My wife said I’d love Madrid and she was so right. I want to say so much about the experience of the last three days that I’m going to have to break it up to into separate entries – it really really is a ‘painter’s paradise’.
Having arrived pretty late on Thursday evening (and turned the first corner out of our hotel into the lovely square above for some marvellous tapas) we began in earnest on Friday. A brief walk around the Botanical gardens was followed by a visit to the extraordinary rail station that resembles nothing as much as a huge indoor jungle repleat at the business end with a small pool containing more terrapins than I imagined might be assembled in one location.
Truly there are times when I wonder what art can do to cap nature and of course in many respects it simply cannot…we can only as sentient creatures seek equivalences and observations on the glories of life – or as so often in what’s to follow the depths that the human condition can sink to and how we can find yet other ways to express our sorrow, outrage and hopefully sometimes optimism that we may rise above it.
So then across the road and straight into the Reina Sofia. The very first things we are confronted by is a row of Goya etchings from the Disasters of War series…very definitely underlining the tone of what we may expect in these monumental venues we have come to visit. We drift through the first few galleries, inspecting one or two works more closely but in truth very conscious of the thing we have really come to see. So suddenly and without a great deal of discussion we both find ourselves hastening towards Guernica. You can hear the hubbub from a couple rooms away…and suddenly we are in jostle to get pole position before it. After a few moments the gaggle of primary children sitting scribbling notes in front of the work moves on and we get front row, centre stage. Its a much flatter painting than I’d imagined from repro…and the subtlety of the tonal adjustments, especially in the off whites is quite remarkable. Although of course there are many preparatory studies you kind of get the feeling that the actual canvas (and it was as enormous as I’d imagined it to be) was painted at a lick…and this, something I’ve observed many times with Picasso, takes your breath away with the sustained energy required to make such a picture.
So what else detained us in the huge beautiful spaces of this gallery? I remember a stunning little synthetic cubist painting by Diego Rivera…with a relief cigar in the foreground! There was a stunning early cubist picture by Braque…and of course Picasso was represented from the same period but, as I think the late great Robert Hughes said, Braque’s paintings are all about love whilst Picasso is always angry. I got to see not one but two fine examples of Clyfford Still’s pictures (someone I’ve admired my whole life but whose work is a rarity in the UK) and a very fine late Guston.
One of the current shows by Juan Perez Agirregoikoa was noteworthy, lovely vigorous charcoal drawings of dogs and human relations…something that is very much a part of madrid street life. Richard Serra has a whole wing devoted to a single work in a room that is just one of the sensational spaces.. four of his trademark hulking brutes of corten steel aligned in an immaculate manner. . Serra very much a man after the Spanish sensibility I think.
But of the current work on show the large exhibition by Cristina Iglesias titled Metonymy was the scene stealer. I missed her large 2003 show at London’s Whitechapel in 2003 but quite a few pieces reappeared here from that outing with other newer works added into this display. It seemed that everything she makes has a rich layer of authority despite quite often composed of simple means. Presentation and lighting help establish spaces that have a wealth of alliterative meanings…and I especially loved the large screen printed panels that featured blown up drawings and altered photographs of mock ups of the sculptural installations, and of these, those on metal had a particularly intense imaginative visual presence.
Phew! what a day’s art experience – and The Prado to come tomorrow!