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    Letter from Madrid
by Ysabel de la Rosa
 
     
 
Minister of culture
Pilar del Castillo
 
Newly re-elected President José María Aznar has appointed Pilar del Castillo as minister of culture, education and sports. Del Castillo, 48, has a doctorate in law from Madrid's Complutense University and she directed the Center of Sociological Investigations during Aznar's previous term. She professes to be "passionate" about the visual arts, especially Picasso and Velázquez, and classical music and opera. Del Castillo replaces Mariano Rajoy, who was made Spain's first vice-president.

Soon after her appointment, del Castillo made it clear she's a woman of action. In her first month in office, she replaced the number two man, secretary of culture Miguel Ángel Cortés, with author Luis Alberto de Cuenca. De Cuenca is former director of Spain's National Library and a poet and translator of some renown. To date, de Cuenca has showed up at one art opening at the Reina Sofía and has yet to make any comments on his goals for Spain's numerous art institutions.

Del Castillo's most controversial move so far is the dismissal of José Guirao, director of the Reina Sofía Museum for eight years. Guirao is a member of the socialist party, whose cultural liaison, Salvador Clotas, strongly protested Guirao's dismissal and threatened to cease collaboration with Aznar's party (Partido Popular) in museum-related matters.

Guirao will be replaced by Juan Manuel Benet, formerly director of IVAM, Valencia's modern art museum. Benet is the author of El diccionario de las vanguardias españoles (The Dictionary of the Spanish Vanguard Movements) and son of Antonio Bonet, current director of the museum of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes.

Kosme de Barañano will succeed Benet as director of the IVAM. An art history professor at the Universidad de País Vasco, de Barañano is considered one of the world's leading authorities on Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida. Neither last nor least among the changes is the resignation of Benigno Pendás, director general of bellas artes, who voluntarily left his post after Cortés was dismissed. The minister's office also announced that Prado director Fernando Checa will continue in his post for "the next few months." Stay tuned for more cultural changes in Spain.

     
 
Miguel Angel Blanco
Yew Tree from the Stream of Hell
at La Caja Negra
 
Art in a box
"The name just happened," says gallery director Fernando Cordero de la Lastra. "I simply liked the sound of La Caja Negra (The Black Box). I used the name for the publisher's imprint on the first art book I published, and then decided to use it for the gallery as well. Now that I know all the symbolic connotations a black box has, I'm glad I chose that name instead of something more typical." Or, he might have said, more graphic.

La Caja Negra is strictly a graphic arts gallery. Its artist roster includes both "blockbuster" artists such as Miquel Barceló and up-and-coming ones like Unai San Martín, whose photo engravings will be on display at the gallery in July during PHotoEspaña 2000.

Situated in central Madrid, La Caja Negra fills a crucial gap in the Spanish contemporary art scene, one where classic graphic arts have languished for lack of recognition and sales.

De la Lastra has worked in graphics arts and galleries for more than 20 years. In addition to monthly shows, the gallery has a large stock of lithographs and etchings from a wide variety of Spanish artists, including Miró, Picasso, Serrano, and Alcaín. Each exhibition is accompanied by a limited-edition hardbound catalogue, and the gallery will continue to print art books, apart from its catalogue series.

The gallery's most recent show featured works by Miguel Ángel Blanco. Using natural materials -- grasses, poppies, rice grains, leaves -- Blanco blows paint over arrangements of these objects on colored paper. His technique may sound like "Jackson Pollock goes camping," but the visual result is hypnotic, with a decided Zen feel, a refined and accomplished understatement that invites long looking.

To contact the gallery, email to lacajanegra@teleline.es.

Third edition of PHotoEspaña
PHotoEspaña 2000 runs June 14-July 16 in central Madrid. The selection of exhibitions, spread through various galleries, museums and other spaces in the city, is even more interesting than last year's, thanks to the provocative and dramatic work chosen to go with the theme "Frontiers." In this case, frontiers refer to boundaries between times, cultures, places and, as the event's catalogue suggests, frontiers created by juxtapositions and intersections of any of these elements.

     
 
Otto Steinert
Passerby
1950
at Museo Colecciones ICO
 
Major shows include: Harry Callahan at Fundación la Caixa; Otto Steinert at Museo Colecciones ICO; Gilbert Garcin," Life Is a theater," at NH Hotel Nacional; Carl Damman's "Album" at the Anthropology Museum; "Kusakabe Kimbei: Shashin, 19th-Century Japanese Photography" and "Yasumasa Morimura, Art History" at Fundación Telefónica.

The Círculo de Bellas Artes is debuting the first retrospective of photojournalist James Nachtwey. The Centro Cultural de la Villa will host three photography exhibitions, one of Yann Arthus-Bertrand's aerial photography, one of American Pictorialist Alvin Langdon Coburn's work, and "Slaughterhouse" by Argentinian Paula Luttringer. This last show is as thoughtful as it is startling. Luttringer uses tightly cropped, ghostly black and white images from a slaughterhouse as a metaphor for the uses and abuses of power.

PhotoEspaña organizer Alejandro Castellote announced that the event would have fewer exhibitions this year than last to keep quality high. Even so, there's more to see in one month than even the most dedicated photography aficionado can hope to take in -- 70 displays in all. For detailed information, and a map of the exhibition locations, see www.photoes.com.

     
 
Joaquin Sorolla
Party in Andalusia
$392,000
at La Habana, Madrid
 
Dalí paints Sir Laurence
 
New auction house opens
The Castellana family of auction houses has grown from 1 to 4. Castellana 150 opened a little more than two years ago in north Madrid, followed by Castellana Inmobiliaria (real estate), Castellana Subhastes in Barcelona, and now La Habana, also situated in north Madrid just a "stone's throw" from Castellana 150. The new house's first auction was impressive and included works by Sorolla, Joaquín Sunyer and Ricardo de Madrazo y Garreta and Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, from the famous Madrazo family of painters. Non-Spanish works included a 15th-century painting by Martín Bernat, with a starting price of $245,000, and an oil by Eugène Boudin, starting at $21,000. Belén Arróspide is director general of La Habana. Art historian Benito Navarrete is director of admissions.

The Castellana Group decided to open its second art auction house in Madrid after Sotheby's pulled out of the market.

Dalí and Sir Laurence Rinoceronte
The Dalí Foundation's ten-year shopping spree continues. Since 1990, the foundation has purchased 48 works totaling more than $14 million. Last year the Cheatham jewels -- a fantastic collection of jewelry designed by Dalí with moving parts -- were added to the collection and are in storage until an appropriate exhibition space can be found. In May the foundation purchased Dalí's portrait of Laurence Olivier as Richard the Third, a work Dalí described as "possibly one of the most sensational, holistic and complete Dalí portraits."

"In Sir Laurence, I see a rhinoceros," said the painter. "He has two faces, a divided personality; an ideal subject for expressing the meteorology of the rinoceronte." Dalí added a boar, ants and horses to keep Sir Richard Rhino company. The portrait cost approximately $700,000.

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