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|Letter from Spain
by Ysabel de la Rosa
|Madrid's biggest spring art event has been the retrospective exhibition of Antoni Tàpies (b. 1923) at the Reina Sofía National Museum in Madrid, Mar. 7-May 8, 2000. Needless to say, Tàpies is a central figure in Spanish abstraction, and this was the largest show of his work ever presented in Spain. It's obvious from the 90 works in this exhibition, covering 50 years of the artist's career, that the mind behind them is wide-ranging, courageous and sharp.
Tàpies stayed -- and disobeyed -- during Franco's rule. Against all political correctness, he fully embraced his Catalán heritage when it was dangerous to do so and inspired other Catalán artists to do the same.
At a time when Spain found itself isolated from major intellectual trends not only in neighboring Europe, but also in the rest of the world, Tàpies publicly embraced modern psychology and spiritual alchemy, as well as Eastern and Jungian philosophies and themes. It's simply not typical to hear a Spanish artist in his 80s speak of Buddhism, Shamanism, Zen and the philosophy inherent in discarded, household objects. His uniqueness in this regard helps explain why Tàpies is often referred to as "el mago," the magician. He himself characterizes the artist as "a kind of shaman whose works have a therapeutic quality."
The question is, therapeutic for whom -- the artist or the viewer? And in what sense?
Some of the works reveal an almost supernatural skill and mystery, such as The Final Reader, the Letter, painted in 1950. However, much of the work in this exhibition, though possessing a certain presence and monumentality, appears lacking in energy and weak of heart.
His "earthworks" -- large installations done for this retrospective -- look hurried and accidental. The artist's insistence on muddy browns, flat grays and murky whites goes against the very "magic" and shamanic magnetism he claims he finds in the damp earth, a discarded sock or the fallen branches of a tree.
Early in his career, Tàpies began using the wall as a major motif and symbol (curiously, his name means "wall" in Catalán). Like a large estate surrounded by high walls, these works are difficult, if not impossible to enter, even as they are worthy of appreciation and respect.
An incredible tale of a public sculpture in Valencia
Imagine you're a museum director. You come to work one day, and behold, a new sculpture towers in front of your institution. This happened to Valencia's IVAM director Juan M. Bonet when he "inherited" José Sanleón's monumental metal sculpture, The Slave. The only problem was that Bonet didn't want this sculpture, while Manuel Tarancón, director of Valencia's Cultural Council, felt that Sanleón's Slave belonged on IVAM grounds.
Two-hundred artists and arts institution personnel signed a petition recognizing IVAM's autonomy to make its own decisions regarding the placement of works inside and outside the museum. The Cultural Council insisted it was within its rights to place the work where it saw fit, given that the sculpture was owned by Valencia's Public Works Department.
But incredibly, while Bonet, Tarancón and 11 other members of the Cultural Council "opened a dialogue" between their respective entities, the artist made a decision of his own and destroyed his sculpture. Sanleón said he took his dramatic action "to avoid political and cultural conflicts."
Nevertheless, the work's destruction raised as many questions as did its controversial placement. Sanleón sold Slave to Valencia's Public Works Department. Did he still own it? Yes, according to Sanleón, because Public Works never paid him for it. What's more, Public Works made no move to halt the sculpture's destruction or to pick up its pieces.
In a touching gesture, Consuelo Ciscar, director of Valencia's Cultural and Artistic Heritage Promotion, left a bouquet of flowers by the charred fragments that once composed Slave.
Madrid's contemporary gallery shows are, as always, an interesting mix. Mil Lubroth's show earlier this spring at Tórculo Gallery displayed the kind of wit and humor this painter and mixed-medium artist is known for. More than a third of the works sold to Spanish and international collectors at prices ranging from $400 to $1,000. The show was curated by Catherine Coleman, who is the contemporary art and photography curator at the Reina Sofía.
The multi-talented Marina Anaya had her first show at Galería Desiree Liéven [firstname.lastname@example.org]. Titled "Iron and Paper," the exhibition featured drawings of everyday objects that have a simple, geometric feel. Anaya also works in commercial graphic design.
Galería Arnes Ropke [email@example.com] is having a run on mystery lately. The gallery's February show featured works by Max Neumann -- dark, solid and brooding. In March, the gallery featured work by Zoran Music, whose oil paintings have both a haunting and comforting air to them. Born in 1909, Music's roots are Slavic, though he lived in Venice for many years. He was interned at Dachau during World War II, detained by the Nazis for his "anti-fascist" ideas. Fame came late to the artist, with an important show in Paris in 1995, titled "We are not the last ones." The Arnés Röpke show has one pastel from that series, which is offered for sale at approximately $30,000. Prices for the 12 works in the show range from $7,700 to $161,000.
In his show, "Miradas y Geometrías" at Galería Ángeles Penché, Antón Hurtado was saved by his titles. They provided the clues necessary to appreciating his abstract, floating geometries. Hurtado's diptych El Empeño de Permanecer harks back to the pyramids of ancient Egypt. Translated, the title can mean "the desire to remain" or "the desire to continue to be," phases that link the image to many layers of meaning. His works range in price from $1,000 to $8,500.
Another artist seeking permanence and continuity in his work is Rafael Canales, whose paintings were on view this spring at Galería Astarté. Canales is a self-taught painter, although he trained in printmaking in the E. Maté studio. His paintings definitely deserve a place in Spain's strong abstract tradition, established decades earlier by Tàpies, Miró, Saura and others. Free of specific images, these mixed-media works on canvas are rich in texture and subtle in color, with an ever-present washed-out glow characteristic of the houses and countryside that rest beneath Southern Spain's fierce sunlight. These are soothing paintings. Their freshness and silence encourage you to breathe deep and let the light in. The price: from $1,800 to $4,200.
Speaking of breathing, Pilar Lara's photo-creations at Galería 57 were a breath of fresh air on the Madrid photography scene. Just odd enough to push you and get you thinking, but not so odd to take the delight out of the view.
Described as a Spanish bridge between Edward Hopper and Giorgio de Chirico, Ángel Mateo Charris has filled Madrid's Centro Cultural Conde Duque with 100 mixed-medium works that represent his private world, which he calls "Charrilandia" in a clear reference to "Disneylandia." Charris claims diverse influences -- literature, pop art, "neo-metaphysics," social criticism, cinema and comics. The exhibition, curated by Hopper authority Gail Levin, proves that Charrilandia is a fun place to visit -- and admission was free.
Guggenheim working on four-year plan
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao director Juan Ignacio Vidarte announced that he will present the museum's four-year strategic plan to the Basque parliament this summer. Among the key points: 1) Maintaining the annual visitor count of one million plus and the number of museum "friends," currently at 11,000. (The Gugg currently has more "friends" than the Prado.) 2) Increase acquisition funds, now at $42 million.
Requests for funding from both the public and private sector will be based on the Gugg's "return on investment" to the Basque community, figured at approximately $7 billion.
Recent exhibitions at the Gugg Bilbao include Spain's first retrospective of Italian artist and New York resident Francesco Clemente. The 150 works, shown previously at the Guggenheim's Frank Lloyd Wright building in New York, include paintings, pastels, frescos, illustrations and sculpture. It's on view through June 4, 2000.
Truth in rumor
February's rumors are official now: The Miró Foundation in Barcelona will indeed receive 23 Mirós from the collection of Japanese businessman Kazumasa Katsuta, as well as two works from María Dolors Miró and Joan Punyet Miró, Miró's daughter and grandson.
Nice numbers: 25 works to celebrate the foundation's 25th anniversary.
To accommodate the paintings, the foundation will add 620 square meters of exhibition space, designed by architect Jaume Freixa. Freixa is vice-president of the foundation and was responsible for the 1988 addition. The donated works will arrive over a nine-year period and include Paisatge de Mont-roig (1914), Le rouge des hirondelles et le rose irisé (1947) and Cheveu pursuivi par deux planètes (1968). All the works pre-date 1974.
Barceló ringing in the numbers
Miquel Barceló's mixed-media work, La Sal de las Lágrimas, was the highest-priced item in Spain's January auctions, sold by Ansorena at $168,000. Barceló recently entered the world of music in a joint venture with the band Satéllites. Each 10-inch vinyl record in the band's "Barbarella" collection will be accompanied by a "plastic" visual work by Barceló and will feature commentary by Joan Vich. The disk sets will be produced in editions of 500 and sold via the Internet.
New gallery in Vallodolid
Galería Teresa Cuadrado opened in Valladolid in March with an exposition of work by Madrid Pop artist Eduardo Arroyo. The show includes 20 works in various media: oil, collage, sculpture and drawings. Prices range from $2,200 to $252,000. The gallery's next show will be works by Miró.
The year 1999 was the best yet for Spanish auctions, which totaled $84 million in sales at Spain's 14 major houses. This is up from $56 million in 1998. The rising trend has maintained itself in the first quarter of this year without experiencing the usual January-February sales dip.
February auction sales in Spain topped $6.3 million. Some February's sales include Goya's famous Los Toros de Burdeos, a set of four lithographs, dated 1825, from an edition of 100, which sold for $119,000 at Velázquez Sebastas), and Francisco Bayeu y Subias's Allegories of Public Happiness, Virtue and Honor, a pair of oil paintings that went for $154,000 at Alcalá Subastas.
A 13th-century codex by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, called Estoria de los Godos (History of the Goths), sold for $98,000 at Velázquez Subastas. Ansorena sold a Picasso drawing for $42,000 and an oil painting, Sunset, by Benjamín Palencia for $36,400.
Castellana Subhastes in Barcelona sold an exquisite beachscape by José Navarro Llorens for $77,000, while sister house Castellana Subastas in Madrid sold Moonlight in Caudebec en Caux by Eugène Boudin, also for $77,000, and an abstract painting by José María Sicilia for $38,500.
Paintings by some of Spain's best-known late-19th- and early 20th-century artists were auctioned in April. "Pillo de Playa" (Beach Scoundrel) by Sorolla, sold at $700,000, and "Pierrette" by Raimundo de Madrazo, sold at $50,000. Both works were auctioned by Arte, Información y Gestíon in Seville. Ricardo de Madrazo y Garreta's "El patio" sold for $119,000, auctioned by the newly established Habana Subastas.
Taxes: good news and bad
Thanks to a law passed last December, businesses in Spain can now deduct the sales tax paid on art purchases from their tax bills at year-end. Spain's art community isn't celebrating yet, however. The law applies only to businesses, not museums, foundations or other nonprofit organizations.
In order to pay inheritance taxes, Antonio Saura's wife and daughter will donate 90 of the artist's "important" works to the Reina Sofía Museum. The RS doesn't have room to display all the Saura works, so Spain's Ministry of Culture plans to create exhibition space for these works and others by Gerardo Rueda and Gustavo Torner. The collection would be housed in Cuenca, the town that has been the scene of continual struggles between the Saura heirs and former Saura foundation organizers over the artist's legacy.
YSABELA DE LA ROSA writes on art from Spain.