Many’s the town that cheerfully flaunts some huge and dreadful object on its loftiest hilltop. Made of concrete or fibreglass, the monstrosity strives to fulfil its illusory destiny as a cultural icon. So Goulburn, Australia, brims with pride over a fifteen-metre-high Merino sheep, an outsize barrel takes pride of place in Okinawa, Japan, while Flanders, New York, sports a giant cement duck. Whether or not they were despised for blighting the landscape at the time of installation, they generally end up being accepted by the locals, even occupying a warm fuzzy spot in the town’s heart.
Of such species, I would argue that Barcelona’s denizen is one of the least offensive you’ll find—positively charming, in fact. The city’s giant prawn (la Gamba: though technically it doesn’t count as a prawn – unless you’re in Dublin Bay, when it does – but an escamarlà or langoustine, which itself is not to be confused with the Spanish langostino, as that is an entirely separate controversy) is affectionately known as “Gambrinus” after the restaurant it was designed to crown. It is by the Catalan designer and artist, Xavier Mariscal, and has a whimsically comical air that makes it the perfect seafront companion to Lichtenstein’s cartoonish Barcelona’s Head alongside.
Mariscal is the artist who arguably put Barcelona on the international design circuit (well, discounting a certain German who designed a chair) as the creator of its famous Olympic mascot, Kobi. So he surely deserves a decent spot on Barcelona’s primera línea del mar.
Though inaugurated in 1989, the restaurant Gambrinus barely outlived closure of the Olympic Games. Following this, the giant prawn was dragged wearily through the courts regarding the question of ownership, which was finally decided in favour of Barcelona City Council. Restored to its original position in 2004, Gambrinus (the name originally belongs to a northern-European folk figure who was falsely attributed with having invented beer) has now become a popular and fitting symbol for the city where seafood paella is a common staple.
The Vila Olímpica (Olympic Village) hosts other of Mariscal’s sculptures, such as Cobi, the 1992 Olympic mascot, a Cubist-inspired depiction of a Catalan sheepdog, whose name derives from the acronym for the Barcelona Olympic Organising Committee (COOB). For those who know where to look, this Olympic mascot also hides in the white trencadís of one of the chimneys on Palau Güell, in carrer Nou de la Rambla. This building, built 1886–1890, was partially restored in 1992, the year of Barcelona’s Olympic Games, when an anonymous restorer decided to encipher the year of restoration into their work.
La Gamba (Gambrinus) by Javier Mariscal, 1989. Passeig de Colom, 7. Coordinates: 41.380148, 2.181716.
Cobi, 1992. Parc del Port Olimpic, s/n. Coordinates: 41.389276, 2.198678.