Damià Campeny in Mataró

Damià Campeny in Mataró

Carles Soldevila, with his acute sensitivity as a cultural dilettante, something which would seem unrepeatable these days, included Damià Campeny (1771 – 1855) in his book Cataluña, sus hombres y sus obras of 1955. The early twentieth century Noucentistes, like him, knew how to appreciate those things.

I am not sure that anyone today producing a work of such great dissemination would include this sculptor, who is almost certainly only valued now by specialists. Mythification is probably not a good thing, but neither is keeping at arm’s length characters who have profoundly marked the culture of a country.

Damià Campeny, Diana i les seves nimfes sorpreses al bany per Acteó, 1798–1799. © Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi.

In 1972, the Council of Europe offered a major exhibition in London entitled The Age of Neo-Classicism, and asked the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce to loan them Dead Lucretia by Damià Campeny. It was a logical choice, given that this marble is one of the  most beautiful works in European Neoclassical sculpture. All the same the work did not go because somebody from here considered that it was too fragile to travel. Marbles like this one arrived for the exhibition in London from all over, and I cannot imagine the directors of the Thorwaldsen Museum in Copenhagen being so tight-fisted when asked for the great marble sculpture Mercury, which of course travelled to the exhibition. Here, we lost the opportunity to “present in society” worldwide at just the right moment a little-known masterpiece. Despite being asked for it expressly! In its place an oil portrait of Campeny by Vicent Rodes was sent, because they said that Lucretia appeared in it in the background. True, but probably very few of the visitors realised this, even though the portrait itself is excellent.

Damià Campeny, Cleòpatra, c. 1804 © Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

Today Mataró, Campeny’s native city, has put on an exhibition which will run until the end of October entitled Reflections. The Work of Damià Campeny. The exhibit will be shown at Ca l’Arenas, the art centre connected to the Museum of Mataró, run by the city council and with the support of the Diputació de Barcelona. It is a show that does not attempt an anthological role – moving large sculptures is more complicated and expensive than other kinds of work – but it emphasises the artist’s working method and his context through a series of definitive works, sketches for sculptures, drawing and other points of reference from daily life. Well-chosen pieces and other documents which are also exhibited come from Catalonia, Spain and Italy. From Catalonia there are pieces from the Maresme County Archive, the Museum-Archive of Santa Maria de Mataró, the Library of Catalonia, the Royal Catalan Academy of Fine Art Sant Jordi, the National Museum of Art of Catalonia (MNAC), the Frederic Marés Museum (Barcelona), the Basilica del Pi (Barcelona) and the Enrajolada in Martorell.  Works from outside Catalonia have arrived from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport of the Spanish Government, the National Historical Archive, the Academy of Fine Art San Fernando (Madrid) and the Bassano del Grappa Civic Museum.

Damià Campeny, La Santíssima Trinitat (anvers i revers), c. 1790–1796. © Museu de Mataró.

Everything that is exhibited, some thirty pieces, responds to a central conceptual theme designed by the exhibition curator Dr. Anna Riera Mora, the person who best knows the work of the artist and his Roman and Catalan context and who has worked on the complete monograph that Dr. Carlos Cid dedicated to Campeny over twenty years ago, and which continues to be the greatest reference on the work of the sculptor.

For eighteen years, between 1797 and 1815, Campeny lived in Rome, where he had been granted a scholarship by the Junta de Comerç, or Board of Commerce, for the purpose of broadening his studies, which he had begun at the Free School for Design run by the Board in Barcelona. This placed him in direct contact with the main nucleus of Neoclassical art in the world, and in Rome he was able to interact personally with the great sculptors of the time such as Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorwaldsen.

On returning home he came up against the cultural realty of his own country.

Those years gave Campeny as taste for the activities of artists in the cultural emporium of Rome, but on returning home he came up against the cultural realty of his own country: a provincial atmosphere where he fatally flew much lower than he had in Rome, which had become his second home. In Barcelona he was awarded the highest honours and was the most highly-respected official teacher of sculpture at the Llotja School, but here he had little opportunity to make works of the magnitude of which he had become accustomed to by sculptors like himself in Rome.

Damià Campeny, Talia, 1805–1808. © Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts de Sant Jordi.

In the exhibition showing now in Mataró (the city which held the last anthology of Campeny fifty-five years ago) there are definitive works in marble such as the magnificent relief Diana, the nymphs and Actaeon (1798-99), copies made in Rome of the classic models of Thalia and Eros (1805-08), and the plaster relief of Macenci injured (1800). The curator has taken the good decision of placing alongside the originals photographs of other important works which could not be brought physically to the exhibition space. Especially outstanding are the different terracotta miniatures directly modelled by him for works which were later made on a large scale, such as Cleopatra from c. 1804. Although it may sound like a cliché, these models carry the heartbeat of the artist even more than the definitive works. Also, among other models is An Almogavar defeating a French Knight, where much later (1850), Campeny worked with a theme that was already romantic but instead of wearing medieval dress it was represented with classical costume.

In the series of drawings exhibited we can see a more lively Campeny. On the back of one, the property of the Museum of Mataró and part of the Joaquim Renart collection, which shows the Holy Trinity, the design of a lamp with a female form appears, proving that even the most classical and serious artists were capable of showing lighter-hearted objects.

10 Instructions for Bidding at Auction

10 Instructions for Bidding at Auction

Do you think buying art at an auction is easy?

Well, you are wrong. Artur Ramon, who is an expert in the field, gives you ten basic tips to, at least, not make a fool of yourself in an art auction.

 

1. Fames should never try to be cronopis.

Many fames-clients think that the job of the antique dealer- cronopis is very easy. They go hunting at the auction and they come out with the piece. The discovery is almost immediate: as if by magic they pull the rabbit out of the hat. And the fames show up and, carried along by this distortion of reality engendered in comparison and arrogance, they dress up as cronopis and do a job which isn’t theirs. They are professional intruders who do not want the cronopis to earn a single cent, because they are as or more clever than we are. The problem is that if we cronopis often make mistakes, it is a lot more likely that they will mess up for the simple reason that they do not yet have an educated eye, or any acquired experience. Pure statistics.

The Microcosm of London (1808), an engraving of Christie’s auction room.

2. Do not mistake desire for reality.

We all dream of finding a Caravaggio lost during the Second World War, or discovering in a dirty portrait of a horseman found in an old house a marvellous Velázquez, or that in a neighbourhood auction a Goya might appear. Make no mistake, it does sometimes happen, with a bit of luck, once you are a cronopi. But much more complicated than that is what happens to the fames.  They buy at auction a painting masked in old varnish thinking that it is a masterpiece, and when it reaches the hands of the restorer it seems that it is either a copy or a fake and they melt like an ice-cream in the summer.  And they deserve to: they should carry on earning their money in banking and the paintings to the cronopis. We live quite well from them, but not as well as the fames.

 

3. The experts are not gods.

You need to consult the experts, especially those who have spent their whole lives studying an artist and ignore those who certify the entire history of art in exchange for thousands of euros. But the experts are human too, they are not gods.. They were not around when the artist painted the painting and any attribution is an approximation, a suggestion, an idea. It is good to know what they think, but dangerous to have blind faith in them, because they too can make mistakes, carried by the fantasy that enshrouds their own egos. And if you buy and then find out the painting is not worth it, it is you who will have lost out financially and got stuck with the work. They will tend to look the other way, whistling to themselves. There are a lot of visual gurus in our market. More than in other places, valuers of professional prestige. Why? Where there is no visual culture, guides are necessary.

4. Look at the works twice.

My grandfather told me that you should always look at a work twice. If the second time you like the painting the same or more, you should buy it; if you like it less, leave it. It is advisable to apply that criterion to any lot that takes your fancy at auction. Buying a painting is an act of possession guided by love. You need to see things twice, but sometimes you need to pretend you are not because the people who work there are like FBI agents, always spying on you. It happened to me recently. I looked at a painting through a magnifying glass twice and all of a sudden the price went up more than expected. Now I send spies who send me what they see via Facetime, like the Chinese in the Louvre, and so I see through their eyes but at least I am not being used.

 

5. Never accept a drink.

Sometimes in Spanish sales there is the curious habit of offering a glass of cava (French champagne is too expensive) when you go in before the auction begins, something which I have never seen in other international auction houses, where you don’t even get a glass of water. It’s better to refuse alcohol, not because you will be breathalysed on leaving but because after drinking you might bid for something you didn’t mean to. You could make a mistake and buy an Alphonsin three-piece suite when you intended to bid for a Persian rug, because you have lost the catalogue. Or you might pay over the odds for something. Better to abstain – the abstemious bidder has more chances of success than the one who is slightly merry.

6. Never sit in the front row.

Is the best place to sit, or even better to stand, at the back of the auction room so that you can get an overall view and see how the sale is unfolding? Much better to use a wide-angled lens than a microscope if you want to see how a sale develops. Bidding is a fast, adrenalin-filled show, like watching a tennis match. Nobody would think of sitting up to the net. It is better to get a view of everything from the royal box from where you can see who is bidding, against whom, who is buying and who is bluffing, and when the moment comes do not raise their hands.

 

7. Wait to bid.

Inexpert bidders begin to bid from the word go, as if they are in a hurry to clinch the sale. An auction is like a psalm, a cadence, not a bellow for all that you want it all to be over and have the piece in your possession. It is better to wait and come in at the end when the doubts start to appear, when the prices are becoming big and round. You look, you understand the rhythm of the sale, you wait  and when the silence of the doubts appears, you bid. Bidding is much like having sex (I refuse to use ridiculous euphemisms or vulgar verbs ) so with age you learn and your timing gets better.

8. Don’t hold your hand up as if calling a cab.

There are some bidders who are either inexpert or egocentric, or both, who bid with great gusto and hand movements. Bidding is not the same as calling a cab. It is a question of raising you pen a little in clear visual communication with the auctioneer and making small movements which will be perfectly understood by the auctioneer but not by anyone else. This is more effective than bursting forth like a handball goalie in the middle of the room. You will be judged on your manner of bidding and everyone will know whether you are a professional cronopi  or an upstart fama.

 

9. Don’t stand up during bidding.

Those who are not in the know tend to stand up during bidding because they have become bored of the auction. Those of us who trained in the best halls in Mayfair know very well that the time to stand up is in the interval between lots so as to not distract from the sale. It is a simple resource of empathy and fair play which is much appreciated. There is nothing more annoying than having to stand up because somebody wants to come past, and they will never say thank you. It is bad enough having to do so in the cinema or the theatre, or at Camp Nou, but even worse at the most prestigious local, national and international salesrooms.

10. Never applaud.

Applauding at the end of a bidding session is the same as applauding when the aeroplane lands: the epitome of bad taste. Much better to smile discretely (laughing loudly is an unpleasant equivalent of applauding) and look admiringly at Princess Katari who has just bought a Cézanne for the same price as an F-19 stealth fighter. Applauding is a way of demonstrating stupefaction or surprise for something unusual, and the professional cronopis remains unmoved, making out that these things happen every day, that it is something natural, that they are not impressed, basically. We’ll leave the applause to the fames so that they can demonstrate exactly who they are: professional intruders invited into a world that is not theirs.

Max Beckmann: paradise lost and the strangeness of exile

Max Beckmann: paradise lost and the strangeness of exile

During the 1930s, in the Germany that was preparing to become the Great German Reich and conquer the world, it was not essential to be officially Jewish to be branded a degenerate artist and suffer abuse at the hands of institutions – and the state.

Max Beckmann was not Jewish, but in that atmosphere of anti-democratic, pre-genocidal collective delusion, he could be considered close enough. It would be naïve to think that fascism is a thing of the past. Comparable things are happening today, both there and here.

Modern art is by definition free, and if there is one thing neither the Nazi regime nor the Leninists and Stalinists could stand, it was creative freedom. Not even that of the excellent expressionist painter Emil Nolde, unforgivably anti-Semitic and one of their own, but whom Hitler also thought guilty of producing degenerate art. “Annihilate” was these people’s favourite verb, the opposite of creation. Of course, it is easier to wield destructive force than creative knowledge. Even the most mediocre can break things.

Max Beckmann (Leipzig, 1884-New York, 1950) was not annihilated by the Nazis, but did have to go into exile. He fled to Holland, but the Pan-German war machine reached him there too. He died in the U.S., far from home, and, in his last paintings, allegories of exile and the sense of strangeness after expulsion from the earthly paradise abound. In many of his works we find significant details alluding to this theme: a hotel called Eden, an absent garden whose name half-surfaces – or a parrot as a kind of displaced bird of paradise. This lost paradise was not a Utopia, but a certain desirable and possible harmony, one that was – and usually is – destroyed by imperialist urges.

Beckmann’s aesthetic was changed by the pre-war period and the Second World War, as it had been some years earlier by the First World War, during which he served as a volunteer medical orderly. Unlike Matisse, Beckmann did not become entirely engrossed by the ideal sensual harmonies that so appealed to him, but also attempted to address the sinister side of humanity (or inhumanity), which at that time was seizing control of history. In his paintings, the dark shadows of an age of aggression and misery blend with the essential darkness of the human condition. Sometimes it is difficult tell the historical from the existential, but either way, we can see in his paintings that between the reality we desire and the reality we experience there lies an abyss.

The darkness of the age infiltrated Beckmann’s subject matter and also his palette.

The exhibition Beckmann. Exile Figures – curated by Tomás Llorens for the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum and for CaixaForum Barcelona – is not a retrospective anthology. It is made up of five sections: A German Painter in a Bewildering Germany; Masks; Electric Babylon; The Long Goodbye, and, finally, The Sea. These are suggestive titles, but the one that best captures the spirit of the exhibition and the meaning of Beckmann’s work is the first and most general of them: Exile Figures. Bar a few self portraits and some landscapes, disordered and memorable, but absent from this selection, Beckmann’s best paintings are modern allegories whose references are at once historical and existential, evoking themes such as the expulsion from paradise, the strangeness of exile or the dream of beauty and of life, blighted by the disasters of history. That is to say, the history of warmongering greed and its defeat. The darkness of the age infiltrated Beckmann’s subject matter and also his palette.

In the group portrait, Paris Society (1931), the painter depicts a party at the   German embassy in Paris, and the atmosphere is neither festive nor glamorous but disturbing. The light is electric and the luxurious setting appears grimy. Material riches are coupled with gloomy stares, the divergent sightlines more reminiscent of a spat than a diplomatic meeting, some of the expressions irritable or even loutish. The expressionist line distorts features and blackness erupts across the subjects’ skin. One of them darkly recalls Hitler.

In The Mill (1947) the portent was fulfilled. The scene refers directly to the torture of men and women of the Dutch Resistance who opposed the Nazi invasion. It is at the same time a grim and more general reflection on the human condition, one that brings to mind both Goya of The Disasters of War and the existential thought and writing that emerged in the post-war period. I think there are some – later – book titles that Beckmann might have penned himself. For example, Cioran’s The Fall into Time, and Camus’s Exile and the Kingdom.

In Beckmann’s work we see harmony violated, beauty tarnished and identity lost, to be replaced by grimaces and masks. In his paintings, what is magical or even sacred in this world, or in the dream of this or some other world, coexists with disturbing portents and the rupture that follows the revelation of the sinister. In Falling Man (1950) the allegory is at once timeless and contemporary. Almost the entire – vertical – picture space is occupied by the figure of a man falling, almost naked. His fall is framed by two buildings in flames. Indifferent to the tragedy – like Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s ploughman in The Fall of Icarus – winged beings are just visible in the distance, floating or flying with their ships in a blue beyond, where water and sky merge. This is the central idea of Cioran’s essay cited above (The Fall into Time) and also the same scene that was to take place half a century later at New York’s Twin Towers, on 11 September 2001.

Transporting the Sphinxes (1945) marks the end of the war. Especially during his late period, Beckmann employed an allegorical style that was modern, but which also connected with the ancient world and its myths. In this respect, he clearly differentiated himself from the most important currents that were to define 20th century modernism. His art turned away from the more radical creative programmes of artists like Kandinsky, Arp, Klee, Miró or Duchamp, and from works in the new media (photography, cinema, comics). And it came to resemble the work of other, more personal, modern artists, with profound connections to the past, especially Marc Chagall, Georges Rouault and Giorgio de Chirico.

Later, the second half of the 20th century was to see the rise of abstraction, pop and conceptual art. But Beckman was a figurative, meta-realist artist; he expressed subjectivity through objectivity. “I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough,” he wrote. And he defended contemplation, visual appearances: “I must look for wisdom with my eyes. I repeat, with my eyes, for nothing could be more ridiculous or trivial than a worldview painted cerebrally, without the terrible fury of the senses.” The year was 1938, and in those days, art discourse and the art market did not yet seem more important than the experience of art.

The exhibition Max Beckmann can be visited at CaixaForum Barcelona until May 26.

The Emotional Geography of Miró

The Emotional Geography of Miró

In Joan Miró’s constellation there would be points such as Paris, New York and Japan, but more especially Barcelona, Mallorca and Mont-roig del Camp, where the artist returned each summer until the age of 83 to “nourish himself from the force of the land”.

This is where we find Mas Miró, the institution which, together with the foundations in Barcelona and Mallorca, make up the Miró triangle – a kind of emotional cartography of the artist.

The ‘mas’ or farmhouse was threatened when the motorway was built and was closed up for years, and even placed on the market. But in 2006 it was catalogued as a site of national cultural interest and finally given to the Mas Miró foundation by the family. It opened its doors in 2018, following the first phase of refurbishment.

Elena Juncosa, director of Mas Miró, reminds us of a dialogue between Miró and the critic Georges Raillard (Gedisa republished the dialogues last year): “I want everything to be left behind me just as it was when I disappear”. The desire of the artist is carried out in this space which remains original and intact. Mas Miró is not exactly a museum and neither does it contain any original works – “a weak point which has become its strength” says Juncosa. Mont-roig is the landscape of a creator who feels a deep and constant tie with the earth; it was here that he lived and where he would begin works such as The Farm, to be completed in Paris in 1922 where he requested packages of local vegetation of Tarragona to be sent to inspire him. An iron frame recreates the framing of the painting which is held in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and acts as a warning; everything you see, feel and smell connects with what the artist impregnated and evoked in the work.

Mas Miró.

Miró first visited the farm in 1911 to recover from typhoid fever, and he would return every summer, especially from July to September, except during the war and during his exile in France. The extensive biography by Josep Massot includes details such as the price the family paid for the farm, then known as Mas d’en Ferratges (Ferratges being the surname of the previous owner, who had returned from Cuba and was the Marquis of Mont-roig) as well as all the trips the artist made to the house and the group of friends who visited him there, such as  Calder, Hemingway, Gasch and even Kandinski who was invited for the wine pressing season.

Miró’s studio.

Visitors are advised to use the audio guide. The visit begins on the austere ground floor of the house, which includes the cellar. On the first floor is the room that Miró first used as a studio, documented thanks to the testimony of the farm workers. The furniture from the 1920s that is represented in the artist’s work is conserved alongside some family portraits. The decoration overall is meagre and in the corners are the stones and roots that Miró collected on his walks to the beach. The biographical story blurs with the historical details: in 1938, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, some of the rooms in the farm were occupied by the republican army, and the chapel which was built by Miró’s father and made available to the local villagers, was deconsecrated.

The first tailor made studio is clearly designed to let in a lot of natural light in order to experiment with sculpture.

The artist’s studio is the most-visited room in Mas Miró and is where there are most signs of the artist. It was first commissioned to Josep Lluís Sert but was finally built by Lluís G. Ylla in 1948. The first tailor made studio (later would come the one in Mallorca) is clearly designed to let in a lot of natural light in order to experiment with sculpture.  On the walls there are two photographs of Picasso, his master and friend, and one of Joan Prats; there is a page with Persian calligraphy and, in a corner, a piece of graffiti. In a small adjoining room there are six sketches for sculptures which the foundation does not rule out exhibiting one day.

Miró’s studio.

Next to the studio there is a carob tree which reflects the central importance of the vegetation around the farm, and is a reminder of another of the artist’s obsessions – he always carried a carob bean with him. From Mont-rog, of course!

Mutant Scenes at La Capella

Mutant Scenes at La Capella

To celebrate its 25th anniversary as a space for the promotion of emerging art, La Capella is exhibiting a project which goes in episodes.

Les escenes. 25 anys després opened at the end of January as an exhibit which is unfolding like a TV miniseries with six episodes. Thirty-odd artists are involved and the project will be continuous until the end of June, with works overlapping, other which are being made as the episodes go on and yet others which only appear once during the whole process.  

Les escenes: 25 years after. Scene 4. Exhibition view.

The pilot episode acted as the presentation of the project, curated jointly by David Armengol, Sonia Fernández Pau, Eloy Fernández Porta, Sabel Gavaldón and Anna Manubens. This first exhibit, which is the most minimalist, left a whole series of question marks on how the project would continue. Which is why we promised you that we would continue talking about the process at one time or another.

Rasmus Nilausen, Poliglossia.

Now, the exhibition has reached the fourth episode, with a dozen works in very different formats, including performance and fanzines. Those who have visited the previous three episodes will be very familiar with the sculpture Brazos, chorros, mismo II, by Julia Spinola – a large piece of cardboard which is an evolution of Fardo from the first episode. Just as Spinola’s work is in a process of mutation, the book by Marc Vives, Melodramas, is a book of youth which is being rewritten, complete with a pen beside it in case the public want to take part. Another sculpture placed on the floor forms a strong piece in this fourth episode.  Les pedres del camí, by Anna Dot, in a 3-D materialisation of the mistakes made by Quixote in the novel by Cervantes, in honour of the expression “two trip twice on the same stone”. 

The fragile border between reality and fiction in contemporary society.

Painting is present this time with three works by Pol Gorezje,  made from photographs, which are a critical version of the genre of the male nude. Especially interesting, even though they initially seen unrelated to the general theme of the project, are the paintings by  Rasmus Nilausen, especially Poliglosia, which, like the works of Gorezje, provide a view through the surface of the canvas. The fragile border between fiction and reality in contemporary society, especially when cheap exhibitionism comes in to play, is reflected in celebriMe, by Jon Uriarte. For some time now Uriarte has been posting on Facebook supposed image of himself next to celebrities in the new version of autograph-hunting. Looking at these images accumulated on the walls and on the floor is a clear manifestation of the absurdity of the phenomenon.

Julia Spinola, Brazos, chorros, mismo II.

As a metaphor of working processes and the exhibition of contemporary practices, and because of its organisation in episodes, Les escenes is proving a very intriguing show so far. It is a shame that there is not more of a central theme between the works which would give more punch to the argument and the production.

Les escenes: 25 years after. Scene 4 can be seen at La Capella in Barcelona until 5 May.

10 Recommended Art Books

10 Recommended Art Books

Essays, anthologies, guides, anecdotes, graphic novels…2019 has a host of bibliographic novelties on the topic of art.

And the day of Sant Jordi is the perfect excuse to buy one (or more) of them. Here are our recommendations.

Frida Kahlo versus Georgia O’Keeffe.

Sophie Collins, Biográfico Kahlo. Grandes vidas en forma de infografías. Cincotintas. €12.95

Do you like those distracting and detailed infographics that appear on great occasions int eh press? Can you imagine the life of your favourite artist in an infographic? Well, that is what the Barcelona publishing house Cincotintas has done. The first books in the “Biográfico” series are on Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel and Leonardo da Vinci. While they don’t take the place of a good biography or illustrated work they are “a guilty pleasure”.

Arnau Puig. Brossa escamotejador i burleta. Records d’una amistat estel·lar. Comanegra. €9.95

At 94 years of age, Arnau Puig is making even more noise than when he was the philosopher of Dau al Set. This book on Brossa, published on the occasion of the centenary celebration of the poet and artist, is written in torrential prose, with all the literary and aesthetic savoir faire of Puig, but also with a strong testimonial and experiential leaning. “That Spain feared expansion like fire, and that’s why it kept us closed off, with no communication. The poetics and the theatre of Brossa corresponded to the frustrating political reality in which we found ourselves”.

Francesc Fontbona, Art, plaer o penitència? I altres assaigs sobre art. Àmbit. €22.50

Right now, Francesc Fontbona is one of the main, and most interesting, art historians in Catalonia. The number of books he has published in his research alone would fill this entire article. On the other hand, he also has a series of essays from lectures in universities, published in academic journals, or even in exhibition catalogues, which have been recovered her for the reader’s enjoyment: from critiques of the policies on heritage of the Spanish government to a lucid defence of the sculptor Subirachs. A delight.

Aleix Catasús and Bernat Puigdollers (dir. and coord.), Art i cultura de postguerra. Barcelona 1939-1962. Àmbit. €43

We might well continue complaining about our historical memory, now that we are finally doing our homework and studying our post-war art. This is a collection of essays, with texts by specialists such as Bernet Puigdollers, Francesc Fontbona, Santi Barjau and Sílvia Muñoz, among others. There – there was life before conceptual art. What there is not is a good public collection from this period… yet.

Giuseppe Di Giacomo, Una pintura filosòfica. Antoni Tàpies i l’informal. Editorial Afers. €18

According to Giuseppe Di Giacomo, the work of Antoni Tàpies is essential in contemporary art for its quality, but also for its philosophical implications. For Di Giacomo, Tàpies’ art is simultaneously presentation and representation of matter, spiritual art. This book creates a dialogue between the art of  Dubuffet, Fautrier, Wols and Burri with that of Tàpies, showing their similarities and differences.

Joan Fontcuberta and Xavier Antich, Revelacions. Dos assaigs sobre fotografia. Arcàdia. €19

Do photographs have a life of their own? The artist Joan Fontcuberta reflects on the eloquence or suffering that photographs can show us. Philosopher Xavier Antich writes on the multiple possibilities of the gaze. Photography can be as enigmatic in the end as life itself.

Alberto Santamaría, Alta cultura descafeinada. Situacionismo low cost y otras escenas del arte en el cambio de siglo. Siglo XXI España. €16

Don’t be put off by the pretentious title – the content is highly accessible. The question that many of us ask ourselves when we visit a museum is How is it that Neoliberalism support a social and participative art that is critical of the statu quo? It analyses how the system has gradually depoliticised cultural activism to that point where it has become a series of watered-down activities.

Òscar Dalmau, Barcelona Retro. Guia d’arquitectura moderna i d’arts aplicades a Barcelona (1954-1980). Gustau Gili. €14.90 [CAT/ENG and ESP/ENG]

The well-known TV personality, Òscar Dalmau, says that he missed his vocation as an architect. I would say rather as an interior designer. This guide through the buildings and interiors of the Barcelona of the 1950s, 60s and 70s (including itineraries) brings a fresh view of a heritage which despite its extremely high cultural value, has little popular recognition. Let’s see if this book… Editions in Catalan/English and Spanish/English.

Francesc Marco-Palau, El pintor que cremava els seus quadres. Gregal. €17.50

In this book, Francesc Marco-Palau rediscovers the curious story of his great uncle, the painter Maties Palau Ferré (Montblanc, 1921-2000). After travelling to Paris in the 1950s where he adopted a cubist-esque style, he signed a contract with a dealer. Finally her was legally condemned to painting by the square metre. In the 1970s he burned all his paintings.

Eleanor Davis, ¿Arte? ¿Por qué? Barrett. €17.90

A surprising essay on art in the format of a graphic novel. It starts off in an aseptic, mechanical tone and gradually becomes an essay filled with irony. It talk about a group of nine artists, each with their own speciality, who make up a community and want to organise a group exhibition. Davis is a member of a neighbourhood platform that fights against economic and social inequality, institutional racism and the lack of freedom of the immigrant population.

If this selection is not enough for you, you can always go back to the rich and varied books which appeared in 2018. Last year, the biggest hits were two art books that were very different from one another: the essay by Josep Massot, Joan Miró. El nen que parlava amb els arbres (Galaxia Gutenberg. €29.90) and the text by artist and poet Perejaume Treure una marededéu a ballar (Galàxia Gutenberg. €19.50).

But it was also the year of the great imaginary museum of Artur Ramon, Les obres mestres de l’art català (Rosa dels Vents. €18.90), and the magnificent study of Dalí by Josep Playà Masset, Dalí esencial. El gran provocador del siglo XX (Libros de vanguardia. €21).

Three Art Books for a Desert Island (and 2)

Three Art Books for a Desert Island (and 2)

Continuing with the list of contributors of Mirador de les Arts the idea was they shouldn’t think too much about their choice and should be led by their intuition.

That their subconscious might guide us towards new and inspired readings.

 

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Barcelones.

Nora Ancarola, Artist

In the end, I have opted for an emotional and intuitive selection. They are the first three books that appear on my mental horizon, one of the many columns that have formed my views and my desires as an artist.

In first place, Placer visual y cine narrativo (1975), by Laura Mulvey, was a key work for me in opening up the feminist movement in the UK after May ’68. Mulvey’s reading of the images, actions and stories show how the patriarchy consolidated her ideals through film and art. As in all her works it includes psychoanalytical and feminist readings.
The second book is Susan Sontag’s Bajo el signo de saturno (1980). From this text I especially remember her essay on Antonin Artaud, where she reflects on the complex relationship of some artists with their work and life, between art and madness. I also remember the importance for me of Sontag’s reading of fascist art through an analysis of the work of Lenni Riefenstahl. An art which emphasises non-thinking and the exaltation of death.
Finally, G. Deleuze and F. Guattari Kafka por una literatura menor (1999). I have always thought that the de-territorialisation of language is applicable to visual language and to the acquired imaginary.
I read all three in Spanish. I don’t know if they are translated in Catalan.

Ferran Garcia Sevilla, Artist

I am not sure if any desert islands exist now

the most remote and those with no tourists are full of bipeds with arrows and understandable anger

and they would ruin your holiday by slitting your neck

I would take loads of books

but none of them about art

and thinking about it for three seconds they would be:

Homer, The Odyssey.

Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus.

in any case

a poisonous snake would leave you “stiff”.

have a great last break

If you decide to.

Oscar Guayabero, Paradesigner

On a desert island I would take a survival guide, believe me. But if i had to choose three books which I would not want to be without they would be: El maestro y Margarita by Mijaíl Bulgákov because I read this novel again and again and it never ceases to fascinate me. It is like a game where every reading is a challenge between me and the text . Also Noticias de ninguna parte by William Morris because it traps me within Morris’s ideal world. Curiously, if my first choice is a corrosive criticism of Stalin’s communism, the second is one of utopic socialism. The third would be latest edition by Barcelona City Council of Barcelones by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán because I am reading it now and cannot put it down.

Francesc Torres, Artist

The Structure of Art, by Jack Burnham. It is from 1971 and talks about what is happening now between Structuralism and Duchamp. Man’s Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts, by Morse Peckham. The title says it all. And Naked Artist, by Peter Fuller. Another text that talk about the relationship between biology and culture (art).

Cristina Masanés, Journalist and Writer

If I had to go to a desert island, I would probably take the biggest dictionary I could carry: re-read all the words and go over everything again. But asked to select books on art, they would possibly be these:

Y nuestros rostros, mi vida, breves como fotos, by John Berger, because of his unique ability to stick together art with life, desire, and the power of the word.

Sobre el dibujo, also by John Berger, because it puts you in the place of the person who creates as the person who lives. The pages on the cave paintings in Chauvet would make me feel less alone.

And a picture book might be one with landscapes painted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, by Italians or Flemish artists [Mirador de les Arts would suggest the Catalogue des peintures flamandes et hollandaises du musée du Louvre].

Artur Ramon i Navarro, Antique Dealer and Art Essayist

The three books I would choose are: Las vidas de los más excelentes arquitectos, pintores y esculturos italianos desde Cimabue a nuestros tiempos, by Giorgio Vasari. This is the bible of ancient art and a dictionary of the most important artists of the Renaissance. It is an atlas of art which I always return to in the Italian edition which belonged to my master, José Milicua.

Roberto Longhi, Piero della Francesca. This is the best work on Piero written by the Italian author which, along with D’Annunzio, is the most important of the twentieth century. It is a poem of metaphors and visual analogies, and it is incomprehensible that it has not yet been translated among us.

And John Berger, Fama y soledad de Picasso. I am not that interested in Berger (I can’t stand Seeing) but in this essay he takes Picasso apart, he unmasks him, and you get a glimpse of the weakness of the Minotaur.

Juan Bufill, Poet, Photographer and Art Critic

As a future founder member of the Club for the Enemies of Marie Kondo and as a human being blessed by Diogenes syndrome which swings from mild to worrying. I have to say that choosing just three art books among the thousands and thousands that I have and enjoy, is something I am not sure whether it is a cruel obligation or a light challenge. Well, here we go:

El mundo del objeto a la luz del surrealismo, by Juan-Eduardo Cirlot from Barcelona, poet and thinker rather than art critic. Especially inspiring and lucid is the appendix in which he reflects on erotic and pornographic surrealism. And it opens a lot of doors to others, such as Le Rire, by Henri Bergson, which is another essential work (text from 1953, illustrated edition by Anthropos, 1986).

Teoría del arte moderno, by Paul Klee. So inspiring. I read this in about 1979 or 1980 and it had a big effect on me. I think it also influenced Michael Snow, in his structural film trilogy. It is available now in a modern edition in Argentina.

For my third choice I am between two books written by two people with the same surname. The small monograph Miró, written by the poet Alain Jouffroy (F. Hazan, 1987), and a large illustrated volume Le jardin des délices de Jérôme Bosch, grandeur nature, by Jean-Pierre Jouffroy (Hier et Demain, 1977). This last work shows life size and high-quality reproductions of the tryptic of Hieronymus Bosch. It was recommended to me by the film director Robert Bresson and in Paris it was not available, but I managed to find it in Jaimes’s bookshop in Barcelona.

Fiona Kelso, Art Translator

As a translator I am equally interested in the word and the image. So, my choices are:

Ways of Seeing by John Berger. This tiny book sums up for me the relationship between images, words and ideas. Actually I would also like to take with me Berger’s audio of Cadmium Red – just for his voice.

Joan Colom. Fotografies de Barcelona 1958-1964, by Joan Colom. These photographs will never leave me. Apart from being each one of them fantastic photographs they are the synthesis of the Barcelona that preceded me, before I arrived in the heart of the Xino in 1990.

Cartas a Theo by Vincent van Gogh – yes, in Spanish – it was a gift from a friend. I have always had a great fascination for the person behind the art and this book not only appeases that curiosity but makes me feel closer to the artist.

Words and art. That is me.

Three Art Books for a Desert Island (1)

Three Art Books for a Desert Island (1)

We are living in the age of the playlist and the top ten. Everyone can see the music we  listen to and the series or films that we watch, and even the novels that we read. And these lists show us worlds outside of our own personal bubble.

But what about art literature? Which are the books that have made a mark with those of us whose business is art? Which texts define us, make sense and encourage us to be the best in our field?

Robert Descharnes & Gilles Néret, Dalí. The Paintings.

We asked contributors to Mirador de les Arts to choose the three that they would take with them to a desert island. We weren’t looking for castaways. The idea was they shouldn’t think too much about their choice and should be led by their intuition. That their subconscious might guide us towards new and inspired readings. Long live art!

Josep Casamartina, Art Historian

One would be the 4 volumes of Picasso by Palau i Fabre, and if I couldn’t carry all four of them I would take Picasso published by Taschen (by Carsten-Peter Warncke).

The second might be American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States, 1820-1880, by Andrew Wilton and Tim Barringer – the Tate catalogue on nineteenth century American landscapes. And the third would be Hélion, by Henry-Claude Cousseau (Éditons du Regard).

Francesc Fontbona, Art Historian

Sens et destin de l’art, by René Huyghe. For an intelligent overview of the history of art. The history of Impressionism by John Rewald. For his focus on an entire movement based on all kinds of previously located documents. Impresionismo/Simbolismo, by Rafael Benet. For the way that he talks about painting of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries thanks to a much broader view than his contemporaries.

Montse Frisach, Cultural Journalist

La vida secreta de Salvador Dalí (The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí), by Salvador Dalí, because it seems to me the most fun and suggestive self-fiction which offers the most “hidden” information about one of my favourite artists.

El conocimiento secreto (Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters) by David Hockney, for the discovery of the “secrets” of the old-school painters by a contemporary painter and to allow me to see that a work of an artist does not lack any merit by using techniques to accelerate and facilitate the working process. And because it is a delight to turn the pages of his works in the book.

Siete días en el mundo del arte (Seven Days in the Arts World), by Sarah Thornton, which is a fantastical journalistic report which explains who today’s art agents, from the artist to the gallery owner, the art fairs and the museums, are interrelated. The art network laid bare. I would have liked to write it myself.

Ricard Mas, Art Critic

I would take Pintura y vida cotidiana en el Renacimiento. Arte y experiencia en el Quatrocento (Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style) by Michael Baxandall, because it was the first art book that I related to and it has served as a guide for me in my art writing. I would also take La pintura galante francesa en el siglo XVIII, by François and Jacques Gall, because it makes me dream and want to live in those artificial paradises of Watteau and Fragonard. Art is also evasion. And Dalí. La obra pictórica (Dalí. The Paintings), by Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret, would accompany me with a compendium of images by my favourite artist.

Víctor Ramírez Tur, Art Historian

The first book that I would go back to again and again is Les ciutats invisibles by Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities), not only because it allows you to get under the skin of an explorer, but also because the spaces that you are invited to discover are  places of emotion, memory and history. Secondly, and given the solitude in which I will find myself on the desert island and the need for onanistic creativity, I will take the Manifiesto contrasexual by Paul Preciado, since it will allow me to discover the multiple sensual possibilities that exist outside the box – genital, erogenous zones. And finally, to enjoy the essence of the island I will take any of the poems of Vicent Andrés Estellés.

Mariona Seguranyes, Art Historian

In my choice of 3 art books to take to a desert island, I will start with the book which opened doors for me, Jean Clair, Malinconia: Motivos saturninos en el arte de entreguerras, which talks about art in the context of today’s crisis, maybe because it also talks of our own crises as individuals in the twenty-first century, which we should supposedly have overcome with post-modernity.

Pioneering work in the reading of Catalan painting through landscape which is also, in fact, the connection of Catalan and European art.

And finally, La vida secreta de Salvador Dalí, in which i always find new details, elements which offer a new light on the work of Dalí, in addition to the enormous enjoyment of his lucid, amusing and detailed prose.

Mechanism of Detachment

Mechanism of Detachment

Absències, a small retrospective of work by Ramon Guillen-Balmes is on show at the Busquets Space of the Massana School of Art and Design.

I confess that I am no expert in contemporary art and so my view of the pieces exhibited will not be that of a theoretician or a specialist art reporter. My training at the Massana was in product design.

Ramon Guillen-Balmes, Model d’us for Alyssa Dee Krauss.

Now that is clear, I have to say that this is one of the most beautiful exhibitions that you can see in Barcelona at the moment. Guillen-Balmes’ work has the most amazing artistic, material and objectual qualities. The works that appear go from his initial Boies lliures to his Objets Trouvés d’Arqueologia d’Artista. There is also a series of scanned sketchbooks which can be viewed on small screens and some of the works from the “Model d’ús” series.

I view these objects from my position of an observer of design and I find them fascinating. The Boies Lliures is a series “vessels” designed to float and sail randomly. The pieces contain a plaque saying that if anyone fins them they should get in touch with the artist, complete with a postal address. The artists released them on the coast from where they were carried away by the tide and the wind. They are the result of an age which, together with other like-minded artists, explores the limits between actionism and sculpture. The whole piece contains details of the place and the exact time that they were released and where they were found, in the case that they were.

Ramon Guillen-Balmes, Boies lliures.

But beyond all of that, for me the beauty of the floating objects is in the materials chosen to produce them: chestnut wood, cork, sailcloth and tin. From the outset they are clearly designed to fulfil an objective and then, they are worked on patiently, almost with the dedication of a craftsperson. In fact, at first sight the objects made by Guillen-Balmes appear to be utensils, tools, extensions with a specific purpose. Perhaps their usefulness is not real but nonetheless they are pieces which have the same attraction as the work of craft which are the result of an increasing technical perfection over the year and a deep love for the materials they are made of.

The same can be said for the objects which form part of the Objets Trouvés d’Arqueologia d’Artista collection. Their biomorphic appearance seems to indicate that they have been thought up as some kind of corporal appendix, even though we don’t know where or for whom. Their organic nature which moves between the morbid and the sexual suggests unexpected and lubricating uses, even though the component of the prosthetic cane leads us more to think of disabilities or illness like the sexually deviant characters in the nightmare scenario of Jeremy Irons’ Dead Ringers. At other times the felt, rubber, resin and wood pieces evoke design in their careful and thoughtful forms and exquisite “designs”.  And yet again, their production makes us thin of delicate and laborious craftsmanship.

The sketchbooks show great skill for drawing but also the culture of an inherent project. The drawings are part of the process, whether for defining it or communicating it. They are constructive and in many cases they serve as working plans. And the plans are also works in themselves. Texts and images are put together in mock-ups. Among the sketchbooks I fins a familiar image: a seed from a tree named Tipuana tipu, although it is also known as Auró. The drawing is an exact reproduction of the seed and, at the same time, identifies the different parts of which it is composed. I have used this drawing for many years to explain to my design students a different way of working, which is not the functionalism of Bruno Munari. I never knew where the image came from or who it was by. I came across it and it seemed perfect for my explanation. And here it is, in the sketchbook of Guillen-Balmes. Above the image is written “preparatory exercise for industrial design”. And it fell into place. I looked into it and true enough, among his tasks at the Massana School of Art and Design was, in fact, a teacher of design.

A reminder of the constructive language of Da Vinci.

At the end of the 1990s, he made a series of pieces named Models d’ús which were based on a working process among friends, where they told him of a personal wish and he created the protheses to make it possible. It would seem to be a reflection of the usefulness of art or, rather the uselessness. Corporal prolongations, objects which are joined and in which one of the parts stands out over the other. Specifically, the prolongation exhibited at the Massana, made especially for the designer Alyssa Dee Krauss, is an attempt to respond to one of the permanent human desires: to fly. In different pieces in the  Model d’ús series there are references to a winged formed which brings to mind the seed I spoke of previously. There is also a visual code, in the sketch stage, which recalls the constructive language of Da Vinci. Or even the Wright brothers. This is where the inventor of the uselessly beautiful pieces that Guillen-Balmes offers a glimpse of in many of his works comes in. A work of precious metals in its treatment of the materials and yet almost pataphysical in its antifunctionality.

Ramon Guillen-Balmes, Model d’us for Alyssa Dee Krauss.

Some years ago Pilar Parcerisas wrote about an exhibition which contained these Models d’us by Guillen-Balmes: “Affable, touching, vital and sensitively warm and natural, it shrouded the realities of the human body with anatomical models and antiacademic applications; it united body and remedy, working the tactile intimacy of the inframince… A poet of forms to be enjoyed in privacy”. I could not agree more. This exhibition has to be enjoyed as well as the catalogue that accompanies it with an intimacy which, these days, is uncommon.

The exhibition Absències, by Ramon Guillen-Balmes, can be visited in the Espai Busquets of the Massana School in Barcelona until 24 May.

Van Gogh: stuck half way

Van Gogh: stuck half way

Things would have to change significantly but one thing that annoys me most is the sure fact that never again will I set foot in the Sistine Chapel.

And if I do, someday, for some kind of extra-artistic reason, I would certainly not look up at the ceiling if there were hundreds of people around  me doing the same, nudging me with their bags and elbows.  The last time I was standing in front of the Louvre I was put off going in by the massive queue. The massification of many museums makes it difficult to appreciate the art that they contain. Even without total silence or a startling calm, they need attitudes which are open to finding things out and deliberate concentration.

Selfies at the exhibition Meet Vincent Van Gogh.

Almost three decades ago the centenary of the death of Van Gogh was celebrated with great gusto, and the time of the anniversary coincided with fact that two of the painter’s works – Sunflowers and Portrait of Doctor Gachet – were sold at record prices at auction. Van Gogh occupied a central place in the news and went from being a star to being a media star. There is a qualitative difference between the two. If you did a street survey and asked passers-by who their favourite painter was, Van Gogh would almost certainly be one of the most common replies.

Photo: @Jeffrey Steenbergen.

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which opened in 1973 with the inherited legacy of the artist conserved by his descendants was acutely aware of this change in status three decades ago and today it attracts more than 2,200,000 visitors despite being a medium sized museum. The queues, like in many other art museums in the world, are constant. Of course, being of such universal fame, many people cannot ever go to Amsterdam to visit the museum in person. On the other hand it is increasingly difficult to see the masterpieces on loan in other museums given their vulnerability and the high cost of insurance.

This is the justification of the museum for the creation and organisation of the exhibition Meet Van Gogh, situated in the Pla de Miquel Tarradell of the Port Vell, Barcelona, but with equal version in other cities in the world such as Seoul. Barcelona is the first port of call for this exhibition in Europe, and it is installed in a giant tent, much like a circus tent.

To a certain extent, the justification of the museum to take this show across the world has to do with what we said at the beginning of this article: if, for whatever reason you cannot or do not want to go and see the work of Van Gogh personally, Meet Van Gogh can bring a parallel experience – kind of simulation. At the same time the viewer can gain access to a somewhat larger copy of the museum giftshop at the end of the tour, which provides even more income for the museum. Commercially (because the tickets are not cheap) it seems to be a good initiative.

Everything looks like it is from 30 years ago.

But what about the cultural experience? The guide to Meet Van Gogh is based on the painter’s own words taken from his correspondence. So far so good. It is as good an option as any, albeit biased. In the presentation of the exhibit, the museum directors insist that this is the only exhibition without the actual works which allows the public to really get to know the artist. They say that because there are other spectacular interactive and immersive digital shows around the world about Van Gogh, such as the one presented in the Atelier des Lumières in Paris, which contain very little exhibition and a great sensory experience. I have nothing against them. Quite the opposite, but they are a different thing. They are the kind of experience that will open in a in Barcelona in the autumn, at the Centre for Digital Arts in the old Ideal cinema, on the work of Claude Monet.

 

The problem is that Meet Van Gogh is sold to us as though it was an immersive experience and it is not. The confusion is enormous because the viewer may have seem images of the other version on the web. The show wants to set itself aside from the digital displays as a “more serious” exhibition, but neither is it a good serious exhibition. They could have used better technology and they haven’t. The decorations where the visitors can take photos of themselves, such as they famous bedroom of the artist in Arles, are very low-tech. Any exhibition at the CCCB in the mid-90s runs 50,000 rings around the design of this one. Everything looks as if it is 30 years old. And in the midst of this boring offering, the information seems superficial and diluted. The best thing about it is the shop.  Meet Van Gogh has got stuck half way so that it is neither a good documentary exhibition or an immersive experience. So don’t be radical like me. If you want art it is better to travel, join the queue and admire Van Gogh’s original works.

The exhibition Meet Van Gogh can be visited at the Pla de Miquel Tarradell, Port Vell, Barcelona, until 2 June.

The (double) Secret of Víctor Silva

The (double) Secret of Víctor Silva

Most of the works of art that we know, we have discovered through photographs of them.

I personally have seen the Gioconda three times “au naturel”, in the Louvre Museum, but I have seen it hundreds of times in reproductions: postcards, posters, books, etc. Which is my Gioconda, then? Are they not all versions of the same work, including the “original”? Manifestations of the same phenomenon?

Víctor Silva, Paisaje, 2018.

These ideas spring into my head when I am visiting the exhibition of Víctor Silva at the Víctor Saavedra Gallery: twenty paintings on board (11 x 15cm), each accompanied by its enlarged photographic image (70 x 100 cm, 140 x 200 cm etc). The works are divided into three sections: landscapes, gardens and houses. These three cultural constructions, nature ordered by the eyes, nature ordered by humans and nature created by humans as an interior habitat.

Víctor Silva, Jardín, 2018.

Age and presbyopia have meant that I have had to get used to progressive lenses. In the case of Víctor Silva’s exhibition, the sense of discomfort in the distances is accentuated. You have to get up really close to the paintings and step far back from the photographs. This strange dance calls into question the simple label of painting on board based on the fact that it is spread with pictorial matter. Could presbyopia also be a spiritual state?

There is a fifth wall, in art.

The fact is, for the generation who grew up watching Sesame Street, with its famous ‘classes’ in “near” and “far”, where it was the character who ran away from the camera and not the other way around, this dialogue between micro and macro is starting to seem familiar.

Víctor Silva, Casa y cordillera, 2018.

Víctor Silva does is not playing the same game as Dalí, who enlarged the image of a rust stain on a ballpoint pen under an electronic microscope in the Hotel Meure in Paris as the start of his mockumentary Impressions de la haute Mongolie. Silva’s game is more like that of Eduardo Chillida who, as goalie for Real Sociedad, had an intuition for the dynamics of space which was better than any of the Cubist painters.

There is a fifth wall, in art (the fourth is the viewer) – call it “reproduction”, “inframince” or “doppelgänger”, it’s all the same. But never forget that the ancients called it poetics.

The exhibition by Víctor Silva can be visited at the Víctor Saavedra Gallery, Barcelona, until 26 April.

Shall We Go on a Gallery Crawl?

Shall We Go on a Gallery Crawl?

In Catalonia, art galleries produce around 600 exhibitions a year. In other words, 75% of the art exhibition in the whole of Catalonia.

The newspapers talk about exhibitions, of course, but they mean the ones that take place in museums, foundations and other institutional centres. But that’s hardly surprising: the big institutions, both public and private, plough a lot of money into press advertising. The galleries, on the other hand, in their immense dignity, are on another level, and have very different spending priorities.

Sala Parés, Barcelona.

A friend complained to me that in Mirador de les Arts, the exhibition reviews did not include the entry price to the museums and foundations.  This is someone who is on a very sticky wicket in terms of work (who isn’t these days?) and who enjoys visiting exhibition with his son, and so often cannot afford the eight- or ten-euro entrance fee.

He’s right. Of course, he is.  But my advice would be to find out if there is a day in any of the museums when entrance is free. There are quite a few, such as Saturday afternoons from 4-8pm at the MACBA or Sundays from 3pm at the MUHBA in the Plaça del Rei.

And also, to visit galleries. Not all of them open on Saturdays, which is the best day to see art, but there is no charge and shows are top rate.

In Barcelona alone there are almost 90 art galleries, most of them members of either the Guild of Art Galleries of Catalonia, or the association Art Barcelona.

Art galleries offer a free public culture service.

Gallery owners are business people who take a risk on their heritage in a difficult and very specific market. They are gallery owners either by calling, family tradition, or both. Some of the businesses are very simple, profitable and safe. The gallery owner lives from art sales, but they also offer a free public cultural service, open to everyone.  And if, in the current climate, they have to earn their crust traveling to so many international fairs that they spend more nights away than in their homes, they are quite prepared to do it. By promoting art from Catalonia they can kill two birds with one stone.

But gallery owners are not any old kind of shopkeeper: they create a project and they have to remain faithful to it. That means promoting a particular and coherent line represented by a series of artists who have something in common. Some represent urban art, some painting-painting, some have specialised in local historical avant-garde, or modernism, and there are also those who expertly mix exquisite pieces hundreds of years old with other more recent creations. Finally, there are those who opt for the most spectacular option of the very latest tendencies or those who give a voice to creators who are more critical of social and economic injustices.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 13 March 1877 when the Marquis of Peñaplata, accompanied by his cavalry and a military band, opened the first exhibition hall on the peninsula: Sala Parés. The Sala Parés has not moved from its original location and we can visit it more or less exactly the same as our great grandparents did. On the other hand many art spaces on which our own particular art history is based have disappeared. Names such as the Galeries Laietanes, the Sala Dalmau, the two Syra, the Sala Gaspar, René Métras, Ciento, and any others. But that’s life! New galleries which reflect our times have also appeared and we can discover them if we take a walk around.

If you do not have the means, the space or any desire to buy a work of art, that doesn’t need to stop you visiting the galleries. To make life easy, in Barcelona you could start around the streets of Consell de Cent and Enric Granados, or Trafalgar. You can find all the information in the paper editions of Art Gallery Guide or BonArt. Have a good gallery crawl!

CaboSanRoque take their interpretation of Joan Brossa around Catalonia

CaboSanRoque take their interpretation of Joan Brossa around Catalonia

Since CaboSanRoque fist performed No em va fer Joan Brossa at the Temporada Alta festival on 18 November 2016, their interpretation of the early work of Joan Brossa from a sound perspective has not stopped touring and enjoying success and enthusiasm.

And it is no small feat. Using a set of daily objects of Brossian memory – beaten up, recycled and put together creatively, CaboSanRoque, which has always relied on sound and the expressive  capacity of machines, has created an installation of sound, art and mechanics which takes the visitor to a metalandscape which evolves through analogical tools in movement, lights, shadows and smoke.

Cabosanroque, No em va fer Joan Brossa. Photos: José Hevia.

These are the landscapes that Brossa shaped in his scenic prose and poetry in the 1940s and 1950s and which – as the voice of the poet himself says in the installation – turn become the oneiric and mysterious landscape of the Garden of Batafra by Antoni Tàpies, the grim landscape of the battle of the Segre and in the murky forests of the opera Parsifal by his much admired and recurrent Wagner. With this accessible accumulation of daily and phantasmagorical objects, CaboSanRoque applies to the object and to the landscape the transformism of Fregoli, another of Brossa’s poetical references throughout his career.

 

From the shadows surrounding the piece and the artistic elements which come to life under the surprised gaze of the public, a set of sounds emerges which include different fragments of the scenic poetry from the same period, full of alliterations. “What is more important is the sound of the work, rather than its meaning”, says Laia Torrents, who founded CaboSanRoque in 2001 together with Roger Aixut. Winners of one of the research and innovation grants for visual arts from the Government of Catalonia, these two sound artists have reinterpreted the production of Brossa’s prose from a transdisciplinary angle to create a piece which uses Brossanian materials and begins with the voice of the poet, the music of Wagner, puffs of smoke and old typewriters which mark the beat with their keystrokes.

CaboSanRoque tells us “The movement of the installation is autonomous and the presence of the public does not change it. It is just the opposite. The installation subtly influences the movement of the viewers within the space without them even realising. The piece lasts 27 minutes. It has a beginning and an end and the public can enter every 30 minutes”.

It’s not art, but it almost is. It’s not theatre, but it almost is.

When the group presented this piece in the Arts Santa Mònica centre just a year ago, they thanked the director at that time, Jaime Reus, stating that “where are you going to exhibit something that is not art, but almost it; is not theatre, but almost is? It going to be pretty difficult”. Of course, they never thought that the piece would go on tour non-stop – not only in Catalonia but also abroad, for example in the Centre for Contemporary Art of Glasgow (Scotland) and the Filature de Mulhouse (France) to mention just a couple of the centres that have requested it.

Currently CaboSanRoque is working on 22 Agujeros – a large-scale interactive audiovisual installation on collective memory and oblivion, which relives the story of 159 unidentified republican fighters whose remains were found in 22 common graves in different towns and villages. “Only the public through their participation and movement in the space can make the 22 holes visible and have a part in this contemporary oration which attempts to visualise and give a sonorous for to these 150 non-names”, CaboSanRoque tell us. On 8 June they will present a theatrical poetic work at the Altre Festival made with people with mental illnesses and in November a new theatrical work in the Temporada Alta Festival.

The sound installation No em va fer Joan Brossa, which explores the least-known prose of the poet from the angle of sound will be on until 5 May at the Museum of Granollers and it will then move on to the Teatre Principal de Palma (8 to 14 May), the La Sala Contemporary Arts Centre of Vilanova i la Geltrú (17 May to 30 June), the Sala Trinitaris in Vilafranca del Penedès (20 September to 20 October), the Museum of Art of Cerdanyola (November-December) and the Abelló Museum in Mollet del Vallès (December-January 2020).

Sweetly soft…

Sweetly soft…

…comfortable, resistent, easy to wash.  This is how , in the seventies, the new textile fabrics from the Mataró manufacturers were advertised. Mataró was a city specialising in the new textile modes and today exhibits its industrial heritage in the old Can Marfà factory.

Now a museum space, this old textile factory in Mataró opened its first floor in 2015 in the area oif the history of textiles in the capital of the Maresme, as a city which grew thanks to its textile past.

Exhibition view.

30 years of innovation and design in the textile industry in Catalonia is the title of this new theme. Instead of looking back the curators (Anna Capella, as director of the Museum of Mataró and Conxita Gil, as curator of Can Marfà) have chosen to look right here, as far as they can.  Instead of focussing on the clothing of their grandparents they have chosen to look at the sixties and eighties, making this new space of the collection of the textiles of Mataró a ‘vintage’ place, a homage to the childhood of those of us who were children of the old primary school system, and a place to remember the years of the leggings, elephants flairs and miniskirts, and the hippie groups of the sixties.

These were the years years of the diamond-weave socks.

The sixties was a decade of plenty, when in this country there was plenty of work and families reproduced with the promise of Francoism. In the textile sector the speciality in the Maresme was weave and knitting, a kind of elastic textile which at that time was experiencing a genuine boom. Whereas in the fifties this kind of textile was only used for garments such as socks and pants (always white) now it was appearing in all sort of colours. These were the years years of the diamond-weave socks worn by all the children and fathers of the time.

From 1960 to 1980 clothing ceased to be a necessity and became a consumer item. In other words, fashion appeared: disco, futurist, new romantics, glam rock (Bowie, for those who don’t remember), hippies and their flower power. In that context, the weave became a thing a was seen on the streets. Swimsuits, bikinis, dresses, skirts, trousers, hats…all in the same knotted style. Even wedding dresses as can be seen in Can Marfà, with a couple of wedded frogs – the Mocre Frogs – one for the girls and one for the boy, made by the designer from Terrassa Josep Trullàs. Obviously the advertising boom had a lot to do with it, as Can Marfà also shows.

If the oil crisis of the seventies signalled the first slowdown, the entry into the European economic community in 1986 and competition with the Asian markets led to the downfall of the factories in Mataró and the whole country. Since then the industrialist Jaume Vilaseca has collected machinery, clothing and advertising related to the specific and unique weave and knitwear which is exhibited today with the support of the local council in Can Marfà. This new space, apart from the pop tights, glamorous swimsuits and other pieces from the period of desarrollismo in Spain , combines the concept of exhibition with that of conservation and restoration.

The second of these has opened up this new space to conservationists and documentalists. So while can look back on the happy days of the sixties and seventies, we can also go backstage in the museum to see the things are always behind the set. And we love them.

Jordi Baron and snatches of time

Jordi Baron and snatches of time

Jordi Baron Rubí is an antiques dealer (third generation), collector of antique photos, and fine-art photographer. Each one of these facets feeds in to the other two.

His profession has enabled him to see things even more incredible than the famous replicant from Blade Runner, and his personal collection could enhance the photography section of any museum.

Photo: Jordi Baron Rubí. Model: Ana Torner.

But his most interesting task is perhaps his that of photographic artist. Lately he has made frequent visits to the Louvre to photograph the people there taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. They don’t notice him.

One of his works in progress is Domus Barcino – a series of empty interiors of flats in the Eixample in Barcelona: “these flats have been closed up for years. They were occupied since the beginning of the 20th century” he explains.

In recent years the heirs have sold everything off: first, the contents, and then the flats themselves. Each one of these huge flats with their 300 square metres and infinite ceilings have been divided into three or four smaller flats. It is the end of an era – the era of the bourgeois Barcelona which lasted scarcely one century.

Photo: Jordi Baron Rubí. Model: Ana Torner.

Jordi Baron has cleared out many of these flats, but antiquarian friends of his have also allowed him in to make photographs of “what is left”…the things that nobody else wanted after a careful and even ruthless selection process.

Baron believes that this is an act of pure voyeurism: “it’s pretty sick, but it is not my territory. Some of these apartments are exactly the same as they were at the beginning of the twentieth century. Others have become more updated: a modern TV, a seventy-year-old painting, a gas lamp…”

Photo: Jordi Baron Rubí. Model: Ana Torner.

“When I arrive, it means that a person, or a family has gone” he adds. “When you go into a house, you open drawers. You find letters, knickers, photos, everything. You can find albums of photos of up to three generations, family films, love letters, family secrets”.

You end up empathising with people you don’t know.

In that sense Baron works as an archaeologist of former homes: “You go into unknown territory, the space of a family that is now history. I try not to get involved with that, but in the end you cannot avoid it. You end up empathising with people you don’t know and their loves move you”.

If Jordi Baron has a single artistic model it is that of Piranesi. For him, the Domus Barcino series is more inspired in the famous engraver of the Carceri than the Urbex movement, which consists in photographing abandoned houses. Baron’s houses are not abandoned. They are closed up.

Photo: Jordi Baron Rubí. Model: Ana Torner.

The Domus Barcino series has a subseries of photos with a model – Ana Torner: “I met Ana because while I was taking photos of the flats she came to rummage through the clothes”.

The photos are taken with natural lighting and are very staged but they have nothing do to with fashion photography. With the slightest manipulation they manage to transfer the mystery of what we cannot see, what has been and, who knows, may be our own situation in the future: time does not pass, it is us who pass.

The Erratic Life of Art and Culture in Public Education

The Erratic Life of Art and Culture in Public Education

Yesterday, the first of April, I was invited to the presentation of the Government Measures and Plan for Action for a Public policy of Culture and Education, presented by Barcelona City Council. The presentation took place following months of hard work involving a collaboration between more than 200 cultural and educational agents in the country.

During these brief presentations, where I was able to see for the first time the representatives of the ICUB, IMEB and the Educational Consortium of Barcelona on the same platform, suddenly, as if in a film, the decades of nonsense that have gone by in questions of education.

Centre d’Art Fabra i Coats, Barcelona.

In a society where the vast majority of creators are involved either full- or part-time in mediation and education activities, it is still surprising how little weight humanistic and art subjects have in the curricula of regulated education. This shortfall has not been made up despite the efforts of programmes such as Creators in Residence and Espai C, which only go to highlight the problem more.

Within this area of knowledge, education in visual arts is practically non-existent in the compulsory education and has little importance in secondary, even though the evidence of its importance in intellectual, cognitive and relational development is well known. On the other hand, and despite living in an increasingly interdisciplinary world, higher studies in art and design regulated by the Department of Education will not let go of the separation by specialist area (the separation of Product Design, Fashion, Interior and Graphic Design in higher education), which has generated recurrent debate about how relevant these courses are to current life, both in a methodological and a conceptual sense. Rigid and outdated curricula from the Spanish Ministry have always been attacked by the Catalan government, never discussed.

Jeff Rosen, Art Students, Barcelona. CC BY-ND 2.0.

It has been the private schools or those dependent on the City Council that have reached agreements with the universities and have generated an educational space with a true interdisciplinary meaning. This in turn has generated comparative damage directly related to the students’ financial situation, since the difference in the cost has shot up by between and ten times that of the public system.

All of this would appear obvious, and is all too familiar a story, since many of us have been warning of the urgency in addressing the problem for decades, both in compulsory education and in higher regulated education itself. We also know that the education system as it related to culture and art demands great changes in the planning of policies and regulations on art education by all of the institutions involved. We have experienced one disappointment after another in recent years, with hours of talks between the educational institutions, art centres and associations, and the Department of Culture to draw up the Integrated Plan for Visual Arts. That was in 2015 and not for the first time did it end up, like almost everything else in that department, forgotten in a drawer, and we were left with the same old feeling of having been used for entertainment and to delay the consequent complaint.

Josep Bracons, “El Borsí”, Barcelona. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Decades of institutional inaction in public education have meant that that educational policies depend on the teaching teams, where joint work with external agents, extracurricular activities and medication programmes has not only never been valued by the government but viewed with suspicion – what are they up to now? On the other hand, the fact that the teams of directors have are increasingly powerful within the system is worrying. During the mandate of Ernest Maragall, which will go down in the Department’s history as a stain, the power of the directors was raised to the limit, along with the salaries and an even higher capacity for decision-making (not recommended), being selected by panels where the inspectors always have the last word. The school boards and councils lose all real authority, as well as their capacity for self-governance and the generation of more democratic working processes. This new status quo has made the capacity and ethics of their directors even more important, as long as they have them.

Add to this the very few public competitions for employing teachers, resulting in a massive hike in temporary teaching staff (precarity always allows for greater control) and the recent launch of the “dual” system in vocational training courses where 50% takes place as work placements, which would be the subject of another article on its own, the outlook is very worrying.

It is no trivial matter that over the last decades the Department of Education had art education advisors who were intimately involved in private education, either on the boards, or even members of the director’s team of well-known establishments. To think that these people had little interest in raising the quality of public education, and leaving it with no competitiveness is both offensive.

Obviously nobody listened to us.

It was in 2009 when the Barcelona Education Consortium (which was created in 1998) began to lead some of the strategies for educational reform. A waft of fresh air seems to be coming in through the windows of lifeless buildings – such as the Bolsín in Carrer Avinyó – but despite that, the centres which depend on the conselleria, continue in the same erratic fashion. The Bolsín was closed down because of its state of disrepair – abandoned by the government while making different marriage proposals to the ConCa, the future ISA (Higher Arts Institute – never created), to a mooted Woody Allen museum…until it was finally sold to the City Council for the purpose which see can see today. Long live the Bolsín!

It is precisely the image of the Bolsín building (where I worked for almost 15 years of my life) that remains so strongly in my mind as I am listening attentively (for some time now as a representative of the female sex I have been able to listen to or do two things at the same time) to the people explaining the Action Plan. It came to me because I can remember perfectly the project that some of us in the art and education designed a few years ago, just when the consortium was beginning its improvements project. The project brought together Culture and Education – what a surprise! We proposed that the Bolsín, which had housed  the Institution for Art and Design Education for decades, should become a centre in which to dignify this teaching – with the creation of the ISA – and where the ConCa and its true powers could generate that desired articulation between Art/Culture/Education/Citizenship.

The project took into account the neighbourhood, the public art education centres, the need for a place for research, open to the city and to the citizens, while providing a meeting point for professionals working in culture and education. Obviously nobody listened to us.

So back to the “here and now”. Fabra i Coats will be a good place to in my bag I’ve got the working document that I will read tonight, while I am writing this article, in which 48 actions are proposed by the City Council to put into practice the measures deriving from a diagnosis which points, most of all, to inequality of opportunity. This diagnosis, by the way, had already been made in the 2017 document commissioned by the ConCa to Cristian Añó. I just hope that it finally happens, that the political channels do not consign the proposals that require urgent attention to the same old drawer and that they do not leave adrift an educational system that does not seem to recognise the importance of culture as a means to critical thinking, humanistic knowledge, and the transmission of the values which today we are about to see disappear.

Uri Geller and Salvador Dalí: a paranormal friendship

Uri Geller and Salvador Dalí: a paranormal friendship

Uri Geller came into my life on three occasions. The first was on the night of 6 September 1975, when he appeared on the Spanish National TV programme Directísimo, presented by José María Íñigo.

Who doesn’t remember how the Israeli magician invited us to bend spoons and stop watches using the powers of the mind? He managed it easily enough, but in my house we followed the instructions to the letter and not a single spoon was bent. Neither did we manage to stop the alarm clock on the bedside table.

Forty years later, while I was researching my book Dalí and Barcelona, I came across a fragment of the memoirs of Amanda Lear, the famous transsexual who has never admitted to being transsexual. In Amanda’s Dalí we are told how the painter and the illusionist had coincide at the Ritz in Barcelona: “Dalí didn’t believe in any of that, but he received Geller, who bent metal objects in from of him. His penetrating and hypnotising gaze made Dalí uneasy, and he didn’t want to turn it into the object of a parapsychological experience. ‘That patatuski is fearful – he confessed to me. His gaze terrifies me”.

In fact, in La Vanguardia on 10 September 1975 you can read the announcement for the following day, in El Corte Inglés in Plaça Catalunya, at an event of  “the most extraordinary para-scientific phenomenon of all time” Uri Geller was signing copies of his book My Story.

On discovering that clue I looked up Uri Geller on internet and I came across his own website https://www.urigeller.com/. I went to the contact section and sent him a message. Just a few seconds later I received a reply: “call me tomorrow on this number…”.

“Please, please, teach me this!”

The next day I called and Uri Geller replied in person. He was living in London at that time. He told me that in his suite at the Ritz Dalí had tried to bend the spoon but he didn’t manage it, and he begged him: “Please, please, teach me this!”.

Don’t forget that Dalí had painted the first bent spoon in the history of art in 1932, in the oil painting Symbole agnostique.

Uri Geller and his Cadillac.

Geller told Dalí that he also painted and had done so since he was a child. “Later – he confessed – my work evolved, strongly influenced by the work of Dalí”.

“In New York we met many times”, he continued. “On one occasion, Dalí was locked in a bathroom at the St. Regis hotel where he drew the outline of a horse, and I drew an identical outline from the outside. He made me a gift of a crystal ball, which I have made the hood ornament of by Cadillac, covered in three thousand bent spoons. He told me that the ball had belonged to Leonardo da Vinci”.

Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, c. 1500. Louvre Abu Dhabi.

But there was a final surprise. Geller told me that his second surname is Freud. He is a descendent of a cousin of the founder of psychoanalysis. Ur Geller Freud! If Dalí had known that…!

Two years later, Uri Geller contacted me again. A work by Leonardo da Vinci,  Salvator Mundi, had just been auctioned for 450 million dollars – the highest price ever paid for a work of art. Geller told me that the crystal ball on which Jesus sits in the painting is the very same one that Dalí had given him.

When it came to saying goodbye, Uri Geller asked me a strange question: Are you happy, Richard?”

“Yes”, I lied. If spoons can bend and clocks can stop purely by mindpower, why can’t I be happy, as well?

Miralda unfurls his Lay Lamb of God again at the MNAC

Miralda unfurls his Lay Lamb of God again at the MNAC

In 1989 a huge turqouise, pink and silver seven-eyed sheep was paraded around the Fifth Avenue in New York. It was a tapestry carried by ninety people in a way which was as ingenious as it was simple: the tapestry had ninety holes through which its carriers could pop their heads.

The walked along covered by this apocalyptic figure, the sheep or lamb, which the Christian tradition uses to symbolise the sacrifice of Christ for humanity. This group action has left some unique images. Ninety-one heads, counting that of the animal, all walking at the same pace through the streets of the Big Apple.

The action was the work of Miralda, the artist from Terrassa who arrived in New York in 1971 to invent for himself a new form of artistic performance that would merge group rituals, fiesta and the universal symbolism of food. Among several other participative actions orchestrated by this particular M.C. one of the projects that had most international resonance was his Honeymoon Project, which celebrated an imaginary and symbolic wedding between the Columbus statue in Barcelona and New York’s Miss Liberty.

 

As part of the Honeymoon Project, from 1986 to 1992, Miralda managed to involve numerous groups from cities around the world such as Venice, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Las Vegas and Barcelona, among others, in a series of over forty actions based on different moments in the marriage ritual. The proposal, the rings, the clothes, the ceremony… and the bedspread. Lamb of the Apocalypse is the bedspread or counterpane designed by the artist for his monumental wedding.

Master of Taüll, Arch of the Apocalyptic Lamb from Sant Climent de Taüll. Detail, c. 1123. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.

The cloth is 18, long and 15 wide and reproduces the sheep from the mural paintings of the apse of St. Climent de Taüll, with its seven eyes and all its symbolic weight. Like the master of Taüll, Miralda is also fascinated by the number seven, and so when he was planning the bedspread for this imaginary wedding he chose the figure of Taüll. If the tapestry-bedspread was circulating around the streets of New York in 1989, in 1995 it was doing the same in Barcelona. That was when it was exhibited for the first time in the National Art Museum of Catalonia, whose extraordinary Romanesque art collection includes the mural paintings of Taüll, with the lamb of the apocalypse and its multiple gaze. The installation formed part of the exhibition entitled Agnus dei. Romanesque art and twentieth century artists, which marked the opening of the Romanesque rooms. As a result of that exhibition Miralda’s lamb became part of the museum collection.

A happening planned as a pagan celebration.

Almost twenty-five years later, Miralda is installing his giant bedspread once again in the Oval Room of the museum. This time there is a performance included in the installation, which can be visited for four days (only four!) from 4 to 7 April. In fact, the work will be unfurled in a public ceremony – a happening planned as a pagan celebration. With the idea that Miralda should also reach the younger generations, his Lamb of the Apocalypse will be exhibited together with some of his working drawings and audiovisual material. In parallel to the exhibition there will also be a whole series of other events.

Who knows whether, in line with the wishes of the artist, the tapestry will be unfurled every year in a new lay ceremony which will activate the ritornello of the Sunday service which has resided in some part of our brain ever since we were children and goes: Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, give us peace. For four days Miralda’s “peccata mundi” will be once again at the MNAC.

Gabriel Cualladó is ours

Gabriel Cualladó is ours

As often happens with good books and films, the exhibition by Gabriel Cualladó at the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation stays with you for some time after your visit.

Gabriel Cualladó (1925-2003), an essential figure in the evolution of Spanish photography in the second part of the twentieth century but little seen in Barcelona until now, said that he wanted to show what was not perceptible. The joy of discovering what is invisible in his hypnotic images that stays with is that sensation that something has escaped behind the gaze of a portrait model or an urban or rural landscape.

Only great artists manage to make their works exude such intense mystery. Cualladó, who always described himself as an amateur photographer to allow himself creative freedom (and also the fact that he made his living from a transport company, which is far from artistic) never directly manipulates the scenes, which are always very close to his personal surroundings, but almost acts as if he were painting a blank canvas, but using photography.

It is not that Cualladó has anything pictorialist about him. Not at all. But this Valencian photographer, working intensively in the laboratory, redesigns the scene and uses hard lighting to give the works the feel of a Baroque painting in black and white. Fragments of complete darkness and light, especially in the upper part of the image, are a kind of emblem in the work  of Cualladó, but also his unconventional framings, especially in some series like the streets of Paris which he undertook as a commission by the French Tourist Boards alongside eleven other Spanish photographers. The images contain passers-by fragmented or displaces on one side. In his urban images, whether Madrid or Barcelona, the worn pavements and walls which the portrait models walk along or lean against seem infinite. In photographs such as the image of a municipal police officer Guàrdia urbà (1957), the sky occupies almost three quarters of the image, while a figure on a distant rooftop appears to dominate the scene in a kind of surrealist landscape.

And then there is the strength of the gazes of the people who sat for portraits by Cualladó! Shy, surprised, or simply unaware. Or the portrait of the little Maria José on the day of her first communion, with her head resting on a small table, either through tiredness or excitement. Sometimes, however, your attention is drawn to a crushed gladioli which has ended up next to the bride during her wedding ceremony. Cualladó is a master of capturing the beauty of melancholy.

As the curator of the exhibition, Antonio Tabernero, rightly says, Cualladó’s work is more about who looks at it than who makes it. It is completely ours.

The exhibition Essential Cualladó can be visited at La Pedrera, in Barcelona, until 30 June.