A monument to the little people

It’s big, it’s Barcelona and it’s free. Antoni Llena’s “David & Goliath” is a sculpture representing the struggle for freedom of expression in an urban planning context. Preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games, which began radically to transform the cityscape from the late 80s onwards, appeared to many as a Council-controlled juggernaut, smashing many of the city’s emblematic spaces.

Yet that metamorphosis was indirectly responsible for this commission. Les Cascades Park was created over the bones of the Somorrostro neighbourhood as part of the residential rezoning and redesign of Poble Nou’s previously industrial terrain, this sculpture commissioned for this Olympic Village site. However, due to technical problems, it was not inaugurated until a few months after the Games, in December 1992.

Llena’s floating, kite-like mask, effortlessly supported on three delicate, twisting tendrils, initially caused strong reaction, but is now a comfortable favourite. Its apparently ephemeral construction combined with that deceptively simple paper cut-out, refreshing yet impossible in its huge scale, invites you to raise your face skywards, forget your earthbound problems. Location is key here. The artist aimed to produce “a work that one could view in isolation, without interference from nearby skyscrapers”(1) yet it emphasises and includes not just the open space but the surrounding architecture of Hotel Arts, Torre Mapfre and the modern brick apartment blocks.

It has been described as an “anti-monument”(2) to local residents. In the artist’s own words, the sculpture is meant, ghostlike, to evoke the billowing “sheets drying on balconies”(1) of the vanished neighbourhood. Although commissioned as part of the sweeping changes over which many in Barcelona had little say, it is also an attempt to reclaim an element of that which was lost, to imbue the stark, new suburb with some personality. Hence the symbolism of a triumphant David: the little people have overcome the giant-like powers of urban development.

You can see another of Antoni Llena’s works, “Preferira no fer-ho” [“I would prefer not to”] in the central courtyard of the New Building of the Casa de la Ciutat [Barcelona Town Hall]. It is another large sculpture, standing over 20 m high. It was partially inspired on Herman Melville’s character in “Bartleby, the Scrivener” —that is the quote on the banner— but is dedicated to Barcelona’s sometimes clandestine struggle to maintain its history and memory alive.

David & Goliath by Antoni Llena, 1992. Parc de les Cascades, Vil·la Olímpica.


Get the guide BCN Free Art 01: The Port and Barceloneta! Go to www.poblesecbooks.com to purchase a print copy.