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.

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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.

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.

No longer an alley cat

If you want to see Fernando Botero’s art for free in Barcelona, head for the Rambla del Raval, where it’s clear his sculpture now belongs to the people. This ponderous tomcat’s Cheshire smile acts as a magnet of Columbian charm, inviting both adults and kids from the neighbourhood to swarm all over his heavy form.
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The Kiss of Death

Jaume Barba's The Kiss of Death (1930) conveys a creepy seductiveness

Jaume Barba’s The Kiss of Death (1930) conveys a creepy seductiveness

Welcome to the city of the dead. No admission charged. In the current times of crisis a visit to Poble Nou Cemetery is a free if slightly morbid excursion for a sunny day. Pick up an itinerary at the gate, which will offer you a route through this necropolis of neo-Gothic and neoclassical extravagance.
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