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.

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Urban Configurations and the Olympic legacy

Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations) was a project that aimed to form a chain between two historically linked Barcelona neighbourhoods—la Ribera and Barceloneta

Though the Olympics are the world’s foremost sporting event, Barcelona ’92 did as much for the city’s public art as for its sports facilities. Massive investments transformed the urban landscape almost beyond recognition. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the demolition of the Somorostro neighbourhood and on the Barceloneta shoreline. Yet out of this upheaval came exciting projects such as Configuraciones urbanes (Urban Configurations), a project which aimed to form a chain between two historically linked Barcelona neighbourhoods—la Ribera and Barceloneta.

This historical association was forged in 1714, on the occasion of Catalonia’s defeat in the War of the Spanish Succession. After his victory over the Catalan, British and other forces, Philip V of Spain ordered the neighbourhood of la Ribera to be partially razed to make way for construction of the Ciutadella—a fortress designed (like Montjuïc fortress) not to protect citizens from outside danger but to suppress further civil insurrection. It took a couple of years before the ousted former residents of La Ribera were assigned plots of land on Barceloneta sand spit, where a fishing village had been haphazardly growing since the Renaissance. Over the ensuing years a shanty town developed. Then, in 1753, a rational new street plan was implemented, based on the plans of Joris Prosper van Verboom – the Flemish military engineer who was primarily responsible for Barcelona’s fall in 1714. Housing priority was given to residents engaged in activities connected to the sea.

The Ciutadella and Montjuïc fortresses were built not so much to protect citizens from outside danger as to suppress further civic insurrection. Source: Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona

The Ciutadella and Montjuïc fortresses were built not so much to protect citizens from outside danger as to suppress further civil insurrection.  Source: Arxiu Històric de la Ciutat de Barcelona

 

Over two hundred years later, in the lead-up to the 1992 Barcelona summer Olympics, the Somorostro neighbourhood and the Poble Nou and Barceloneta seafront were redesigned to open up the shoreline to the city and remodel Barcelona’s neglected port and beaches.

Urban Configurations, a permanent, open-air collection of eight works, conceived by Barcelona curator Gloria Moure, was inaugurated just days before the Olympics. This show sought to combine foreign, Spanish and Catalan artists while bequeathing works to the city that would epitomise creative tension, art that was accessible to its public, in harmony with its physical and human environment and engaged in a dialogue with the space in which it was installed. The results are one indoor and seven outdoor sculptural installations, by one Catalan, one Spanish and six international artists.

Heading from carrer Comerç down towards the beach, these works are:

i. Deuce Coop, James Turrell. This US artist’s neon installation in an eighteenth-century building—now a civic centre—revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. It contains an iconic Turell reference in the oculus and use of light. Its lustrous tranquillity encourages the viewer to take ample time to appreciate the installation fully at a meditative pace. Installed in the Civic Centre, the installation is only available during opening times and activated by a sensor that turns it on after dusk: around 6 pm in winter and 9 pm in summer.

Deuce Coop, James Turrell, 1992. Centre Civic Convent de Sant Agustí, c. Comerç, 36, la Ribera. Opening hours (after dusk): Mon to Fri, until 10 pm; Saturdays, until 9 pm. Coordinates: 41.387659, 2.181615

James Turrell’s neon installation in an eighteenth-century building revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. Consisting of several scattered iron forms, Jaume Plensa's work references the Born’s history as a key scenario in the 1714 siege of Barcelona

James Turrell’s neon installation in an eighteenth-century building revitalises and accentuates the old architecture. Consisting of several scattered iron forms, Jaume Plensa’s work references the Born’s history as a key scenario in the 1714 siege of Barcelona

ii. Born, Jaume Plensa. Consisting of several scattered iron forms—a large coffer and spheres evocative of cannonballs—this work focuses attention on the urban landscape of the tree-lined avenue, evoking the form of a ship. Yet it also references the Born’s history as a Medieval jousting yard, the site of the main wholesale market and as a key scenario in the 1714 siege when the city fell. Under the defunct market structure at the avenue’s end—a sublime example of late nineteenth-century ironwork—archaeological excavations have revealed the original neighbourhood of 1714–15. The site has been turned into a permanent exhibition, and this is one of those times when paying a few euros’ entrance fee is worth it.

Born, Jaume Plensa, 1992. Passeig del Born/volta d’en Dusai, Born. Coordinates: 41.384281, 2.182506

iii. Sense títol (quatre falques) / Untitled (Four Wedges), Ulrich Rückriem.

This Düsseldorf artist, trained as a stone mason, installed four massive pieces of granite in the Pla del Palau, distributed in two pairs, which face the traffic like spectators. While much of his work conjures dramatic geological splendour, here the location is poor, causing many people to pass them by unseeing, as oblivious as to any other piece of urban furniture. It is a shame as the works deserve more attention.

Sense títol (quatre falques) / Untitled (Four Wedges), Ulrich Rückriem, 1992. Pla de Palau. Coordinates: 41.382538, 2.183644.

Rückriem’s installation conjures dramatic geological splendour while, unless you know where to look, you may be walking across Baumgarten’s vast embedded installation for several minutes without realising

Rückriem’s installation conjures dramatic geological splendour while, unless you know where to look, you may be walking across Baumgarten’s vast embedded installation for several minutes without realising

iv. Rosa dels vents / Compass Rose, Lothar Baumgarten, 1992. Plaça Pau Vila, Moll de la Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.381383, 2.186168 to 41.379325, 2.186937

v. Crescendo appare / Growing in Appearance, Mario Merz, plaça Pau Vila, Moll de la Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.377711, 2.187846 to 41.376372, 2.187541

The secret to Merz’s installation is a formula discovered by several Indian mathematicians whereas Kounellis references the port of Barcelona’s trading history back to Roman times

The secret to Merz’s installation is a formula discovered by several Indian mathematicians whereas Kounellis references the port of Barcelona’s trading history back to Roman times

vi. Una habitació on sempre plou / A Room Where It Is Always Raining, Juan Muñoz, 1992. Plaça del Mar, Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.374854, 2.189277

vii. L’Estel ferit / The Wounded Star, Rebecca Horn, 1992. Carrer Sant Miquel Platja, 8 Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.376497, 2.191080

Horn creates a homage to Homage to Barceloneta’s maritime past. The concurrent unity and disparity in Muñoz’s piece is evocative of a group of political prisoners separated by ideological differences

Horn creates a homage to Barceloneta’s maritime past. The concurrent unity and disparity of Muñoz’s figures evoke a group of political prisoners separated by ideological differences

viii. Balança romana / Roman Scales, Jannis Kounellis, 1993. Corner of carrers Miquel Boera and Andrea Dòria, Barceloneta. Coordinates: 41.380328, 2.192197

References:

http://jamesturrell.com

http://jaumeplensa.com

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/ulrich-ruckriem-2258

 

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.

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.

Marieta of those lively eyes

Barcelona’s Montjuïc Mountain will unearth a trove of art. It has always been a popular excursion for the residents of Sants and Poble Sec neighbourhoods, its free mineral springs attracting large Sunday picnic crowds throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The mountain is dotted with many of these springs—works of art themselves—but none so renowned as the Font del Gat [spring of the cat] in the Laribal Gardens.
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