Friday, October 5, 2012

Art in Barcelona

Park Guell,
columns hold up a walkway above.
Where does one start to discover the art that is Barcelona? It was home to many famous and innovative people, Gaudi and Picasso are, of course, the most famous. There are museums for both here, and seven Gaudi architectural projects are now World Heritage Sites.

You can purchase a 7 museum ticket for 30 Euros. It's quite a cost savings. The Picasso museum is 11 Euros, and La Pedrera is 12, so in just two museums, you can almost pay the cost of the ticket. The ticket is available at any tourist kiosk or any one of the seven museums. In addition there are dozens more museums worth seeing. To make it easy to get around, the Metro seems to have stops every few blocks,  and a ten metro ride ticket is under 9 Euros.

I'm staying at an apartment I found through AirBnB, a website that matches travelers with people who have a spare room or two to rent. Some AirBnB places are a little sleazy, but most are very nice. My host is Dalila an Algerian by culture, raised in France, and British by occupation. She speaks several languages and is well traveled. The apartment is up three flights of stairs in a very old area called The Born. The streets are barely wide enough for a tiny European car to pass, and they wind all over in a non-grid pattern. Most buildings are four and five stories so there are "canyons" that never see direct sunlight. It's easy to get lost, but by traveling in one direction, it's possible to come out of the maze to a larger street that shows up on a map. And usually a Metro station is nearby. Our station is Jaume I. So no matter where I am in the city, if I can figure out how to get to Jaume I, I can make it home.

Two blocks from the apartment is the Picasso Museum. It was at one time, three separate mansions that have been purchased by the city and blended seamlessly into the museum. The works of art are Picasso's earliest and show the development toward his mature style. Some are childhood drawings which even then showed a real talent for observation and ability. He was painting excellent portraits in his teens.

Included too, are ceramics that he produced in his later years, not nearly as impressive as his paintings. His lifelong friend, who eventually became his personal secretary, Jaume Sebartes, donated his entire collection to create the museum, and then over the years, other friends and Picasso himself, gave pieces. What is on display is only a small portion of the total collection. I've read that Picasso created over 50,000 pieces of art in his very long lifetime. This museum is a very good introduction to his style and his ideology.

Then there's the omnipresent Gaudi, whose influence is everywhere, in the pavers on the streets, the street lamps, the facades of buildings. All along Paseig de Gracia, there are concrete paving stones, shaped like the cell in a beehive, with marine inspired designs, and unknowingly trod upon by people going about their business.

Under the street level at Palau Guell.
This area housed the stables, the blueish
light comes down vents from the street.
So far, I have visited La Familia Sagrada on the outside, La Pedrera inside and on top, the outside of Casa Batllo, the mansion Palau Guell and Park Guell. Eusebi Guell was Antoni Gaudi's first and most ardent patron. Gaudi's first commission was a mansion for the industrialist, Palau Guell, and at the end of Guell's life, the Park Guell, a large property on a mountainside now filled with naturalistic structures and buildings including several homes.

Gaudi felt strongly that inspiration should come from nature, which has few straight lines, and should be entirely to the benefit of humans. The concrete benches that line the top of the plaza at Park Guell are the most comfortable concrete things I've ever sat upon. Clearly his philosophy at work.

Concrete bench design,
ergonomic and comfy!!

The following three photos show Gaudi's innovations for light. The interior center room of the palace rises almost four stories, allowing light and air into the house. Bedrooms had windows that opened into this space as well as stained glass walls that allowed light to come in from outside. The photo of that wall is taken from the attic. In the roof are windows allowing the light in. The last photo is on the roof, showing his styling of very functional fireplace chimneys, an innovation he continued to incorporate in buildings throughout his career, and the windows in the roof that let light come into the house.

Central hall of Palau Guell

Stained glass windows at the top of the central
hall, photo taken from inside the attic, which
also served as the servants quarters and
kitchen area (not open to the public). 

On the roof. The skylight windows above
the stained glass arches, and the artistic
treatment of the fireplace chimneys.

Nowdays, the area that Guell developed with Gaudi's designs is an internationally known park and major city attraction. It is free to the public and is frequently used by families in the evening, a great place for the kids to run around, burn off energy, and a good place to sit and talk. An enormous plaza was built with romanesque columns supporting it, surrounded by concrete benches, and underneath, decorated in classic Gaudi, fragments of glass and ceramic forming domes of decoration.

Under the plaza at Park Guell

The gatekeeper's house

Side of the gate at Park Guell

Gaudi's undisputed masterpiece, the church of the
Familia Sagrada, still under construction 100 years later.
Photo taken from Park Guell.