Elogio de lo cursi

Elogio de lo cursi
23.06 - 08.10.2023

Tuesday - Sunday, 10 am - 8 pm

Floor 4

Free entry

The Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy defines cursi thus: 
“1. adj. Said of a person: Someone who seeks to be elegant and refined but fails in the attempt. Also used as a noun. / 2. adj. Said of a thing: Something that, while seemingly elegant or delicate is in fact pretentious and in bad taste”.

It would seem therefore, as the character of the Marquis in Jacinto Benavente’s comedy Lo cursi pointed out, that cursi is characterised by being the opposite of whatever it is one is trying to be.

The origin of the word cursi - which is by no means easy to translate into other languages - is open to dispute. It first appeared in Spanish at the beginning of the 19th century. There are those who argue that its etymology lies in an abbreviated version of cursive. Cursive writing was a calligraphic style that came into fashion due to the influence of England at the end of the 18th century, but which was very difficult to imitate. Others claim that it lies in two characters who have acquired almost mythical status: the Sicur sisters of Cadiz. It was said, if they ever in fact existed, that these two sisters were wont to copy and exaggerate Parisian fashions. The frills hid the stains, tears and threadbare fabric of time-worn gowns they lacked the means to renew. Their appearance became increasingly ridiculous, so much so that when they would promenade, people would shout at them: Sicur! Sicur! Sicur! Sicur! Which explains how, through repetition, their inverted surname became synonymous with something worthy of ridicule. This story about language conceals another story that has to do with the way in which gender is constructed and also with the question of class.

From then on, cursi was the name given to lower-middle-class or lower-class young people who imitated the airs and graces of the wealthy bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. In 1868, the year of the Glorious Revolution, in their Philocalia, or the Art of Distinguishing Cursis from Non-cursis (Filocalia o el arte de distinguir a los cursis de los que no lo son), the conservative politicians Francisco Silvela and Santiago de Liniers wrote that “the empire of cursilería is one of the dangers of the revolution. It entails the invasion by the masses of the realms of the arts, poetry, monuments and attire”. As Noëll Vallis asserts, “cursi-ness stems from undesirable social movements”.

Related to other terms such as kitsch or camp, cursi-ness attempts to define a certain type of poor taste that has to do with the idea of a tarnished copy. This exhibition sets out to trace a genealogy of what this term has been associated with, following a methodology similar to that of visual culture studies. The exhibition focuses primarily on products taken from popular culture, ranging from fans, furniture and decorative objects to books, photo novels, comics, postcards, advertising posters, theatre advertisements, stage photographs and works of art.

Curated by: Sergio Rubira
Museographic design: Pedro Pitarch
Graphic design: José Duarte