Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Visiting the Reina Sofía

The third of the three world-class museums in Madrid is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía to give it its full name. It opened in 1992 and is named after Queen Sofía, wife of Juan Carlos I. The main focus of the museum is 20th century Spanish art and it has important collections of both Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. The crown jewel of the latter is possibly the most famous artwork of the 20th century, Guernica. Like the Thyssen and unlike the Prado, the Reina Sofía allows photos, without flash or tripod. The one exception is the suite where the Guernica hangs. No photos there. But here is a reproduction from Wikipedia:

This is an extreme case of you had to be there. The original is easily the largest painting I have ever seen. It utterly dominates a very large gallery. The dimensions are about 25 feet wide by 11 feet high. Probably not the biggest painting ever done, but certainly one of. I think I would like to do a critical examination of the work at some later time, after some research, so I won't talk about it here.

The Reina Sofía is an impressive place. As you approach, the first thing you notice is the two large external glass elevators, that also serve as a signboard for the museum:

You get a pretty good view going up:

I didn't go to every gallery, I find that after an hour I need to take a break, but there are a lot of Picassos. This is Seated Woman Resting on Elbows from 1939:

There are a lot of artists I have never heard of. This is the Danish artist Asger Jorn's The Detested Town from 1951/52:

But lots I have, like Vassily Kandinsky. This is his Centre Circles:

There are a zillion Spanish artists I don't know like Manuel Millares. His Picture from 1957 uses various materials:

I think my favourite of everything I saw was this stark painting by Luis Feito titled Number 179:

But this Mark Rothko was quite nice too. It is Untitled (Orange, Plum, Yellow) from 1950:

Perhaps the oddest item was these three little bronzes by Marcel Duchamp titled Dart-Object, Female Fig Leaf and Wedge of Chastity. One wonders if they are in the right order:

One very large and interesting painting relating to Duchamp was the next. Titled Live or Let Die or the Tragic End of Marcel Duchamp (1965) it consists of eight large panels and is a collaboration between Eduardo Arroyo, Gilles Aillaud and Antonio Recalcati from Spain, France and Italy respectively. Even standing as far away as I could, the extreme ends were clipped a bit:

Click to enlarge
I don't know if that will come out at all. In the centre is Duchamp's famous urinal that probably started post-modernism.

So there you have it. A quite impressive museum and well worth a visit.

Some appropriate music by someone who is the rough equivalent of Picasso in music, Igor Stravinsky. This is his Symphony of Psalms, from the same decade as Guernica:


Jeph said...

your snapshots of some modern paintings have given me to wonder, what is the musical equivalent of the Fieto, the Rothko, the Miro? There's very little going on there, very little in the way of elaborate technical accomplishment being displayed. We delight in the rich colors, the composition, or just the shapes, but it's very primitive. But I can genuinely enjoy them and imbue them with a certain profundity. Can (serious) music get away with this sort of simplicity? Is this the corollary to minimalism or ambient music? Why is this so successful in the visual arts and not the musical? I enjoy these paintings, but I'm at a loss to say why.

Bryan Townsend said...

Jeph, you have a gift for posing the interesting question. I was going to follow-up with some critical discussion of Guernica, but you have started the ball rolling.

Setting aside all the usual caveats about the differences in medium and production, not to mention the entirely different economics of the visual and performing arts, one is still left with the kinds of questions you are asking. Are Mark Rothko and Steve Reich in any way equivalent? If so, how so?

Yes, I enjoy the wonderful variety and appeal of contemporary art as I photographed at the Reina Sofia yesterday. But for me the experience is a pale shadow of what one experiences with music, which is far more alive, dynamic and affecting. But the weird thing is that the visual arts are a huge success economically while the performing arts struggle along, barely able to survive.

Jeph said...

Been mulling this for few days. One of my favorite makers of ambient music, William Basinski, has a piece called "Aurora Limnalis" with cover art reminiscent of the Fieto, with its exquisite fade. The piece is rather pleasantly like watching cream swirl through coffee, about 45 minutes. I love this sort of thing, but it's certainly a qualitatively different experience from a Brahms symphony for example. Simpler, shallower, less focused and intense.

So guess the root of my question is about the art institutions which equally esteem Rothko's pleasant exercise in orange from 1950 (which might have been done with a roller) along with the nearly photo-realistic mastery of the Ghirlandaio from 1488. Funny that, the modernist experiment has been more successful in the visual arts, I suppose, to the detriment of the entire discipline, some would say.

I don't know where I come down, really. Sometimes modern art is so stark it seems like a Rorschach test, but these fragments and textures are fascinating too. I would enjoy either painting in my home, but would probably feel more affinity for the Ghirlandaio. But the Rothko would be great on an accent wall....goes with my fireplace.

Christine Lacroix said...

Felt the Symphony of the Psalms was appropriate to accompany Guernica. Quite moving.

Bryan Townsend said...

Jeph, what a terrible thing to say about poor Mark Rothko!! Not to mention devastatingly accurate! I'm woozy from travel, but in a day or so I will sit down and write something about the issues you raise.

Thanks, Christine! Yes, it is a great piece, I think. The Symphony of Psalms was Shostakovich's favourite piece by Stravinsky.