Antoni Tàpies ©VEGAP/Fundació Tàpies
Figura sobre fusta cremada (1947)
The reopening of the Fundació Tàpies comes as welcome news for art lovers, and returns a pivotal piece to Barcelona’s Modernist Route. An early Rationalist masterpiece created by Lluís Domenech i Montaner between 1879 and 1885, and most celebrated for its use of industrial, unpolished brick on the façade, the building was last out of action for an extended period 20 years ago, as it was decked out for use as a museum. The issue of taking the time to make a suitable use of space is heightened by the fact that Antoni Tàpies is an artist who is overarchingly preoccupied with the intersection of space and matter, as well as the way in which spaces can modify the objects that occupy them; it is no coincidence to see the Fundació reopened under the banner 'Tàpies i els llocs de l’art'—'Tàpies and the places of art'.
The structure of the building and exhibition spaces bear this out tendency. On entering the Fundació, we immediately descend one storey into a main hall, passing a series of paintings and sculptures from the previous two decades, many new to the museum (such as the stirring 'Llistat', 2008). Yet we are invited to commence our voyage with a further downward movement into the basement. This space, a type of artistic unconscious, groups together a stunning array of items from Tàpies’s personal collection under the title 'En primer lloc' ('In the first place').
Never before seen at the Fundació, the exhibition includes a Japanese tengu from the 12th century, canvases by Klee, Mexican preclassical terracotta figures from 500 BCE and a mid-19th century Zande Harp from the Congo. On our way back up, our view of Tàpies’s works is reconfigured by our encounter with these objects. The effect is repeated when, up on the first floor (home to early delights such as 'Autoretrat', 'Figura sobre fusta cremada' and 'Dues figures', all from 1947), we gaze down through the large opening, taking in the previously-glimpsed pieces from the main hall. This constant movement through, and reinterpretation of, space and objects are firmly in line with the artist’s philosophy.
The building's renovation works were carried out by Ábalos + Sentkiewicz Arquitectos, with detailed dossiers of the architects’ proposals found in a temporary exhibition on the second floor. The first aim of the project, improving fire safety and disabled access, hardly sets the pulses racing. The most notable superficial change, meanwhile, is a paint job: the re-coating in white of the trellis-style mezzanine and several pillars and walls, that were previously a deep brown and had in some cases seemed to overshadow the works themselves.
A major victory is the liberation of the whole of Domenech i Montaner’s original building for exhibition purposes, including an impressive new auditorium. This was achieved by reforming the hidden back of the building, multiplying the amount of office space there from 185 square metres to some 376 square metres.
The highlight, however, for which there is the longest queue, is a sock. The Fundació’s key objective was to clear up the rooftop space of the office building, formerly a makeshift dump and a blot on the visual landscape when contemplated from Carrer València. As Tàpies’s crowning 'Núvol i silla' ('Cloud and chair') responded to the need to shore up an unattractive vertical drop between the Fundació and the buildings around it, so the new terrace plays host to the artist’s most controversial piece: the mock-up for the giant 'Mitjó' (sock in Catalan) he had been commissioned to make in 1991 to be the centrepiece within the MNAC’s oval atrium; the project was eventually abandoned, but not before polarising Catalunya’s artistic and political community, which may go some way to explaining the public's interest in seeing it today. Or perhaps, they just enjoy the sight of huge footwear and like to think of what might have been.
From May 14th until August 1st, temporary exhibition slots will look at the workbooks of the materialist Eva Hesse, alongside a consideration of the convergences and divergences of the brilliant Israeli psychoanalyst-painter Bracha Ettinger and the fascinating collage artist Ria Verhaeghe, from Belgium.
Please note that this is an extended version of the review published in the April 2010 edition of Metropolitan.