Thursday Lecture Series

The Empty Pavilion: Abstractions of Islam and Cold War Politics of Spirit

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Fought over technologies of mass destruction and space conquest, cultural diplomacy and geopolitical divides, the Cold War was also a conflict over religion, and more specifically a conflict where the “godless communism” of the East was set against the new rubric of nations “under God” in the West. The religious front was particularly apt for the Franquista regime then ruling over Spain, a regime looking to regain some of the political and economic legitimacy lost to its fascist pedigree. For if there was something that Franquismo could offer the world, it was a way to Christian redemption. This lecture discusses how Spanish State officials, intellectuals, artists, and architects redefined the cultural narrative of the regime around a “Politics of Spirit” bound to a modernized version of Catholic evangelization of neo-imperial aspirations, and how they projected this narrative to the world scene in the late 1950s. It does so by discussing the pavilion Spain brought to Expo 58 in Brussels, a building designed to construct a new approach to international propaganda in the midst of a State reconfiguration led by technocrats of the ultraconservative lay Catholic movement Opus Dei. Designed by architects Juan Antonio Corrales and Ramón Vázquez Molezún  the pavilion offered a political space in quite a literal sense, whereby the empty ambiance of the pavilion was meant to embody the two-sided ideal coined by Florentino Pérez-Embid, Opus Dei member and Secretary of Censorship, as “Europeanization in the means, Hispanization in the Ends.” For this purpose, a critical strategy for designers was the re-inscription of the country’s Islamic heritage into an abstract and modernized representation of Catholicism, thus performing an aesthetic version of the Spanish Reconquest.