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.

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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.
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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.

The haunted tower

The Torre de les Aigües includes a free ghost story in this guide to art in Barcelona. An early work by Josep Domènech i Estapà (1858-1917), it was commissioned when the company Sociedad Catalana para el Alumbrado de Gas—later Catalana de Gas—expanded its facilities to include a 45-m high water tower.
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