Catching up from Catalunya,
still buzzing from Barcelona.
I can say nothing original, I’m sure, about the modernista Catalan architect and designer Antoni Gaudi, who worked over the tail end of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries, only join the chorus to sing his praises. You couldn’t be further removed from the notion of ‘modern architecture’ and yet there that word stays in all the books, almost as a rebuke. His great work – the big three being the Casa Batlló (originally a private house), the Parc Güell (a failed garden city project, now a wonderful public park) and the ongoing saga that is the glorious temple to the Gospels known as the Sagrada Familia (the Sacred Family), which dominates the city skyline from afar – this work inspires in equal measure awe, wonder and, uniquely I think, affection. You can – and many, many do, every day – sit resting your back on the this continuous curving seat – just a small section of which is illustrated here – with its never-repeated detailing rolling along the terrace wall at Parc Gúell, lazing in the sun, looking over the areas of Barcelona and the sea spread out below – what sensory pure delight, there for the sharing. And while he obviously didn’t sweat the small stuff, he was, they say, technically, instinctively, ahead of his time too. What a man, such a life and end, worthy of great balladry!
It is hard to imagine a bigger contrast than the one encountered the day we went straight from the grandeur and intricacies of the Sagrada Familia exterior and its fluted pillars and radiant colours from the stained glass inside, to the unadorned straight lines and uncomplicated curves, the sheer contemporary whiteness of MACBA, architect Richard Meier’s fine Museu d’Art Contemporani, a different kind of space altogether, which is impressive enough in its own way, as you climb the gentle incline linking its three floors. Which the skateboarders in the yard outside would doubtless love to ride down.
Grayson Perry‘s notion of the art gallery effectively taking on many of the roles of a church these days fails for me at MACBA. The airy feel of the building is made to seem sterile by a lack of unity and – hesitate to say it but – substance of much of what was on show. Not that it was devoid of interest or intellectual engagement, but I need more. On the top floor Rita McBride‘s Public tender exhibition contemplates and experiments with the question, When and where exactly does sculpture becomes architecture? So she mounts red air conditioning ducting on a white wall; that’s an unfair reduction of the work on show but my point is, Antoni Gaudi lived out there on that border, with his joy and inspiration in nature and myth in the heart of a city being made anew.
Perry’s notion of transferred reverence certainly holds for the Museu Picasso, housed as it is in a set of what were once medieval palaces, no less. Pablo Picasso spent his teenage years studying in Barcelona, and the bulk of the beautifully presented collection on show is from his early years – he was so good as a student you can see why he had to keep moving on – and a playful splurge of activity from 1957, including some crude fun work of his as a ceramista. While none of his major works is here save 1897’s social realist Science and charity, which brought him to wider attention, the wait to get in was well worth it, and leavened by a talented busker plying an accordion. And I worshipped more in the Montserrat Museum at the spectacularly sited Monestir de Montserrat up in the hills, with its impressive collection of work from Catalan painters of the last couple of centuries, augmented by a decent sprinkling of big names from many eras than I did in its glittering Basilica (of which more in a later post).