October 2006 Issue
Echoes of Spain
When Bill Robinson gets inspired, watch out.
Take, for example, his reaction to Picassoâ€™s 1903 painting, â€œLa Vie.â€ Itâ€™s hardly surprising that Robinson, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, finds the Blue Period masterpiece intriguing: Whether itâ€™s the fact that the artist left no narrative to accompany the mysterious scene of a melancholy woman leaning on a man whoâ€™s pointing to a woman cradling a baby, or the fact that Picasso changed the male figure from an image of himself to that of his best friend whoâ€™d committed suicide, the work is shrouded in enough unexplained symbolism to leave an art lover staring in quiet contemplation.
But enough to spark a trip across the globe?
â€œI just wanted to understand the painting more, and Picasso in general,â€ says Robinson, of his trip to Barcelona, Spain, several years ago, where the painting â€” part of the CMA collection â€” was created.
Of course, a man prone to inspiration let loose in a city with a profound art past, is bound to lead to something more than just scholarly work.
Enter â€œBarcelona & Modernity: Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, Dali,â€ on view October 15 through January 7 at The Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibit, a product of the enthusiasm stirred in Robinson after he â€œstumbled onto the richness and diversity of Spain,â€ features more than 300 works that span the 71-year period (1868â€“1939) when Barcelona thrived as a mecca of modernist art. Along with works by the exhibitâ€™s renowned namesakes that vary in media and mood â€“â€“ including furniture designed by architect Gaudi, Miroâ€™s famous â€œAidez lâ€™Espagneâ€ political poster, several of Daliâ€™s surrealistic dreamscapes, and Picassoâ€™s mystifying â€œLa Vieâ€ â€“â€“ the collection also displays pieces by the eraâ€™s many lesser-known Spanish artists, some of whose creative outputs were, arguably, just as ingenious, yet who seem to have fallen through the cracks of art history.
Creativity flourished in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, in 1868 after the overthrow of the Spanish government: Barcelona grew to become one of the most cultured cities in Spain, its citizens producing innovative artwork and building projects.
However, when fascist dictator Francisco Franco rose to power in 1939, it all came to an abrupt halt.
â€œWeâ€™re talking about someone who was friends with Hitler, so you can imagine what kinds of ideas he had,â€ says Jordi Falgas, co-curator of the exhibit and a native of Barcelona. â€œEverything was suppressed, and a lot of people in Barcelona, including some of the artists in the exhibition, either went into exile or spent time in prisons and concentration camps.â€
Francoâ€™s efforts to erase the memory of the city as a progressive center of politics and art fed into a tendency by scholars to focus on artwork associated with France. â€œMany artists â€” Picasso, Dali, Miro â€“â€“ they actually became famous when they went to Paris,â€ adds Falgas. â€œBut many others who never went to Paris, or who went there briefly and then went back to Barcelona, were left out of that history.â€
Still, with the CMA exhibitâ€™s inclusion of pieces such as a writing desk designed by architect Rafael Maso and landscapes painted by Picassoâ€™s friend, Joaquin Sunyer, the hope is that more Spanish modern artists will finally get their due.
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