FOR 20th century art, Cataluña is the place to visit. Barcelona is home to the renowned Picasso Museum, although his most famous work, ‘Guernica’, is in Madrid’s excellent Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
The Fundació Joan Miró and some home-grown Catalan galleries are also in Barcelona while the famous Dalí Museum is almost synonymous with the irreverent attitude of the Spanish.
As well as Madrid and Barcelona, an art tour of Spain would not be complete without a visit to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and in recent times, Valencia’s IVAM has become a new destination on the European art circuit.
Surrealism and Abstract Art
The entire twentieth century was marked by the exceptional figure of Pablo Picasso (first photo), who is well represented in the collection at The Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani in Palma de Mallorca. Here there is a permanent collection of seventy works by the most important Spanish artists of the twentieth century – Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Juan Gris and Salvador Dalí among them – artists significant for what would become the paradigmatic style of modern painting: cubism.
Along with Picasso, Miró and Dalí (second photo), Juan Gris (third photo) and Julio González form that circle of Spanish artists who stablished their reputations in Paris before going on to win universal acclaim and recognition.
As the leading protagonists of avant-garde movements, above all cubism and surrealism, they now occupy a privileged place in museums all over the world and in anthologies on the art of the early decades of the last century.
Work by Spain’s surrealists has been widely documented, but interest in abstract art came late to Spain. The isolation of the country during the first decades of Franco’s dictatorship contributed in delaying the introduction of abstraction, which had spread rapidly throughout the rest of the art world.
Many Spanish artists therefore lived abroad, mainly in Paris and Rome, travelling to different countries to view art created in Europe, well aware they could not do the same in their home country.
The creation of abstract art at the end of the nineteen fifties consisted of more than just adopting a new idea; it meant taking a stance and risking condemnation at a politically difficult time.
To get an idea of the cultural taboo around art in Spain, Edmund Peel, former head of Christie’s auction house in Spain, tells the story of what happened when a culture minister wanted to hold the country’s first impressionist exhibit. A top Franco official refused. “He said, ‘What do we want with the impressionists? We have enough trouble with the communists’”.
It is not surprising, then, that contemporary art has come to be seen as a sort of status symbol for modernity and a new Spain. The Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca exhibits a permanent collection of 129 paintings and sculptures by Spanish artists of the abstract generation of the 1950s and 1960s (Millares, Tàpies, Sempere, Torner, Rueda, Zóbel, Saura, among some thirty other artists), as well as several artists from the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1980, the founder of Cuenca’s museum, artist Fernando Zóbel, donated his collection to the Fundación Juan March, which incorporated it into its own collection. Situated in the Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) of the city of Cuenca, in a late fifteenth- century medieval building, this collection must be on any serious art tour of Spain.
Many agents offer art tours of Spain, with options to travel by coach with a guide, self-drive or by train. For instance, the Art and Nature of Green Spain Tour takes you through scenic locations in the Basque country with a visit to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Details are at www.euroadventures.net. Or look through the host of possibilities organised by www.spanish-fiestas.com that includes a panoramic city tour of Madrid’s galleries including the Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen Museums by coach.
Of course, armed with internet guides of Spain’s major art museums, you can organise your own personalised art tour with friends. Try booking train travel via RENFE and see Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia on a weekend round trip (www.renfe.es).
The Museo del Prado features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, from the 12th century through the early 19th century. It is important to mention the new extension at the Prado which has a striking bronze door by Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias. She is one of the most international Spanish contemporary artists (and has had exhibitions in the UK, including the Whitechapel Gallery in London). Her late husband Juan Muñoz, was also internationally acclaimed.
Key works of Spanish art to be found at the Prado are Las Meninas by Velázquez, Jacob’s Dream by Ribera and The Third of May: the Executions on Príncipe Pío by Goya.
Most of the museum’s 19th century paintings come from the former Museo de Arte Moderno, including works by the Madrazo, Vicente López, Carlos de Haes, Rosales and Sorolla.
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid has recently expanded too, making it one of the largest modern art museums in the world. You can see Picasso’s Guernica there, although some complain about the room it is kept in and the light.
The Reina Sofía is noted for its interesting and varied programmes, as well as its large collection of contemporary Spanish art. Its library is Spain’s largest library of modern art.
Also worth visiting on your art tour of Madrid is the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, one of the great art collections in the world, which displays the chronological development of European art from the 13th century to modern times.
The Museu Picasso is the most visited gallery in Barcelona and caters to over one million visitors a year. This gallery is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Picasso’s artwork.
Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art (or MACBA) contains art mainly from the second half of the 20th century and includes the works of many great painters, www.macba.es.
Joan Miró’s works are to be found today in the world’s principal museums and cultural institutions. Many, however, have remained in Cataluña, mostly in the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona. Examples of his art can also be admired throughout the city.
The spectacular pottery covered sculpture Dona i ocell (1982), (Woman and bird), made in collaboration with Gardy Artigas, adorns the Parc Joan Miró (also called the Parc de l’Escorxador). A bronze sculpture titled Dona (1983), (Woman) stands in the central courtyard of the Casa de la Ciutat (City Hall).
A collection of twenty ceramic pieces, also made in collaboration with Gardy Artigas, was donated to the city by Miró and are in the Ceramic Museum in the Palau Reial de Pedralbes.
On the Pla de l’Ós, half-way down the Ramblas, near the Liceu Opera House and La Boqueria market, the pavement is decorated with a design by Miró (fourth photo), and the ceramic mural on the outside of terminal B at Barcelona airport, produced in 1970 in conjunction with J. Llorens i Artigas, welcomes visitors arriving in the city by air.
Works by Miró can also be found in Mallorca, in the area known as “Miró territory”, around his studio designed by Josep Lluís Sert.
The Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña or MNAC is located at the Palau Nacional de Montjüic in the Parc de Montjüic.
Established in 1955 by Spanish financier Juan March Ordinas, the Fundación Juan March is a family-run institution that directs the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca, and the Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani in Palma de Mallorca.
Its permanent collection of Spanish contemporary art, is comprised of more than 1,600 works by Spanish artists. The collection is also exhibited in the foundation’s headquarters in Madrid.
The IVAM Collection consists of over 10,000 works which illustrate the fundamental expressions of art in the twentieth century.
From the outset the backbone of the IVAM Collection has been the work of sculptor Julio González, a synthesis of cubism, surrealism and constructivism.
The collection has paid special attention to the origins of modern art (represented at the IVAM by the work of Ignacio Pinazo and Joaquín Sorolla), the debate about abstraction in the 1930s, and the informalism and pop art movements in Europe and America.
An important place in the collection is occupied by sections devoted to graphic design, photomontage and especially, photography produced by great artists of the twentieth century and represented by over 2,500 titles.
The IVAM has the most important public collection of work by the Valencian painter Ignacio Pinazo Camarlench (Valencia, 1849 – Godella, 1916), consisting of a hundred paintings and over six hundred drawings.
GACMA, C/Fídias 48-50, Málaga. Includes works by Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Willen De Kooning, Damien Hirst, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso.
The Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporáneo currently contains approximately four hundred pieces in which different artists from diverse contexts are represented. Since its beginnings, the principal criteria for including new pieces has been to reinforce the representation of Galician artists, aiming to strengthen the revitalising, international impulse of Galician art since the beginning of the 1980s, to reflect the most important moments in the international artistic panorama. In addition to its own collection, the CGAC has access to pieces in the collections of Areán, the Xunta de Galicia, and the ARCO Foundation.
Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Sevilla, www.caac.es
Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum (fifth photo) is exhibiting “Art in the USA: 300 Years of Innovation.” Co-organised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Terra Foundation for American Art, this exhibition features a compelling selection of approximately 200 artworks culled from a range of private and public collections in the United States.
Divided into six historical periods, the exhibition demonstrates how the art of each era reflected and contributed to a complex visual narrative of a nation during times of discovery, growth and experimentation. October 11, 2007 – April 27, 2008. For more information, www.guggenheim-bilbao.es.