The balance of trade in Barceloneta

Balança romana (Roman Scales) reflects the Barceloneta area’s past as a commercial port and comments on themes such as exploitation and colonialization

Balança romana (Roman Scales) echoes the Barceloneta area’s past as a commercial port and comments on themes such as exploitation and colonialism

Jannis Kounellis, though Greek, was at one time, like Mario Merz, an exponent of Italy’s Arte Povera (poor art). This late-sixties movement used humble materials and found objects – in a similar way to the Catalan artists of the Dau al Set (seven-sided die) movement, Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies – to create an art of protest that attacked the conservative establishment.

So Kounellis’s materials were often raw and basic – iron, sacking, wool and cotton – and this impetus led to increasing experimentation with bizarre materials such as fire or soot, to the point where in 1969, in a much-criticised show, he tethered twelve live horses in Rome’s Galleria L’Attico. The aim – through the juxtaposition of these archetypically traditional and rustic (not to mention live) elements in a pristine, cosmopolitan gallery space – was to make a statement on the fragmentation of modern life.

Kounellis’s use of base materials, such as iron, sacking and coffee beans, reflects his roots in the Arte Povera (poor art) movement, where everyday and found objects were used to critique the capitalist establishment

Kounellis’s use of base materials such as iron, sacking and coffee beans reflects his roots in the Arte Povera (poor art) movement, where everyday and found objects were used to critique the capitalist establishment

This work, Balança romana (Roman Scales), is another of the pieces in the 1992 permanent exhibition “Urban Configurations”. As Lothar Baumgarten intended with Compass Rose and Rebecca Horn with The Wounded Star, Kounellis is paying homage to Barceloneta’s trading history. The work consists of a vertical conveyor, or weighing scales, containing sacks of coffee beans, rising to the height of the seven-storey building against which the piece is installed. By using coffee beans – an everyday staple of early twentieth-century Barcelona life, one that would have been unloaded at the port and yet which hails from exotic, often colonised locations such as South America – Kounellis is pointing to issues like trade, exploitation and colonialism. Kounellis characteristically sites his sculptures in the historic, often industrial, locations which they reference, as in this case: Barceloneta was formerly a neighbourhood of dock workers and fishermen.

By using coffee beans – an everyday staple of early twentieth-century Barcelona life, one that would have been unloaded at the port and yet which hails from exotic, often colonised locations such as South America – Kounellis is pointing to issues like trade, exploitation and colonialization

By using coffee beans – an everyday staple of early twentieth-century Barcelona life, one that would have been unloaded at the port and yet which hails from exotic, often colonised locations such as the Americas – Kounellis is pointing to issues like trade, exploitation and colonialism

Apart from sculpture, Kounellis’s work spans painting and performance. In one oil work (Untitled, 1971), in which he employed the Cubist device of painting musical notes on a flat canvas – in this case Bach’s oratorio, the St John Passion – he also allowed for a cellist to play alongside the work, thereby ‘activating’ the piece.

Originally installed on the corner of Barceloneta’s Baluard and Almirall Cervera streets, this sculpture now lives outside the Civic Centre where carrer Miquel Boera meets Andrea Dòria.

Deterioration of the organic materials in the elements means that in recent years the sacking has rotted and coffee beans have begun to rain down on people below, so the installation has been wrapped up until it can be fully restored

Deterioration of the organic materials in the weather means that in recent years the sacking has rotted and coffee beans have begun to rain down on people below, so the installation has been wrapped up until it can be fully restored

Unfortunately, deterioration of the organic materials exposed to the weather means that in recent years the sacking has rotted and coffee beans have begun to rain down on people below, so the installation has been wrapped up until it can be fully restored

Balança romana / Roman Scales, Jannis Kounellis, 1993. Corner of carrers Miquel Boera and Andrea Dòria, Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.380328, 2.192197

References:

http://www.cheimread.com/artists/jannis-kounellis

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/jannis-kounellis-1438

 

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

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The measure of a shell

Pingala, an Indian mathematician living in either 2nd or 4th century BCE first identified the Fibonacci sequence in a study of the metre in Sanskrit poetry

Pingala, an Indian mathematician living in either the 2nd or 4th century BCE first identified the Fibonacci sequence in a study of the metre in Sanskrit poetry

Unsurprisingly, for this installation of cobble-embedded neon, Italian artist Mario Merz chose the Fibonacci sequence, a ratio occurring naturally in objects such as the nautilus shell. Though defined by various Indian mathematicians as early as 200 BCE and onwards, the formula received its name from an Italian, who defined the equation (Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2) in 1202. That means, starting from 0 and 1, you add the two previous numbers in the sequence to find the next, producing the sequence: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 …

The ratio of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence defines the proportions of the nautilus shell, the branching of trees and the arrangement of leaves on a stem

The ratio of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence defines the proportions of the nautilus shell, the branching of trees and the arrangement of leaves on a stem

This is another work in Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations), which stretches the length of the Moll de la Barceloneta. Each neon number in the sequence is protected in its own cavity under shockproof glass, arranged at a distance from its neighbours that corresponds to its position in the sequence. Is the concept of laying out the dimensions of a shell an attempt to reflect Barceloneta’s close relationship to the sea? In fact, Merz used this sequence in much of his work, interpreting it to signify universal creation and growth. According to the Tate, which houses six of his pieces, he had “a fascination with the material and metaphorical qualities of natural objects with ideas regarding infinity and repetition”.

This sequence is much used in computer algorithms and is related to the so-called golden ratio, or approximately 1 to 1.618

This sequence is much used in computer algorithms and is related to the so-called golden ratio, or approximately 1 to 1.618

Mario Merz (1925–2003) is an interesting artist. His father, an architect, taught him a sensitivity to the “human, intimate and natural” occupation of space. Later, he sank his roots into the passionate post-war scene of 1950s Turin. Here, he mixed with influential writers like Elio Vittorini (the communist author of Conversations in Sicily, an oneiric and beguiling novel that is a coded criticism of fascism) and Ezra Pound (whose fascist and anti-semitic politics made him a controversial figure among English poets). Along with the sculptor Marisa Merz, who was also his wife, he was a key developer of Arte Povera (poor art): a movement that attacked the perceived establishment with an art using mundane and unconventional materials. Other international figures linked to this movement are the Greek artist Jannis Kounellis and the Catalan artists of the Dau al Set (seven-sided die) movement, whose founders included Joan Brossa and Antoni Tàpies.

In 1202, an Italian mathematician named Leonardo Bonacci, known as Fibonacci, wrote a book, Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation), which brought the sequence to the western world

In 1202, an Italian mathematician named Leonardo Bonacci, known as Fibonacci, wrote a book, Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation), which brought the sequence to the western world

Crescendo appare / Growing in Appearance, Mario Merz, plaça Pau Vila, Moll de la Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.377711, 2.187846 to 41.376372, 2.187541

References:

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/mario-merz-1623

http://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/nov/13/guardianobituaries.italy

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

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Anarchy on a classical plinth

Salvat-Papasseit recalls seeing “the rain / in buckets / drenching the boats, / and the coin of anguish shivering beneath the timber”

Salvat-Papasseit recalls seeing “the rain / in buckets / drenching the boats, / and the coin of anguish shivering beneath the timber”

Like a lone night watchman—as he was in his youth—the statue of Joan Salvat-Papasseit (1894–1924), one of Catalonia’s preeminent poets, stands alone on the Moll de la Fusta (the timber wharf).

In 1909, the eruption of the July revolution—an anticlerical and anti-establishment uprising that the upper classes christened the setmana tràgica (tragic week)—gave the fifteen-year-old poet his formative political education. This was not the only tragedy that marked him for life: the early death of his father, a ship’s stoker, meant that from seven to twelve years old, he was raised in the naval orphanage due to his mother’s poverty. But by eighteen, he was writing unpaid articles of an anarchist viewpoint under the nom de plume Gorkiano (meaning ‘Gorki-like’) and earning his living as a night watchman down here on the timber dock. In his poem Nocturn per acordió (Nocturne for Accordion), he recalls seeing “the rain / in buckets / drenching the boats, / and the coin of anguish shivering beneath the timber; / beneath the flanders / and the pinewood, / beneath the sacred cedars”.

The sea was a huge influence in Salvat-Papasseit’s life. After his father’s death, he was interned in a naval orphanage

The sea was a huge influence in Salvat-Papasseit’s life. After his father’s death, he was interned in a naval orphanage

Initially, when Barcelona was undergoing its hectic 1992 facelift, the City Council’s plan was to install six sculptures in this newly rehabilitated waterside space. These were finally reduced to two, one at each end, which is fortuitous since Papasseit, on his basalt plinth, is of such a moody nature, he stands better alone.

The artist, Robert Krier, and his younger brother, Léon, the architect who made the base, hail from Luxembourg. They are both exponents of New Classical architecture, a movement which has sought to renovate historicist tendencies and return to more conservative values. This melds well with early twentieth-century Noucentisme (the name coined in Italianate fashion after the century, the 1900s), which aimed to supersede Modernisme. The New Classical style sought to counteract the furious exuberances of turn-of-the-century expression—aesthetic explosions such as Gaudi’s Sagrada Família at one end of the century, or Roy Lichenstein’s pop-art Barcelona’s Head at the other (and at the other end of the dock). It is ironic that such a classicist sculptor should accept a commission to depict a revolutionary poet.

Revolution formed the basis of Salvat-Papasseit’s political education at the age of fifteen. He was a dedicated anti-capitalist and anarchist

Revolution formed the basis of Salvat-Papasseit’s political education at the age of fifteen. He was a dedicated anti-capitalist and anarchist

Timber, right through the first half of the twentieth century, was a key commodity for both commerce and war. The timber section of the anarchist CNT union was the most powerful body of manpower in the city, even more so than the various army and police corps. This they proved on the outbreak of the fascist coup that led to the Spanish Civil War when, after ‘liberating’ a large stash of arms, the CNT militia became a key force in defeating Francoist rebels throughout Catalonia.

The section of poem below, from Nocturn per acordió (Nocturne for Accordion), reveals Salvat-Papasseit reminiscing about his solitary nights on the timber dock.

NOCTURN PER ACORDIÓ

[ … ]

Vosaltres no sabeu

què és

guardar fustes al moll.

Ni sabeu l’oració dels fanals dels vaixells
—que són de tots colors
com la mar sota el sol:
que no li calen veles.

NOCTURNE FOR ACCORDION

[ … ]

You don’t know

what it is

to watch the wood on the wharf.

Neither do you know the prayer of the ships’ lights

—which are so many colours

like the sea beneath the sun:

which needs no sails.

You can find more translations of Salvat Papasseit’s poetry here.

To Joan Salvat Papasseit, Robert Krier (sculpture, bronze) and Léon Krier (plinth, basalt). 1992. Moll de Bosch i Alsina (Moll de la fusta). Coordinates: 41.376190, 2.179507

References:

Poetry translations by Dominic Keown and Tom Owen

http://www.anglo-catalan.org/downloads/acsop-monographs/issue02.pdf

https://directa.cat/90-anys-de-mort-de-salvat-papasseit

 

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

Stargazing down at the port

“With a desire to find something new, I always combined painting with sculpture, my works and pictorial iconography would not be complete without all those periods of ceaseless sculptural pursuit, that have somehow culminated in ‘Lines in Space’ and the ‘Stargazer’”

“With a desire to find something new, I always combined painting with sculpture. My works and pictorial iconography would not be complete without all those periods of ceaseless sculptural pursuit, that have somehow culminated in ‘Lines in Space’ and the ‘Stargazer’”

They could be a pair of stevedores on deck, each marooned on their tiny pontoon. But they seem content to stand alone, legs astride, gazing up at the heavens. Placed too far out in the harbour to see many details, one thing visible only from the water is that each figure hides a coloured star behind its back, apparently representing the different cultures that make up Barcelona. The artist has played with this figure in an iconic way over time, reproducing it in different materials and diverse settings. These figures are of polyester and fibre-glass.

“I am interested in figuration, but not realism, to say things in images but not to compete with reality”

“I am interested in figuration, but not realism, to say things in images but not to compete with reality”

The artist, Robert Llimós, is a prolific Barcelona painter and sculptor. The son of an impressionist painter, figurative painting and drawing became his first passion. An artist of the Spanish school known as the New Figurative painters, he explains how during the Spanish dictatorship, ‘figuration’ was a way of eluding the censor:

As if the history of art was a pendulum, my generation returned to the figurative elements in their works as we had things to say and social demands to make. It was a good way to bypass censorship while stating a message contrary to the regime, through recognizable elements opposing the prevailing informality of the fake left wing. This generation is the one that corresponds to German Expressionism, English pop and Italian transavantgarde, which we call New Figuration in Spain.

After experimenting with abstract and conceptual phases, the figurative is the form to which he regularly returns, even as he rejects realism or the strongly representational.

I am interested in figuration, but not realism, to say things in images but not to compete with reality.

Of his constant early travelling, he says “My work was always influenced by the place where I was, and my evolution was a constant change, like a chameleon that changes its color all the time”

Of his constant early travelling, he says “My work was always influenced by the place where I was, and my evolution was a constant change, like a chameleon that changes its color all the time”

While striving for something new and always combining sculpture and painting, he sees his sculptural work as reaching a natural culmination in both the “Stargazer” pieces and his “Lines in Space”, a series expressed sculpturally through Marc (Frame), installed nearby for the ’92 Olympics.

Marc has its twin, Threshold, which was installed in Atlanta, the city that hosted the Games four years after Barcelona, in 1996.

A detail only visible from the water is that each figure hides a coloured star behind its back, apparently representing the different cultures that make up Barcelona.

A detail only visible from the water is that each figure hides a coloured star behind its back, apparently representing the different cultures that make up Barcelona.

Miraestels (Stargazers) by Robert Llimós. Polyester resin. Rambla de Mar, offshore. Coordinates: 41.375026, 2.180467 / 41.374204, 2.182034

References:

http://www.robertllimos.es

 

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

With its whimsically comic air, Gambrinus brings a sense of fun to the Moll de la Fusta

Dancing Prawn

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.

With its whimsically comic air, Gambrinus brings a sense of fun to the Moll de la Fusta

With its whimsically comic air, Gambrinus brings a sense of fun to the Moll de la Fusta

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.

Gambrinus’s sculptural volumes and bronzed patina reflect the lilac and indigo light of a Mediterranean evening beautifully

Gambrinus’s sculptural volumes and bronzed patina reflect the lilac and indigo light of a Mediterranean evening beautifully

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.

Gambrinus, technically not a prawn at all but an escamarlà or langoustine

Gambrinus, technically not a prawn at all but an escamarlà or langoustine

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.

The series of restaurants sited along Moll de la Fusta for which Gambrinus was conceived folded shortly after the Olympic Games, and the esplanade was remodelled

The series of restaurants sited along Moll de la Fusta for which Gambrinus was conceived folded shortly after the Olympic Games, and the esplanade was remodelled

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.

References:

http://www.mariscal.com

http://www.lavanguardia.com/local/barcelona/20150318/54428229882/cobi-gaudi.html

 

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

Caged in the rain

Art is the product of its surroundings, so even as the spreading trees form part of the experience, so too do the bikini-clad throngs

Art is the product of its surroundings, so even as the spreading trees form part of the experience, so too do the bikini-clad throngs

If you cross over Barceloneta’s Passeig Marítim in the direction of the sea, you will come across another of the Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations) pieces. In the middle of an open square that serves as the main gateway onto the beach is what appears to be a rusty iron cage protected by four spreading trees. Una habitació on sempre plou or A Room Where It Is Always Raining, by the Madrid artist Juan Muñoz is also from that magic year, 1992.

Each of the five bronze figures inhabiting this double-arched aviary-like structure appears to grow from and remain rooted to a heavy semi-spherical base. Only a few details of clothing differentiate their anonymous yet virtually identical forms. Despite their strong sense of group, however, they appear curiously, almost wilfully oblivious to each other, consciously distant—as if expending enormous amounts of energy to avoid seeing the bars of their cell, or their fellow inmates. This concurrent unity and disparity of Muñoz’s figures evoke a group of political prisoners estranged by ideological differences. Their gazes never quite connect with any point, either outward, or with each other. Apparently the installation was meant to include water so that “rain” would perpetually fall into the cage, however, technical problems meant this feature was never implemented. Art is as much about its accidents as its intentions.

Though schooled from fourteen to seventeen by one of Madrid's foremost art critics, Juan Muñoz produced no sculpture of his own until the age of twenty-seven. His earliest works were surprisingly mature

Though schooled from fourteen to seventeen by one of Madrid’s foremost art critics, Juan Muñoz produced no sculpture of his own until the age of twenty-seven. His earliest works were surprisingly mature

At around the time he produced this piece, Muñoz was beginning to work with “narrative” installations, using figures only slightly smaller than life-size that were engaged in interaction. His installations invite viewers in, to interact, even to discreetly take part. Among other media, Muñoz wrote short narrative pieces. He published “The Face of Pirandello” in Urban Configurations, the book which came out in 1994, two years after the exhibition:

Allow me an image: the image of the face of Luigi Pirandello. Now allow me a second image that might explain the first: the image of a man who over a period of months buys several books by Pirandello. At first, he does so just to browse through his dramatic works. Later he purchases a few more books, this time not by Pirandello but about Pirandello. Perhaps to eye the framework. As the weeks go by, every time he takes one of the books from the shelf or puts it back, he stares for a few seconds at the face on the front and back covers of the books. As he goes from the shelf to the table and back again, his attention begins to become fixed, time after time, on the hat the Italian playwright wears in all his photographs.

If the image of Pirandello’s hat conjures fleeting visions of certain of Magritte’s works, it also highlights one of the essential processes of viewing art. First comes the impact, of an image, sound effect or other sensory perception. You interact with, even become obsessed with the image for its own sake – its form, colour, composition or subject matter. Then secondary questions overtake the primary ones: how and why override the what. Juan Muñoz forces you to ask “What am I looking at here? What does it mean?” The image above of unseeing political prisoners is only an interpretation, as valid as any other yet also as erroneous.

The placing of such a dour installation in the midst of this tourist beachfront might seem misplaced or at best ironic, but art is the product of its surroundings, so even as the spreading trees form part of the experience, so too do the bikini-clad throngs.

The concurrent unity and disparity of Muñoz’s figures evoke a group of political prisoners estranged by ideological differences

The concurrent unity and disparity of Muñoz’s figures evoke a group of political prisoners estranged by ideological differences

So that which is not art is an integral part of art, as Muñoz experienced here:

After I moved back to Spain, there was this man near my house who sold garden sculpture. I didn’t consider him a sculptor. I liked this contradiction because I was a sculptor who couldn’t make a sculpture, and this man, whom I didn’t consider a sculptor, considered himself a sculptor, and he produced a lot. He made cement lions and other statues for gardens. I bought a couple of things from him and cut and destroyed parts of his work to manufacture a work of my own.

Among his earliest and surprisingly mature pieces were his balcony works: statues installed high on the wall of the exhibition chamber, which thereby transformed the space into an artwork in its own right.

In addition to the plastic arts, Muñoz was interested in atmospheric sound pieces, such as the BBC Radio 3 commission he created in collaboration with British composer Gavin Bryars, A Man in a Room, Gambling (1992). He won the National Spanish Prize for Plastic Arts in 2000, but died of a heart attack in Ibiza just one year later, aged 48. At that time an exhibition of his was being shown at London’s Tate Gallery. His work can be found in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, as well as other Spanish and international collections.

Una habitació on sempre plou / A Room Where It Is Always Raining, Juan Muñoz, 1992. Plaça del Mar, Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.374854, 2.189277

The installation was meant to include water so that “rain” would perpetually fall into the cage, however, technical problems meant this feature was never implemented

The installation was meant to include water so that “rain” would perpetually fall into the cage, however, technical problems meant this feature was never implemented

References:

http://juanmunozestate.org/

A revealing interview with Muñoz: http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/042901.html

http://www.hangarbicocca.org/events/a-man-in-a-room-gambling/

Configuracions urbanes (print edition), Moure, Gloria. Edicions Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1994.

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