Josep Capsir is a decorative arts curator at the Design Museum of Barcelona. We talk with him about his everyday life, the collections that fill a great part of the patrimonial funds, and the pieces that he has documented himself, some of which are displayed at the current exhibition “Extraordinary! Collections of decorative and author-centred art (3rd-20th Century)”.
Which period of time does the Museum cover in its collection of decorative art?
Chronologically the collection goes from Roman times to the twenties of the 20th century and looks at the production of objects related to the domestic world. From then on, these would not be considered objects of the decorative arts, but of design. Following this, the object is designed for a specific purpose and freed from any decoration, and the person that takes part in the process of the object starts to be identified.
What does the birth of design involve?
19th-century furniture does not often bring a new aesthetic, but rather recalls the past. It is eclectic, it mixes different styles. During the twenties of the last century, the modern movement appeared, reflecting on, theorizing and thinking that a piece of furniture should be stripped of all ornamentation and become purely functional. It inspired theories around an aesthetic unknown up until then. It became a nude object, utilitarian, fresh, designed for an essential purpose. This was the great change of mindset for the world of decorative arts production.
What do the decorative arts tell us about?
They tell us about the way of thinking and living of a certain society at a particular time, which in our case is usually Catalan, because the objects we have come mostly from Catalan homes. The 18th century carriage of the Marquis of Castellbell tells us who owned it, a person with a noble title. If we look, the door has a handle to open from the outside, but from inside it cannot be opened. It means that having a carriage necessarily involved having servants at your service, to open the door to get out of the vehicle, or to help you enter. Nowadays this is unthinkable. The cars can be opened inside and out, and everyone - mostly - opens and closes the door. Almost everyone can own a vehicle. We also have magnificent 19th-century masonry upholstered with delicate fabrics, and an immense box decorated with high quality carving that served, above all, to project the power and the ostentation of those who owned them.
What makes you passionate about your job?
The research is very interesting, yet solitary. Sometimes you have to almost do a divination to know when the piece got here, who donated it or where it came from; it all takes many hours. But the progress you make along the way will thrill you, they make you grow as a person and this results in the benefit of knowledge of the pieces, and ultimately of society. There are pieces that we did not know anything about and now we do thanks to the work we do at the Museum.
Out of the pieces that you have documented, which one has been the most challenging?
I documented the berline coupé of the Marquis of Castellbell and I spent a lot of time doing research, discovering the mythology of the paintings, working on the family tree… Sometimes you cannot find some dates, and I could not discover the birth date of his wife, Concepció d’Oriola-Cortada i de Salses. Once I got in contact with one of the landlords of the Castellbell castle, and it turned out to be that in that village, Castellbell i el Vilar, both were resting in a mausoleum at the parish cemetery. In the marquise’s grave I came across the date that was driving me crazy.
We consume more and more disposable culture. How does this affect collecting?
As new object typologies are gathered, you will always find someone collecting them. It has not disappeared and never will: it will simply adopt new shapes. There will always be people passionate about gathering objects. Collecting has been democratized. Although the classic collector had a bigger interest in bringing together luxurious goods, now with this new culture of consumption anybody can do it without having to dedicate large economic resources.