Where the sky has fallen

 

Cel caigut (Fallen Sky, 1988), one of Beverly Pepper's Earthbound Sculptures: "seemingly born in or rising up from the earth"

Cel caigut (Fallen Sky, 1988), one of Beverly Pepper’s Earthbound Sculptures: “seemingly born in or rising up from the earth”

Sol i ombra (Sun and Shade, 1988) is the name covering two works by the north-American artist Beverly Pepper (b. 1922). Cel Caigut (Fallen Sky) and Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral) transform the Parc de l’Estació del Nord into a unique landscaped environment. This installation is a rare Barcelona example of “land art”—a concept originating in the late sixties in reaction to the rampant commercialism of the art world.

Ceramic curves embedded within the grass seem to entrap the sky

Ceramic curves embedded within the grass seem to entrap the sky

Pepper has said of her work:

“In the seventies I developed the concept of ‘Earthbound Sculptures’, that is, sculptures seemingly born in or rising up from the earth.”

Cel Caigut is the most immediately visually impressive of the two pieces, the first work you’ll come across (unless entering from the direction of c. Marina). It is essentially a huge earthworks clad in ceramic tile—a homage to Gaudi’s trencadís style—that transforms the landscape. This is a total environment, one that invites locals to use and clamber over its forms, arranged like a benevolent sleeping dragon.

Cel caigut resembles a benevolent sleeping dragon—a prominent symbol in Catalan art since St George is Catalonia's patron saint

Cel caigut resembles a benevolent sleeping dragon—a prominent symbol in Catalan art since St George is Catalonia’s patron saint

 

The sweeping ceramic curves embedded within the grass achieve a rare harmony with the Mediterranean architecture of the adjacent Estació del Nord building.

Sweeping ceramic curves complement the Mediterranean architecture

Sweeping ceramic curves complement the Mediterranean architecture

In contrast, Espiral arbrada, a more discreet installation towards the rear of the park, nevertheless references and works in tandem with its more extrovert partner. If Cel caigut is sun, Espiral arbrada communicates the idea of shade. This wide ceramic spiral, planted with linden trees, creates an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity that is far removed from the city’s bustle. The space breathes a mystical and invigorating stillness, which the iron totems spaced throughout the park seem to reinforce.

Beverly Pepper's Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral, 1988) breathes a mystical and invigorating stillness

Beverly Pepper’s Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral, 1988) breathes a mystical and invigorating stillness

What takes this installation beyond the mere idea of sculptures in a park is that all the vegetation and even the shaping of the earth have been chosen to accentuate the sculpture.

The sculpture and shaping of the earth are one

The sculpture and shaping of the earth are one

The vegetation has been selected to accentuate the sculpture

The vegetation has been selected to accentuate the sculpture

So the species of trees, such as umbrella pines and black poplars flanking Cel caigut, linden trees on the Espiral arbrada, but also white and Canadian poplars, are all there to accompany the sculpture, not the reverse. Even the park’s modular, semi-circular concrete benches contribute to the plastic experience.

A huge earthworks clad in ceramic tile—a homage to Gaudi’s trencadís style—transforms the landscape.

A huge earthworks clad in ceramic tile—a homage to Gaudi’s trencadís style—transforms the landscape.

Pepper claims that her work “offers a place for reflection and contemplative thought within the context of active urban environments”. It is one of my favourite parks in Barcelona.

Cel Caigut (Fallen Sky) and Espiral arbrada (Planted Spiral) are a rare Barcelona example of “land art”—a concept originating in the late sixties in reaction to the rampant commercialism of the art world

Land art is a concept originating in the late sixties in reaction to the rampant commercialism of the art world

Sol i ombra: Cel Caigut and Espiral arbrada (1988) by Beverly Pepper at the Parc de l’Estació del Nord, c. Nàpols, 42.

 

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

Advertisements

A monument to Catalan independence

Francesc Macià was known as l'avi (the grandfather) of Catalonia

Francesc Macià was known as l’avi (the grandfather) of Catalonia

If you’re following a route down the Rambles in search of free art in Barcelona, pause at Plaça Catalunya for Josep Maria Subirachs’ 1991 Monument to Francesc Macià, which shows the harmonious marriage between a contemporary piece and another artist’s much earlier work.

The Goddess by Josep Clarà i Ayat links Subirachs’ piece to the collection of sculptures you can see installed around Plaça Catalunya

The Goddess by Josep Clarà i Ayat links Subirachs’ piece to the collection of earlier sculptures you can see installed around Plaça Catalunya

The installation acknowledges Josep Clarà i Ayat’s La Diosa (The Goddess) while allowing the earlier work to inhabit its own setting on the ornamental pond. The Goddess links Subirachs’ piece to the collection of sculptures you can see installed around Plaça Catalunya, created for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. She is, nevertheless, a copy since the original was removed to the foyer of the Barcelona City Hall for safekeeping in 1982.

Subirachs—the artist responsible for the Passion façade on the Temple of the Sagrada Família, the culmination of his artistic career—strove in this commission to pay homage to Catalan president Francesc Macià (1859–1933) and Catalonia. Of travertine marble, concrete, iron and bronze, the solid concrete bastion represents Catalonia’s history while the upside-down staircase symbolises the step-by-step construction of the country’s future.

The upside-down staircase symbolises the step-by-step construction of Catalonia’s future

The upside-down staircase symbolises the step-by-step construction of Catalonia’s future

The bust is of Macià himself, a politician and soldier who had been exiled for his involvement in a military campaign to liberate Catalonia from the Spanish dictator Primo de Rivera in 1926. A founding member of the political party ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia, the same that is currently prominent in the campaign for Catalan independence), Macià was president of the Government of Catalonia from 1931 to 1933. Shortly after election, this politician they called “the grandfather” declared a Catalan Republic as “a state of the Iberian Federation”, just a few hours before the Second Spanish Republic was born. However, the initiative was quickly quashed by Madrid and subsequent negotiations led to the compromise of an autonomous region within Spain that was given the historical name of the Generalitat. Macià died in 1933.

Josep Clarà i Ayat’s La Diosa (The Goddess) inhabits its own setting on the ornamental pond

Josep Clarà i Ayat’s La Diosa (The Goddess) inhabits its own setting on the ornamental pond

Continue on down the Rambles for architectural Modernista gems such as the Casa Bruno Cuadros (otherwise known as the “umbrella house”) and Gaudí’s Palau Güell. Otherwise, make a pit stop at nearby Els Quatre Gats, an initiative which the Catalan artists Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol helped found. This restaurant was frequented by many other artists, including Picasso, who held his first exhibition there.

Monument to Francesc Macià (1991) by Josep Maria Subirachs and La Diosa (The Goddess, 1929) by Josep Clarà i Ayat. Plaça Catalunya (at the top of les Rambles).

 

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

Casaramona: Art Nouveau’s triumphant functionality

 

IMG_20140720_184216_w

Home to one of Barcelona’s most innovative museums, Caixaforum, Casaramona is art in its own right: an architectural gem of Modernisme, which no guide to the city should leave out.
Continue reading

Urban Configurations and the Olympic legacy

Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations) was a project that aimed to form a chain between two historically linked Barcelona neighbourhoods—la Ribera and Barceloneta

Though the Olympics are the world’s foremost sporting event, Barcelona ’92 did as much for the city’s public art as for its sports facilities. Massive investments transformed the urban landscape almost beyond recognition. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the demolition of the Somorostro neighbourhood and on the Barceloneta shoreline. Yet out of this upheaval came exciting projects such as Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations), a project which aimed to form a chain between two historically linked Barcelona neighbourhoods—la Ribera and Barceloneta.

This historical association was forged in 1714, on the occasion of Catalonia’s defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession. After his victory over the Catalan, British and other forces, Philip V of Spain ordered the neighbourhood of la Ribera to be partially razed to make way for construction of the Ciutadella—a fortress designed (like Montjuïc fortress) not to protect citizens from outside danger but to suppress further civil insurrection. It took a couple of years before the ousted former residents of La Ribera were assigned plots of land on Barceloneta sand spit, where a fishing village had been haphazardly growing since the Renaissance. Over the ensuing years a shanty town developed. Then, in 1753, a rational new street plan was implemented, based on the plans of Joris Prosper van Verboom – the Flemish military engineer who was primarily responsible for Barcelona’s fall in 1714. Housing priority was given to residents engaged in activities connected to the sea.

The Ciutadella and Montjuïc fortresses were built not so much to protect citizens from outside danger as to suppress further civic insurrection. Source: Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona

The Ciutadella and Montjuïc fortresses were built not so much to protect citizens from outside danger as to suppress further civil insurrection.  Source: Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona

 

Over two hundred years later, in the lead-up to the 1992 Barcelona summer Olympics, the Somorostro neighbourhood and the Poble Nou and Barceloneta seafront were redesigned to open up the shoreline to the city and remodel Barcelona’s neglected port and beaches.

Urban Configurations, a permanent, open-air collection of eight works, conceived by Barcelona curator Gloria Moure, was inaugurated just days before the Olympics. This show sought to combine foreign, Spanish and Catalan artists while bequeathing works to the city that would epitomise creative tension, art that was accessible to its public, in harmony with its physical and human environment and engaged in a dialogue with the space in which it was installed. The results are one indoor and seven outdoor sculptural installations, by one Catalan, one Spanish and six international artists.

Heading from carrer Comerç down towards the beach, these works are:

i. Deuce Coop, James Turrell. This US artist’s neon installation in an eighteenth-century building—now a civic centre—revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. It contains an iconic Turell reference in the oculus and use of light. Its lustrous tranquillity encourages the viewer to take ample time to appreciate the installation fully at a meditative pace. Installed in the Civic Centre, the installation is only available during opening times and activated by a sensor that turns it on after dusk: around 6 pm in winter and 9 pm in summer.

Deuce Coop, James Turrell, 1992. Centre Civic Convent de Sant Agustí, c. Comerç, 36, la Ribera. Opening hours (after dusk): Mon to Fri, until 10 pm; Saturdays, until 9 pm. Coordinates: 41.387659, 2.181615

James Turrell’s neon installation in an eighteenth-century building revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. Consisting of several scattered iron forms, Jaume Plensa's work references the Born’s history as a key scenario in the 1714 siege of Barcelona

James Turrell’s neon installation in an eighteenth-century building revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. Consisting of several scattered iron forms, Jaume Plensa’s work references the Born’s history as a key scenario in the 1714 siege of Barcelona

ii. Born, Jaume Plensa. Consisting of several scattered iron forms—a large coffer and spheres evocative of cannonballs—this work focuses attention on the urban landscape of the tree-lined avenue, evoking the form of a ship. Yet it also references the Born’s history as a Medieval jousting yard, the site of the main wholesale market and as a key scenario in the 1714 siege when the city fell. Under the defunct market structure at the avenue’s end—a sublime example of late nineteenth-century ironwork—archaeological excavations have revealed the original neighbourhood of 1714–15. The site has been turned into a permanent exhibition, and this is one of those times when paying a few euros’ entrance fee is worth it.

Born, Jaume Plensa, 1992. Passeig del Born/volta d’en Dusai, Born. Coordinates: 41.384281, 2.182506

iii. Sense títol (quatre falques) / Untitled (Four Wedges), Ulrich Rückriem.

This Düsseldorf artist, trained as a stone mason, installed four massive pieces of granite in the Pla del Palau, distributed in two pairs, which face the traffic like spectators. While much of his work conjures dramatic geological splendour, here the location is poor, causing many people to pass them by unseeing, as oblivious as to any other piece of urban furniture. It is a shame as the works deserve more attention.

Sense títol (quatre falques) / Untitled (Four Wedges), Ulrich Rückriem, 1992. Pla de Palau. Coordinates: 41.382538, 2.183644.

Rückriem’s installation conjures dramatic geological splendour while, unless you know where to look, you may be walking across Baumgarten’s vast embedded installation for several minutes without realising

Rückriem’s installation conjures dramatic geological splendour while, unless you know where to look, you may be walking across Baumgarten’s vast embedded installation for several minutes without realising

iv. Rosa dels vents / Compass Rose, Lothar Baumgarten, 1992. Plaça Pau Vila, Moll de la Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.381383, 2.186168 to 41.379325, 2.186937

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

The secret to Merz’s installation is a formula discovered by several Indian mathematicians whereas Kounellis references the port of Barcelona’s trading history back to Roman times

The secret to Merz’s installation is a formula discovered by several Indian mathematicians whereas Kounellis references the port of Barcelona’s trading history back to Roman times

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

vii. L’Estel ferit / The Wounded Star, Rebecca Horn, 1992. Carrer Sant Miquel Platja, 8 Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.376497, 2.191080

Horn creates a homage to Homage to Barceloneta’s maritime past. The concurrent unity and disparity in Muñoz’s piece is evocative of a group of political prisoners separated by ideological differences

Horn creates a homage to Barceloneta’s maritime past. The concurrent unity and disparity of Muñoz’s figures evoke a group of political prisoners separated by ideological differences

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

References:

http://jamesturrell.com

http://jaumeplensa.com

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/ulrich-ruckriem-2258

 

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

A star’s injured past

Many sculptures in this free guide around Poble Nou and along Barcelona’s beaches are the result of the urban development undertaken for the 1992 Olympic Games. Eight installations of particular value were unveiled under the exhibition title Configuracions urbanes [Urban Configurations]. This is the case of l’Estel ferit [The Injured Star, 1992] by Rebecca Horn.
Continue reading

A much-loved couple

Detail of bronze heads of male and female figures, showing Lautaro Diaz’s passionate expressionism

Lautaro Diaz’s passionate expressionism is equally as deft in his sculptural work as in the way he applies paint to his very tactile canvases

Strolling further along the Moll de la fusta (timber dock), you’ll come across this congruent couple by Chilean artist Lautaro Díaz Silva, another photo favourite for those interested in the free sculpture which Barcelona beaches have to offer.

Slightly abstracted yet perfectly conveying that intense intimacy born of long trust, these figures in bronze, finished in a greenish patina, depict a couple, possibly lovers, observing the sea. An interesting detail is the man’s feet, which almost resemble a fish’s tail. Is he a merman who has come up out of the waves to woo his earthbound lover, or are they both mer-folk, who have come ashore to watch the sunrise together? Díaz’s decision not to raise the pair onto a pedestal works well to bring them closer to their public.

Photo showing Lautaro Diaz’s figures from below, revealing the intimacy of their spatial relationships

Vaguely reminiscent of Giacometti’s spindly forms, Lautaro Diaz’s figures convey an intimacy in their spatial relationships, emphasised by the lack of any plinth or platform, which brings the work closer to viewers

The artist’s passionate expressionism is equally as deft and sculptural in the way he applies paint to his very tactile canvases. His figurative work is similarly pensive. The motif of a male and female couple is recurrent, whether convulsive and passionate, or in repose. In his abstracted works and videos, he makes vibrant use of colour and iconic forms that recur in an almost ritualistic manner while the basic elements of water, air, fire and earth are always in close proximity.

Image showing the abstracted couple from behind, Barcelona's Port Vell marina in the background

The couple, possibly lovers, observe the sea. Lautaro Díaz Silva’s work maintains a close proximity to the basic elements of earth, air, fire and water

Now resident in Germany, Lautaro Díaz Silva focuses more on oils and video, exhibiting regularly in Berlin and Barcelona among other cities. Other Barcelona works include a homage to Salvador Allende, installed in plaça Salvador Allende, on 11 September 1997—to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coup d’état that replaced Allende’s government with Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship. You can see an identical version of it—Allende’s head mounted on the wall—in the camp de Mart, in Tarragona. Another installation, To Victor Jara, is located in Barcelona’s Plaça Karl Marx.

La Parella (The Couple) by Lautaro Díaz Silva, 1998. Moll de Bosch i Alsina (Moll de la fusta). Coordinates: 41.378394, 2.181269

References:

http://www.lautaro-diaz.de

 

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

Lichtenstein on Modernisme: a comic take

Though Barcelona’s Head is superficially reminiscent of earlier satirical works, Cubist and Modernista influences are also present, reflecting Lichtenstein’s engagement with the world of “serious” art.

Though Barcelona’s Head is superficially reminiscent of earlier satirical works, Cubist and Modernista influences are also present, reflecting Lichtenstein’s engagement with the world of “serious” art.

Less than a stone’s throw from Gambrinus, our next stop in this free art route along the beaches is another light-hearted work. It is Barcelona’s Head (El cap de Barcelona) by North-American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

The use of trencadís, or broken tile mosaic, is a nod towards Barcelona’s Modernista heritage. It was pioneered by the architect Antoni Gaudí

The use of trencadís, or broken tile mosaic, is a nod towards Barcelona’s Modernista heritage. It was pioneered by the architect Antoni Gaudí

Lichtenstein’s use of a mass media advertising aesthetic and comic imagery to confront staid perceptions on what “serious” art should be earned him international recognition in the sixties. In Michael Kimmelman’s words, the artist “seemed to critics like the equivalent of a giant pin aimed at the hot-air balloon of Abstract Expressionism, with its soul-searching claims and emphasis on the eloquence of a painter’s touch”. Barcelona’s Head shows this same debt towards comic iconography yet is a far more complex development of this vocabulary. Still present are the bold lines, bright colours and dot background—recalling the Ben-Day process used in older comic-book printing—which characterise earlier satirical works such as Whaam! (1963) and Drowning Girl (1963). Yet Cubist and Modernista influences are also present, reflecting an engagement with the world of “serious” art.

The distinctive dot background references the Ben-Day process, which was used to print shading and tonal areas in the pulp comic books of the 1950s

The distinctive dot background references the Ben-Day process, which was used to print shading and tonal areas in the pulp comic books of the 1950s

The sculpture, a commission for the 1992 Summer Olympics, was physically constructed by Diego Delgado Rajado, a Spanish artist from Badajoz over two years. It is inspired by and pays homage to Catalan Modernisme—the local brand of Art Nouveau. This can be seen in its nod towards trencadís, or broken-tile mosaic, a Modernist technique pioneered by the architect Antoni Gaudí. Though many Art Nouveau architects used ceramic tiles as a way of transferring the bright and enduring colours found in pottery glazes onto their buildings, Gaudí is credited with the characteristic broken-tile technique. On visiting the mosaic workshop of Lluís Brú i Salelles, who was undertaking commissions for his buildings, Gaudí is supposed to have exclaimed: “In handfuls, you must apply [the ceramic shards]; otherwise, we’ll never be finished!”

Fifteen metres high by six wide, Barcelona’s Head is made of eight large blocks of prefabricated artificial stone, stainless steel staples and ceramic cladding. It forms part of a series entitled “Brushstrokes”, where the works convey the impression of a brisk, free execution.

It took the Badajoz artist Diego Delgado Rajado two years to produce Barcelona’s Head to Lichtenstein’s design

It took the Badajoz artist Diego Delgado Rajado two years to produce Barcelona’s Head to Lichtenstein’s design

Barcelona’s Head is installed on the site of the medieval shipyards where Columbus is supposed to have docked his ships. Other works from the “Brushstrokes” series can be found in US cities including Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Columbus and Los Angeles, as well as internationally in Singapore, Tokyo, Paris and the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, in Madrid.

Barcelona’s Head is made of eight large blocks of prefabricated artificial stone, stainless steel staples and ceramic cladding

Barcelona’s Head is made of eight large blocks of prefabricated artificial stone, stainless steel staples and ceramic cladding

El Cap de Barcelona (Barcelona’s Head) by Roy Lichtenstein and Diego Delgado Rajado, 1992. Passeig de Colom, corner of Pas Sota Muralla, Port Vell. Coordinates: 41.380914, 2.182454 © Kevin Booth 2010.

References:

http://www.lichtensteinfoundation.org

‘Roy Lichtenstein at the Met’, excerpted from Michael Kimmelman’s “Portraits, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere”, from an interview done for the New York Times

 

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