Photo by Alex Sharp
Erotic park homeLa Taula de les Prenyades
Just off the Carretera de Mieres, a road between Banyoles and St. Miquel de Campmajor, in northern Catalunya, the thick stretch of forest looks like any other. Deep green clutches of trees cling to the hills. Lush, small meadows nestle into woodland clearings. An occasional bird of prey circles overhead. It would be hard to guess that just out of sight, veiled by the juniper and pine trees and cordoned off by elaborate iron gates, there lies a six-hectare paradise of erotic art, neatly spaced and elegantly presented throughout the forest.
This is the Can Ginebreda bosc d’escultures (sculpture park), an ongoing project founded and maintained by local artist Xicu Cabanyes. All the exhibits within the forest are his own work, a collection which has grown to well over 100 pieces since the Seventies. Cabanyes is known for his bold style and sensual aesthetics, and the open-air gallery contains a mixture of enigmatic curvaceous abstracts, provocative larger-than-life genitalia, and explicit nudes in various poses. Although the statues are the forest’s most striking feature, it’s actually the trees that give the park its name: ginebrer is Catalan for juniper.
Situated in the Porqueres region, about two hours drive northwest of Barcelona, the enclosed forest sprawls loosely up a gradual hill. Mid-way up sits Cabanyes’s workshop, a one-storey building with one of its walls formed from concrete human bottoms, modelled from life on Cabanyes’s friends. The Catalan sculptor comes to his workshop almost every day, along with assistant Roger Guillem who has been working with him for the past few months. Inside the workshop is a treasure trove of art-in-progress and completed pieces for other exhibitions, along with Cabanyes’s ample collection of Catalan newspaper clippings featuring the park, all pinned to the wall.
Further up the hillside the forest opens out to spectacular views of the Pyrenees, still capped with a white frost even in a baking summer sun. Alongside the views stands a stone half-man, half-woman, growing from the same body into two separate kissing heads. On another peak is Monument al llit, a four-pillared statue, headed by death in one corner and a pregnant woman in another. Down the way, where the trees are thicker, a collection of older stone pieces, part of the ‘Camins d’aigua’ series, showcase Cabanyes’s integration of his art with nature. The carved abstracts are blended into the landscape by a greenish lichen coating their bases, and are designed to catch and filter rainwater with striking optical effects, through a series of intricate channels.
The forest feels like a unique space for a permanent art exhibition, but Cabanyes is modest about his originality. “Sculpture parks in Europe are nothing new, he told Metropolitan. “I think Bomarzo was one of the first,” referring to the legendary ‘Monster’s Grove’ in central Italy, designed in the 16th century by Pier Francesco Orsini, and later restored in the early Seventies by the Bettini family.
Bomarzo is just one of the many artistsic influences that Cabanyes cites from various centuries and countries. Francesc (Xicu) Cabanyes i Collell was born in 1945 to farm-tenants living first in Serinyá and later in Banyoles. He started working at the age of 12. At 16, he was working in a carpenter’s shop, and began experimenting with earthenware figurines and wood-carving. Many of his early self-taught creations were inspired by the vivid style of Swiss surrealist sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
In the Seventies, Cabanyes founded the Grup Tint de Banyoles, an artistic project that organised talks and lectures on visual and communicative art as well as playing a part in popular opposition to Franco. In fact, this was one of the motives that drew him to the idea of Can Ginebreda. “I wanted to create a space where people could move freely throughout the art…but,” he added with total sincerity, “I also wanted to annoy the Francoists.”
In recent years, the park’s erotic tone has attracted negative attention from various visitors. One of his more earthy pieces is a stone table topped with a cluster of heavily pregnant women, either in the act of giving birth or about to do so. “English people don’t seem to like the pregnant aesthetic,” Cabanyes said, somewhat confused. “One man went so far as to say to me that he could never eat food prepared by a pregnant woman.”
In other instances, it is fair to conclude that the artist himself has actively courted controversy. A perfect example is the 1981 construction of Calze Felatori, a buttercup yellow stone chalice in the shape of a penis being fellated. Cabanyes organised a procession round Girona, and a polyester model of the sculpture was paraded towards the city’s Cathedral. Calze Felatori later lost him an exhibition contract after the commissioning gallery owner’s wife saw the piece and was shocked by it. But Cabanyes is philosophical about all criticism of his style: “When you put something in the public eye, it’s a risk you take.”
The sculptures do not all share the same erotic undertone. Some are stark, and overtly political, such as Txernóbil made in part by a rusty disused bomb-casing and a collection of skull-faced pebbles, or A la llibertat, a giant concrete and iron chain obelisk rising towards the sky. Cabanyes claimed that in every work in the park there lurks a political edge: “Love, birth, death—they are all ideologies.”
Most of the materials used in Can Ginebreda are sourced locally—the iron comes from a friend’s scrapyard, and every time Cabanyes visits he comes away with something new. It adds an extra personal dimension to the work. “Every material is a language,” he said.
One of his most innovative uses of local resources comes in one of the forest’s larger offerings, a giant cupola formed from metal and housing insulation. Inside the huge, hollow structure, the walls are covered with a collection of second-hand religious icon moulds salvaged from nearby Olot, known for its iconography industry. It is possible to enter and walk round the eerie church-like enclosure, with a single round window at the top providing natural light. In the cupola’s centre, Cabanyes has carved his own icon, a towering, paganesque, concrete nude woman.
All the sculptures at Can Ginebreda are Cabanyes’s, but he is open to supporting the work of other emerging artists from Catalunya and the rest of Europe, and invited several to contribute the sculptures that line the car park and approach to the forest; German sculptor Bernd Zimmermann, for example, contributed a stone piece called Ganimedes. In addition, Cabanyes is currently housing an exhibition of new European art in a gallery space in the park’s restaurant—a modern, terraced eatery where, among the juniper trees and views of the Pyrenees, fresh gin and tonics provide the perfect relaxation after an afternoon’s exploration of the strange and wonderful world of Can Ginebreda.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Take the AP-7 / E-15 heading North from Barcelona until you pass Girona, then C66 to Banyoles. Finally the Carretera de Mieres (GE-524) towards St Miquel de Santmajor leads straight to the left-hand turn off for the forest. Road signs begin to appear once in Banyoles. See their website for more information and a map.
Entrance to the park costs €4.
www.canginebreda.com (in Catalan, Spanish, English and French)
First published July 2008. Updated August 2010.