Impressions in a concrete garden

The Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies form an outdoor gallery, a constantly changing urban art space

The Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies form an outdoor gallery, a constantly changing urban art space

You have to take the term “gardens” in its official name with a pinch of salt when you first see the concrete flatness of this Barcelona park, though the free art on its walls changes as regularly as any city gallery, making it a worthwhile stop on your route. An ex-industrial site, the shimmering haze of its birches nevertheless perfectly counterpoints the aesthetic of heavy machinery and bright graffiti.

Moscrop and his mates Eli, Nesbit and Si (Lag) had come down from Newcastle (UK) to create free art in Barcelona

Moscrop and his mates Eli, Nesbit and Si (Lag) had come down from Newcastle (UK) to create free art in Barcelona

Such a hardwearing urban veneer makes it ideal not just as a regular concert venue but also for the skateboarding and tagging communities, both local and out-of-town. While taking photos here, the four artists who I found working on the mural walls had come down from Newcastle, UK. Moscrop had been here the summer before and returned with his mates Eli, Nesbit and Si (Lag) this year. Was this the modern equivalent of the way, a century ago, northern impressionists would come down on painting holidays, drawn by Spain’s exceptional light? The hardness in the light does seem to bring out the brilliance in colours.

The heavy machinery parts and chimneys are what remain of the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company Ltd. Yes, the name was in English

The heavy machinery parts and chimneys are what remain of the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company Ltd. Yes, the name was in English

It’s also a popular skateboarding site. A German friend, while holidaying in Barcelona with her teenage son last year, would drop him off at this park every day so she wouldn’t have to drag a sullen adolescent around the galleries and sights she was keen to see. It was an arrangement that worked for them both.

The three chimneys are from the power plant known as La Canadenca (The Canadian), despite the fact that its founder, Pearson, was born in Massachusetts and its capital was Belgian

The three chimneys are from the power plant known as La Canadenca (The Canadian), despite the fact that its founder, Pearson, was born in Massachusetts and its capital was Belgian

The three chimneys dominate the space. They are what remains of a power generation plant that used to be known as La Canadenca (The Canadian) despite being founded by an American. When electrical power was in its infancy at the turn of the twentieth century, it seemed like too risky a venture to attract many conservative Catalan investors.

The graffiti varies from the innocuous to wanting to convey a political message

The graffiti varies from the innocuous to wanting to convey a political message

So an American entrepreneur named Frederick Stark Pearson was persuaded to set up the Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company Limited in 1911. The parent company then spawned a host of subsidiaries to develop the trams, rail network, two large dams and a canal system, power generation and water supply in Barcelona. By 1914 it was the largest electricity supplier in Europe and the seventh-largest in the world. The company was at the centre of a strike in 1919 that developed into a Catalonia-wide general strike, which the workers of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT union eventually won.

Graffiti, one of the oldest art forms, can be a unique expression of contemporary culture

Graffiti, one of the oldest art forms, can be a unique expression of contemporary culture

Pearson himself perished when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk in 1915. After the Spanish Civil War, the company continued to expand for a short time under Franco, but his decree, prohibiting the exit of capital from Spain meant its foreign shareholders could not be paid and proved the company’s death knell.

Spain’s hard light emphasises the graffiti’s chromatic brilliance

Spain’s hard light emphasises the graffiti’s chromatic brilliance

You can see more Barcelona street art at bombcelona (in Spanish).

The site is popular with skateboarding and tagging communities, both local and out-of-town

The site is popular with skateboarding and tagging communities, both local and out-of-town

Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies, Av. de Paral·lel, 49

 

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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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.

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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