Muere Exministro Cultura. Former minister José Guirao, a benchmark in cultural management in Spain.

Muere Exministro Cultura. Former minister José Guirao, a benchmark in cultural management in Spain.
Muere Exministro Cultura. Former minister José Guirao, a benchmark in cultural management in Spain.

Jose Guirao, former Minister of Culture of the first government of Pedro Sanchez, died in Madrid on Monday at the age of 63, victim of cancer that was diagnosed in March 2021, confirmed in a statement the Montemadrid Foundation, where he was currently working. Dedicated to cultural management since the age of 24, Guirao has been a reference for the different areas of creation, which he has been able to deal with from the direction of the Reina Sofia Museum (between 1994 and 2001) or La Casa Encendida, to which he arrived later, the most successful cultural invention of the last decades. After his departure from the Socialist Executive, in which he was between June 2018 and January 2020, he had rejoined the Montemadrid Foundation, a private entity.

In September last year he was commissioned by Culture to chair the executive committee of the events for the 50th anniversary of the death of Picasso, to be held in 2023, an unpaid job that he has not been able to put in place. His body will be veiled from 16.00 at the San Isidro morgue (Madrid). On Tuesday at 12 noon, a wake will be held for family and friends, after which he will be cremated, the Foundation adds. The President of the Government has published a tweet in which he lamented the death of Guirao, whom he referred to as “a noble and brilliant man”. For Sánchez, he was “a reference in cultural management who put his love for culture at the service of our country with great virtue”.

Among the many statements after hearing the news, Javier Solana, president of the Board of Trustees of the Prado Museum, has said that with Guirao’s death he loses a great friend. “As a minister he did extraordinary things for the whole field of culture. He was a great figure in the cultural life of this country; he was also a wise and good man. It will be difficult to replace him in the position he held on the board of trustees [of the Prado] for the past two years.” The museum itself has issued a note in which it points out that “it is impossible to catalog the imprint of a man like Guirao in a single moment of his long professional career.” “The Prado will always owe a debt of gratitude to his memory for the support, dedication and enthusiasm in the celebration of the Bicentennial of the museum. Without his participation from the Ministry of Culture, which he occupied at the time, the commemoration would not have had the visibility and rootedness it achieved.”

With a degree in Hispanic Philology, Guirao was the youngest of four brothers from a middle-class family in Pulpí (Almería), a town where his mother, Mercedes Cabrera, 93, still lives, and whom Pepe (as his friends and family called him) visited whenever he could. As is the case with many of those who have suffered unhealthy childhoods, Guirao was a tireless reader of everything he could get his hands on: adventures, history, comics…. He would get them from his mother and older siblings or borrow them from the village parish.

Interested in all kinds of issues (culture, environment, infrastructures) and owner of precocious diplomatic skills, Guirao was soon tempted by politics, although he did not formally have a socialist card until four years ago.

His baptism in the world of management and politics was in Almería. There he was in charge of the Culture Area of the Provincial Council between 1983 and 1987, a position that allowed him contact with the most basic cultural needs of citizens, from libraries to theaters or heritage conservation. Just a year later he settled in Seville when he was appointed Director General of Cultural Heritage of the Junta de Andalucía, a position he held until 1993. From there he jumped to Madrid to occupy one of the most important intermediate positions in the Ministry of Culture, the General Directorate of Fine Arts and Archives.

In September 1994, at the age of 35, he was appointed director of the Reina Sofia Museum, a position he held until 2001, with PSOE and PP governments. He was appointed by the then Minister of Culture, Carmen Alborch, replacing María Corral. His mettle and people skills allowed him to pacify a center that at the time was in turmoil. “My first objective was to bring normality to the museum. That schizophrenic dichotomy that existed between an art center with temporary exhibitions and a museum was terrible, apart from the more controversial issues, such as the collection, and I think I achieved it,” he told this newspaper at the time.

With him, the museum began to produce most of its exhibitions, with the consequent lowering of budgets, and radically transformed the permanent collection. He made possible a tour of 20th century art, contextualizing Spanish art with the international art from Picasso, Miró, Julio González and Dalí, among others. European artists became much more present and he dared to close the room dedicated exclusively to the New York film director and painter Julian Schnabel, a decision he maintained despite criticism: “He doesn’t have a room at MoMA either, and I don’t know that he has protested,” he said.