The piece is not meant to be a simple evocation of the sea, but of our seafaring past. So its spiked forms conjure ships’ prows, sails and peaking waves which threaten to break over fragile craft.

Controversy in every angle

Evocació marinera (Evocation of Seafaring, 1958–1960), one of Barcelona’s earliest abstract public sculptures, was originally sited in front of the Naval Authority—akin to kicking the hornet’s nest of the ageing Francoist dictatorship.

Evocació marinera (Evocation of Seafaring, 1958–1960), one of Barcelona’s earliest abstract public sculptures, was originally sited in front of the Naval Authority—which was akin to kicking the hornet’s nest of the ageing Francoist dictatorship.

Alongside Tàpies, Picasso and Miró, Josep Maria Subirachs (1927–2014) stands as one of Spain’s most important twentieth-century artists. The seventy or so sculptures of his scattered around Barcelona include his Homage to Francesc Macià (Catalonia’s so-called granddaddy) in Plaça Catalunya and the Passion façade of the Sagrada Família Temple. Surprisingly, of these four artists, he is the only one without his own foundation or museum in Barcelona, after the private gallery, Espai Regomir, which had displayed much of his small-format oeuvre, had to close in 2014 due to a bylaw which cancelled its permanent lease. The savings bank, Fundació Caixa Penedès, was to have rehabilitated the parish church of Sant Cugat del Rec in C. Princesa, close to the Museu Picasso, but the crisis forced the abandonment of the project in 2011.

The piece is not meant to be a simple evocation of the sea, but of our seafaring past. So its spiked forms conjure ships’ prows, sails and peaking waves which threaten to break over fragile craft.

The piece is not meant to be a simple evocation of the sea, but of our seafaring past. So its spiked forms conjure ships’ prows, sails and peaking waves which threaten to break over fragile craft.

Subirachs began his sculptural career as an adept of Noucentisme (nine-hundred-ism)—named by Eugeni d’Ors in Italianate fashion after the century (e.g. 1400–1499 is known as Quattrocento). “Nou” means both “nine” and “new” in Catalan, and Noucentisme was a guiding stylistic force for the first three decades of the twentieth century in Catalonia. The movement sought to counter the excesses of Modernisme’s effusiveness and fantasy with cool Neo-Classical balance. Many of the spaces created for Barcelona’s 1929 World’s Fair, such as Plaça Catalunya, Plaça Espanya and the landscaping of Montjuïc are the result of this impetus.

So it is unsurprising that Subirachs, born in 1927, should have first been inspired by such Noucentista sculptors as Josep Clarà i Ayats. In fact, Subirachs was to incorporate Clarà i Ayats’ La deessa (The Goddess) into his Monument a Francesc Macià (Monument to Francesc Macià) in Plaça Catalunya in 1991.

Subirachs began in a strongly Noucentista figurative style. Nevertheless, by the mid-fifties, his work was becoming progressively abstracted, experimenting with the angular, erotic forms and haunting vacuums that invert the human volumes, evoking visual paradoxes, midway between architectural elements and organic creations, which would be a hallmark of his work on the Sagrada Família.

From Noucentisme through New Figuration to full-blown abstraction, Subirachs’ art has always created polemic.

From Noucentisme through figuration to full-blown abstraction, Subirachs’ art has always created polemic.

His leap into full-on abstraction—a development that, while well underway beyond Spain’s borders, represented nothing less than profanity to the tightly controlled, Neo-Classical aesthetic of Francoist Spain—came with Forma 212 (Form 212, 1957), the first abstract sculpture to be displayed publicly in Barcelona. It is installed outside Llars Mundet, close to Joan Brossa’s Visual Poem.

Being fairly well out of the public eye, that sculpture ducked any polemic; so it was his second abstract work, Evocació marinera (Evocation of Seafaring), begun in 1958, which attracted the ire of the conservatives. The piece was originally sited in front of the Naval Authority—akin to kicking the hornet’s nest of the ageing Francoist dictatorship, so it was quickly moved to its current location.

The piece is not meant to be a simple evocation of the sea, but of our seafaring past. Hence it aims to do more than just replicate marine motifs but rather pay tribute to human beings’ fight for survival in and dominance of this vital environment. So its spiked forms conjure ships’ prows, sails and peaking waves which threaten to break over fragile craft, while the sculpture’s surface texture recalls the degradation of bleached timbers, rotted by the elements.

Forma 212 (1957) was the first abstract sculpture to be placed on the streets of Barcelona, but caused little controversy due to its removed location.

Forma 212 (1957) was the first abstract sculpture to be placed on the streets of Barcelona, but caused little controversy due to its removed location.

Controversy was a current against which Subirachs swam throughout his career, and other conflicts followed the fury generated by those first abstract sculptures. Through the sixties, he was active in protests against the Franco dictatorship, contributing with the creation of a medal commemorating the founding of the Sindicat Democràtic d’Estudiants de la Universitat de Barcelona (Democratic Student Union of the University of Barcelona), a union of students and professors against the dictatorship, to help pay the fines and court cases which its members faced after a police siege (known as the “caputxinada”) in 1966.

From 1987 onwards he began to live, as had Gaudí, on-site at the Sagrada Família, where he had been commissioned to create the Passion façade. In 1990, the art magazine Arctus discovered, the night before publication of one of its issues, it had an entire blank page unaccounted for, and so decided to run an article decrying the manner in which Subirachs’ contribution to the Temple was defacing Gaudí’s work.

It should be stressed that Subirachs’ work on the Sagrada Família at that time signified the largest sculptural assembly of any living artist in the world. Though he had planned to dedicate fifteen years to this last major work of his life, he finally devoted over twenty-three, during which time he assiduously studied the New Testament, despite his religious ambivalence.

But the storm clouds gathered apace. The next morning, Subirachs peered out from the scaffolding around the Temple to observe a quasi-religious procession traipsing about the holy site in protest at his sculptural offerings. When asked years later whether the criticism had changed his attitude, his response was:

“No, no, no. … Influence it, obviously. Things don’t happen for no reason. They made me more attentive. I said to myself: ‘Hey, this is something on which everyone pays attention, even those who are against me and are capable of organising a campaign.’ That meant that I was always more lucid, wide awake. I believe I’m doing something that people see and have an opinion on, so I have to look at it even more carefully.”

In a late addendum to that protest, one of Subirachs’ elements on the temple—a sculpted lion that had attracted scathing critical attention—was quietly removed in 2015. The Temple’s management stated it was an apprentice’s poorly executed work, but Subirachs’ critics (who are legion) claim otherwise. The irony of this story is that in 1965, Subirachs had himself been a signatory to a petition arguing that contemporary work on the Sagrada Família was destroying Gaudí’s original genius.

When his Monument to Francesc Macià was installed in Barcelona’s central Plaça Catalunya in 1991, the outrage was no less furious. Subirachs asserted that after that commission, neither the Catalan Government nor the Barcelona City Council would give him any more work, though it should be noted his agenda remained full.

The sculpture’s surface texture recalls the degradation of bleached timbers, rotted by the elements.

The sculpture’s surface texture recalls the degradation of bleached timbers, rotted by the elements.

Subirachs’ battles may be largely a result of his lack of diplomacy concerning his fellow artists. For example, he endeared himself to few when he made a comment about Tàpies—possibly one of the world’s twentieth-century greats—and specifically, his Monument to Picasso:

“Definitely, [there are doubtful sculptures]. For example, one that I find horrible and seems strange to me that they have made is the Monument to Picasso. Furthermore, its upkeep costs huge amounts and I truly don’t know what you can conserve from it.”

In the same interview, he said of Roy Lichtenstein’s Barcelona’s Head:

“Yes, he’s an American painter, who is famous as a painter, but I don’t believe he’s ever made sculpture. But, in the end, he sent a design and they’re creating it.”

Such flippant derision towards his contemporaries caused many of Barcelona’s foremost art critics to turn their backs on this enfant terrible, which, in a small city like Barcelona, may have made his millstone somewhat heavier. Nevertheless, Subirachs is undoubtedly one of the heavyweights of twentieth-century Catalan art, so one can only hope that in the future he will regain his former higher standing.

 

Evocació Marinera / Evocation of Seafaring (1958–1960) by Josep Maria Subirachs. Bronze. Plaça del Mar, Barceloneta.

Coordinates: 41.375353, 2.189111

 

Forma 212 / Form 212 (1957) by Josep Maria Subirachs. Concrete. Av. d’Arturo Mundet, s/n.

Coordinates: 41.435596, 2.147120

 

References:

www.subirachs.cat

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

Advertisements
The capital A’s sharp lines erupt from the vegetation like a futurist manifesto

Walk through a poem in Horta

Poetry, theatre, prose, sculptural works and even experimental film: his output was prodigious in all these media yet Joan Brossa described himself solely as a poet, and he is remembered as one of Catalonia’s greatest. So to understand Brossa’s sculptural installation, his visual poetry as he called it, you need to understand a little of the man.

Set among olives, cypresses and carobs, this Mediterranean poem in three tenses visually conjures a Greco-Roman past

Set among olives, cypresses and carobs, this Mediterranean poem in three tenses visually conjures a Greco-Roman past

As a child and adolescent, though unable to apply himself at the several schools his parents enrolled him in, he was an avid reader at home. His other lifelong passion was magic, and he would visit Barcelona’s first magic shop, El Rei de la Magia – one of the city’s oldest businesses – which still operates today at C. de la Princesa, 11. It’s well worth a visit if prestidigitation is your thing.

During the Civil War, he gave free magic performances at different centres of the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) until he was called up to serve on the Lleida front in 1938. A few short months later, he was wounded in the eye at the Battle of the Segre, and invalided out of action.

In the late 40s, in a country still devastated by the Spanish Civil War, Brossa burgeoned as a poet. He was able to do so thanks to the tutelage of J. V. Foix, a brilliant noucentista poet, and by joining a clandestine study group, where he learned Catalan, which had been outlawed by Franco’s dictatorship.

The capital A’s sharp lines erupt from the vegetation like a futurist manifesto

The capital A’s sharp lines erupt from the vegetation like a futurist manifesto

As a founder of the Dau al Set (seven-spotted die), an artist group and magazine which included Catalan artists such as Antoni Tàpies, Modest Cuixart and Joan Ponç, Brossa penned their revolutionary manifesto, “La presència forta” (The Strong Presence), a quasi-futurist attack on the rigid retrograde values of Francoism that controlled post-war society. The Dadaist-inspired work they produced showed the influence of experimentation with surrealism and existentialism, and later, the political awareness of Marxism.

Brossa’s sculptural and urban installations owe as much to his passion for magic as to his growing experimentation with conceptual art. The playful idea of a magic trick predominates in his Accessible Visual Poem in Three Tenses: birth, journey – with pauses and intonations – and destruction. It is a journey on which you are invited to embark.

Punctuation symbols – “with pauses and intonations” – lead viewers on a journey, representing life’s many joys and tempests

Punctuation symbols – “with pauses and intonations” – lead viewers on a journey, representing life’s many joys and tempests

Joan Brossa was given this commission by his friend Esteve Bonell, one of the architects who designed the Horta velodrome. The poet conceived one of his visual poems for the adjacent park. The installation is meant to be experienced in three separate tenses: from the capital letter A, which forms an entrance arch sixteen metres high – on the crown of the hill to emphasise its stature – to the ruins of a similar letter, symbolising destruction, decline and of course, death. Along the way, a journey of punctuation symbols – exclamation, quote and question marks, colons and brackets – scattered across the grass represent the many ups and downs of life’s adventures. Brossa originally wanted swings instead of benches in the park, to accompany the Mediterranean vegetation – olives, cypresses and carobs – but a fear of vandalism foiled that idea.

Among other of his works scattered around Barcelona, you can see his Poema visual Bàrcino (Visual Poem Bàrcino, 1994) next to the Cathedral, Lletres Gimnastes (Gymnastic Letters, 1997) in carrer Rauric, and A–Z amb figures antropomòrfiques (A–Z with Anthropomorphic Figures) in the gardens named after the poet, up on Montjuïc Mountain.

Brossa’s sculptural and urban installations owe as much to his passion for the playfulness of magic as to his growing experimentation with conceptual art

Brossa’s sculptural and urban installations owe as much to his passion for the playfulness of magic as to his growing experimentation with conceptual art

Poema visual transitable en tres temps: naixement, camí – amb pauses i entonacions – i destrucció (Accessible Visual Poem in Three Tenses: birth, journey – with pauses and intonations – and destruction). Sculptor: Joan Brossa. 1984. Jardins de Marià Cañardo (Horta Velodrome) Coordinates: 41.437235, 2.148552
Other Joan Brossa work:
Poema visual Bàrcino (Visual Poem Bàrcino, 1994). Plaça Nova. Coordinates: 41.384167, 2.175000.
Lletres Gimnastes (Gymnastic Letters, 1997). C. Rauric, 6. Coordinates: 41.381392, 2.174852
A-Z amb figures antropomòrfiques (A-Z with Anthropomorphic Figures). Jardins de Joan Brossa, Montjuïc Mountain. Coordinates: 41.368117, 2.166818

The ruins of the once-majestic capital A symbolise destruction, decline and of course, death

The ruins of the once-majestic capital A symbolise destruction, decline and of course, death

References:

http://www.escriptors.cat/autors/brossaj/pagina.php?id_sec=3042

http://www.fundaciojoanbrossa.cat/

Actualitat literària sobre la revista Dau al Set a LletrA, la literatura catalana a internet (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

http://www.fundaciojvfoix.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Arthur-Terry_Readings.pdf

Sited on the crown of the hill to emphasise its height, the capital letter A is the first hint you have that a Brossa work inhabits the vicinity

Sited on the crown of the hill to emphasise its height, the capital letter A is the first hint you have that a Brossa work inhabits the vicinity

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.

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.

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.

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.
Continue reading