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Photos by Kirsty Moore
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El Gato Gordo
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El Cap de Barcelona
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La Jirafa Coqueta
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Six years ago this September, my bockety green suitcase and I arrived in El Prat Terminal Two, ready to be greeted by a new city and the man who awaited me. Upon emerging through the doors, arms outstretched for the greatest of embraces, I realised the latter had failed to show. I jerked my suitcase forward and slumped against a neat square of marble. Rocking my neck in an attempt to alleviate mounting irritation, I noticed that directly above me was the chin-groove of a horse. I propped myself up, took a few steps backwards and saw that what I had collapsed against was in fact a majestic sculptural representation of a horse—El Caballo by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Botero’s horse towered there, beautifully toned in its muscularity, with a calming and reassuring air of benign strength, its head slightly reclined, as if ready to tackle, maybe play in, the turmoil which lay beyond the airport’s doors. Botero’s horse witnessed my boyfriend’s arrival, the reconciliation that ensued, my entrance into Barcelona and my inauguration into its sculptural arts.
Like Botero’s horse, the many sculptures of Barcelona have acted as the unwitting voyeurs, props and mediators to the everyday affairs of this city and its people. And since they share our stories, getting to know these silent companions can help us to build a picture of the city we inhabit and the diversity of its neighbourhoods.
Another of Botero’s animalistic sculptures has certainly been witness to, and the subject of, a few yarns. El Gato Gordo is now in his fourth home. Having arrived in Barcelona in 1987, he went from Parc Ciutadella, to the Estadì Olímpic, to Jardín de Baluard and finally to the upper end of the Rambla de Raval. He is no stranger to having the lives of the public literally thrust upon him: his whiskers used as hat-stands, his sturdy back to prop up babies for comedic photos, his plump legs to give respite to smokers and ‘botelloneros’. In peak season, this humble feline attracts many visitors daily; each one coming away amused by the thoroughness with which his anatomy is drawn and the seeming benevolence of his manner.
Botero’s Gato Gordo and El Caballo are not the only members of the animal kingdom that share our narratives and project the carefree nature of Barcelona in the latter half of the 20th century. If we leave the colourful charm of the Rambla de Raval for the loftier allure of Rambla de Catalunya, at one end we will meet a thoughtful bull, El Pensador, and at the other, a provocatively posed giraffe, La Jirafa Coqueta, both by Josep Granyer. Granyer had intended that there be ten ‘surrealist zoo sculptures’ dotted along the Rambla, yet because residents regarded the jestful nature of the statues as inappropriate in such a central position of the city, the plan was aborted and the bull and giraffe were left to assume sole responsibility for the amusement of passersby. Tight-suited, brisk-walking businessmen; meandering, brightly clad tourists; boisterous youths—none can help but let a smile creep onto their faces.
The humour of these pieces is in sharp contrast to Josep Maria Subirich’s controversial Passion Façade which adorns the Sagrada Familia. This presents a radical change in disposition towards the human condition as it pulses a solemn reverence and, notwithstanding the sombre subject matter, it suggests sinfulness and judgement. Perhaps echoing a premeditated disapproval of the hoards of tourists, who come to gawp at the architectural masterpiece to which the sculptures are attached.
In summer, whilst many flee for the weekend to the nearby Costa Brava, others flock to Barceloneta to take some respite from the static haze that envelops the city. Sculptures become meeting points, backrests, oases of shade. Roy Lichtenstein’s El Cap de Barcelona (1992) towers above the chaos; the broad, sweeping brushstrokes in blue, yellow and white, the relief of red dots, the jutting, jagged face, its sheer size and flamboyance prominently convey Barcelona’s confident engagement in Pop Art. You can see the scale of its divergence from the traditional reverence demonstrated by the historical sculptures of Christopher Colombus and Antonio López i López nearby.
This willingness to participate in experiments of contemporary art continues beyond the comforting confines of the older part of the city. If you travel several stops north on the metro to Montbau (L3), you will emerge into an alienating setting—few people, just fast cars and big roads, and the disconcerting hum of hospital machinery. It is here that Los Mistos, the work of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, stands. In this giant sculpture, used or discarded matches fall upon the roadside, others leap triumphantly from the matchbox, one blue flame still burning. The work celebrates the energy of the area, and is, like El Cap de Barcelona, a further assertion of the city’s readiness to put some Pop in its playground.
At times, especially high season, the number of narratives springing up around El Gato Gordo and his zoological friends downtown can be overwhelming. An escape to Nou Barris reminds us that it is not just the sculptures of the city centre who have tales to tell. The neighbourhood has been the location of much immigration, as well as recent urban regeneration. It now boasts an abundance of sculptural works including El Guinea (the fox, another zoological theme) by Julià Riu i Serra and La Flama by Riccard Vaccaro. The latter represents the flame as the origin of culture, alluding to its use by primitive man and as a symbol of artistic inspiration.
It is impossible to account for every curious sculpture, traditional and avant-garde, which adorns this city. These are just a few that have been witness to some of my narratives and the tales of many others. Our unfolding stories are inspired by, and tied up in, their living spaces—they have their own histories and are implicated in ours.
MORE SCULPTURES AROUND THE CITY
- The Lobster/Gambrinus by Javier Mariscal. Pg. Colom/Via Laietana. Metro: Barceloneta. This 10-metre long fibreglass lobster sculpture is the creation of Valencia born artist Javier Mariscal.
- El Peix by Frank Gehry. Pg. Marítim de la Barceloneta - Port Olímpic. Metro: Ciutadella Vila Olímpica. Built for the 1992 Olympic Games by Frank Gehry, the golden stainless steel of El Peix changes colour depending on the position of the sun.
- Miro Mosaic by Joan Miró. La Rambla. Pla de la Boqueria. Metro: Liceu. Joan Miró’s brightly coloured mosaic lies opposite the former site of the old Boqueria city gate on the Rambla.
- Juan Muñoz by A Room Where it Always Rains. Plaça del Mar. Metro: Barceloneta. Part of the renewal project for the 1992 Olympic games, this sombre sculpture by Spanish artist Juan Muñoz includes featureless figures.
- L’Estel Ferit by Rebecca Horn. Playa de la Barceloneta. Metro: Barceloneta. This leaning tower was built in 1992 by German artist Rebecca Horn in homage to Barcelona’s fishing district.
- David and Goliath Sculpture by Antoni Llena. Barcelona Vila Olimpica. Metro: Ciutadella Vila Olímpica. This fragile structure represents the struggle against urban development in Barcelona in the early Nineties.