Neither visionary nor saint: Gaudí, an architect with his feet on the ground | Culture

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On June 12, 1926, fourteen days before his 74th birthday and six after being run over by a tram, Antoni Gaudí (Tarragona, 1852- Barcelona, ​​1926) was buried amid the clamor of thousands of people from Barcelona who accompanied the hearse. to the Sagrada Familia, his latest work. The massive farewell, in which the vendors of La Rambla were not lacking throwing flowers, is far from the image of a lonely, elusive, misunderstood and distant person with which the architect is associated. A few weeks later a book was published with the obituaries written those days. And in that first monograph he was described as a mystic, saint, visionary and even “architect of God”, for having dedicated the last 15 years of his life to build the expiatory temple where he was buried. Some adjectives that have been repeated until today creating a mythical and mystical character that has ended up imposing on the complex architect who was actually Gaudí, creator, yes, of a unique work.

Juan José Lahuerta, one of the greatest specialists in the artist, director since 2016 of the Gaudí chair at the Universitat Politènica de Catalunya, has been fighting for years to recover it from the topics that have enveloped him and end the simplistic image of a genius whom everything has been given to him, without anything or anyone influencing him. Lahuerta is the curator of the exhibition Gaudí, which opens its doors tomorrow Friday at the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) in Barcelona with the idea of ​​”showing the other side of Gaudí and stripping him of the image of a tourist, commercial and digestible icon that he has become”. The exhibition, which brings together 650 architectural objects, design and furniture, works of art, documents and photographs, has loans from 74 centers and will be open until March 2022. Then it will travel, reduced, to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the city where the architect already exhibited his works in 1910.

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Gaudí's hall for La Pedrera, dismantled in the sixties and which can be seen for the first time in the MNAC exhibition.
Gaudí’s hall for La Pedrera, dismantled in the sixties and which can be seen for the first time in the MNAC exhibition.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI (EL PAÍS)

“Gaudí was not an isolated genius, unknown and out of his time that much of the bibliography has suggested. It shows that the upper bourgeoisie and the church did not stop commissioning works and that the construction of their buildings was followed with passion in the press and thousands of postcards spread them as the image of Barcelona in growth. Gaudí was a popular and complex person, who captured the needs of the society in which he lived like no one else, at a time of radical change ”, defends Lahuerta.

For the expert, “the superiority of its buildings comes from their ability to create the strongest images, something that has made them last over time.” His works have become one of the most powerful images of Barcelona capable of dragging, pandemic apart, millions of people every year, generating huge profits for their managers and owners.

The exhibition shows how Gaudí was not an enlightened man with infused science, but an architect trained at the Barcelona Architecture School that ended in 1878, ready to meet the demands of a city under construction. It was a new Barcelona with great imbalances in which the bourgeoisie will compete to show its wealth, while the violent episodes resulting from the class struggle occurred, such as the bomb that exploded in the Lyceum, killing 20 people in 1893 or the hundreds of deaths. and 80 religious buildings burned during the Tragic Week of 1909.

Tapestry made by Gaudí and Jujol for the 1907 Floral Games, which had not been seen since that year.
Tapestry made by Gaudí and Jujol for the 1907 Floral Games, which had not been seen since that year.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI (EL PAÍS)

“Gaudí was not only the son of a coppersmith from Reus or Riudoms, that doesn’t matter, but an intellectual trained at a university where he had books and catalogs with the latest trends and the works of architects and designers that inspired him: Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Thomas Jeckyll, Hector Guimard or William Morris ”, points out Lahuerta.

The exhibition shows his first works executed under the orders of architects such as Josep Fontseré in the Ciutadella park; by F. de Paula del Villa, in Montserrat; his first work for the Obrera Mataronense cooperative in Mataró, and the urban furniture objects that he created, such as advertising stands, press kiosks, lampposts, shops or commercial showcases, “necessary for the growing city”, explains the commissioner of the exposition.

It is also appreciated how from the first important architectural commissions (the Casa Vicens or the Güell de Pedralbes pavilions, in which he already shows his ability in the use of new materials and techniques) he passed to the projects for his great patron, Eusebi Güell (the Palau Güell, Parc Güell and the crypt of Colonia Güell), with which Gaudí gave free rein to his creativity.

Dressing table for the Palau Güell made by Antoni Gaudí, between 1886 and 1889, still in the hands of the Güell family.
Dressing table for the Palau Güell made by Antoni Gaudí, between 1886 and 1889, still in the hands of the Güell family.MARTA MÉRIDA

Starting in 1900, the facades of the new Barcelona became the showcase for the bourgeoisie to show its power. And the architects found the freedom to design “paintings of an exhibition independent of each other”, explains Lahuerta. Gaudí built three of these houses, their facades and the interior furniture: Casa Calvet (the only one that continues to be a tenement house), Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (La Pedrera).

All these works are represented in the encyclopedic exhibition that the expert on the artist has mounted in 2,500 square meters of the MNAC, at a cost, according to the museum’s director, Pepe Serra, of 940,000 euros. “It is a sample of thesis, but with wonderful pieces to enjoy”, clarifies the curator. And a unique opportunity to see them. Like the dozen beautiful drawings created by the university student Gaudí and the two exceptional pieces of furniture made for the Palau Güell: one lounge chair and a dressing table (worthy of a Disney movie), which the Güell family keeps and never lends.

Also the gigantic wooden hall of Casa Milà, unpublished since until it was dismantled and dispersed in the sixties only the owners of the house had seen it; an unused basalt column in Colonia Güell, and the huge photographs that were used in the 1910 Paris exhibition and have never been seen again. For the first time since 1907, one of the three tapestries that Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol painted for the Floral Games of that year is exhibited and then folded until they have been restored.

Portrait of Antoni Gaudí, 1878 and caricature of his patron, Eusebi Güell, from 1889, which can be seen in the MNAC exhibition.
Portrait of Antoni Gaudí, 1878 and caricature of his patron, Eusebi Güell, from 1889, which can be seen in the MNAC exhibition.Museums of Reus / MNAC

The room in which a large part of the plaster of the Sagrada Familia workshop (destroyed in a fire in the Civil War) has been installed with which Gaudí shaped his architecture and created figures from molds of animals, plants, is impressive. and living and dead people. These are works that Lahuerta has put into dialogue with those of Auguste Rodin for his Door to hell, made since 1890.

In one of these figures on the Nativity Façade, Gaudí put a demon who gives an anarchist an Orsini bomb like the one that killed 20 burghers in the Lyceum, while the man prays to the Virgin not to fall into that temptation. “We must not forget that La Sagrada Familia is an expiatory temple for the violence of the class struggle that Barcelona was experiencing, another example of how involved Gaudí was with the reality that he had to live,” concludes the curator of the exhibition.

Gaudí. National Museum of Art of Catalonia. Palau Nacional (MNAC). Montjuïc Park, Barcelona. From November 19 to March 6. 14 euros. www.museunacional.cat

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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