fridge

Spanish court throws out suit against sculptor

Eugenio Merino with his sculpture Always Franco, 2012

The Spanish sculptor Eugenio Merino, whose sculpture Always Franco, 2012, put a replica of the late dictator inside a drinks refrigerator, has won a damages case relating to the work.

The Franco Foundation, which protects the reputation of the so-called Generalissmo and is headed by his daughter, Carmen Polo Franco, sued Merino for damages of €18,000 soon after the work was shown at Madrid's Arco contemporary art fair in 2012. On 17 July, Judge Rocío Nieto Centeno of Madrid's Court of First Instance (where legal action typically begins) found in favour of the artist on the grounds that the work of art is a legitimate form of expression. The foundation says that it will appeal the decision at the Provincial Court.

Merino, who was born months before Francisco Franco died in 1975, met with The Art Newspaper after the judgement and talked about the case and his work.

The Art Newspaper: Why do you think you won the case?

Eugenio Merino: I think that, according to the judge, only the relatives of Franco are left to defend his honour. The foundation had argued that the sculpture attacks the image of Franco and, in the trial, this idea was rejected. At the heart [of the case] was how Spain addresses freedom of expression and creativity.

What is the meaning of Always Franco?

The image of Franco inside the fridge is about the fact that he is kept alive and fresh, not literally, but within Spain's current political system. It is hyper-real. Always Franco bears a resemblance to Franco. It is big-headed because the sculpture is a caricature.

The Franco Foundation wanted to include your work, Punching Franco [a 2012 work that replaces a punch bag with Franco's head] as evidence in the trial?

Yes, some members of the foundation saw Punching Franco at the exhibition organised by the Plataforma de Artistas Antifascistas [Anti-fascist Artists Network] in Vallecas [Madrid] in July and tried to include it as evidence, but the magistrate did not accept it.

How is Punching Franco linked to Always Franco?

Both were made in 2012, as part of a project. At the Art Miami art fair in 2012, I showed the former Cuban Communist leader Fidel Castro in a Coca-Cola fridge [Always Fidel, 2012] and it was a success. I have also produced Mao Zedong [the late Chinese Communist leader] and Hugo Chávez [the late president of Venezuela].

Do you have plans to make Always Bin Laden and put other religious heads of state in a fridge?

Without a doubt, Bin Laden could be included. In fact, I've already produced a sketch of Always Bin Laden. All kinds of powerful and totalitarian people could be included in the project, from dictators to some politicians.

Is it fair to say your aim is to provoke?

The provocation is part of the art. To “provoke” is attacked by people who think it takes away value. But one man put inside a fridge is not a provocation. In the end, provocation is a way of engaging with the spectator. In recent years, Franco has been a subject for many artists who want to explore historical memory.

Do you think your work is just good marketing?

A high percentage of people say it is. I think that my pieces rather take into account the spectator and not the collector. I am talking about communication; I am interested in being understood by the spectator. Art has to mirror the artist's life and the world. My work features a sense of humour and irony.

Has always Franco sold?

Yes, all three editions of Always Franco sold at Arco and shortly after the fair. Always Franco has become an icon since this trial. The film director Pedro Temboury is making “Siempre Franco” on the history of the work. There is a large number of Spanish artists participating in this project.

You did not participate in the Arco fair in 2013, why?

I attended the past ten editions, but because of the furore surrounding Always Franco, I did not participate this year. But, I will go back to the Madrid fair next year [19-23 February 2014] when I will bring Guy Fawkes masks [as used by the online “hacktivist” Anonymous Group], made from Swarovski crystals. I have missed the support of Carlos Urroz [the fair’s director].

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27 Aug 13
3:55 CET


I had always asked other artists why Spain had no self reflective works on Franco's rule. The reply was to keep it within the family. In other words try not to show our dirty laundry. Seeing this artist give's me hope for Spain. In saying that what will it take for Australia to support powerful reflective art that goes beyond meaningless rubbish or pretty pictures. Art is infinite so time will tell.

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