Friday, July 2, 2010

Travel Journal: Art in Barcelona, II

The author recommends listening to colorful modern music, like the evocative scores of John Adams, while reading about modern art in Barcelona.

Our trip to the Fundacio Antoni Tapies was full of pleasant surprises. Spain's greatest living artist, Tapies was born in 1923.

The Foundation "takes a plural, interdisciplinary approach and aims to set up collaborations with experts in different fields of learning to contribute to a better understanding of contemporary art and culture." That description is not nearly as interesting as the work on display.

One of Tapies' large abstract-expressionist "matter" paintings is the subject of a documentary film from 1982 by Andre S. Labarthe. Since the artist reads poetry and excerpts from books like Zen in the Art of Archery in between work sessions on Gran nus (Large Knot), I wrote a series of Haiku inspired by the film and the four-paneled work that occasioned it.

I. Footprints in black paint
On marble-powdered panels
Streaks, swirls and drips

II. Tapies means "walls"
Lines in sand, calligraphy
Organs and kotos

III. Gamelans and glass
Harmonicas as four parts
Become one picture

An artist is an "alchemist of the spirit" according to Tapies,
"someone who can transform our inner selves beyond ourselves"
(as the foundation booklet puts it).

We were transfixed by the work of Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, an artist and psychoanalyst and child of Holocaust survivors. Her work is an engaging study in connections, the alchemy of past and present, art and science, the metaphysical and corporeal.

"Traces from the interior and trains from sight change places and are changed. Even if nothing were connected, there would be at least these remains."

Ettinger's work enacts the world she describes and the mottos she espouses. "Discover, create ties, strings, tunnels."

Her mixed media canvases (painting/drawing/collage) tunnel through history and are charged with contemporary relevance. The series of Eurydice paintings appear at first glance to be post-impressionist abstractions in beautifully deep shades of red and purple. The appearance of Ophelia alongside the muse of feminism is revealing (compare Rilke's romantic Sonnets to Orpheus with Attwood's or Gluck's Eurydice poems to understand the chasm between the sexes in reading these mythic figures. I am grateful for each).

Speaking of tunnels, history and myth, Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony (inspired by his opera about a modern Prometheus, Robert Oppenheimer), just began playing on my ipod.

While Oppenheimer and co. were building "Trinity" in Los Alamos, Joan Miro was in the middle of his astonishing 60+ year career.

His artistic response to the horrors of the war-torn 20th-century was escape. Bird-like flight and freedom achieve transcendence in Miro's paintings that combine surrealist playfulness, cubist line, and fauvist color with a light touch.

The Fundacio Joan Miro is atop a hill in the Mont Juic neighborhood of Barcelona. The natural beauty of the setting harmonizes perfectly with the museum's contents.

Some of the most telling details about Miro and his museum are to be found in the lower galleries devoted to works dedicated to the artist by his peers. The list is a "who's who" of modern art. In the order they entered my notebook were pieces by Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Tanning, Pierre Alechinsky, Robert Motherwell, Andre Masson, Erwin Bechtold, Antoni Tapies (!), Albert Casamada, Antonio Saura, Richard Serra, Henry Moore, Henri Matisse, and Fernand Leger.

"The only purpose of easel painting is to produce poetry."

By that standard, Miro produced books-full. And the work of living artists he inspired--Tapies among them--attest to the fortuitous fact that poetry continues to flow.

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