From Medieval monks to neon lights

If you’re looking for an example of Gothic and eighteenth-century architecture integrating seamlessly with twentieth-century art, check out Deuce Coop by US artist James Turrell. It is free and open to the public.

The neon installation imbues a lustrous calm, inviting monk-like contemplation
The neon installation imbues a lustrous calm, inviting monk-like contemplation

To reach this installation, you may choose to follow one of Barcelona’s oldest routes, the Roman Via Augusta which ran along what are now the carrers (streets) of Carders, Bòria, Llibreteria, Call and Boqueria. Monks of the order of Saint Augustine built their convent in stages between 1428 and 1589 on the spot where this way crossed one of the city’s main supply canals, the Rec Comtal. Profiting from alliance with the area’s main guilds—textiles, tanning and other leatherworkers—the monks modified and extended it throughout the seventeenth century.

After the War of the Spanish Succession—which was disastrous for Catalonia’s autonomy—partial demolition of the district was ordered to make way for the Ciutadella fortress, and in 1718, Philip V’s military engineers rebuilt the site as a training centre, erecting a sober rationalist façade to face the Ciutadella. In the mid-eighteenth century, Joris Prosper van Verboom refurbished it as an Academy of Mathematics. So the building is an eclectic blend of over three centuries of architecture.

The oculus is an iconic Turell reference, as is his use of neon
The oculus is an iconic Turrell reference, as is his use of neon

Turrell’s installation adds a further layer. It is sited in the entrance hall of this historic building, which now operates as a civic centre. The neon installation revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. It contains an oculus—an iconic Turrell reference—while his use of intense neon light is also characteristic. This lustrous calm encourages you to take your time to appreciate the installation at a meditative pace. The view of the Gothic cloister within adds to this sensation.

Deuce Coop (1992) by James Turrell. Centre Civic Convent de Sant Agustí, c. Comerç, 23, la Ribera. Opening hours (from dusk): Mon to Fri until 10 pm; Saturdays until 9 pm.


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