I so enjoyed my visit to Miro’s studio in Mallorca last year that I decided to visit the Fundacio Miro in Barcelona. It’s situated up on Montjuïc the mountain where the Olympic Park was in 1992 and which continues to be a tourist attraction. Three stops on the Metro to Parallel and the the Funicular up to Montjuic.
It was a disappointing trip compared with the ones in Bilbao, Budapest and San Sebastián in that it’s almost entirely in a tunnel with just occasional sights of scrappy play areas and none of the vistaS across the city I was hoping for. However, a few steps from the top of the funicular, my wish was granted with this view dominated by the magnificent Sagrada Familia.
On the way to the Miro Foundation was a sculpture garden with some of the worst signage I’ve ever come across – tiny aluminium stakes with titles engraved – totally illegible. At Miro, things were handled much better. There is a huge collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and found objects displayed in spacious galleries. I’m glad I’d been to the studio in Mallorca to get an idea of Miro’s working methods. It’s also good to see that artists who choose to follow a different kind of visual vocabulary are well grounded in basic draughtsmanship.
I particularly love his amusing sculptures from everyday objects. As a not-very-royalists person I was much taken by King, Queen and Prince (below right), the huge (nearly 6 metres across) Sobreteixim with eight umbrellas and the dramatic use of a coat hanger.
Another artist provides a fascinating object here. Alexander Calder was the only non-Spaniard invited to contribute to Spain’s pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Exhibition. Alongside several Miro canvases, Picasso’s Guernica, Calder’s Mercury Fountain was seen as a further protest against the atrocities of the Franco regime including the attack at Almaden the town that provided a substantial quantity of the world’s mercury. Calder donated the sculpture to the Miro Foundation and we view it from behind a glass screen since the toxicity of mercury has been discovered. Funny thing is the Egyptians knew about mercury too and thought it chased away evil spirits – may have killed some of them too.
I had a coffee in the cafe before continuing my walk along Montjuic. I was heading inexorably to the National Art Museum of Catalunya, which I had told myself I wasn’t going to bother with on this trip. I remembered, bothwith the children ages ago, and with Dee more recently standing on its terrace on a Friday evening eagerly awaiting the magic fountain’s display. No use waiting for it on Wednesday afternoon. I do remember it as quite spectacular with water jets synchronised to different music genres at different times and changing colour appropriately. Looking down at it brought back good memories. I then thought ‘Well I’m here, it’s free with the Barcelona card so why not?’.
The majestic central dome covered an area in which there were easels for wannabe artists and a fabulous soft play area with kids swarming all over. If that what it takes to get folk in and keep galleries alive, I’m all for it.
I decide to eschew the old masters which I have seen before and head for the modern floor upstairs. Neatly divided into four areas it shows the development of Catalan art from the turn of the century to the present day. In the very first gallery devoted to modernisme, what did I see but the actual dining table Gaudi had designed for Casa Battlo.? There were lots of beautiful wooden, glass and metal objects in that fluid style.
As I progressed through the galleries I saw works by familiar names like Rusinol, Sorolla and Picasso. I was especially taken by a cunning Rusinol self portrait. Look carefully!
In the next room I was introduced to the work of a female photographer Mey Rahola who shared a love of sailing and photography with our friend Joe Weiler in Boston. She was lucky to be around at a period 1934-36 when it was OK for a woman to engage in such pursuits. The Civil War put and end to that as she went into exile in France but had developed her own documentary style and continued to take photographs professional during the Second World War.
A new set of rooms for 2022 are devoted to the art of the Civil War period and range from propaganda posters, depictions of the horrors of war reminiscent of Goya – one wall of etchings reminded me of Los Caprichos. It’s interesting to see how Spain is re-evaluating the whole period that was so traumatic for so many. When I raised the refugee elements in Isabel Allende’s book with Rosa and Pepita over lunch Pepita didn’t really want to discuss it as, although born after the end of the war, so much of her childhood and early years were shaped by it. One of Rosa’s video installations Lost was on the subject of babies stolen by the church during the Franco period. It casts a long shadow.
Enough gloom. Back out into the sunlight of Montjuïc and a walk through the Botanic Garden towards the Olympic Stadium where a convenient bus arrived and took me back to the funicular. A little later a further trip to the Cerveseria rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable day up above the city.