divendres, 9 de març del 2007

Barcelona and Modernity (a The New York Times)

A banda de la crítica del temut Michael Kimmelman, crític d'art de The New York Times, que reprodueixo a continuació, us deixo un parell d'enllaços amb impressions des del front sobre l'exposició Barcelona & Modernity i el ressó de l'article del Times a la premsa catalana.

guillemdefak/blog: Gallina de piel, New York Times & Modernity. I anteriors: Stress & Modernity, Comença la festa, Redecora la teva vida, Aguantem la respiració, Premsa & Modernity, Ajilimojili & Modernity.

AVUI: El 'New York Times' elogia la pintura de Casas i Nonell


Art Review | 'Barcelona and Modernity'
A Seaport Abuzz With Cultural Ferment
Published: March 9, 2007

In Barcelona there is no need to prepare the revolution, simply because it is always ready. It leans out of the window on the street every day.

That was the city’s governor talking in 1909, in the midst of the half-century or so of tumult surveyed by the fascinating, but not perfectly satisfying, “Barcelona and Modernity,” now at the Metropolitan Museum.

The show’s subtitle is “Gaudí to Dalí,” lest the public be deterred from an exhibition that’s in fact heavy on Catalan heroes like the great (and vastly underappreciated) architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the whimsical jewelry designer Lluís Masriera and the painters Isidre Nonell and Ramon Casas (who, despite having passed out of fashion, was better than Picasso for many years; it was Casas, by the way, who owned the very first sports car in town, and his prestige and élan inspired the Dada artist Francis Picabia to develop his famous mania for them).

You can’t blame the museum for not calling the exhibition “From Romà Ribera to Josep de Togores.” Nobody would come (and in the case of those two, for good reason). The Met show stocks up on Mirós and Picassos, just to be safe — too many Picassos, actually.

It’s easy to assume, at a glance, that Catalan artists and architects produced provincial knockoffs of Art Nouveau or neo-Classicism. But the old capital-of-culture concept — that art beamed out from centers like Paris or Vienna to the periphery — doesn’t account for Barcelona. It acted as a prism, absorbing but also refracting what came from abroad.

The show begins with moody Symbolist and sunny, salon-style pictures from the turn of the 20th century, which are not so memorable (save for Casas’s mural for the cafe Els Quatre Gats of himself and his gangly friend Pere Romeu, a failed painter, on a tandem bicycle), but no worse than much of what was done in Paris. Rooms alternate between art and design. Designers like Masriera, Josep M. Jujol, Gaspar Homar and Joan Busquets, integrating furniture, painting, lighting, metalwork and a slew of global influences in hybrid objects, produce the first knockouts, which also describes the folding screen by Gaudí in the shape more or less of bat wings; shy of having the Casa Batlló transported to New York, it’s the best we can get of him.

No museum can conjure up a city, especially one as physically remarkable as Barcelona. Gaudí’s buildings need to be walked around. You need to go up onto the hill of Montjuïc, where you get a panorama of the knotty Gothic quarter, the onetime capital of a Mediterranean empire, nestled inside the utopian sprawl of the 19th-century Eixample, Europe’s first true urban grid plan.

The closest you come to a panorama in the exhibition is a black lacquer panel, a dining room decoration made by Jaume Busquets and Lluís Bracons, showing a bird’s-eye view of the harbor mobbed with ships, the Gothic quarter receding in the background below a flock of biplanes. It’s marvelous.

If the city was not Paris in 1900, it was nonetheless a proud, strange, heroic place. The period of its history covered here begins roughly with the Universal Exposition of 1888, which signaled the resurgence of Catalan prosperity and nationalism. It ends with the defeat of Republican forces in 1939 in the civil war at the hands of Gen. Francisco Franco, who imposed fascism on Spain, suppressed all Catalan culture and basically turned off the lights and left Barcelona to rot.

Between those years, the city was one of Europe’s great petri dishes of political and cultural ferment. The population was exploding. A new rail line linked it to Paris. Industry thrived, above all the textile industry, with fresh construction in tow. Art followed wealth, as usual.

And the short-lived Quatre Gats (the “four cats” in Catalan slang meant “just a few guys”) was where the best artists congregated. It fostered a new bohemianism that aspired to rival Paris’s. Over the years nostalgia has exaggerated its reputation. But many artists introduced their works there, including hundreds of the deft, facile portrait sketches by Casas and Picasso (the Met has a few) that provide a cultural who’s who of the day, and the cafe even spawned a glossy publication with articles and reviews from Paris and reproductions of drawings by Four Cats regulars.

So the city was booming. Earlier in the 19th century, the central government in Madrid had allowed Barcelona’s medieval walls to be demolished, and the Enlargement, the Eixample, provided fresh boulevards and squares for the new affluent classes. They lived beside appalling, fetid congestion in the old center, where the working poor were the ones leaning out the windows, as the governor put it, and calling for revolution.

With its stress on luxury objects, the show mentions but doesn’t dwell on the fact that Barcelona back then was also called “the rose of fire” and the “city of bombs” for a reason. There were endless battles among anarchists, Stalinists and republicans, and waves of strikes, terrorist attacks and police reprisals. Twenty-one people were slaughtered in a bombing of the Liceu opera house in 1893. The police forced confessions under torture and staged public executions by garroting. There was more rioting when Madrid conscripted troops for a war in Morocco. Dozens of churches were torched. The military shot hundreds in the streets.

And during the late 1910s and early 1920s, Barcelona was the site of more than 800 terrorist assassinations, among them the killing of the Spanish prime minister by three Catalan anarchists, which led to a military coup that installed a dictatorship in Spain in 1923.

Apropos of all this, Nonell drew beggars huddling in shawls in the vein of Goya. Casas painted the garrotings. But it’s telling that the arts in Barcelona thrived despite and amid all this chaos, and mostly with no special regard for it.

Instead, a succession of elite movements, nationalist and internationalist in inspiration, adopting names like Modernisme, Noucentisme and Vibracionismo, unfolded. Unless you’re already familiar with them, it’s nearly impossible to make heads or tails of them from the show. Suffice it to say that they all shared a desire that Barcelona take a place on the world stage, on its own terms.

That’s the crucial point: on its own terms. Dalí’s Surrealism, for instance, with its hyper-reality mixed with melting, oozy shapes, was international in its reach but had deep roots in Catalan sources. The gooey forms harked back to motifs in Gaudí and Domènech and to Miró, who shared with Dalí a fixation on excrement that came straight out of an old Catalan tradition, which at Christmas still includes the ubiquitous statuettes of figurines ... well, you know.

A dressing table by Gaudí, from 1890 or so, with a mirror improbably set at a diagonal, its wood frame carved to resemble a ribbon unfurling, is also Dalí before the fact. So too are the works by Lambert Escaler, who in the early 1900s made green earthenware jardinières in the shapes of women’s heads, which Dalí all but copied directly for his “Dream” 30 years later.

As for Domènech, his Palau de la Música Catalana, the Palace of Catalan Music (in the show there’s a model of the building, along with blueprints, a poster, balusters and tiles), often gets lumped together with Art Nouveau, a French movement. But it’s Modernista, a specifically Catalan phenomenon. It was built for local choral societies, whose members were working class. They sang folk songs. The palace meant to connect folk music with international music by composers like Wagner and Brahms, loosening the grip that the Liceu had on serious music and delivering it to the masses. The building’s decorative program trumpeted the idea. Its tile and stained glass celebrated crafts with Catalan roots. It was also iron and glass, a modern design.

For which reason, I might add, it had lousy acoustics, so that whenever a truck passed on the cobblestones outside, the musicians had to pause.

By the 1920s there was talk of tearing the palace down, Catalan Modernisme having gone out of style, replaced by the white stucco classicism of Noucentisme, with its preference for plaster columns and antique fountains. People in the neighborhood starting calling the building the Palace of Catalan Junk. But it survived, fortunately, as a gaudy dowager, eventually to be recognized, as Robert Hughes puts it in his 1992 book on Barcelona, as “both Catalanist and international, proving that a vigorous regionalist culture does not have to be a provincial one.”

Exactly right. In time, a new generation of Catalan architects like Josep Lluís Sert replaced Noucentisme with the white box aesthetic of the International Style, but again gave it a local spin, Sert regarding the white box as a Mediterranean invention, not something cooked up in the architectural laboratories of Germany by Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus.

As proof, Sert’s pavilion for the Spanish Republic at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair (where Picasso’s “Guernica” was first shown), unlike Mies’s Barcelona Pavilion (of which there’s a splendid model in the show) had the casual grace of a seaside villa.

There’s a model for it here too, along with an old BKF chair, from 1938, designed by the Grupo Austral. Iron-framed, with a leather swing-seat roughly in the shape of a butterfly, it looks like a Calder or an Arp or one of Miró’s blobs, just not like something you can get into or out of easily.

It’s deeply Spanish in its materials but made to flatter one of those airy Mediterranean villas, championing a fresh take on modern life. The old era of stuffy, formal living had given way, after the Depression, to a new architecture of multipurpose rooms; proper dining chairs and straight-backed salon chairs were replaced by one that was impossible to sit up straight in. You had to lie in it sideways. You had to relax.

It comes near the end of the show, all charm and impractical ingenuity, before studies for “Guernica” and posters for the Republican side (and a couple for Franco’s side) in the civil war that finally ended Barcelona’s run: joie de vivre along with pandemonium.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad description of the city during this whole remarkable era.

“Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudí to Dalí,” organized in conjunction with the Cleveland Museum of Art, remains on view at the Metropolitan Museum through June 3. It was put together at the Met by the curators Jared Goss and Magdalena Dabrowski.

4 comentaris:

  1. Impressionat i lúcid!
    Opín el mateix!

  2. ha caigut la "n" a l'impressionat anterior.
    L'afegesc= Impressionant

  3. Si, un bon article, en la línia del Times, pro no és ben bé una crítica de l'exposició, sinó més aviat una dissertació acadèmica.