País Vasco/La Rioja: Brushstrokes and Spray Paint

18 12 2010

País Vasco/La Rioja Introduction here.

In this exquisite corner of the earth, the creative energy so playful within the realm of gastronomy unsurprisingly extends itself into official institutes of Capital-A Art as well.

Bilbao’s metal-petaled Guggenheim is a major architectural treat both inside and out. The many distinctive folds of the form make for fascinating chambers within, many of which house pieces specifically designed to fit the particular angles and curves of the building. Some of the rooms are intensely powerful – we walk away stunned from one photography exhibit in particular – but the overall quality of the place is a bit impish, a successfully sprightly counterpart to comparatively musty Serious Art Spaces elsewhere. It’s perhaps best modeled in Koons’ gigantic Puppy made entirely of flowering plants and standing fragrant guard at the entrance.

On Couchsurfer Muriel’s suggestion, we poke our heads into the Artium during our day in Vitoria, País Vasco’s somehow often-overlooked capital.

Inside, I am particularly called by this piece, which spans an entire wall. Sam, classical art aficionado, notes my fascination and inquires – what is it that I find successful about modernity?

I respond that it’s not modernity in itself that captures my attention, but rather presenting forms in innovative ways such that they cause me to consider what I already know in a new light. Sam’s uncomfortable with the lack of context in many contemporary works, because it often leaves the meaning unclear. For me, this is exactly what makes them so successful – when they work best, they invite the audience to develop its own relationship with the art in the moment of experience. To me, this piece summons thoughts on prayer, femininity and the female body, what it is to ask for something, dreams, the ways in which ideas are and are not connected to each other, and where thoughts go when we project them into the world, among other things. It isn’t that I come to any specific conclusions, but I cherish the creative time spent considering the prompt.

Detail from another successful piece for me; the entire work is at least four times this size. Leah comments that this is a faithful rendition of her brain.

I see open-ended commentary on architecture, and I’m reminded of the climactic scene in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I consider a house made of sea and light.

As is likely evident by now, my personal favorite encounters with creativity are in public spaces, where it can be interwoven with the mundane and the daily (as opposed to officialized, institutionalized). Vitoria is replete with multi-story murals, rainbow paints and glittering tiles spanning the hilly streets. Many feature the multiple languages spoken in the region, English and Castellano phrases at play with Basque, all pockmarked with X’s and K’s and top-hatted A’s.

This, on the other hand. The other other hand. No, I don’t want to get my hands anywhere near that. Vitoria, why??

Both Muriel and I are seduced by Vitoria’s extremely well-designed publicity. I’m pretty sure this one’s calling for some variety of protest; isn’t it a thousand times more attractive than the red and white that papered Madrid pre-huelga?

And then there’s the straight-up graffiti, which I absolutely adore when it’s clever. This one (“Put spicy in your life“) is just off Calle Laurel in Logroño. I’m considering printing it out for display in my kitchen.

On a playground in Vitoria (“Stop complaining and act, asshole!“).

Yes, he does. In Donostia-San Sebastián.

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Reina Sofia, Round Three

4 11 2010

[[round one can be found here]]
[[round two can be found here]]

I’ve been looking forward to the third floor of la Reina Sofia since Leah gushed to me about a German artist featured in the temporary exhibit area that she adored. This Sunday is the Day of Destiny.

The sparsely populated terrace of the museum, recommended to me by Fausto, is dotted by ergonometric benches and lined by the faux-peril of glass walls. I get a new perspective on the black and white bacon.

The intriguing German artist turns out to be Hans-Peter Feldman, whose exhibit is full of clippings from newspapers and magazines. Collages! I love collages!

My personal foray into collage work focused on advertising copy, particularly the attention-grabbing headlines (“Fairies! But Don’t Be Fooled,” “Now Tell Her Where The Thermometer Needs To Go,” “Famous Blowhards,” etc). Feldman works with images, playing with commercialism and sexuality, the extraordinary made banal. I dig it immediately.

Feldman’s photo work is a striking catalogue of the everyday. I’m reminded of Edward Weston’s famous pepper photography.

He’s most successful, though, when he works with the human body and its bits and bobbles.

This room contains portraits of 100 friends and acquaintances of Feldman, each at a different year of his/her life and arranged accordingly. Walking from one end to the other invites an eerie awareness of the progression of age, of our own inclusion on this blown-up lifeline.

“¡El arte tiene derecho a ser malo!” – Hans-Peter Feldman
(“Art has the right to be bad!”)

Sequestered behind a foreboding curtain lies a cavern illuminated with swirling shadow: the myriad forms of a spinning cavalcade of plasticky toys and utensils of all sorts are projected onto the long wall.

The other half of the third floor belongs to José Val del Omar, a famous Spanish filmmaker. The exhibit doesn’t call to me as much as Feldman’s, but it does have lasers.





Reina Sofia, Round Two

4 10 2010

[[round one can be found here]]

In constrast to the rotating collections housed on the first, the Reina Sofia’s second floor is much more of a study of various historical phases of modern art. I pass the nippy Sunday morning in the company of Picasso and Dalí.

It’s fascinating to me how aesthetic appeal is so fluid, how certain forms and colors captivate the eyes of one while being completely glossed over by anothers’. I might argue that the masters of this floor understood this in a much more intense way than anyone before them ever had.

Yeah, there’s also Guernica. It’s totally incredible, yes, way way more so than the postage-stamp-sized Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I still don’t like crowds. Someone could do a study of how Guernica changes from being observed so much, reproduced so often. So many camera flashes, instantaneous iterations of “great art.” Barthes would have a word or three.

Her. This. This I just love. Her pose, the colors, the light, the plant-object in the back, her fingers touching hair, the hint of abdominal muscles, the folds in the sheet. “I would have this in my house.”

I still don’t like you, Joan Miró.





Reina Sofia

24 09 2010

El Prado may be masterful in many ways – you gotta love Goya’s Black Paintings, and it’s jaw-dropping to picture the labyrinth of scaffolding required to attempt some of the 10+-foot-high works casually displayed along its hallowed halls. But look – and I’m well aware I’m a philistine in this respect, thank you very much – room after room after room of solemn portraiture alongside bleeding Christ figures bums me out.

Because we’re all about un poco de todo here at con tomates, it is overtly obvious that the even closer Reina Sofia coyly beckons for our patronage. In a manner of speaking, anyway; Sunday late mornings from 10 AM – 2:30 PM offer totally free entry to seekers of the disturbingly bizarre, the beautifully macabre, the subtly unsettling, and the straight-up funky.

Gargantuan B&W bacon informs us that we are in the right place. Our grupito consists of Leah, Emily, Marta, Hannah, and myself, and we agree that we ought to take advantage of the proximity of our piso to the museum, and as such take it slow. We’ll try for just one floor today, and aim to reconvene next week to explore the next.

Museums don’t tend to work so well with this large of a group, and we quickly part ways – which is dandy; this way each can view con calma the works she finds most intriguing. A small selection of what I feast my artistic (non)sensibilities on:

The following three are all details from the same enormous canvas:

Genuine!





Retiro/Prado/llaollao

16 09 2010

Today is slated as lazy exploration of a few famous Madrileño sites within walking distance of our piso – it’s the final day before I begin work at José Luis Sampedro, and we wouldn’t want me to stress. As such, the first item on the agenda is a picnic lunch in Retiro, the enormous and very well-groomed park about ten minutes away.

Leah and Elena join us for leisurely chats and eats. The Sriracha on my cumin-paprika spiced chicken and semi-cured sheep’s milk cheese bocadillo is blissfully piquant. Everyone digs on the variety of crunchy Taiwanese sesame seed cookies I’ve snagged from the Asian market.

We wander, and it’s immediately obvious that one could quite easily get lost within acre after acre of manicured grounds. Unlike the symmetrical control of the French style, which I find off-putting in its harshness, this Spanish park conveys a sense of tranquility to be found in cooperation with nature. I mean, let’s be honest, it is designed to the nines, but the paths are wandering rather than strict and straight, and interruptions by man-made objects are spaced-out and surprising.

The Spanish sun is particular insistent this afternoon, and we can feel our skulls sizzling in their shells. It’s perversely pleasant – I will forever be a masochistic desert girl – but also quite draining, so we make our way over a few grassy knolls towards the sounds of traffic.

On the way back towards the Atocha metro, a gorgeous church-esque building is far too prominent on a street corner not to explore further. It turns out to be an extremely souped-up mausoleum for several select Spaniards, entombed beneath elaborate statues of gods and owls. Not that hanging around corpses is exactly my scene, but it’s absurdly cool that this kind of stuff is seamlessly intermeshed with the Mercadonas and doner kebabs in this city. In my city.

Elena and Leah are called away to their respective barrios, Emily and I to our Street of Delights. It is well past siesta time, but we make a futile attempt at an hour of rest. The day’s rigors have worn us thin.

Yet we persist in our dogged exploration of Madrid’s finest, particularly because “Prado” rhymes so well with “helado” and the plan just seems divinely proclaimed. Each night from 6-8 PM, the museum opens wide its doors, such that one may view scads upon scads of masterpieces for free. This offer entices plenty of other potential appreciators of the arts, but the line hustles right along.

I remember not being at all into the Prado when I visited it a couple years back with the Earlham Spain program; my memories are tinged with the resentment I felt at being forced to go see “great art” instead of exploring what the backstreets of Madrid had to offer. Today is wholly different. I visit of my own volition, and at leisure – the great art is ten minutes from my house, so Em and I plan to check out only a very small percentage of what’s here today, returning for future visits such that we may give the space its proper due consideration.

Once inside, we head straight for The Garden of Earthly Delights, as I recall loving its hyper-detailed, almost cartoon-like style, so distinct from the majestic portraiture found in many other parts of the museum. It’s still there; it still fascinates. After, we casually make our way towards Goya’s Pinturas Negras, passing a billion representations of Christ and plenty of stunning ancient statue work.

Spending too much time with Goya takes a lot out of a person, especially two that have been subjected to such a brutally stressful afternoon. We require icy cold sweets for dinner to recover.

llaollao, conveniently and mnemonically located just off metro stop Callao, is Fausto’s favorite yogureria in town. There’s only one flavor – natural and tangy-sweet – and plenty of topping options, from fresh fruit to fudge sauce. Fausto highly recommends a specialty concoction called “Sanum,” which Marta and I opt to split.

I know this photo came out blurry, but there’s no way I’m not including it.

I’m just gonna say it straight up – it is better than Pinkberry. This mountain of creamycold yogurt and fruit and granola and chocolate bits drizzled with honey was 3€, and more than enough to split (Fausto devoured his solo).

Yeah. You needed a closer look.

Best dinner in Spain so far.