Barcelona’s Public Art: Miro and Gaudi

Barcelona is full of art. It’s like no other city I have every visited. Sure most cities (especially those in Europe) have fountains and statues and art galleries and even graffiti but it seems none have pushed the envelope as far as this Catalan city.

I had seen Joan Miro’s artwork everywhere in Barcelona from the statue at the Joan Miro Park to the brightly coloured reproductions by the street artists along La Ramblas, but when I entered the Fundacio Joan Miro Museum I was almost moved to tears. One of the first things I saw were massive Miro tapestries that the artist had completed near the end of his life.  I didn’t even know he had made tapestries and these were magnificent.  I stared at them for about 20 minutes, taking in not only the design and Miro’s unique vision but also the textures and the depth of the pieces.  What has always intrigued me most about Miro is how he developed his own artistic language, and you are able to see his progression first hand, how his style evolved and his language was formed. After touring the museum I learned a little more about translating that language.

Gaudi is another artist I have always admired, but his creations are on a much larger scale than Miro. Like Miro, Gaudi’s buildings and designs are created using his own unique artistic language.  I’m sure he has inspired many modern architects and artists, even film maker Tim Burton has obviously been influenced by Gaudi… one look at his films makes it clear that Burton  understands Gaudi’s language.  The architect’s best known building is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, a massive structure that is still incomplete almost 100 years after construction began.  The exterior of the building is iconic; kind of a modern interpretation of Gothic, while inside it is reminiscent of many other cathedrals I have seen. When you climb to the roof (by  elevator) you are treated to a spectacular view of Barcelona as well as a close up look at the architectural elements, the towers and carvings and the workers, still busy trying to complete the massive structure. Another of Gaudi’s buildings I was told was a must-see is La Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera), the apartment building on Passeig de Gracia.   While it is beautiful, especially the exterior and rooftop, it’s pretty difficult to justify the 14Euro ticket price (especially when you have to climb several storeys of steps to get to the top).  The exterior of the building (free to look) reflects the sea; even the wrought iron balconies represent the waves of the Mediterranean.  Inside, the attic features presentations and displays about Gaudi, his creations and his inspirations, things like the skeleton of a python or a sea sponge.  But the most amazing elements of the building are found on the roof, a series of different levels reached by numerous  staircases and featuring some of the whimsical designs that have made Gaudi world famous.  Chimneys and stairwell vestibules looking like organic creations from the pages of a comic book. There are several other homes and buildings of Gaudi’s scattered around the central part of the city (like the nearby Casa Batllo and its dragon skin roof), but if you see nothing else that he has created make sure it is Parc Guell.  Designed on what was then the outskirts of Barcelona as a new community for the rich and famous it never caught on so Gaudi and his patron turned it into a park, which was later passed over to the city.  Gaudi didn’t actually build any of the houses on the property although he did live in one of the homes that is now the Gaudi museum (extra admission charge), where you get to see some his personal effects and some of the furniture he designed.  But it is the park itself and what Gaudi, has achieved that is worth the visit.  It is large but more vertical than most city’s parks, so you can really get a workout as you wander the pathways.  Take a look at the pillars, the gardens and the viaducts he created.  There are iconic mosaics including the famous Dragon Fountain you will see reproduced in miniature in most Barcelona souvenir shops, and of course the gingerbread style gate houses.  No need to pay the admission to go inside, there’s not much to see, although the second house has been turned into a two storey gift shop.

I am also a big fan of street art and graffiti, something that is not very politically correct in the west, but Barcelona and Spain have taken it to a whole other level.  To avoid graffiti tags on their garage door storefronts shop owners have painted beautiful designs on the metal canvas, sometimes representing their business and other times just something fun or artistic. Some of the doors still get tagged but it usually only adds to the character of the storefront.

Public art is a very key element in every city; it helps to define the local culture, it improves the quality of life for its’ residents, in the case of public installations it supports local artists and celebrates those who have left their mark on the international stage.  In Barcelona, even simple things like street lamps and park benches are made to fit into the urban streetscape and not stick out like a sore thumb. Every city has it, but I can honestly say that none have taken public art, including architecture, to the level that can be seen in Barcelona, blending the old with the new to create a city that is proud to show itself off.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
Please follow and like us:

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply