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Photo by Tracy Gilbert
Public art - Homenatge a Picasso
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Photo by Tracy Gilbert
Public art - Park benches - Beverly Pepper
The year the Olympic Games came to Barcelona was a monumental one which changed many aspects of life in the city. The ambitious Cultural Olympiad programmes that surround each Games are designed to showcase the arts and culture of the chosen location to the rest of the world and their legacies remain visible long after the hurdles are packed up and the medals are handed out. Certainly here in Barcelona the works of art commissioned especially for the Games, (that dot the city but are particularly visible along the Barceloneta waterfront), have endured long after the hype.
Many grand scale works of art by major artists can still be enjoyed, free of charge, you just need to know where to look. Some of them remain as they were, some of them have been damaged and sometimes they are in unexpected areas of the city. The artists may surprise you; they did me.
Eduardo Chillida, the Basque sculptor whose powerful works grace many highly visible locations in Spain and abroad, created an amazing suspended claw that hangs from cables over a lake in the Parc de la Creueta del Coll and weighs over 50 tons. His Elogi de l’aigua (Eulogy to Water) was made in the former quarry in 1987 and simultaneously encloses and exposes space, speaks of the relationship between water and air and defines both gravity and levity. It is a wonder to behold.
The park’s artistic credentials continue with Ellsworth Kelly’s monolithic l’Escultura (Totem), which soars 10 metres into the air. The upright plinth made by the American minimalist painter and sculptor in 1987 can be found not far from the Chillida installation. Elsewhere in the city, an even taller, stainless steel version of Totem, from the same year, stands at the north end of the Santiago Calatrava bridge in Clot.
One of the most playful examples of sculpture commissioned is by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen who created Mistos (Matches 1991-1992). The mammoth book of matches, both active and spent, is installed at the corner of Avinguda del Cardenal Vidal i Barraquer and Carrer del Pare Mariana. Why matches? Why not? The Dutch couple, who were known for their enormous clothespegs and other household objects, wanted to create something that was symbolic of fire but concealed within a simple and everyday object.
The most recognisable work of Joan Brossa, who uses letters as sculptures, is probably the aptly named Barcino installation (1995) in the Plaça Nova, outside the Cathedral, near the ruins of the medieval city wall. Barcino is the Roman appellation for Barcelona. There is also his more remote alphabetical installation Poema visual transitable en tres partes, (Transitable visual poem in three parts 1984), hidden away at the Velòdrom de la Vall d’Hebron.
It was some time before I learnt that one of my daughter’s favourite playtime places in the Parc de l’Estació del Nord was actually part of an installation by Beverly Pepper. The American sculptor collaborated with Andreu Arriola and Carmen Fiol to beautify a formerly unsightly area of town once dominated by train tracks. Her Sol i Ombra (Sun and Shade) work features Spiral of Trees, a sunken sylvan spiral in the shade and the snakelike Cel Caigut (Fallen Sky), clearly a Gaudí tribute, which stands proudly in the sun. The project was commissioned by the forward-thinking urban planner and architect Oriol Bohigas who gave a huge amount of artistic freedom to the artists commissioned for the Games.
Across town, on the Passeig Picasso, Tàpies, Catalunya’s favourite son, created his Homenatge a Picasso (Homage to Picasso 1983) next to the Parc de la Ciutadella. Most passers-by may mistake the sculpture for a working ad for some sort of surrealist bathroom. When the complex installation is functioning, water streams down the insides of a glass cube that contains a collection of furniture, fabrics and hardware. A fitting nod to perhaps the most innovative artist ever born.
Besides the splendid offerings of the permanent collection of the Fundació Joan Miró in Montjuïc, admirers of Barcelona’s other local boy wonder may bask in his glory in the eponymous park near Plaça de Espanya, where his Dona i l’Ocell (Woman and Bird 1983) sculpture dominates the skyline or in the bold patterns and bright colours of the circular mosaic paving installation, (Plaça de la Boqueria, 1976) in the centre of La Rambla.
The late Juan Muñoz created a poetic work for his 1992 commission. Una Habatacio on Sempre Plou (The Room Where It Always Rains) contains five round-bottomed figures in classic Muñoz stance; ignoring each other. They are further isolated from the viewer by the large cage that contains them. Thoughtfully placed in a small grove of sycamores on the Passeig Marítim the piece is beautifully enigmatic. The installation comes with its own security and has survived two decades in good shape.
A little further on in the Barceloneta neighbourhood, German artist Rebecca Horn acknowledges the pain of the local disenfranchised inhabitants in her enigmatic stack of rusty steel boxes called L’Estel Ferit (The Wounded Star). She provides the viewer much food for thought with the precariously balanced sculpture. Is it a lighthouse, a beacon, or a housing tenement falling down? Its verticality challenges the horizontal shoreline in the same way that gentrification has challenged the former fishing village. It is even more haunting when illuminated from within, a system that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
In spite of the good intentions of the Cultural Olympiad to provide permanent homes for the works of art by world-class artists, maintenance issues have kept some of the 1992 collection from surviving. There are a few you may have missed or might be overlooking.
Greek-born Jannis Kounellis created Balança romana, (Roman Scale) as one of the eight installations for the ‘Configuracions Urbanes’ exhibition in Barceloneta. Located at the junction between Carrer Baluard and Almirall Cervera in the heart of Barceloneta, it was a tribute to the history of imports and exports in the port. It comprised of a vertical series of burlap bags filled with coffee beans. Materials associated with industrial shipping are a recurrent motif in the work of Kounellis, who was born in the Greek port town of Piraeus. Displaced by construction works the sculpture has not yet found a new home.
Near the former site of the Kounellis, in the Plaça de Pau Vila, one can still see a partial version of Veles e vents (Sails and Winds) by German artist Lothar Baumgarten. A tribute to the early ‘wind rose’ navigational device. The installation spells out, in Catalan, the eight directional points of the compass. Unfortunately the integrity of the piece has been compromised by the placement of roads in the area of the Palau del Mar and several of the cast iron letters are missing.
Italian ‘Arte Povera’ artist Mario Merz created a series of neon panels in the pavement of Moll de la Barceloneta, near Carrer Almirante Cervera. Also created as part of the Urban Configuration series, Creixent en aparença (Crescendo appare), gives a visual face to the concept of Fibonacci numbers (where each successive number is the previous one added together). Technical problems have kept the installation from working and the lifeless glass blocks, almost indecipherable in a 160-metre line, are a shadow of their former selves.
Before the MACBA appeared in the Raval one of the most strikingly creative contributions to the neighbourhood was a mural by Keith Haring, the American social activist and artist. In Plaça Salvador Seguí, painted one day in February 1989, Tots juntament podem aturar la sida (Together We Can All Stop Aids) was a kind of art performance, for those lucky enough to observe its creation. The young Haring undertook the Barcelona project in the last year before his own death from AIDS. When the wall was threatened with demolition the MACBA replicated it in a prominent location near the Eduardo Chillida tile wall. This version, alas, also proved to be temporary. However it is thought that the museum is still hoping to recreate the mural sometime in the future.