When Dalí made up with his Father

When Dalí made up with his Father

An excerpt from the unpublished diaries of Rafael Santos Torroella reveals, through Anna Maria Dalí, what Salvador Dalí’s reconciliation with his father was like, having been expelled by the family for his relationship with Gala and the surrealist ‘sect’.

An art critic, poet and translator, Rafael Santos Torroella (Portbou, 1914-Barcelona, 2002) was a pioneer in Dalinian studies and the greatest expert in the artist’s early period. The excerpt corresponds to 7 September 1985 and is a transcription of a conversation with Dalí’s sister, Anna Maria, in which she remembers how, after being expelled from the family for different, grave reasons – insulting his dead mother in a painting, his relationship with the surrealist and with Gala – Salvador Dalí insisted on being readmitted into the family, with the mediation of his uncle, Rafael.

“Anna Maria tells me at length about the letter of payment signed by her brother before the public notary in Figueres, D. Jesús Solís de Encenarro, a letter in which Salvador junior declares that his rights to inheritance have been satisfied. The letter is dated 6 April 1935. This date tells us, then, roughly when, a short time earlier, the tumultuous reconciliation scene took place. Anna Maria told me about this scene last month; but now she is repeating it in much more detail.

The events unfolded as follows:

One day, at the end of March, Uncle Rafael, “El Galeno”, phoned Figueres or sent a letter to his brother Salvador – Anna Maria cannot remember clearly whether it was one thing or the other – to say that he had his son at home – Salvador’s son – and that he had been requested to intervene to gain his father’s forgiveness. Don Salvador wanted nothing to do with his son until he had publicly retracted the inferred offense caused to his dead mother and until he removed himself from the company of the surrealists, who had come to create discord in his home. Uncle Rafael insisted that his nephew was devastated and was threatening suicide if his father did not forgive him. Although moved, Don Salvador did not budge.

They all ended up in tears there: father, son, auntie, Uncle Rafael, and, of course, Anna Maria.

After a few days, Don Rafael turned up in Figueres with his nephew and it was there that the scene which Montserrat Dalí, Rafael’s daughter, related to me last year, saying that it had been dreadful, with one determined to be forgiven and the other firm that there should be a prior retraction or separation from the surrealist group in Paris. Meanwhile Salvador junior cried and begged forgiveness on bended knee in the hallway. He said that it was impossible for him to separate himself from the surrealists because they would destroy him. It seems that even Gala had threatened that if he did, she would gouge out his eyes while he slept…

Anna Maria was not at home that say because she had gone to Roses on a trip where she went out in a boat with some of her girlfriends. She arrived home late and very excitable because they had been on the point of sinking in the middle of the bay. So, when she went into the house she found that Don Salvador had forgiven his son at last. He had embraced his son, both of them in tears. They all ended up in tears there: father, son, auntie, Uncle Rafael, and, of course, Anna Maria too, since after her adventures on the sea – for which she was doubly in need of relieving herself from her nervous excitement – she immediately joined the general sobbing.

Uncle Rafael returned to Barcelona and his nephew remained for a few days in Figueres because if his father had finally relented, it was on the condition that his son sign the letter of payment in which he declares that his rights to inheritance have been satisfied. Don Salvador had laid down that condition in the face of the refusal or impossibility of his son leaving the surrealists. According to Anna Maria, her father told Salvador: “Look here, son, when I am gone I do not want your sister to have to suffer the consequences of your relations with people who hate the family and who will do all they can to damage it”.

Mercy for the MACBA

Mercy for the MACBA

To the now classic dilemma of “who do you like best, Mummy or Daddy?” the people of Barcelona have added “which do you prefer, culture or health?”.

I come from the world of culture and I believe that if health was managed in the same way as culture, we would all be one-eyed, lame and crippled. But I take comfort thanking that if the health budget were the same as that for culture, we would all be dead.

Rafael Vargas, MACBA, 2008. © Rafael Vargas, 2008.

I imagine you are all fed up with the recent controversy about the MACBA, but for those of you who are not up to date, I will summarise: the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (and of Catalonia, let’s face it) opened its doors in December 1995 in a building designed by American architect Richard Meier and located in the heart of the Raval neighbourhood.

Meier was chosen by the then-mayor Pasqual Maragall. The building occupies 14,300m2 of useable space. Of the rest? Well there is a ramp to access the two floors, a monumental atrium. The façade is a huge glass showcase which, with the Mediterranean climate of Barcelona, makes the interior like a greenhouse. There is not enough space to exhibit the work, but then at the beginning there was not too much work to display.

Over the years, however, the different contributions of public and private institutions have conferred on the museum what might now be called a “permanent collection” and now, for the first time in a quarter of a century we are seeing the first “permanent exhibition of the permanent collection”.

The MACBA wants to grow. In 2006 it inherited the ancient Convent of the Àngels. The chapel provides space for exhibiting and one wing contains the Centre for Research and Documentation.

© Rafael Vargas, 2009.

In the Carrer Montalegre, which runs down one side of the MACBA, is the old Chapel of Mercy, in ruins. This space belongs to Barcelona City Council and was given over for use by the MACBA five years ago for the purpose of expansion. The museum had managed to obtain five million euros from European funding – a sum which does not seem that great to me, given the amount of work needed. However, as it turns out the local medical centre for the Raval neighbourhood also need to expand and the Department of Health of the Government of Catalonia has decided that the best place for it would be the site of the Chapel of Mercy.

Barcelona City Council wants to deal with the matter in February – remember that the municipal elections take place in May. A platform has been created, +MACBA +Cultura, to present a manifesto defending the inclusive solution to allow both projects to go ahead – but the Chapel of Mercy would obviously remain a space for the MACBA – signed by 300 representatives of culture and another 3,000 members of the public.

On the other hand, the platform CAP Raval Nord Digne has been set up in favour of building the new medical centre in the Chapel of Mercy and has amassed 6,500 signatures to take the debate to the next council meeting.

Dear reader, if you have not yet dozed off or left this site, you should think about your own interests: what would you give priority to: a health centre or a permanent contemporary art exhibition?

The expansion of the MACBA does not need either a song and dance or emergency treatment.

Of course, the dilemma is not so simple. It is like in those Westerns where the farmers confronted the livestock herders. And while we are making film comparisons, when I read in the press sentences like “The rescission of the cession…” I cannot help thinking of the that great scene by the Marx brothers which begins “The party of the first part…”.

Why has almost all of the press positioned itself in favour of the MACBA? Maybe because there is a culture section but no health section?

The expansion of the MACBA does not need either a song and dance or emergency treatment. We have the original sin, after all: the building. And there are others: I think its exhibitions policy is grey and does not really meet the needs of our artistic ecosystem. You have to ask yourself whether the satellite space needs to be that close to the “alma mater”. The MoMA in New York is in Manhattan – in a building by the way which is as soothing as it is functional yet the PS1 is in Queens. As long as they are well-communicated and what they exhibit attracts and service minimum audiences, there is no problem.

I imagine some of you are thinking, but an expansion of the MACBA means an increase in the budget. Staff, maintenance, insurance, infrastructure. Where will the money come from?

Three Impertinent Young Girls

Three Impertinent Young Girls

Now that the Facebook robot censors have put into practice the implacable and efficient, white and starched, orders of Silicon Valley puritanism and they spend their time pixelating women’s nipples in historical works of art pompier or harshly punishing the publication of now classical film stills, as was the case with this very publication not so long ago, while letting through with abandon photos of open-shirted blokes with turgid nipples, looking for a hot date or just to turn people on…not to mention the volume of their chests, inflated through hours spent in the gym – not a moob in sight… it brings to mind an interesting and strange controversy which took place in Barcelona at the height of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship at the end of the 1920s.

All of this happened because of a painting exhibited in the Sala Parés in December 1926 as part of the second solo exhibition of Josep de Togores in Barcelona.

As Joan Antoni Maragall explains in his Història de la Sala Parés (Editorial Selecta, 1975), the exhibition was a runaway success and almost everything sold, even then when a togores was already really expensive since he had contracted one of the most important international dealers in the field, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who distributed them from Paris to the rest of Europe and America. The enthusiastic public of the Sala Parés, as well as the critic and collectors, suggested that the biggest work in the exhibition – a modern version of The Three Graces painted in 1924 in Comps sur l’Artuby, should be acquired by the Museums Board and added to the collection of the Art Museum, then situated in the Parc de la Ciutadella, which did not have any works by this artists who at that time was becoming world famous. But the members of the board snubbed the suggestion – nobody was going to tell them what they should and should not buy! In fact, some ten years later, they themselves, or perhaps some other equally proud members, had already arranged for the most important work of the eccentric Ismael Smith to be destroyed. The work, En abundància, was the most devastating version ever make of the theme Susanna and the Elders, a life-size sculptural work, bought and awarded a prize in 1907, when Josep Pijuan and Raimon Casellas were still in the institution. Those who followed them would soon stand out for their mediocrity and narrow mindedness.

The Museum’s Board refused it, arguing that it was a work of pornography.

Since the municipal board had turned their back on the purchase of the Togores in 1926, the public organised themselves and the painting was bought by popular subscription, despite the fact that it must have been worth millions.  Salvador Dalí, who was at that time a great admirer of the artist, was one of the first to put up some money, alongside Ramon Puig Gairalt, Esteve Monegal, Feliu Elias, Josep M. de Sagarra, Joaquim Gomis, Josep Obiols, Màrius Guifreda, Alexandre Plana, Rafael Benet and, among, many other, the widow of  Joan Maragall and his son Joan Antoni, as well as thirty anonymous subscribers to the Nova Revista, and even a groups of Barcelona workers, according to the breakdown made by Togores himself in his autobiography, dictated to Esteve Fàbregas i Barri and published by Aedos in 1970. Once paid for, the painting was offered as a donation to the aforementioned board, which, affronted by their audacity, refused it, arguing that it was a work of pornography. The excuse is curious given that at the same time as the Plaça de Catalunya was being filled with sensuous, nude matrons in the purest style of the Primo dictatorship. It would seem that the nudes, as long as they were metallic and in the open air, were free of any kind of capacity for arousal.

The togores affair created a real stir. For months the Barcelona newspapers were full of it and the scandal reach even the most highbrow press in Madrid. The kind of headlines were enough to have the public transfixed. The whole business lasted two years and finally somebody came up with the reasonable solution of giving the painting to the mayor of Barcelona as a gift. For the whole of the dictatorship this position was occupied by Daríus Rumeu i Freixa – the Second Baron Viver – and who would donate it to the museum. In the face of an imposition by its maximum municipal authority, who was equally traditionalist, would the Museums Board finally concede? And they did, but not before changing the name of the painting to Primavera de la vida, a title would in fact would give the painting a more provocative tone than it actually had, seemingly making the three girls even younger (one of whom was no less than the artist’s future wife). As well as changing the name they also changed the date to 1927. Since they were in the mood for changes it would make no difference and might even draw attention away from the absurdity of the whole affair. So, with this spurious name and the date it remained in the inventories and publications until 1998, when the retrospective of the artist took place at the Reina Sofia and the MNAC, and things could finally be out in the open.

Tres nus was hung in a room dedicated to Togores in the Museum of Art of Catalonia when it was established in Montjuïc during the Republic, and also when the Museum returned to the Ciutadella. But when all Catalan art was brought together again at the National Palace around the year 2000, the work sadly passed into the reserve where it remained until a few months ago. Luckily it can now be seen in the Art Museum of Cerdanyola, thanks to the deposit of works made by the MNAC, together with two other paintings from the most memorable period of this artist. it is worth visiting this small museum in the Vallès to celebrate the fact that these three lovely young girls painted by Togores, and generously acquired by an educated society which confronted the institutional that was in the hands of a few repressed and recalcitrant voyeurs, can at last show of their lacquered skin and sensual curves which are in dialogue with the hills of the landscape that surrounds them, in all their innocence and splendour. Very often, the supposed provocation of an image is not inherent in the image itself but in the turbid gaze which blasphemes it.

The Difference between “sink” and “lift”

The Difference between “sink” and “lift”

Austrian artist Oliver Ressler presents his first solo exhibition at the gallery ángels barcelona.

At a meeting point between artistic production and environmental activism, Oliver Ressler presents his video projections and photographic series on forms of collective resistance to the abuses of capital. Committed. Hopeful. Brave. Forceful. This is a lesson in social activism through art. With a highly coherence career behind him, this time he is presenting five experiences of resistance which demand a certain amount of calm as you contemplate them.

Oliver Ressler, Everything’s coming together while everything’s falling apart: COP21, 2016.

First. Paris, 2015: United Nations Climate Change Summit. While the governments are incapable of involving themselves and reaching a firm agreement to reduce global warming, Oliver Ressler record the actions carried out by activists in parallel to the event in a city which finds itself in a state of emergency as a result of jihad terrorism.

Second. Lusatia, in the German state of Saxony, 2016. Four thousand activists storm the open cast lignite mine, a highly contaminating type of carbon, and block the loading area and the rail connection to an electrical power station. Beforehand they decide collectively how to cross the police line. Their continued blockade stops the supply of coal until the Swiss owner is forced to close the power station. Oliver Ressler records the entire process.

Oliver Ressler, Everything’s coming together while everything’s falling apart: The ZAD, 2017.

Third. Notre-Dame-des-Landes, near Nantes, France, 2009. Faced with the imminent construction of the country’s third largest airport in a rural area of marshland and farming which need protection, the activists declare it a ZAD (Zone À Défendre) and occupy the land with the support of the locals. Faced with an aggressive eviction by the French police and military forces in 2012, 40,000 people put up harsh resistance. Today, the ZAD is the biggest autonomous anti-capitalist region in Europe. 250 people live there and form part of some 60 groups. Oliver Ressler recovers images of the police charge and the resistance while giving a voice to some of the protagonists.

Fourth. Port of Amsterdam, summer of 2017. Second coal port in Europe. Most of the coal arriving here comes from Colombia, where it is mined in unsustainable ecological and social conditions. The activists occupy the loading wharfs in an act of civil disobedience. Oliver Ressler records it.

Oliver Ressler, Everything’s coming together while everything’s falling apart: Code Rood, 2018.

And fifth. Hambach Forest, near Cologne, April 2018. These ancient forests are the site of the longest tree top occupation in Europe. The impressively tall trees have been home to between 100 and 200 people for the last six years. That is the only way of stopping the RWE energy company from cutting them down to expand its open cast mine. On 13 September 2018 almost 4,000 police officers were transferred to the fort to dislodge the occupiers. For two weeks, day and night, they destroyed tree houses and rope bridges. One journalist died. On 5 October a German court ordered the felling to stop in Hambach. Oliver Ressler placed a wide-angle lens above the tress to document the arboreal resistance.

Between “sink” and “lift” there is much more than an inverse directionality.

The first four actions are presented through video projections, while the last is a series of beautiful photographs. The name of the exhibition is A Rising Tide Sinks Ships in reference to the phrase commonly used in the context of the market economy “a rising tide lifts all boats”.  As Oliver Ressler’s archive of images shows, between “sink” and “lift” there is much more than an inverse directionality. There is a true inversion of values, there is another possible world, and there is also the tradition of collective environmental resistance as one of the greatest values in Europe. Or, if you prefer, and this is the part of Ressler’s work, there is the distance between reality and necessary utopia.

The exhibition of Oliver Ressler A Rising Tide Sinks Ships can be seen in the gallery àngels barcelona until 8 march.

The Purge of the Foundations

The Purge of the Foundations

The artistic and hereditary fabric of Catalonia is extensive…and thinly spread, too thinly spread. Are the recent staff dismissals at the Joan Miró Foundation and the “strategic change” at the Antoni Tàpies Foundation, warnings of future suspensions?

The Miró Foundation in Barcelona has announced a loss of between 800,000 and one million euros and has consequently let seven of its workers go. There will be more.

Assembly of the Joan Miró’s Triptych of fireworks (1974), at the Miró Foundation.

The Antoni Tàpies Foundation has a much more flexible structure, but it has also declared its intentions to seek “other models of operations” to obtain resources.

Twenty per cent of the resources of the Miró Foundation, of a total of 8 million annually, are public. In the case of the Tàpies Foundation, of an annual budget of 2 million euros, 50% come from public contributions. The programming for both institutions in 2019 is very austere.

But these are not the only cases. The rest of the artistic institutions in Catalonia, whether public or private, are also in a precarious place. You just need to see the programming announcements in the newspapers for this year, which are significantly inferior to those during the worst years of the crisis. Whatever they might say, we have not recovered.

So, how did we get into this situation? There are many factors to take into account. For example, since 1981 foundations and museums have been springing up like mushrooms, whether they were needed or not. And we have infrastructures that require maintenance, whether we like it or not.

In a kind of inverse progression to this proliferation, the commercial ecosystem of the arts has declined: the old collectors have not been relieved or replaced. There are fewer buyers of art and the local public has stopped going to visits galleries and museums. So here we are with a great heritage, but one which we have been unable to explain or to convert into a common value.

Picasso, Miró and Dalí sold virtually nothing here.

Let’s not forget that Picasso, Miró and Dalí –three universal creators– sold virtually nothing here. If it were down to the local market they would have starved. The current panorama is not so different.

The savings banks were an important factor in the production of art exhibitions. Now that they have disappeared, in some cases their cultural projects survive but are much diminished.

Since Catalonia is a nation without a state, it is impossible to project its artists internationally. And Spain has not promoted any law for patronage. And so, there are no tax benefits. And even if there were you can imagine that they would be monopolised by museums like the Prado or the Reina Sofía. Catalonia would not even see the crumbs. And I could give you many examples of Catalan companies who have sponsored many more exhibitions in Madrid, and even in Paris, than in Catalonia.

On the other hand, our public or semi-public museums and centres have played with everybody’s money. Most of the staff that you see when you visit a museum or foundation are on temporary contracts: the company charges more than three times the amount received by the workers. Obviously these companies are not Endesa or Naturgy, but all of them have “passing” politicians on their payrolls. Those who have lost their position in one institution and are waiting for the opportunity of a new institutional post, whatever the part: political parties, like mafias, look after their own.

We have filled out artistic institutions with bureaucrats who manage artificial programmes, and we have forgotten two fundamental facts:

  • Local creativity exists, and it need to be believed in and promoted in all its variety.
  • As Clinton said, “It’s the economy, stupid”. We are as fragile as our economic situation. We cannot afford to be frivolous with money.

Roberta Bosco warned us, in Mirador de les Arts, about the tension at the Miró Foundation. On Wednesday she explained in El País that the directors of the foundation had laid people off, but they had recognised having made a mistake during the last year under the directorship of Rosa Maria Malet, of spending a million euros moving the permanent collection to the ground floor. A mistake which has cost seven jobs, maybe more.

But the most important questions regarding this purge are the ones we should be asking ourselves: “have I ever bought a work of art, however, simple or cheap?” “When was the last time I visited an art gallery?” “And the last time I went to a museum?”. If the answers are: “never”, “I can’t remember” or “during Museum Night” then there you have the main culprit.

The Paradise Lost (or not) of Domènec

The Paradise Lost (or not) of Domènec

After the exhibition last year at the Macba Not here or anywhere, Domènec (Mataró, 1962) returns to show the tensions between utopia and reality in modern architecture in the exhibition And the earth shall be paradise, at the ADN Gallery in Barcelona.

A couple of decades back this artist from Mataró became a kind of dissector of the ideological, social and economic factors that are more or less directly present in many large architectural and urban planning projects.

Exhibition view.

Domènec’s research involves the whole conglomerate of circumstances, as if he were a historian, anthropologist, sociologist or documentary maker, and then he exposes them through the language of art. And lately, art has become the most honest territory for constructing alternative and parallel stories about the society in which we live.

That’s why it has to be done well: clearly, rigorously, with a poetic sensitivity and social commitment because if not the art and political documentary moves away from its primary objective and, more frequently, end up marginalising part of the audience who read the works as something cryptic and super-elitist. It has to be said that without making any concessions, Domènec is one of those artists that manages to do it well. He demonstrated this in the exhibition at the Macba and is now showing it at the ADN, which is a perfect complement to the former.


In the projects Domènec has called out many things: how political institutions abandon social and housing policies; situations of slavery in the twentieth century, as you can see in the Spanish Architecture project, with plans of large building and monuments constructed by republican prisoners during the Franco regime: or how from the powers of different colours, the architecture of social housing is always aesthetically aberrant and non-functional in all corners of the world to frustrate and prevent the rise of its inhabitants up the social ladder, as you can see in the And the earth shall be paradise project, made especially for this exhibition.

Domènec shows how socio-political control has some suggestive cracks.

But Domènec goes one step further because he does not only call these things to task but also shows how socio-political control has some suggestive cracks. In one of the projects, the artist explains how one the construction companies and the institutions left the Corviale residential development on the outskirts of Rome half-finished (a huge building of over a kilometre in length which was supposed to contain all kinds of services, along the lines of the Le Corbusier collective housing model), its inhabitants turned the empty spaces into a “Architectural self-management laboratory”.


Domènec photographed some of the inhabitants of the building holding a model of one of Le Corbusier’s buildings. This empowers the inhabitants in the same way as images of ancient paintings where the donor is holding a small building. Empathy, tenderness and a glimmer of hope.

The exhibition Domènec. And the earth shall be paradise can be seen at the ADN Gallery in Barcelona until 16 March.

Velázquez, the Gold of the Indies and the Captains Alatriste

Velázquez, the Gold of the Indies and the Captains Alatriste

Philip IV of Spain contracted Diego de Velázquez when the painter was twenty-four years old. He had just arrived in a Madrid that was at the height of Gold Fever. This was the Spain of the Golden Age, the gold which arrived from Seville from the Indies and which no sooner did it enter the royal vaults than it was on its was again to Europe.

Since the time of Philip IV’s great grandfather, the Emperor Charles V, the Austrias had been embroiled in a series of wards which cost them a good part of the wealth of the crown.

Diego Velázquez, Mars, c. 1638. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

A good fistful of that gold ended up in the bags of the tercio español established by the Duke of Alba in Italy. They had that name either because they were made up of 3,000 infantrymen or because a third stayed in Italy, a third in Spain and the last in Flanders. Planting a pike in Flanders was extremely expensive, hence the Spanish aphorism[1].

Mars (1638) is one of the iconic pieces that the Prado Museum has loaned CaixaForum for this awaited exhibition on Velázquez and the Golden Age.

The artist painted the god of war half naked in a life-size oil painting. Mars is seated with his weapons at his feet. His helmet covers half of his face and only the moustache of Captain Alatriste is visible in the half-light.  Velázquez presents one of the soldiers of the tercios, half-crushed, maybe even sickened after so many years of battle in vain.

Velázquez painted it some years after his first trip to Italy, where he had spent hours copying the miracle of the Sistine Chapel.

Velázquez was not an idealist of the Renaissance but a Baroque man.

Michelangelo had been a god ever since Julius II inaugurated the chapel dedicated to his uncle Pope Sixtus IV in 1512. One hundred years later the young Spaniard received permission to soak up Michelangelo’s genius. Perhaps that is why Mars resembles a figure from the tomb of the Medici in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence or one of the ephebes of the Sistine Chapel itself. The palette of Velázquez is not so very different.

Velázquez was not an idealist of the Renaissance but a Baroque man. He had drunk from the well of Caravaggio and imposed realism on beauty even though he managed to make them go hand in hand.

Mars looks tired, but he still wears his helmet. He is not a reserve soldier. This mythological painting was destined for the rooms of a king who was also perhaps tired – Philip IV. The Thirty Years War had begun just three years before the painting was made, in 1635.

The Surrender of Breda, immortalised by Velázquez between 1634 and 1635, and the Spanish military victories at Nördlingen (1634) and Hondarribia (1638) had already taken place.

The tercios continued unstoppable around Europe for another few years. They had time to start war in Catalonia, the War of the Reapers, two years after the painting was hung on the walls of the Torre de la Parada, Philip IV’s hunting lodge. The tercios Alatristes of Pérez Reverte continued their passage through Europe until they lost their honour during their defeat at the Battle of Rocroi (1643).

Diego Velázquez, Prince Baltasar Carlos, on horseback, 1634-1635. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Another of the star pieces in the CaixaForum exhibition, made in the same year as Mars is the Equestrian Portrait of the Prince Balthasar Charles – the unfortunate only son of Philip IV who would never wear the crown. His death at the age of sixteen forced his father to marry Marie Anne of Austria to produce a new heir.

As the expression would have it, gradually the empire of Philip IV “went the way of the cudgel” or as we might say “went to the dogs”. The original expression became popular among the tercios because during the stops of the marches, those arrested had to sit next to the sergeant who carried a large club. At the time, less and less gold was arriving from the Americas.

In fact, in the end there was no point in Philip IV engendering the air who was named Charles II and became known as the betwitched one. The Spanish Austrias had reached the end of their dynasty and in 1700 Charles II died without descendance.

But in the customary spirit of the peninsula another war was needed to decide who would keep the spoils of the empire. The Bourbons won and Philip V, Duke of Anjou, planted his pike in Barcelona in 1714.

Three hundred years have passed and there is nothing left of the empire. Luckily the collection of around 800 oil paintings of the Philip IV collection are conserved in the Prado Museum.

Happy bicentenary and many happy returns!

The exhibition Velázquez and the Golden Age can be seen at the CaixaForum Barcelona until 3 May 2019.

[1] ‘Plantar una pica en Flandes’ means to carry out something very difficult and expensive, such as maintaining the Spanish troops in foreign lands.

An Explosive Dalí

An Explosive Dalí

Dalí rocks! He invented soft watches, the paranoiac-critic method, the museum as a theatre of experience and, even after his death, the exhibition in two acts.

If at the ned of last November, the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation opened the exhibition Dalí-Raphael. A prolonged Dream at the Teatre-Museu in Figueres, after the Night of the Kings on 6 January there was an intermission – like at the opera or a football match – and now a Raphael from the Prado Museum, The Virgin of the Rose (c. 1517) has been substituted by a Dalí: No title. The Basilica of Saint Peter. Explosion of mystical faith at the centre of a cathedral (1959-1974).

This surprising “explosion of faith” will keep good company with another of the works in the exhibition The Ascension of Saint Cecilia (c. 1955), inspired by one of Raphael’s Saint Catherines… And just to add to the confusion, both of the works by Dalí that are now present share the iconography of that transvestite Raphaelesque Saint Catherine. That is what you call disrobing one saint to dress the other.

One curious detail: this Explosion – if you will allow me to truncate the name – formed part of an installation, the Altar of Twisted Christ, which the public of the Teatre-Museu in Figueres were only able to see as a mirror reflection.

For some reason that is how it had to be. I cannot imagine Dalí hiding his Bread Basket or his Leda atòmica in that way.

There are some interesting documents in the exhibition about this work, such as image of a preparatory study for the work with a plastic film superimposed, which shows how Dalí, and the great classical masters, worked.

But beyond his admiration for Raphael (I would have chosen the stereoscopic work According to “The School of Athens” and “The Fire in the Borgo” by Raphael (c. 1979)), there are two topics that the exhibition does not deal with and which seem rather interesting to me.

First, Dalí chose this very space to paint the giant The Ecumenical Council (c. 1960), which is held in The Dalí Museum de St. Petersburg (Florida). And there is no doubt that this is a background produced under the direction of the master, by scene-painter Isidor Beà (Torres de Segre, 1910-Barcelona, 1996). Beà worked with Dalí from 1951 to 1982 and it would be interesting to see what the role of this assistant was in Dalí’s work. After all Raphael had a studio and assistants and nobody makes a fuss about that.

Dalí’s mysticism is a purely visual phenomenon

Second, when Dalí began the Explosion he was obsessed…explosions. The anarchist attacks on Barcelona at the turn of the century –especially the bomb at the Liceu (1893)– are present in the oral memory of the family. The atomic bomb also affected him. In the Bikini atoll twenty nuclear bombs were set off between 1946 and 1958.

And in 1959 Dalí designed the cover of a gigantic book of the Apocalypse setting of a nail bomb (which emulated the “Orsini” model used in the Liceu attack) on a plate of bronze.

The mystical and atomic phase of Dalí had begun with the Hiroshima explosion and a return to the Catholic faith and ended with a series of small controlled explosions. The mysticism of Dalí, like his eroticism, is a more visual than spiritual phenomenon.

The exhibition Dalí-Rafael. A prolonged revery can be seen at the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres during the whole of 2019.

The Lost Caravaggio

The Lost Caravaggio

All antiquarians who dedicate out noble profession to antique paintings have dreamed of finding a Caravaggio.

This is a wish marked not only by the thought of what its sale could mean (retirement) but also for the poetry of discovering great names lost in the time in which we live. Today this is mission impossible, but it was not in the past.

Caravaggio, The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew, 1607. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1974, a scholar on our own doorstep, from Madrid, found an impressive painting of the martyrdom of Saint Andrew sin a collection in Seville and he bought it on the hunch that it could be one of the few Caravaggios left in Spain. He showed it to the best art historian of the time who rejected it as a good copy of the original lost painting.

Sources show that Caravaggio had painted a Martyrdom of Saint Andrew, but the image did not match the traditional iconography with the saint crucified on an X-shaped cross.

Let us leave books for men with no imagination.

In fact, the historian presented the work at a show in Seville and on the label he could not help putting a question mark after the name Merisi: a simple sign that shows the difference between the eye and the brain when you look at a painting.

The scholar located some British partners who believed his intuition and asked for permission to export the work, which was granted. Today it hangs in the Museum of Cleveland as one of the best Caravaggios in the USA. In our country there are just five.

We now know that in Caravaggio’s time there were treatises which held that Saint Andrew had been crucified on a Latin cross and not the crux decussata. The form can eclipse the background. The grammar crush the voice of the artist. Paintings should be studied up close and not recreated looking for images in books. Let us leave books for men with no imagination, as Proust might have said.

Joaquim Chancho, the vibration of black and white

Joaquim Chancho, the vibration of black and white

Lately, it seems that we relate Joaquim Chancho (Tarragona, 1943) mainly with paintings made up of vivid colours in daring combinations. But the work of this true searcher of all possibilities in abstract painting, borne out by his extensive career, is more than just colour.

For Chancho painting is basically a language and he uses it just as a writer or a musician would. Colour is simply one more adjective or note.

View of the Joaquim Chancho exhibition at the Ana Mas Projects gallery.

Nothing changes in the impact of Chancho’s painting, then, when he only uses black and white, which are also colours after all. It has been a great decision to recover a series of paintings and drawings by Chancho in black and white from the period 1972 to 2017, in this exhibition which can be seen in the Ana Mas Projects gallery, l’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

They are works that belong to a broad series, but which have in common the creation of tensions between black and white through juxtaposition, crossing lines and glazes. They are minimalist pieces but only at the first impression. Chancho does not stop at simple dialogues between black and white or creating fields of colour, he goes further than that.

Minimalism, yes, but never holding back on linguistic resources.

On some occasions, he opens and closes windows, with the white openings that illuminate the work. In other works, he engraves calligraphies with lines crossing the surface. He also constructs horizontal and vertical landscapes from fine lines which cover the canvas and here, if you look more closely at the piece, you can discover other hidden colours. He paints background washes with subtle glazes. He builds a structure in monochrome white using only the drops and accumulations of the paint.

In the oldest works of the series on show in the exhibition, on a black background, he sketches out a subtle score, splashed by lines and patches, which may (or may not) be accidental. Sometimes these hypnotic works, are like the scores of John Cage and other times like jazz compositions. The exhibitions also includes some drawings where the minimalism is accentuated. Minimalism, yes, but never holding back on linguistic resources.

Always with discretion and a firm commitment to the painting, outside the trendiest fashions and movements, Joaquim Chancho has demonstrated throughout his career an artistic honesty which in our times, needs to be made clear. At a time when it is so difficult to see good painting exhibitions in our country, the exhibition by Chancho at Ana Mas Projects is a breath of fresh air.

Joaquim Chancho. In Black and White can be seen at the Ana Mas Projects gallery in l’Hospitalet until 16 March.

Sergio Mora: expanded drawing and international success

Sergio Mora: expanded drawing and international success

What has happened with the Barcelona draughtsman Sergio Mora (1975) since the Spring of 2015 seems to me an exceptional phenomenon of success and international projection. And even more so in times of crisis. The book Moraland, published by Norma Editorial, brings together a collection of his work.

The notion of “expanded drawing”, which I use to define his recent evolution, is not a conceptual whim. Throughout almost three hundred pages of this book we find, for example, photographs of his large format drawings which travel around, painted on a visible metallic background, on the side of the Fer Francés gallery owner’s truck. And there are those that accompany Gucci jackets, adorn enormous casks of wine in a castle in Bordeaux and, above all, those which appear as traditional tiles on the wall of the seafood restaurants and bars in Miami (the Bazaar Bar, in the SLS Brickell Hotel) or carnivorous suppers in New York.

Sergio Mora, Truck Art Project, 2017.

Expanded drawing in clothing, in vehicles, in objects, in the architecture of bars and restaurants. If I had opted for drawing, I would have loved to have experienced what has been happening to Sergio Mora in recent years. In other words, to be able to make a few personal dreams come true, as well as other commissioned projects which have also resulted in a kind of personal trip.

Sergio Mora, Bazaar Mar Restaurant, 2016. Hotel SLS Brickell Miami.

In this case I believe that there is nothing coincidental and that everything is merited. Almost from his beginnings, and possibly only by intuition rather than consciousness, the artistic project of Sergio Mora has been, paradoxically, very clear in its ability to permeate and cross borders, oscillating between painting and drawing or illustration. Some years ago, his work may have seemed too artistic to the publishers of illustrated books more concerned about run-of-the-mill niches than the evolution of the times and the complexity of things.

Sergio Mora, Presagios, 2014.

And it could also have appeared too illustrative and anecdotal to old-fashioned gallery owners and critics who were not on the ball. In fact, this was precisely the place where Sergio Mora was happiest and most creative: at the same time a unique pictorial and popular reproductive artist, at the same time surrealist and pop artist (but different from the Californian pop surrealism of Gary Baseman and Tim Askup, although clearly influenced by the former) and an international and local artist, rich in exchanges and nods to other cultures. Mora is able to express himself with as much freshness in a painting exhibition, an illustrated book either for adults or for all readers, a bizarre comic, an album cover or a subjective and non-neutral design for fashion or interiors.

his popular and surrealist or metarrealist images are also intergenerational.

Another key is his love for “Spanglish”, the association of ‘Made in USA’ clichés and ‘genuine’ Spanish elements: sirens and other tattoo themes, and monsters from popular or B movies on the one hand, and hams, rustic wine pitchers and Sevillana dances on the other. There is a danger there of falling into common places and formulas for their own sake, but for the moment this artist has been saved by the good use of colour and the capacity to make subtle changes in meaning for things which are apparently boorishly clichéd.

Sergio Mora, La peleona, 2009.

Figurative communication is easy for Mora, as he loves some of the icons of mass culture, from tattoos of beautiful sirens to the injured and quarrelsome Frida Kahlo, as well as a series of American pin-ups or film amphibians – here in the form of the monster from the lake.  His drawings and paintings can be considered as collages of images which are from the other, popular, appropriated and shareable. In Mora’s work the fictions from the other are combined in such a way that they make up a world which seems to be the artist’s own – a world which is as shareable as it is personal.  His narrative (or almost narrative) collages manage to change and extend the sense of the figures that they bring together. And his popular and surrealist or metarrealist images are also intergenerational, reaching as easily those born around the turn of the century as those of us who are as old as rock itself.

Sergio Mora, Monsters in Paradise, 2017.

One of his best recent paintings, in fact, makes reference to the same film icon with which I departed, way back in June 1986, the first series of Arsenal – a series I invented along with Manuel Huerga and Jordi Beltran. That night, the everchanging video collage of Arsenal was an association of festival images and music, adapted for the solstice festival of Sant Joan, in which at one moment the monster of the lake appeared walking like a drunk, zigzagging, to the sound of the euphoric “Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays. In the image of Sergio Mora in Moraland, reminiscent of the marble-like Pietà by Miguel Ángel, it is the strong and beautiful girl who takes care of the monster, who we don’t know whether has been overcome by the pain of love or the hangover.

Sergio Mora, Hay que regar el jardín, 2011.

In the Catalan and Spanish context, I think the recent and growing success of Sergio Mora is comparable with the, now distant, success that Valencian draughtsman and designer Mariscal enjoyed in the 1980s. Or even the “Rosalía phenomenon” as it is known, although the fame of this marvellous singer is increasingly similar to the global celebrity of Pedro Almodóvar. Or Pedrito, as we called him before he was famous, in the circles of experimental cinema and eighties nights in El Sol in Madrid. For that reason, it would not surprise me if Mora might very soon design an album cover for Rosalía or a film poster for Almodóvar. A commission from David Bowie is no longer possible, but Iggy Pop and Nick Cave are still around and still making great records.

Sergio Mora, Children of the revolution, 2013.

In any case, it seems that the achievements of ‘Magicomora’ are exceptional for a draughtsman, illustrator or painter; in other words, for an individual not bound by genre film or pop music productions. By the way, in the three cases mentioned earlier (Mariscal, Mora y Rosalía) success – like the work carried out previous to it – came first in Barcelona before it became international. Maybe the cultural policies and general politics did not work out so well in Catalonia, but I think it is demonstrable that creativity in Barcelona is outstanding in all artistic and literary disciplines and has been for many years. The problem is that most cultural managers were terrible explorers during those years, who were unable to discover anything of any importance since Tàpies. I feel sorry for them, but more so for the others.

Sergio Mora, Truck Art Project, 2017.

Finally, I would like to remind you that before being recommended in 2015 by Juli Capella and embarking on design commission for brands like Philippe Stark and Bruno Borrione, kitchen brands such as José Andrés, or the Gucci fashion label, and before winning the Latino Grammy 2016 for his drawings on the cover of the Love of Lesbian album El Poeta Halley, Mora had been for many years with his nose to the grindstone in Barcelona without any real recognition. It almost seems strange now much for many years the only people who defended Sergio Mora were the people from the Iguapop Gallery in Barcelona and very few others. When I discovered him in 2002 he was an unknown. I remember that it was in the garden of the Orlandai school in Barcelona. I was taken by his cover for a children’s book: La casa de la Mosca Fosca. Soon afterwards I came across him again in the Iguapop Gallery in a more adult phase in a group show. My praise must appear as the first or second published recognition of his work. All of that period – perhaps because it is too distant and “dullworking” – is what does not appear in Moraland, which focusses on the highly successful production of his most recent years.

What is going on in the Miró Foundation?

What is going on in the Miró Foundation?

This institution, one of the most prestigious in Barcelona, has presented its programme for 2019. It is the first that Marko Daniel, director since 2018, has produced it without any input from Rosa María Malet, who headed the Foundation for 37 years. And I have to say it has been something of a surprise…

In 2016 the Foundation had its 40th anniversary and it is much more than a centre dedicated to the diffusion of the contemporary art which studies and promotes the legacy of Joan Miró. The Miró Foundation is an international reference, a consolidated ambassador for the cultural offerings in Barcelona and a must-visit site for many Spanish and foreign tourists, since its programme has a special repercussion and importance and each year it generates great expectancy.

Lina Bo and Carlo Pagani, Child’s Room Furniture Study for Mondadori Residence, 1945. © Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi.

The programme proposed for 2019 is appropriate, but it does not manage to generate the interest, curiosity and admiration of the previous years, such as the remarkable approximation to the ecological emergency of Beehave or the great exhibitions about Miró, to cite one recent and one older example.

It is true that this is not the year for one of the big shows of the artists awarded the Miró Prize the previous year, such as Pipilotti Rist, Roni Horn, Kader Attia and Ignasi Aballi, who opened the temporary exhibition space on the first floor in a return to the old logistic of the Foundation, which is generally held to have favoured the permanent collection to the detriment of the temporary exhibits.

Joan Miró, Sèrie Gaudí. Gaudí XX, 1979. Fundació Miró, Barcelona.

However, this forms part of the natural rhythm of the prize which has been biennial since 2007 in that one year the winner of the prize is presented and the next year they are not. But what is really missing this year is what is commonly thought of as the “The great Miró exhibit”, the star of the programme. Sponsored for 30 years by the BBVA Foundation, it is by no means a blockbuster exhibition, but it is an event capable of attracting a great cross section of the public, as seen with Before the Horizon in 2013, Miró and the Object in 2015 and Lee Miller and Surrealism in Great Britain in 2018.

M. K. Ciurlionis, Fugue, 1908.

This year’s show, Sound Lines, dedicated to sound art, seems a priori to be aimed at more specific and smaller sectors, despite the interest of the proposal, which is to analyse the crossed influences between visual art and music throughout the twentieth century, and to identify the footprint of sound as an element in art. It will become clear whether the curatorship of Arnau Horta, one of the greatest specialists in this sector in Spain, manages to pull sound art out of its niche and open it up to the public at large.

Lina Bo Bardi, Passeio Público Park, Rio de Janeiro, 1946. © Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi.

Considering that approximately 350,00 people visit the Foundation each year, more than 75% of them foreign, the central exhibition of the season also doesn’t seem capable of becoming one of the main attractions on a trip to Barcelona. Sponsored by the Banc Sabadell Foundation it includes the work of Italian-Brazilian artist Lina Bo Bardi, who is according to many the most important architect of the twentieth century, and a character who undoubtedly offers much to be discovered, but who is not capable of generating great passion among the large range of visitors like that which was demonstrated in the numerous initiatives organised in 2014 for the centenary of Miró’s birth, where she was revealed to large general audiences.  The Miró exhibition curated by Zeuler Rocha Lima proposes a selection of drawings which aim to demonstrate that this discipline was decisive in the materialization of Bo Bardi’s unique creativity.

Joan Miró, Hort amb ase, 1918. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.

The drawings and the concept of dialogue also articulate the two other proposals, both planned for the summer: the first deals with the relationship between Antoni Lena and the work of Miró, and the second offers a series of prints from the 1970s which bear witness to the Miró’s admiration for Gaudí. To complete the programme, the Espai 13, which has in the last three years maintained a very similar curatorial line and the presentation of the work that Vietnamese Thao Nguyen Phan is producing that to the prize offered by the Han Nekens Foundation and the Loop Video Art Fair.

So, while it is an appropriate programme, it is not one which will arouse much passion.

One new feature is that visitors can see the restoration of the giant tapestry as it takes places. The tapestry which weighs more than a tonne has been hanging since 1979 in the central hall of the ground floor. The maintenance of the rear side will be carried out in situ, thereby fulfilling one of Miró’s wishes to present the tapestry as a sculpture so that visitors can walk around it and get a true sense of its dimensions. It has only taken 40 years!

Joan Miró, Tapís de la Fundació, 1979. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona.

So, while it is an appropriate programme, it is not one which will arouse much passion, and could even been seen as rather deceptive considering that in the latter years of Rosa María Malet’s directorship, there were criticisms calling for a new lease of energy in the Foundation. Malet has handed over the reins to two excellent professionals,  Martina Millá who has proved her worth on numerous occasions since she was made head of exhibitions in 2007, and Marko Daniel, whose competence and capacity are undoubted, although since his arrival in Barcelona he seems to have lost something of the force he had as head of public programmes for the Tate Gallery in London.

Economic contributions have remained stable at 8 million Euros, 30% of which (almost two and a half million, not counting structural costs – in other words a sum similar to the National Art Museum of Catalonia) go to cover exhibitions. What is falling, however, is the number of visitors, although not yet to a worrying extent: just of 7% in 2018 and 10% in 2017, although it has to be remembered that in 2016 for the 40th anniversary of the Foundation there was a logical rise in numbers responding to an event of this kind. Even if some other centres have experienced comparative drops, there are others which have increased the number of their visitors considerably, such as the Palau de la Virreina since it has been directed by Valentín Roma.

The City Will Not Make Us Free

The City Will Not Make Us Free

The Umbral project in the Barcelona metro: thirteen suburban artistic works on migration and its political, social and symbolic contradictions.

Sants, one more stop on the green line, is an image which poses a question in many languages: Is this world our homeland? Drassanes: the remains of a city in ruins after the war. Passeig de Gràcia: the names of 35,597 people who lost their lives trying to reach Europe from 1998 to 2018. Plaza España: a false advertising campaign giving false information to set out the cynical path by which Europe can achieve its dream. And so on, up to thirteen different suburban scenes in Barcelona.

Ramón Esono, Open the Gates, 2018.

The Umbral project, curated by Imma Prieto and produced by Barcelona City Council includes thirteen artistic projects on the Barcelona metro dealing with contemporary migrations. With a title that in itself already is a declaration of intention – an umbral is a transitory space from one place to another, but also in psychology, it means the sensory or pain capacity that we able to resist. It incorporates artists – migrants and non-migrants – some of which have had a long path and others are newcomers. It includes artists from many different places and groups of refugees.

Ramón Esono, was imprisoned for his critical comics of the Obiang dictatorship.

To get a complete idea of the project you have to see the whole thing, which is difficult if you do not want to spend your travel ticket entering all the stations since the exhibitions are in the entrances of the metro. You would also have to see the demonised groups in the city such as the men selling goods off tarpaulins, for example. But despite these obstacles, the thirteen projects here have merit. Let’s try.

Leila Alaoui, Les marocains, 2010-2011.

Most of the exhibits are photographic such as the photographs of the Moroccan male community by Leila Alaoui (Paris, 1982-Burkina Faso, 2016), the photographic work of Yto Barrada (Paris, 1971) which documents the diary of a woman who has crossed the border between Morocco and Ceuta, or the group photographs (the strength is in the group) of the carretilleros and carretilleras illegally passing foods over the border between Colombia and Venezuela, taken by Teresa Margolles (Mexico, 1963). Other photographic works are those of a city destroyed by the war by artist and musician Hiwa K (Kurdistan-Iraq, 1975) and the collages made by Eulàlia Grau (Barcelona, 1946) which denounce the racism of some feminist positions. One work which is especially outstanding is the visual silence presented by Estefanía Peñafiel (Quito, 1978) in her images of exile in which she erases the silhouettes of her subjects making their social invisibility clear.

Illustration is also present in some of the spaces. Ramón Esono (Equatorial Guinea, 1977), who was imprisoned for his critical comics of the Obiang dictatorship, and Dan Perjovschi (Romania, 1961) who sketched the live of the refugees with disarming simplicity.

Daniel G. Andújar, ¿Es este mundo nuestra patria?, 2018.

The other works are centred on textuality, such as that by Daniel G. Andújar (Alicante, 1966) on the linguistic borders or the lists of people assassinated by the European policies for border control over the last twenty-five years by Banu Cennetoglu (Ankara, 1970). Finally, in a cross between image and text, Rogelio López Cuenca (Nerja, 1959) and Elo Vega (Huelva, 1967) drawn from the language of advertising and the most blatant stereotype of migration.

One highlight is the participative photography of organisations and groups such as Frontera Sur and Sueños Refugiados, which present images by refugees and asylum seekers in Barcelona, as well as migrants who have crossed the border in the south of Europe to report the systematic violation of universal human rights.

Frontera Sur, #DDHHFronteraSur (2016/2018).

No, the city does not make us free. This is the message of Antonio Valdecantos in one of the texts in the publication of the Umbral project in which he rejects the theory of Max Weber in his 1921 essay on the city. If Weber called upon solidarity as a necessary part of social support, the projects on the Barcelona metro shoe that, beyond a physical space, this urban area is a shared symbolic space where a great deal of the paradoxes on which we build our idea of the world are based.

The Umbral project can be visited at the Barcelona subway until 6 February 2019.

Commissioned Portraits (2)

Commissioned Portraits (2)

As the twentieth century progressed, the portrait became increasingly sidelined when not directly condemned.

It was said that in the age of photography it would be an anachronism to continue painting oil portraits, and that the new tendencies in art were taking different paths.

What they didn’t take into account was the fact that even Pablo Picasso had made some great cubist portraits of Ambroise Vollard (1909-10) and Daniel H. Kahnweiler (1910), or that Salvador Dalí, among the surrealists would not sniff at commissioned portraits, but given his enormous fame, nobody argued against him making them in his own way, like the one of Dorothy Spreckels (1942, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco), among many others, although in some of them surrealism and flattery towards the sitter were not in conflict.

As a young man, one of the totems of local Avant-gardism, Antoni Tàpies, made some almost hyperrealist portraits, such as that of Pere Mir Martorell (1950, Barcelona, Cercle del Liceu), but with the same concept he also painted people in his closest circles – works which he would end up rejecting.

Many believe that all these painters are comparable and are accused of having an unrealistic hankering for the past.

But whatever the case, sometimes people looked for alternatives to academicism when commissioning a serious portrait. This role was often assumed in Spain by Álvaro Delgado, with his respectfully expressionist figures. In Catalonia there was an extensive catalogue of specialists for portrait paintings destined for the galleries of government offices or chairs of local corporations of all kinds, both public and private. Armand Miravalls Bové was one of the best, since he combined his craft with a certain seriousness, often illuminating the background diagonally. Several rectors of the University of Barcelona had their portraits painted by him. José Bascones also had a great presence in this speciality, and the Andalusian who spent some years in Catalonia, Félix Revello de Toro, was possible the artist who received most commissions from the higher echelons of the social scale, including royalty. But the best of all has to be Joaquim Torrents Lladó, a Catalan trained alongside Nolasc Valls, like Tàpies, who was based in Mallorca and had an international clientele of very high social standing.

Joaquim Torrents Lladó, Portrait of Trinidad Campins. Private collection.

Many believe that all these painters are comparable and are accused of having an unrealistic hankering for the past. But within that hankering there are also different levels. One thing is the stiff portraiture produced by some and another is the agile fluidity of the like of Torrents Lladó, who died in his forties, who was a nostalgic in the style of Sargent or Boldini, when, granted, it wasn’t “done”, but he executed his works with an extraordinary subtlety that few of his contemporaries we able to achieve.

Sometimes a well-known painter from outside the field of portraiture would be contacted to paint a personality almost through obligation, such is the case of Julián Grau Santos who painted the rector of the University of Barcelona Santiago Alcobé with his own particular vibrant and colourful style. It is a very similar situation to the portrait commissioned to Montserrat Gudiol (1986) of the Minister for Health and Consumer Affairs Ernest Lluch in her own particular ethereal and delicate style. On the internet, through the Sala Gaspar, you can see the Spanish Government’s criticism of the Senate about the cost of the portrait which was one and a half million pesetas. It was not the first time the artist had made portraits of this kind, such as the paintings of Dr. Corominas Pedemonte (1969, Acadèmia de Medicina) and the sculptor Frederic Marès (1980, Acadèmia de Sant Jordi).

Montserrat Gudiol, Portrait of Ernest Lluch, 1986. Ministerio de Sanidad, Madrid.

More recently portrait galleries have often been substituted for photographic galleries. One example is the gallery of rectors of the UAB which contains several portraits by Miquel Quilez Bach, a painter who was also a dean of the University of Barcelona, in the Faculty of Fine Art. Some of these portraits break with the custom of the vertical portrait to present them in a landscape format.

Many other painters undoubtedly worked intensively in this genre, which was very lucrative, in which the painter generally did not want to explore anything new and the client had no interest in this approach either.  Normally the portraits were dark, the subject seated, the image was a three-quarter view of the subject looking directly at the painter with something in their hands which demonstrated more or less their profession or most characteristic aspect. The more they resembled previous models the better for everyone. The day will come when this genre with all its special traits and limitations will be studied, by us, broadly, after having made drawn up the biggest possible census of the works. The conclusions will certainly be enlightening.

Commissioned Portraits (1)

Commissioned Portraits (1)

Recently there has been some controversy about the portrait of the King of Spain by the portrait painter Hernán Cortés Moreno, specialist in this type of work.

Indeed, Cortés is a great portrait painter – if he wasn’t an art historian of the calibre of Lola Jiménez Blanco would never have accepted the curatorship of an exhibition of his work. However, this artist works with the measured style of Vicente López, who portrayed the effigies of his portraits with noblesse, unlike the crude technique of Francisco Goya who, despite also being an official painter, produced portraits of his subjects which were often less than flattering.

In Classical painting the portrait was one of the most highly valued genres, and it is logical that the painter could show their ability to reflect the most important aspect of humanity which is the human character of their subjects. This is what was understood in the classical rules of the Academy, which placed representations of people above all other pictorial works. And not everyone is capable of applying their technical knowledge to make a great portrait.

Vicent Rodes, Portrait of Damià Campeny, c. 1838. Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi.

Even from the time of the Enlightenment there are major portrait painters such as Francesc or Vicent Rodes, of whom Maurici Serrahima said that “there was a time [the first half of the nineteenth century] that everyone who was anyone in Barcelona had their portrait painted by Rodes”. Both of them enriched the galleries under the control of the Junta de Comerç de Catalunya, although now held in the Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi. And this kind of gallery (like the university rectors or the deans of the professional associations and directors of all kinds of societies) were the main clients of committed portrait painters. In Barcelona, the Jaume Balmes Secondary School, the only middle level school for many years in the city, dating from 1845, has a gallery of  portraits of its directors.

Of the Catalan Romantic portrait painters one of the most outstanding is Claudi Lorenzale, but even more so Pelegrí Clavé and Joaquim Espalter, who painted subjects from Mexico and Madrid respectively who were on a par with painters from abroad such as J.A. Dominique Ingres and Federico de Madrazo in terms of the fine quality of their work. Evidently the most successful in this genre was Josep Galofre, who despite lacking the subtlety of his colleagues, painted a portrait of the Pope.

On our own doorstep, the gallery of the deans of the Law Association of Barcelona has an excellent collection of works of this genre, and despite the fact that one of the painters was the patriarch of Catalan realist painting, Ramon Martí i Alsina, none of his portraits has the power of Ramon Duran i Bas, by Antoni Caba (1893), who was without a doubt the best Catalan portrait painter of the second half of the nineteenth century.

From that generation, although Martí i Alsina was the most decisive painter, more convincing as portrait painters were Francesc Torras Armengol and Pere Borrell del Caso, who, while not departing from the convention of the genre tended to display a high degree of accuracy in their work. Jaume Pahissa, a disciple of Martí i Alsina and much better known as a landscape painter, has half a dozen portraits of doctors from the Faculty of Medicine with that of the professor Carlos Siloniz strays from the norm since the doctor does not appear wearing the mozzetta and medal like most but carrying out a demonstration, with an expressive face, on the dissection table.

The artists’ skill was taken for granted, but their objectivity was not always welcome.

Especially significant is the Gallery of illustrious Catalans which was established in 1871 by Barcelona City Council and is now installed in the headquarters of the Royal Academy for Fine Arts. The artists are among some of the most important painters of each period, but the portraits were not painted from life, but indirectly from graphic documents, since none of the personalities was alive at the time the decision was made to immortalise them in a portrait. The same problem occurs in the collection of portraits of personalities in the Ateneu Barcelonès, also made post mortem; but in spite of this the portrait of Josep Yxart painted by Lluís Graner (1895), in which he appears surrounded by lighted candles, is one of the Catalan portraits most worthy of mention from the period.

Lluís Graner, Josep Yxart, 1895. Ateneu Barcelonès.

Many painters from that period carried out commissions of that this kind –Francesc Masriera, Francesc Torrescassana, Modest Teixidor, Dionís Baixeras– and some, such as the hyperrealist Cristòfol Montserrat, dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the genre. But this kind of work had its limitations and it was much more complicated a task to produce these types of portraits without falling into conventionalisms. The artists’ skill was taken for granted, but their objectivity was not always welcome. Apart from appearing in full formal dress, the portraits had to show the subjects with an air of dignity which in reality they did not always possess.

The Modernists, by definition , escaped these servitudes, but as time went by even Ramon Casas having left behind the rebelliousness of his youth came to paint the businessman Charles Deering (1914, Maricel Palace in Sitges) and the dean of the Catalan Law Association Joan Josep Permanyer (1917, Col·legi d’Advocats) with all his professionalism, but which would not be distinguished among any other kind of pompier specialist in these kinds of portrait. Some of his contemporaries tried to inject a bit of life into the images, such as Fèlix Mestres in his portrait of de Prat de la Riba (c1918), in which he is captured posthumously as if he is pleasantly surprise in his reading, with the gown and the medals taking on a lesser importance.

The Postmodernists generally did not work on portraits, and if Isidre Nonell or Marian Pidelaserra painted anybody they were likely to be friends and the portraits would be void of any solemnity, as was also the case with Joaquim Mir. On the other hand, Ricard Canals, was sometimes drawn to the genre and his works, when not sat by his acquaintances, had an artificial quality about them (Alfons XIII, 1929, Barcelona, Capitania General), and were practically as conventional as those painted by artists without his aesthetic curiosity. We know that Eveli Torent, the painter of an extraordinary portrait of  the musician Enric Morera (c1910, Music Museum of Barcelona), continued to make solemn portraits when he was older in the United States.

Hermen Anglada-Camarasa, on the other hand, when approached by personalities from society, attracted by his international fame. Instead of adapting to the rigid conventions of the genre, made his subjects much more personal in his own characteristic style, such as the portrait of the Countess Sonia de Klamery (c1913, Madrid, MNCARS), which has strangely become one of his greatest masterpieces.

The Valencian painter Francesc de Cidón, who was a well-known Modernist for his graphic work, in his painting became a Realist rooting in the tradition of the 1800s. The Faculty of medicine of Barcelona owns a number of portraits of eminent doctors by his hand. Eduard Flò, José Maria Vidal-Quadras, Lluís Garcia Oliver and Víctor Moya were other painters who largely dedicated their painting to this genre. Of them, Vidal-Quadras is perhaps the most outstanding, concentrating on the atmosphere that surrounds his subject, and is more or less in a field of this own in terms of Catalan portrait painting. His nephew, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, was more cosmopolitan but less refined than his uncle, painting from life portraits of Grace Kelly, Maria Callas and Marilyn Monroe.

José María Vidal Quadras, Portrait of Juan-José Ferrer-Vidal Güell. Private collection.

The Noucentistes (artists from the early twentieth century) were not particularly keen on this type of portraiture. When Torres-Garcia, Sunyer, Xavier Nogués or Francesc d’A. Galí made portraits they were very distant from the formulism that had characterised commissioned portraits. In fact, it could be said that they lived on the edge of that particular market. One especially remarkable noucentista Feliu Elias, however, used his particular dry and precise style to paint  – post mortemMossèn Gudiol in 1932, for the Gallery of Illustrious Personalities of Vic. Soon after its creation it was destroyed during the Civil War by the “reds”, while my father saw how the “nationals” tried to destroy the imaginary portrait he made of Pau Clarís for the Government of Catalonia around 1933, when they stormed the Palace of the Catalan Government during the francoist occupation of Barcelona.

Surcharges in Olot

Surcharges in Olot

Political art has a very bad press, when what should really have a bad name is art which says nothing.

In Olot, the Assembly of Artists of La Garrotxa has organised an initiative related to the repression in Catalonia on 1 October 2017, consisting of different re-reading of the famous painting by Ramon Casas, The Charge (1902).

Ramon Casas, The Charge, 1902.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever”. This quotation from George Orwell’s 1984 can be illustrated by an enormous number of works of art. It is true that the work of Casas talks of the repression of the workers’ movement and that 1 October has a basically independentist element. But they both share common points: police repression and the demand by a significant percentage of the population for rights which are not recognised by the state.

“It is our own personal Guernika

This initiative by the Assembly has resulted in the façade of Can Joanetes, now the Town Hall building, becoming the site for hanging up to 10 life-sized interpretations by local and national artists of The Charge. Artists include Claudi Casanovas, Servand Solanilla, Pere Noguera, Ferran Garcia Sevilla and Marc Antoni Malagarriga. Very soon it will be turn of Antoni Llena. The results are varied, but that is to be expected in a collective initiative of this kind. The aim: demand the liberation of the political prisoners and the return of those in exile.

Servand Solanilla, Olot, el moment previ, 2018.

Servand Solanilla presented a photomontage entitled Olot, el moment previ. He imagines the moment just before the turmoil in 1902, and gives central place to Josep Molera, the young man from Tona used by Casas as the model of a worker trampled by the horse. Brought to life by Josep Codina, he accompanies the politicians and intellectuals of the time, also painted by Ramon Casas.

Pere Noguera, Acció confrontació. La càrrega, 2018.

Pere Noguera, on the other hand, shows a photograph which is the result of a consistent action of joining two reproductions in black and white of The Charge with two in colour, and randomly throwing a set of metal boules onto them.

Robert Bonet, Càrregues de la policia l’u d’octubre de 2017.

Robert Bonet uses an image that he took himself on 1 October 2017, and which has sadly become famous, of the police charging a sitting group in front of the Ramon Llull secondary school in Barcelona.

The “sobrecàrregues” [surcharges] are accompanied by a poster where each artist describes their work, as well as a text about The Charge by Casas: “It is, in the words of the poet Narcís Comadira, our own personal Guernika, an iconic piece that is a categorical expression of the repressive force used by the State against defenceless people”. Alright, comparing it with Guernika is a matter of opinion. But the use of art to reclaim civil liberties is not. Like it or not.

Game over. Insert coin

Game over. Insert coin

Sobrecàrregues is an initiative of the Assembly of Artists of La Garrotxa. Every month the Assembly invites an artist to hang on the façade of Olot Town Hall a life-sized interpretation of The Charge (1902) – the best-known work by Ramon Casas.

In December of last year it was the turn of Ferran Garcia Sevilla, who created his own personal version of it accompanied by a text, Game over. Insert Coin. An invitation to revolt.

Game over. Insert coin

So-called works of art are things that are outside us. Like chairs are.

So-called works of art do not speak, as is often claimed.

They are mute like stones and clouds. Like traffic lights or a Bloody Mary.

It is we who project certain thoughts and emotions onto the world.

Thoughts and emotions which, incidentally, are learned in a certain cultural community.

And in a certain language, or more than one, charged with these thoughts and emotions.

That is why so-called works of art are not strictly universal.

Unlike technical works, which are. From the wheel to the quantum computer.

We are predetermined beings statistically with the same responses. But not all of us.

We think that we are free when in fact we have signed a contract of willing bondage.

Only by changing our inherited sequence of events and things can we be a bit more free.

That is why we recognise events and things, and we interpret them. We tread the endless wheel.

That is why if we change this inherited interpretation we destroy the dominant discourse.

With this action we move from simple recognition to a different kind of knowledge.

If we give the same or similar answers to a question, we ensure our evolution.

If we change the questions, we assure the revolution.


You can read more texts by Ferran Garcia Sevilla at http://ferrangarciasevilla.cat/textos/.

Eulogy to the subtlest of Guinovart

Eulogy to the subtlest of Guinovart

In advance of the long-awaited retrospective which opens in the Espai Volart of the Vila Casas Foundation on 24 January, Joan Prats Gallery has added to the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Josep Guinovart (Barcelona, 1927–2007) with an exhibition which accentuates the more subtle and poetic aspects of the artist.

A decade after his decease, it is clearer than ever that the highly prolific work of Guinovart need to be reviewed, and that in the latter years of his life he had a significant presence in exhibition spaces.

Despite that, however, as a result of his heterodox and excessive spirit, the work of this artist, who was central in the postwar scene in Catalonia, deserves new eyes, new focusses and new interpretations.

His position as a central figure in Catalan Informalism, mainly as a result of the importance of the subjects that appeared in his work, does not detract from the fact that Guinovart has an unmistakeable mark, closely linked to nature and the land, which makes him unique. Guino was passionate about art and driven by his passion he became a natural explorer who never toed the line either in the formal research or social commitment. He did work with matter, but Guinovart could also be as pop as Rauschenberg, conceptual or even a graffiti artist.

These aspects stand out clearly in the exhibition at Joan Prats, the gallery with which Guinovart was always closely connected. The exhibit is also reminiscent about his relationship with the gallery, specifically his first exhibition there in the spring of 1979 which ran simultaneously with two others: the neighbouring (and now non-existent) Trece gallery, and Matèria-suport-estructura at the Joan Miró Foundation.

The decade from 1975 to 1985 was crucial for the work of Guinovart, particularly in his use of clay as an essential material which acted as a base in support of the painting, bringing with it the earthy colours that are so often associated with the work of this painter. A trip to Algeria and Morocco at the end of 1976 was decisive for Guinovart’s inclusion of clay and the popular architectural forms of the desert in his work, connecting everything rural and arid with the language that he had already established, especially from the influence of the lands of Agramunt. The north-African landscapes, which were as Mediterranean as the Catalan ones, reinforced the formal features of Guinovart’s work. Having said that there is not a single work in the exhibition which lacks the splendid blue of the Mediterranean Sea, a colour which he said he had never seen before and would never see again.

a fantasy world of paper and cardboard cuttings, blots and sand emerge.

If the clay and the blue, mixed with sand and seeds, bring a poetic component to Guinovart’s landscape, it is the series of twelve small-format works which takes this refinement to the extreme. Very rarely seen until now, in these works Guinovart sketches a simple spiral block from which a fantasy world of paper and cardboard cuttings, blots and sand emerge. These are the little gems of this exhibition, along with others made of crinkled paper. The contrast between these small pieces and a work made of fibre cement –as dangerous as it is spectacular and crude, which is exhibited in the large room of the gallery, is proof of the free spirit of Guinovart and of his open and contradictory poetics.

Guinovart. Erupting Matter: 1975-1985 can be seen in the Joan Prats gallery in Barcelona until February.

Rembrandt van Rijn: florins, tulips and hockey

Rembrandt van Rijn: florins, tulips and hockey

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669), Dutch Baroque painter par excellence, made an extraordinary 300 prints in all –mostly engraving and drypoints.

Although Rembrandt was an indefatigable worker, recent research has suggested that this figure should be reduced and that he should not be credited with so many pieces. Needless to say, the prints represented a significant source of income. During the almost fifty years of his artistic career he made biblical prints, prints with self-portraits, print of the poor, prints of the rich, prints of everyday scenes and many more.

Life went on in front of his studio in Amsterdam at the same speed that the traders’ barges entered the city’s canals loaded with eastern wonders: marvellous brocades, unbelievable silks and luxurious golden vessels which would fill the mansions of the Dutch traders and bankers. Rembrandt loved to include all this wealth in his oil paintings, where he often portrayed himself as a prince.

A part of this world disappeared when the tulip bubble occurred in Holland in 1637 – the same kind of bubble that we often see in the markets today. Forty tulip bulbs had reached a market price of 100,000 florins. And a single bulb, the Semper Augustus, reached the jawdropping price of 6,000 florins when the average annual wage at the time was 150 florins. So it would seem that the concept of bubbles (nowadays they would be bitcoins instead of tulips) has existed for centuries.

A visit to this sober and well-selected exhibition of prints from the Furió collection at the Cultural Centre of Terrassa makes you realise that Rembrandt considered some of the lighter aspects of life at the time extremely boring. The small etching The golfers (1654), made when he was forty-eight years old, is one example.

A man, comfortably seated in the shade of a tavern, one leg resting on a chair, observes us. He has turned his back on the young men playing golf, or some other ball game similar to hockey, and with a tired look he seems to say, “don’t call me over”. This is all the evidence we need to see that Rembrandt was a genius in human expression.

His parties and his lifestyle were crazy.

We can safely say that the artist preferred a rather different kind of amusement. It is well known that he was a famed bon vivant. His parties and what we would now call his lifestyle were crazy. Often short of a few florins, despite the fact that he was not short of commissions and his art was very popular in seventeenth century Holland his pockets were in holes. He moved house twice and bought all manner of exotic objets including Roman busts and Japanese samurai armour) which often appeared in his canvasses. But this hobby along with the expense incurred was his financial downfall.

The situation improved somewhat in 1634 when he married Saskia van Uylenburgh, who brought to the marriage a substantial sum of 40,000 florins – a small fortune at the time. For his part, Rembrandt invested in huge parties and good ale.

He painted Saskia’s portrait many times and the exhibition contains an etching in which she appears on five or six occasions. Saskia died of tuberculosis in 1642. She was twenty-nine years old and had been married to Rembrandt for eight. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Rembrandt outlived her for another twenty-seven years and still had time to continue producing oils and etchings despite the omnipresent creditor and his debts. He owed so much money that his parents had to hide him on more than one occasion and put his studio in their name, with Rembrandt appearing as a mere employee.

The exhibition Rembrandt. A Genuis of Print can be seen at the Centre Cultural Terrassa until 24 February 2019.

The Whole of Tharrats

The Whole of Tharrats

Each time we find ourselves in front of a work by Joan Josep Tharrats (Girona, 1918 – Barcelona, 2001) we realise how transcendent and significant his professional career was, and how it was not always duly recognised, whether because of the variety of tasks he undertook or because his contemporaries did not appreciate the depth of his discourse.

So, it is a reason for celebration that now on the occasion of the centenary of his birth a series of different events have been organised in his memory, and especially this exhibition which can be visited until 3 March in Masia Can Comas, Pineda de Mar.

Exhibition view. Photo: Jesús Galdón.

It is this town, precisely, that has taken on the organisation of the commemorative programme in recognition of a gesture by Tharrats in 1991 to donate his entire graphic work to the town, a collection which is held by the Tharrats Graphic Art Foundation and which was created especially for that purpose.

To organise an exhibition of all Tharrats’ work would be impossible, not only because of the large quantity of works be created but also because it would not help us to understand the neuralgic points of his pluridimensional production. So, the decision by the curator Ricard Mas not to resort to a classical anthology, but rather a comprehensive exhibit certainly seems to be the right one, in the sense that it is easier to capture the painter’s world in all its diversity. And this has aided the dynamism and clarity of the way in which the exhibition has been mounted.

The decision by Mas to give equal importance to each of the ten sections which make up the exhibition route is also completely satisfactory, given that it brings us closer to Tharrats’ world and also the to the editor, writer, critic, illustrator and graphic artist, ambassador, painter and printer, microsculptor (including gold work), costume designer and finally– Cadaqués, the epicentre of his artistic contacts.

There are ten areas but also 10 essential faces of this multifaceted artist in which we find maculatures, posters, books, magazines, articles and also a small but very representative selection of paintings by Tharrats, from both his most surrealising periods such as when pure abstraction of matter and gesture predominated. So by simply walking through the exhibit and stopping at each of the sections, we can get a complete idea of the figure of Tharrats as an artist, a promotor of initiatives, a writer, an art historian who was always generous with his colleagues, a man with a passion for poetry (opened up to him by his father), classical music and the jazz which convulsed his generation, but also ballet.

We can also confirm or discover that Tharrats is Dau al Set and negre+ and an infinite number of publications and writings that offer us a door into the world in which he lived, his broad knowledge and his friends, during a period of great effervescence, despite living in a sad country which was still immersed in the aftermath of the Civil War and full of social tensions.

Tharrats assimilated the American language of advertising.

However, there are two points in the exhibition which particularly stand out. One is dominated by the Boston Minerva printing machine used to print out his father’s poetry and which he used for all his publications. Of these publications those which appear in the Dau al Set magazine collection are the protagonists of the second point. Not just for blown-up covers which immediately attract the eye of the visitor, but also for the large number of book jackets and posters presented and the way he assimilates American advertising language when here the European trends still predominated.

J. J. Tharrats painting the sea of Cadaqués, 1979.

I cannot conclude this commentary without remembering the one of the images of the film Tharrats made by Jordi Cadena in 1979, where the artist appears tipping paint and some of this works into the sea at Cadaqués in an action which, using the most informal of languages, generated true Tharrats. This is the image which opens and closes the exhibition, and also provides the cover for the well-documented catalogue that accompanies this show, in which ten specialists invite us to get a closer view of each of the different sides that make up Tharrats.

The exhibition Univers Tharrats can be seen at the Tharrats Graphic Art Foundation in Pineda de Mar until 3 March 2019.