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.

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.