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    Letter from Spain
by Ysabel de la Rosa
Actor Paco Rabal as Goya in
Goya de Burdeos
Francisco Goya
Hannibal the Conqueror
ca. 1770
at Sotheby's
Francisco Goya
La Condesa de Chinchón
at the Prado
A whole lot of Goya going round
It's a sketch, it's an oil, it's a restoration, it's a sale, it's a movie, it's an award. No -- it's Francisco Goya -- dead for 172 years and still making front-page news. Actor Paco Rabal has just won Spain's coveted Goya award for playing -- yes, Goya, in Carlos Saura's award-winning movie, Goya in Burdeos. (The Spanish "Oscars" are called "The Goyas.")

Experts are converging on the Prado to discuss the pros and cons (in this case, "con" stands for controversy) of restoring several of the paintings in the Goya collection. In January, Sotheby's New York sold a recently discovered Goya oil sketch of a victorious Hannibal for $498,000, and the drawing Gimiendo y Llorando (Weeping and Wailing) for $938,000, both to an American collector.

Madrid's great Prado museum wasn't left out of the acquisitions, however. Goya's portrait of Jovellanos in front of San Lorenzo came to the Prado as a gift. More dramatically, the Prado had to fight for the new century's biggest Goya prize, however, the Condesa de Chinchón, sold by the Rúspoli family for an incredible $28 million. Madrid's Real Academia de las Bellas Artes had twice previously tried to buy the painting, and this time offered to spend its entire legacy on acquiring the work. "In the Prado, this painting will be just another Goya," said Academia director Ramón González Amezúa. "In our museum, it would be the star."

Historically speaking, a strong case could be made for the painting going to the Academy. Its museum has 13 Goya paintings, including several portraits of Manuel Godoy, counsel to King Carlos IV and the Condesa de Chinchón's husband. Goya himself studied painting in the Academy.

Ministry of Culture sub-director Miguel Angel Cortés supported the Academy's bid -- strong support, but not quite strong enough. The Prado won the painting, and had to spend only $7.3 million of its own funds, with the Ministry of Culture picking up the rest of the tab in installments. The final decision was made by Minister of Culture Mariano Rajoy, who is also the campaign manager for Spanish president José María Aznar, who is up for re-election on Mar. 12.

Carmen Laffón
Academy admits woman painter
The Academia de Bellas Artes did make history in January, however, when it admitted the first Spanish female painter to its prestigious circle. Carmen Laffón (b. 1934). She was elected to replace painter Manuel Rivera, who died in 1995. Laffón is best known for her visionary landscapes of Spain's nature preserve, the Coto Doñana.

New contemporary museums
Vallodolid will open a contemporary art museum in 2001, housed in the 16th-century Monastery of San Benito. The permanent collection will consist of more than 800 works by 150 Spanish artists, including Gargallo, Chillida, Tàpies, Saura, Sicilia, Barceló, Muñoz and Pérez Villalta. Among the corporations contributing to the collection are Banco Bilbao Vizcaya, Zara, Eulen and Unión Fenosa.

The cornerstone for Palma de Mallorca's new contemporary art museum was put in place in January. Its founder, publisher Pedro Serra, will donate artworks valued in excess of $1.5 million and loan artworks valued at $5.5 million. Palma de Mallorca is home to branches of the Miró and the March Foundations, both of which sponsor contemporary art exhibits year-round on the island.

The view from Barcelona
At the aforementioned Miró Foundation headquarters in Barcelona, rumors of expansion are in the air. Although foundation spokespersons neither confirm nor deny expansion plans, there is evidence that Kazumasa Katsuta, who holds the world's largest private Miró collection, will grant his collection to the Barcelona foundation in some form -- as donation, acquisition, or long-term loan. The foundation would have to expand in order to accommodate the collection. Katsuta, son of Japanese painter Shimusui Ito, purchased 530 Miró works via Sotheby's in 1991.

Close by, at Barcelona's Fundació Tàpies, U.S. artist Renée Green's three installations are giving Spanish visitors something to think about. Titled "Sombras y Señales" ("Shadows and Signs"), the show represents Green's last five years of work, "connecting the current sensations with history, and the present's story with the deeds of the past." It's on view through Mar. 26, 2000.

Christo and Jean-Claude
M.K. Chiurlionis
The Victim
at the Caixa Foundation
Konstantin Juon
Birth of the Night Stars
at the Caixa Foundation
Isidre Nonell
at Museu d'Art Modern
Isidre Nonell
at Museu d'Art Modern
Sylvia Blanco
Instant Heart Soup
at Galeria Michelle Marxuach
Christo and Jean-Claude were in Barcelona in January, where they gave public presentations of two project proposals. New Yorkers will remember their controversial plan to line Central Park walkways with fabric arches, known as The Gates. The other work, called Over the River, is designed to rise over the Arkansas River in Colorado.

The artists hope to complete one of these projects by 2003. The only obstacle to their dreams are the permits. The pair waited 24 years for permission to "package" the Reichstag. They are financing upcoming projects through the sale of drawings, paintings and models, many of which were exhibited at Barcelona's Joan Prats Gallery and ranged in price from $15,000 to $295,000.

"Russian Symbolism" is the theme of the latest exhibition at Barcelona's Caixa Foundation. The 117 works display a variety that defies description, yet these far-ranging individual artists came from just two basic groups: Diaghilev's "World of Art," and the "Blue Rose" group in Moscow. Early works by Kandinsky and Malevitch show how they painted before they became abstract artists. One of the show's best contributions is its inclusion of paintings by Russian female artists Werefkin, Kardovskaia and Lermontova. There is also an interesting selection of Leon Bakst works in the show, which remains on view through Mar. 26.

Once hailed as the Goya of the 20th century by several French art critics, Isidre Nonell (1872-1911) had little time or opportunity to enjoy praise before typhus cut short his painting career. Barcelona's Museum d'Art Modern recently opened an "anthology" exhibition dedicated to the artist, with 59 oils and 45 drawings. Nonell tends to be known as the "painter of gypsies," because this ethnic group was so often the subject of his work.

Museum director Cristina Mendoza hopes to free Nonell from that limiting label, however. She defines Nonell more as a seeker of color en route to discovering his personal visual language. The chronological progression of his work tends to support her claim, as Nonell's handling of color and light became progressively more skillful and luminous toward the end of his career. After closing in Barcelona on Apr. 2, 2000, the exhibition travels to Madrid's Mapfre Foundation.

Valencia: Zimbel and Leiro
U.S. photographer George S. Zimbel (b. 1929) had his first retrospective exhibition in Spain at Valencia's IVAM. The 120 photographs, which include the famous flying-dress photo of Marilyn Monroe, the Irish Dance Hall and some of Zimbel's better-known Truman photographs, comprise the largest photographic retrospective exhibition ever mounted at Valencia's contemporary art museum.

In the IVAM's Centro del Carmen, 40 wood sculptures by Galician sculptor Francisco Leiro will be on display through March 26, 2000. Known for his ironic, surrealist style, Leiro says his artistic vision comes "from the corner of his eye."

Madrid Galleries
Galería Michelle Marxuach recently hosted a show featuring 138 Puerto Rican artists, titled "Pequeño Formato," or "Small Format." The show's variety was exceptional, with provocative, dynamic work in all media. The works all measured less than 100 x 35 centimeters. The size restriction symbolized "the small island whose artists have large dreams."

YSABEL DE LA ROSA writes on art from Spain.