Former Spanish culture minister José Guirao, a central figure in Spain’s art world as the director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and then of La Casa Encendida before accepting his government post, died July 11 at his home in Madrid at the age of 63 of cancer. The news was confirmed by the Montemadrid Foundation, for which he was working shortly before his death, and was originally reported in Spanish daily El País. Guirao was known for his ability to broker peace among individuals, collectives, and organizations, as well as for his hardworking character and open and egalitarian approach: He was of the opinion that every individual had something to say and the means to say it.
José Guirao was born June 9, 1959, in the town of Pulpí, in Spain’s Andalusia province, the youngest of four brothers in a middle-class family. Frequently ill as a child, he was an avid reader, with many interests. After obtaining a degree in Spanish philology from the University of Murcia, he in 1983 assumed to post of manager of the Cultural Department of the Provincial Council of Almería. In 1988, he was named chief manager of cultural assets for Andalusia’s regional government. He remained in the role until 1993, when he served a brief stint managing the archives for Spain’s Ministry of Culture before assuming the role of director of the Reina Sofía. During the roughly seven years he spent there, he staged a number of shows by emerging artists, reshaped the institution’s permanent collection, and oversaw a major expansion of the museum by architect Jean Nouvel. He served as director of cultural center La Casa Encendida in Madrid from 2001 to 2014, in 2013 becoming chief manager of Fundacíon Montemadrid when that entity took of over operations of La Casa Encendida.
In 2018, Guirao was tapped as Spain’s minister of culture and sport under the Pedro Sánchez administration after the preceding minister abruptly departed in the middle of a scandal. During his nearly two-year tenure in the position, he established a committee to move forward the so-called Artist Statute, which would award Spain’s artists access to social security, medical and maternal leave, and pensions. He additionally shepherded the reduction of VAT, or value-added tax, imposed on cultural institutions, from 21 percent to 10 percent. Guirao left his post in 2021 as the incoming administration sought to emphasize sport over culture, and returned to his role at Fundacíon Montemadrid, which he gave up in 2021. Guirao in September had been asked by the Ministry of Culture and Sport to chair the executive committee in charge of events for the fiftieth anniversary of Picasso’s death, to be celebrated in 2023, but he was not able to undertake the task, owing to his ill health.