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  letter from spain
by Ysabel de la Rosa  
 

Felipe II
by Antonio Moro



Engraving of Prado exterior
ca. 1860s
Prado late for Velázquez
With its new blockbuster dedicated to "black legend" King Felipe II (1555-1598), the Prado flung open its front doors for the first time after more than two years of renovations. But the museum is closing the door on other major shows planned for 1999 -- which was to be the Year of Velázquez in the Prado, with four major exhibitions dedicated to the artist on the 400th anniversary of his birth. The shows were "Velázquez in Sevilla and Madrid," "Rubens, Van Dyck and Velázquez," "Velázquez and Italy" and, finally, "Velázquez and the 19th Century." This last was designed to show the influence of Velázquez on Impressionism.

The Prado says that its current renovation is forcing the postponement of the Velázquez exhibitions to the year 2000 -- though the museum administration quickly adds that the shows may not take place in the year 2000 either.

The millennium was also to be celebrated with a show dedicated to Felipe II's predecessor, Carlos V (King of Spain from 1516 to 1555), who was yet another royal art-gatherer. This show is to take place in a new space planned for the recently acquired Cloisters of San Jerónimo. However, no official source expects this gallery to be completed in time, which will lead to another significant delay or perhaps even the cancellation of the show.

In any case, the Prado's decision to arrive late for the 400th anniversary of the birth of the most important artist in its collection -- or perhaps to miss the anniversary altogether -- gives a whole new meaning to "Spanish time."

A new book on Velázquez jointly authored by the American Jonathan Brown and the Spaniard Carmen Garrido is out in time for the anniversary, however. Published by Ediciones Encuentro, Velázquez, Pintor y Cortesano focuses on 30 of his paintings.


ARCO '99
France at 1999 ARCO
France will be the featured guest country at Madrid's largest contemporary art fair, ARCO, slated for Feb. 11-16, 1999. Thirty of the 200 galleries expected to attend ARCO will be from Spain's neighbor to the north, according to ARCO director Rosina Gómez-Baeza. The Reina Sofía, Círculo de Bellas Artes, and the Canal Isabel II are also to mount shows of French artists concurrent with the fair.

Jeff Koons' blooms
in front of Bilbao Gug
Bilbao Birthday
The Guggenheim Bilbao celebrated its first birthday on Oct.19. Jeff Koons' giant puppy-planter is in full bloom, and the museum claims a total of 1.3 million visitors since it opened, making it the second-most visited museum in Spain in 1997-98.

One can safely say now that the Gugg has become the symbol for the city of Bilbao. And other nearby museums, like the Bilbao MFA, are talking "expansion."


Antonio Saura
Portrait Imaginaire de Goya I
1985
Saura Foundation in "friendly" battle for drawings, plans
The headlines say the "reclamation" is "friendly." The friendliness of the fledgling Saura Foundation, however, does not seem to be convincing the Saura family to let go of the estate of the late Spanish painter Antonio Saura. His wife and daughter have in their possession the 365 works that make up the collection "Crónica." During 1994, Saura did a drawing a day, each one based on some item in the news. The year's worth of drawings make up the series.

Saura never formalized his wishes for the foundation before his death from leukemia on July 22 of this year. The family says the foundation does not meet Saura's expectations; the foundation claims otherwise. The family also holds the plans Saura drew for the foundation exhibition space and library to be installed in the Casa Museo Zabala in Cuenca, without which the foundation cannot be properly established.


Reproduction Prohibited
by Joao Paolo Serafim
Photos from Portugal
I was eager to see "New Portuguese Photography" at the Círculo de Bellas Artes and slightly disappointed once I had. The exhibition featured the work of four photographers, all technically sound, but with little risk-taking in subject matter.

Photographer Joao Paulo Serafim, for his series called "Reproduction Prohibited," took photographs of "icons," some religious, some Hollywood. He then made his own reproductions of each icon. The results range from brilliant to sheepish, from a startling copy of Christ image to a blue-eyed version of James Garner.

The careful photographs of Adriano Miranda are Weston-ish in some images and Avedon-ish in others. Carlos Guarita's military scenes have an intriguingly uneasy atmosphere. His photo of a board with Sadam Hussein's smiling likeness painted on it above a sign that said "Photo Point" certainly made its "point" well. And Paulo Esteves' silvery portraits of dead animals on pedestals, unfortunately, reminded me of every butcher shop I have had to get used to seeing since I moved to Madrid.

 

Pedro Proença
The Mambos of Judith




Pedro Proença
Epigram I




Pedro Proença
Abstract Expressionism on a
Historic Background I
Puzzles at Galería Fúcares
A few subway stops away from the photographers is Galería Fúcares and a show of the Portuguese artist Pedro Proença. In the catalogue, Proença writes, "Tradition comes before. Sometimes it is bittersweet and clean, as in Luciano and Voltaire. Other times it is falsely infantile, as in Collodi and the likes of Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Cyrano. I mention this because (tradition) was important in my education. Mannerism, the carnival and laughter are the principal nucleus from which I depart to other things which often have nothing to do with mannerism, carnivals or laughter." And that's just the beginning, folks, of the artist's commentary which accompanies the show called "Judith and the Mambo."

The work has a trompe l'oeil feel with references that range from Pompeii to the 20th century. Allusions are numerous and history palpably present, as are fantasy, humor and rich color surprises. Some brave decorating company should manufacture a paint color called Proença Vermillion.

One work, titled Collection of the Sophist's Drawings, shows the head of a man with legs growing above his ears and tribal decorations on his cheeks; a cartoon-like 1950s female nude attached to a small dog; another nude, this one Michaelangelo-esque, riding a feather skyward; and a hand dropping a dog bone in a bowl with the word "Argos" floating above. All these drawings appear to float on a background painted the eeriest of purples.

The painting titled ¡Cariño! (translation ambiguous here: Cariño can mean dear, honey, my love, etc. or depending on the tone, the opposite of all the above) shows a female in a brown toga aiming a giant sling shot at another woman, also in a brown toga, holding a giant paint brush. They stand above a figure of a man with a tail blowing an enormous horn. Story of a ménage a trois, or a message sur l'art, or both and more?

Proença's U.S. exhibition exposure has been limited to shows at the Drawing Center in New York in 1994 and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1996. Someone should fill in the U.S. gaps in Proença's CV. He's a rewarding find.

Time flies at Soledad Lorenzo
In October, Soledad Sevilla filled Madrid's Soledad Lorenzo Gallery floor-to-ceiling with blue butterflies (1,500 to be exact) in her exhibition entitled "Time Flies." The show was accompanied by a well-known verse penned by poet Antonio Machado, "And today is the morning of yesterday." Each butterfly was silk-screened onto polyester fabric and mounted one-by-one by the artist.

 

Tina Modotti
Alcatraces (Cala Lillies)




Tina Modotti
Boy with Palm Sombrero




Tina Modotti
Hands of the Juggler




Edward Weston
Portrait of Tina Modotti
Ars Longa, Vita Brevis: Tina Modotti
An exhibition of 26 of Tina Modotti's photographs just closed at the Instituto de México en España. All the photographs measured a uniform 8 by ten inches, no matter what their original size had been. And all were framed in ash-colored wood frames -- ouch.

Nevertheless, the installation was careful and insightful. One example: The portraits of two of Modotti's lovers, Julio Antonio Mella and Vittorio Vidali, hang side by side, showing a remarkable physical similarity between the two men. Mella was a Cuban refugee, assasinated in Mexico as he and Modotti were walking down a sidewalk in Mexico City. Vidali, an Italian communist, was Modotti's last love and the last person to see her alive before she died of heart failure in a taxi on her way home.

Modotti's biographers have questioned whether her alliance with Vidali was more political than personal. Here, the similarities of the two men make one wonder if, with Vidali, Modotti was trying to somehow recapture or remember the man who had been the greatest love -- and loss -- of her life.

Exhibition tactics aside, the work is exquisite, expressive without being emotive, and strong. Her blacks, whites and grays are as rich as icing on cakes, almost three-dimensional in their depths and stark highlights. The stillness Modotti captures in the Mexican Indians and peasants in these photographs is arresting, monumental in feeling if not in size.

These are the people Modotti wanted to liberate, not simply illustrate -- the dark-wrapped Elisa; the anonymous woman washing her white clothes on black rocks with nearly-black hands; the man dressed in rags sitting on a curb beneath a billboard for evening clothes in Elegancia y Pobreza.

Modotti lived an intense, short life -- she died at age 46 -- with an intense, short art career sandwiched into her political activities. She took virtually all her photographs in a seven-year period between 1923 and 1930 and from then on devoted her energies entirely to political causes. It takes time for ideologies and their conflicts to subside. Fortunately, art has a way of outliving them all as seen in this quiet evocative show.

 

Diego Velázquez
Santa Rufina
ca. 1632
Velázquez for sale
What I want to know is, who lost the list? Luis de Haro, Marqués of Eliche, sixth Marqués of Carpio, nephew of the Count-Duke of Olivares, and prime-minister to King Felipe IV, kept an inventory of the paintings in his possession. On his inventory list was: "A painting of Santa Rufina, half-torso view, with a palm and some cups in her hands, original by Diego Velázquez, of three quarters and a half in height and two thirds and two fingers in width." Date: ca. 1632. Both the inventory list and the painting disappeared until 1868. The painting reappeared in that year in the collection of the Earl of Dudley in Great Britain. The Earl's inventory list attributed the painting to Murillo. One can see why. The painting has a sweet touch to it, reminiscent of Murillo, and the face of Santa Rufina could easily appear to belong to the Murillo cast of angels and saints. The colors -- or more accurately put, the tones of the colors -- however, are utterly Velázquez, and the touch of challenging mystery in the Santa's smile and eyes are right at home in the Velázquez portrait line-up.

Carrying a presale estimate of $3.2 million, Santa Rufina will be auctioned by Christie's in New York, Jan. 29, 1999, in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the painter's birth. This is not the first time Christie's will have sold the painting. The firm sold Santa Rufina in 1925, as part of the collection of the Viscount Ednam (a member of the Earl of Dudley family). The picture returned to the market via Parke-Bernet in 1948 and found its way into a private U.S. collection. After these two sales, art expert and list-finder José López-Rey discovered the "missing" Velázquez in 1963. The painting made its way back to Christie's, whose researchers have now confirmed the painting's authorship.

It is assumed that the arresting face used for this portrait of one of Seville's patron saints is the countenance of one of Velázquez's daughters, either Fernanda or Ignacia. Santa Rufina and her sister Santa Justa met with untimely deaths in 287 AD at the hands of the Romans, who executed them, the legend goes, for destroying a statue of Venus.

The painting will be on display at Christie's in Madrid, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 1998, and in Barcelona, Dec. 3-4, 1998. The painting will also make a stop in London before arriving in New York for the January sale. The auction will consist exclusively of Spanish paintings and, in addition to the Velázquez, will include works by Murillo, Ribera, El Greco, Yepes and Vicente López. Murillo's Woman with Flowers is currently valued at $70,000.

Capa for Reina Sofía
When the Reina Sofía's photography curator Catherine Coleman contacted Cornell Capa to obtain permission to show 27 of Robert Capa's photographs taken during the Spanish Civil War, the photographer's brother surprised and delighted both Coleman and museum director José Guirao by donating all 205 Capa Civil War photographs to the museum to become part of its permanent collection. The photographs go on view Nov. 25. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with commentary by Capa biographer Richard Whelan, historian Juan Pablo Fusi and curator Coleman.

The Reina Sofía's new holdings are the only complete collection in Spain of Capa's Spanish Civil War pictures. The photographs cover the entire war period, from its beginning in 1936 to the Catalán army's retreat into France in 1939. "Capa's photographs are works of art that are worthy of the being on a par with Guérnica," Coleman said.

Palacios Dead at 98
Architect, sculptor, and painter Joaquín Vaquero Palacios died Oct. 28 in Madrid at the age of 98. A member of high standing in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Vaquero Palacios received one of Spain's most prestigious awards in 1996, the gold medal of architecture, given by the Superior Counsel of the Colleges of Architects of Spain. Two of his best-known buildings are the Mercado de Abastos in Santiago de Compostela and the Spanish pavilion built for the Bienial in Venice. He was a friend and artistic collaborator to various famous Spanish artists, including Sorolla, Solana and García Lorca.


YSABEL DE LA ROSA is a writer and artist living in Madrid.