Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Gaudí in Barcelona: Spectacular and unique

SW side entrance to La Sagrada Familia - The Passion

Some people, I know, have heard of Antoni Gaudí. Many have not, however. And unless you've studied architecture or Barcelona or something related, it's hard to come to grips with how exceptional his designs are. I taught architecture for many years and thought I knew what to expect. I certainly was looking forward to my first visit to Barcelona with great deal of anticipation. But even so, I was not adequately prepared...

Portal detail, NE side entrance to La Sagrada Familia - The Nativity
We didn't beat around the bush. We went to see Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece first thing in the morning on our first day in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is a cathedral and having seen large gothic cathedrals its size was not unexpected. And I was familiar with his unique organic style from photographs. But the scale of it all and the sheer beauty was breathtaking. He achieved a monumental scale without the bulky encrustments of flying buttresses that make the exteriors of gothic cathedrals seem impenetrable. The stone appears to float upward rather than to press down on the earth. The tall spires remind me of beach castles made by dripping wet sand.

The sense of floating was even more pronounced on the interior. The abstract stained glass cast uneven colors into the vast nave, one side warm reds, oranges and yellows, the other cool deep blues, aquas and pale greens. 

The vault appeared to be supported on the trunks of great trees that led the eye upwards towards an eerie configuration of circular forms. I felt as though I was being inspected by a gargantuan spider with multi-faceted eyes that hovered overhead in wait. 

It was a cold, blustery weekday morning and yet the entire interior was full of people before we left. We learned that this building, which had been abandoned for decades after Gaudí's untimely death in 1926, is now the single most popular tourist attraction in Spain. But it is hardly the only one...

Casa Batlló is an apartment building squeezed among a row of them along one of the major boulevards in the center of the city. The facade is unlike any of its neighbors, however, with its colorful and undulating art deco detailing. We almost didn't go inside. We'd just come from La Sagrada Familia (ticket price: 29 euros - over $30). The price of admission at Casa Batlló was 22 euros and we balked briefly. But our traveling companions convinced us to pop for it and we were blown away for the second time that day.

The entire building, the maintenance of which is supported solely by those steep admission prices, has been turned into a museum and it didn't take long to learn why. Every detail has been meticulously restored and preserved--and by every detail I mean that Gaudí actually designed every single thing in the building. (This was reminiscent of Gaudí's contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, who also famously designed buildings down to the doorknobs and dinnerware.)

One of the many remarkable details was the tile in the atrium that rose through all six floors. Cast in shades of blue that grew progressively paler in hue so that it would all appear uniform as the natural light coming down through the skylight diminished. 

Gaudí is famous for his chimeys and Casa Batlló is an example of why this is so. Another novelty characteristic of his style (and also in harmony with the style of the Art Deco period to which he relates) is the fact that he designed the entire building without square corners.

The attic floor clearly demonstrated his novel and effective use of the catenary arch, which we learned is at once derived from nature and inherently more stable than other arch shapes. Gaudí employed it in many of his designs, including La Sagrada Familia.

For a change of pace we next went to a park. Of course it wasn't just any old park. Parc Güell, as it is called, was also designed by Gaudí. In this view across the terrace the spires and cranes above La Sagrada Famila can be seen in the left background. The terrace and main entrance area to the park required another admission fee. This time we chose to go around to the public (free) sections. We were not disappointed.

The park rises up a steep hillside and the main design feature is a serpentine walkway that leads throughout the park and up to the summit.

As with his buildings, the causeway-like structure was organic in character and utterly
unique in style.

Beneath the Gaudí arcade we enjoyed lovely strains of music by a local duo who played instrumental covers of popular songs by the likes of Coldplay. 

Later in the week we toured yet another of Gaudí's masterpieces, Casa Mila, aka La Perdrera (the stone quarry). Unlike Casa Batlló, this multipurpose structure is still in use, with commercial enterprises on the ground floor and residential apartments above. 

One of the highlights, again, was the rooftop with an even more elaborate (and famous) display of chimneys. Here you see just a few of the many.

The structure is organized around two atriums, asymmetrically located. The tour did include one apartment that has been restored with its original furnishings.

You know right away when you see the door to the building that you are in for an unusual architectural experience.

So, there you have a brief selection and quick tour of Gaudí in Barcelona. We did go back to La Sagrada Familia on our last day there, in order to see it at night. 

The omnipresent construction cranes were even more prominent lit up by the floodlights that illuminate the facades at night. 

For a few more photos of Gaudí and many more photos from Spain, go to my Flickr album.

And if you missed my earlier posts from Spain, scroll down or click the links to check out Calatrava in Valencia and the Miró Museum.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Valencia does Calatrava in a BIG way!

Valencia is on the Mediterranean Sea on the east coast of Spain. Milwaukee is on Lake Michigan on the east coast of Wisconsin. Valencia and Milwaukee, with metropolitan areas of about 1.5 million, are approximately the same size. Aside from those two facts, the two cities have almost nothing in common. Oh, except we do have Calatrava.

The difference is, while Milwaukee is justifiably proud of its iconic Calatrava-designed art museum, the suite of buildings that world-renowned architect designed for his home town make our single structure look downright puny. Yes, there are people in the photo of the Science Museum above to give it scale, though you'll have to look closely. The Milwaukee Art Museum's Calatrava wing could fit inside this building--with its wings open--and there would still be room to spare. But wait! There are four more buildings in what is known as the City of Arts and Sciences--along with two bridges.

The opera house (above) looks like some kind of alien spaceship out of Star Trek has landed in this medieval city. In fact, nothing in Valencia--or pretty much anywhere else--prepares the unsuspecting visitor who happens upon this futuristic assemblage of structures. Allow me to take you on a tour...

Panoramic view with the Planetarium in the left foreground and the double arcade called L'Umbracle on the right.

The Agora, a concert and exhibition hall, seen here through the cable stays of one of two Calatrava bridges that cross over the complex, which is in a park setting that is below the surrounding city.

The dome of the Planetarium seen from the promenade of L'Umbracle.

The open arcade of of L'Umbracle, which sits atop a parking garage, is a rigorously ordered botanical garden...

...and the promenade doubles as a showcase for contemporary sculpture. The installation on view when I was there was by an artist named Rogério Timóteo. Behind the sculpture you can see (left to right) the Science Museum the Agora and the asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge.

L'Umbracle at dusk.

The Science Museum after dark.

And the opera house... whew! I was there and it's still hard to believe it's real.

Stay tuned. These Calatravas in Valencia were spectacular, but Barcelona has Gaudí. I'll show you those soon.

Meanwhile, if you missed my review of the Miró Museum, click here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A visit to the Joan Miró museum in Barcelona

Galatea, 1976
 As a young man Joan Miró adopted a highly personal style within the extended family of Surrealism and an anti-bourgeous attitude characteristic of his time and artistic calling. In 1968, when he was 75, he established a foundation that would build an architectural monument dedicated to his work. The clean white Modernist museum stands on Montjuïc, a mountainside overlooking his native city of Barcelona. His attitude towards society may have shifted, but the collection housed in the museum demonstrates that his distinctive style remained largely consistent throughout his life.

Painting (for Emili Fernández Miró), 1963
Miró's idiosyncratic manner of working has been called "a sandbox for the subconscious mind." His childlike forms have appealed to me for as long as I've known about him. When I had the great fortune to visit Barcelona recently the Fundació Joan Miró, Centre d'Estudis d'Art Contemporani (Catalan for Joan Miró Foundation, Centre of Studies of Contemporary Art) was one of my primary destinations. I was not disappointed.

The permanent collection includes works from throughout his long career (he lived a cool 90 years, from 1893 to 1983), and although he is among my favorite artists whose famous works are quite familiar, most of the paintings and sculptures on display were new to me. A lovely opportunity! Here I share a selection, just a small fraction of what can be seen at the museum.
Village and Church of Mont-roig, 1919
This early painting is done in what is called his "detailist" style, which was influenced by primitive and Japanese art, according to the wall label.

This one, from 1935, is titled "Man and woman in front of a pile of excrement" just in case, I suppose, you might not catch that detail. It is from a series known as the "savage paintings."

 Most of the early work is modest in size but later paintings and sculptures assume a much larger scale. A few vertical ones, such as "Woman, Bird 1" (below) and one of his monumental tapestries (that I didn't manage to capture on my iPhone) take up entire high ceilinged rooms.

The rooftop provides ample space for sculptures as well as panoramic views of the city below.

This triptych, mounted in an alcove, is titled "Painting on a white background for the cell of a recluse, I, II, III" (1968). The wall panel explains that the alcove reproduces the placement of the triptychs in the artist's studio and quotes Miró: "To me conquering freedom means conquering simplicity. At the very limit, then, one line, one color can make a painting."

Burnt Canvas 1, 1973
The wall panel accompanying this painting, the first of a series of canvases Miró attacked with a blowtorch, claims that he was trying to "taunt the art market." In all four languages used throughout the museum on its labels someone had written in pencil on the wall next to the panel, "It is easier to taunt it when one's position is either safe or desperate. The rest are in far more complex positions."

While the majority of work on view is by Miró himself, there are others as well. This complex temporary installation is in a gallery devoted to contemporary artists. It is titled: Plural Being. I am the Others, the Others are Me by artists identified as Momu & No Es.

Of it the website says this: "Plural Being. I am the Others, the Others are Me reflects the constant search for calm in a hectic society. Through a theme park scenario, the exhibition attempts to answer a series of questions about the times we live in, the things we yearn for, and the rewards we expect in return for our day-to-day efforts.

"Momu & No Es present a new installation that recreates a phantomscape through a series of sculptural elements, mantric sounds, suspended images and performative elements that plunge visitors into a space of sublimation and estrangement. A reflection on personal space and on the body as testing ground that questions the human condition in a hyperconnected era."

Woman, Bird 1, 1973

Other sights and scenes from my visit to Spain--including La Sagrada Familia and several other amazing feats of architecture by Gaudí--can be see on Flickr.