A Roberto Bolaño Exhibit

Fons Joan Comalat Inspai Centre de la Imatge

An archival show in Barcelona sheds light on the late literary giant.

Since his death in 2003, the iconoclastic Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, author of The Savage Detectives and 2666, has taken the literary world by storm. He’s now routinely mentioned alongside his heroes Borges and Cortázar, and new posthumous works of his are published seemingly by the minute. (A massive new translation of his poetry, The Unknown University, comes out in May, from New Directions.) Yet no authoritative biography exists, so the real Bolaño (shown above in the early 1980s in Girona, Spain) remains hidden in the mythical bramble of his literary persona—a fact both personas, real and literary, would probably have appreciated.

“Bolaño Archive 1977–2003,” an exhibit presented by the Center of Contemporary Culture in Barcelona, changes that. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, Bolaño’s widow, Carolina López, let the CCCB range free through his archives to present an autobiographical look at his time in Spain, the most fertile in his career as a novelist. Organized by the three places he lived in Spain—Barcelona, Girona and the coastal town of Blanes—the exhibit features unpublished manuscripts filled with meticulous notes and doodles, family photographs and even his glasses. Animations, talks and several audiovisual exhibitions round out the show.

“There always tend to be myths created around anyone who’s a genius when they die young,” says Valérie Miles, who cocurated the exhibit with Juan Insua. “The exhibit will change a lot of those myths.” For example, Bolaño wasn’t the suffering, ennui-ridden heroin addict his bad-boy reputation might imply—his drink of choice was tea, he loved World War II board games and he was by all accounts a happy family man. The show’s greatest revelation, Miles believes, is that Bolaño’s plethoric output resulted from the utter joy he took in writing. She says his notebooks are full of self-admonishments to keep writing, just a few more pages....

“Bolaño Archive 1977–2003” runs through June 30; Montalegre 5; cccb.org.