Category Archives: Art & Artists

The Drowned and the Saved


The Drowned and the Saved was created in 1992 by American artist, Richard Serra, as a site-specific work for the Synagogue in Stommeln (GER). Its title took reference from a book with the same title by Italian author, Primo Levi (1919-1987), an Auschwitz survivor. I had the pleasure of being there when the forged iron sculpture was installed in the synagogue in the presence of the artist.


The piece was purchased in 1997 by the Diocesan Museum in Cologne (GER). The work is now installed at the Kolumba Museum in Cologne, a fabulous museum. The magnificent building was created by Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.

Richard Serra-Damned_Saved 1

Miquel Barceló in the Palais des Nations

In my blog entry dated July 2nd, 2007, I told you of a commission which the Felanitx born artist, Miquel Barceló, had accepted in Geneva (Switzerland). Felanitx is the town in Mallorca (Spain), where I made my home for the last twenty years.

I have it from a very reliable source that Miquel Barceló has accomplished the mammoth task. The mural painting for the 1,500 m2 domed ceiling of Room XX in the UN Palais des Nations building in Geneva is now completed and, apparently, the finished result is said to be rather impressive.

Here is some background information (I quote from the ONUART website):

In April, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, the Fundación ONUART was established in Madrid (ONU is the Spanish acronym for the United Nations Organization). Fundación ONUART is a private, non-profit agency with mixed public and private funding, whose main aims are to promote dialogue, through the use of Spanish contemporary arts, to promote dialogue, to drive understanding between cultures and societies, and to foster multilateralism in Geneva. 

Fundación ONUART commissioned Spanish artist, Miquel Barceló, to create a unique ceiling painting for Room XX. This meeting venue will host the UN Human Rights Council and will be one of the largest and most state-of-the-art of all the negotiating rooms at the Palais des Nations. What also distinguishes Room XX in particular is that it has an enormous 1,500 m2 ellipsoidal dome. This dome provides the backdrop for the biggest challenge ever for 51-year-old artist. 

The Chamber for Human Rights and for the Alliance of Civilisations will be the room’s official title following its inauguration and it will be the permanent home of the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council. It will become the UN’s most modern negotiating room, using the latest materials and technology in audiovisual resources, conference services, interpretation systems, information technology and telecommunications.

Miquel Barceló, supported by a 20-strong team, was using some 35 tons of paint with pigments from all corners of the globe, specially designed equipment, with the involvement of specialists in various disciplines, including particle physics laboratories, engineers, architects and others in heritage restoration.   

The Chamber for Human Rights and for the Alliance of Civilisations is currently being fitted out and furnished to its 800+ seating capacity. I understand that the inauguration date is set for sometime in November, 2008. We just have to wait a bit longer before we can see what the man from Felanitx has created, this time.

In the meantime, an exhibition with work by the Felanitx artist opened last week at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (Ireland), called Miquel Barceló: The African Work. The show can be seen until 28th September, 2008. This exhibition will then travel to CAC Málaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga (Spain), where it will be opened in November, 2008.

The two photos (top and centre) show Miquel Barceló’s ceramic sculpture, Gran pot avec crânes sur 1 face, dated 2000. The photo (above) shows the artist in Room XX of the Palais des Nations, Geneva; it was borrowed from the Internet (© Agustí Torres – ONUART). Gracias.

‘I Do Not Seek. I Find.’


Spanish painter, Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso, to us simply known as Picasso, does not stop making headlines, even almost 35 years after his death in 1973.


Earlier this week, his 1941 bronze sculpture ‘Tête de femme (Dora Maar)’ sold for $ 29,200,000, the highest price for any sculpture created by Picasso, ever. His 1968 painting, ‘Homme à la pipe’, sold for $ 16,800,000. Both auction results were achieved by Sotheby’s, New York. Picasso’s 1931 painting ‘La lampe’ received an offer of $ 21,000,000 but was not sold, as the amount offered was apparently deemed below Sotheby’s stipulated reserve. Christie’s, also in New York, sold Picasso’s exceptional 1955 painting ‘Femme accroupie au costume turc (Jacqueline)’ for $30,000,000, a week earlier.


Picasso’s 125th anniversary of his 1881 birthday was celebrated last year in Spain with two super-size exhibitions in Madrid, at the MNACRS and the Prado.

If you are more interested in the artist’s life and person rather than his value in a still buoyant art market, you will be pleased to hear that A Life of Pablo Picasso, Volume III: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, has just been published, painstakingly researched and breathtakingly written by John Richardson, the British art historian. The biography is published in the USA by Random House, and in the UK by Cape.




The earlier volumes of this outstanding biography, I (The Prodigy, 1881-1906) and II (The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916) had already been published in 1991 and 1997, respectively. Both volumes are now also published in paperback editions. All three volumes make extremely good reading on the genius of this great Spanish artist; the latest volume is no exception.

Although one cannot think of Picasso without his Spanish roots and formative years, it is no secret that his talent really came into its fullest expression after he moved to Paris, France, in 1904, not long before western art headed for the modern era. 

No wonder the French consider Picasso as one of theirs; after all, he lived in France for near enough 70 years. 

Those of us living in Spain can view plenty of original works of art by the exceptional Monsieur Picasso in the two Spanish museums baring the artist’s name, the Museo Picasso in Barcelona and the relatively new Museo Picasso in Málaga. In addition to these, we also have his Casa Natal (birth place), in Málaga, and the Reina Sofía MNACRS museum in Madrid, which has accumulated a vast collection of Picassos mainly in lieu of inheritance tax, plus the spectacular, gigantic 349 × 776 cm canvas, Guernica, Picasso’s masterpiece painting in response to the German air attack during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso’s best output, however, seems to have found its home in France, in Paris to be precise. The Musée National Picasso in Paris proudly presents over 200 paintings, 158 sculptures, 88 ceramic pieces, some 1,500 drawings and over 1,600 etchings, amongst other treassures. A large proportion of the museum’s holdings were left to the French nation after Picasso’s last wife, Jacqueline Roque, died in 1986. The photo above, by David Douglas Duncan, shows her and Picasso on a canvas-signing day at Villa La Californie, dated ‘circa early 1960s’.

France also holds numerous works by the Málaga born artist at the Musée National Picasso in Vallauris, between Cannes and Antibes on the French Côte d’Azur, where mainly works from his period called La Guerre et la Paix are shown. In Antibes there is also the Musée Picasso d’Antibes at the old Château Grimaldi where Picasso was allowed to install his studio in 1946. 245 paintings are normally on permanent show there, however, the museum is currently closed for renovations. 


For more information on the life and work of Monsieur Le Maître, you might want to consult the official Picasso website. 

Seeing Picasso’s works some 50 to 100 years after their creation and reading about the artist’s inspiring life, his women and his antics, one understands the charisma of his personæ, the forceful energy behind his œuvre and the unique, relentless vitæ of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

The voluminous Picasso biography may be in for some unfortunate news. The exceptional biographer, John Richardson, has already spent the best part of the last 25 years dedicating himself to this, A Life of Pablo Picasso, and he has only published the third volume, thus arriving at the year 1932. Picasso was only 51 years old by then. There are still some 41 years remaining.


I understand that John Richardson himself is at the ripe old age of 83. It is quite probable that he will not manage to finish his ambitious project.


Let’s hope that another talented and dedicated, if not possessed, person will step up to fill in the missing pieces, perhaps in close collaboration with Mr. Richardson. Chances are that he or she may not even have met the man himself which of course might make all the difference. Oh, well.


For those of you who would like to see some original works of Picasso, here is a link to information about some upcoming exhibitions of the master’s creations, including places in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, the USA, Canada and Japan.

Barcelona, Here We Come


It might have been some while since you last spent time in Barcelona. Fancy a weekend there, perhaps?

I am suggesting Barcelona, because it is right on our doorstep. It is easy to get to, and it is exciting, whatever the time of the year. Right now, Barcelona is immersed in some autumnal bliss.

Barcelona has, as most coastal towns in Spain, a long and interesting history. Since its foundation in around 200 B. C., it has been dominated in turn by Carthaginians, Visigoths and the Moors. It was not until the 9th century when the Muslims were defeated by the Christians that the city was inhabited by Cataláns. During the 14th century the Catalán mini-empire reached its splendour, extending to areas such as Valencia, the Balearics Islands and even parts of southern France. In 1473, the kingdom of Castilla invaded Catalunya after various conflicts. In 1700, the Catalán language was forbidden for a long period after the Cataláns had joined forces with the English army against Castilla.


During the regime of Franco, the Cataláns were repressed and their language was again forbidden, this time by the threat of death. But, when Franco died in 1975, the Cataláns got back their freedom. Today, Barcelona is a very sparkling city and Catalunya as a whole, a very independent region. Both are very proud of their very own language and a certain nation-within-a-nation status. Do not always expect to get by with your usual Castellano idiom once you stray away from the tourist trail.


Be that as it may be, I would suggest you fly to Barcelona. Although I have taken ferry boats plenty of times (and you may not even come, as I would, from the Balearic Isles), I do not recommend you take your car, as Barcelona is rather arduous when it comes to parking, and traffic in general.

From the airport, you can take the bus to Plaça Catalunya. From there you will best be going to your hotel by taxi. I do not suggest you stay at the rather fashionable Hotel Arts, flash and stylish as it may be, because it is just too expensive. Also, I have heard comments that the hotel service is not on the same level as are the room rates. A hotel to my liking, with a very central location and with quite a bit of historic flair, is the Majestic on Paseo de Gràcia. Josephine Baker stayed there in the Twenties.

Barcelona of course, would not be Barcelona without its glorious heritage of buildings, parks and other wonders, created by Antoni Gaudí. If you have not done the Gaudí trail yet, now is a good time. And if you should be staying at the Hotel Majestic, you cannot be better located to appreciate some great works built by Gaudí’s genius.


There is too much Gaudí in Barcelona and its surroundings to see them all in just a few days, but the do-not-misses are Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (La Pedrera), Palacio Güell, and Parque Güell. And most of all, of course, this wonderful cathedral of all cathedrals, La Sagrada Familia. This one has been under construction since 1885, and it is still unfinished. But I assure you that you have not seen the likes before. In 1984, Gaudí’s buildings were awarded the status of being UNESCO World Heritage sites.



Next on your list of priorities will have to be some concert, opera or theatre performance. The best would be a visit to the newly rebuilt Gran Teatre de Liceu, where concerts are given this weekend of works by Igor Stravinsky, at the occasion of the composer’s 125th birthday, but I am afraid that tickets have to be booked well in advance. I suppose that the front manager at the Majestic will be able to help you, but I do not know.

Apart from the Liceu, I would recommend a visit to the Mercat de les Flors for Ballet, the Espai Escenic Brossa, the Teatre Borras, Teatre Nacional de Catalunya or the Teatre Principal. For music, mostly classical, I recommend the Auditori and the Palau de Musica Catalana with its beautiful Modernist architecture. For Pop, the Palau Jordi.


For more information about Barcelona see the Barcelona City Guide.

Barcelona is Spain’s creative capital, and Art with a capital A keeps the creativity going. That is Art in its widest sense, including fashion, architecture, music, design, as well as street cred. For fine art, I recommend visits to the Miró Foundation, the CaixaForum, the MOCBA Museum of Modern Art, the CCCB, the Fundación Tàpies, and the Centre Cultural Caixa de Catalunya, inside of Gaudí’s La Pedrera. And most important of all, the Picasso Museum. For friends of Pre-Columbian art, the Museum Barbier-Mueller is a must. And do not forget a visit to the Catedral de Barcelona, the cathedral.

After all that theatre and art, Picasso and Gaudí, you will want to wine and dine in Barcelona. Barcelona is one of the World Capitals of good food. There are too many restaurants (more than 10,000), tapas bars, bodegas and cervezerias to choose from, and some of them of a very good quality. I suggest that you buy yourself a copy of B-guided or of Guía del Ocío for guidance. What I would do, in any case, is to go either to the Barrio Gotico, the Port Vell area, or the Olympic village. There you will find seafood restaurants galore, plus restaurants specializing in Catalán food, or Mediterranean food. Just enter the establecimiento that seems busiest of all. You will not be disappointed. Or you could try Restaurante Hofmann, in Calle Argenteria, 74-78. Pricey, but first class.

If time allows, and your fancy takes you, you could head North-East to Girona or Figueres. In Figueres, you could pay an unforgettable visit to the museum of that other Catalán artist genius, Salvador Dalí, whereas in Girona you would visit that beautiful medieval old town centre, including the historically unique Jewish quarters, the Call.

North-West takes you, instead, to the Monasterio de Montserrat. And also to Terrassa, where you can enjoy the annual Festival de Jazz, in full swing right now.

I hope you will enjoy your trip.


Salvador Dalí: Artist, Genius or Crook?


Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was an important Catalán painter who is best known for his surrealist work.


Dalí was born in 1904 in Figueres, in Catalunya, Spain, where he received formal art training from an early age. He had his first public exhibition at the age of 15. That is no mean feast considering that we are talking 1919 here, the year after the end of World War I. At the age of 18, Dalí moved to Madrid, Spain’s Capital, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. Already then, Dalí drew attention to his personæ, wearing long hair, sideburns, coat, stockings and knee breeches.

In Madrid, he experimented with Cubism at a time when there were no Cubists as yet in Spain, and with Dadaism, a movement that influenced his career throughout his life. He became friends with the poet, Federico García Lorca, and with the film maker, Luis Bunuel, with whom he would later collaborate on the film Un chien Andalou.

In 1926, Dalí was expelled from the Art Academy in Madrid shortly before his final exams. He had dared to express his verdict that no one at the faculty was competent enough to examine him. With hindsight, one might think that he was probably right.

1926 also saw Dalí’s first trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso, whom he revered as a young man, though not in later years. In 1929, Dalí met his muse and future wife, Gala, a Russian immigrant eleven years his senior. They were married in 1934.

Dalí encountered conflict over political beliefs once Francisco Franco came to power. As a consequence he was expelled from the Surrealist group, to which his response was ‘Surrealism is me’.


As World War II started in Europe, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States of A. in 1940, where they stayed for eight years. Dalí’s work during that period combines excellent draftmanship and great painterly skills with surreal, dreamlike images. There is no doubt that Dalí’s œuvre deserves recognition and respect, certainly during the early, his prime years.

It appears that he lost his artistic clout when he returned to Europe and to the Spain of Franco, a move for which he was politically criticized. Instead of being acclaimed as a great artist, he was considered controversial. He then entered a period that might be called his ‘theatrical’ phase which was one of his most unique periods. In 1960 he started work on the Teatro-Museo Dalí in his home town of Figueres, near Girona. If you would ever manage a visit there, you might possibly agree that some of the ideas and arrangements, compositions and visions there have a streak of genius. Opening hours now are 9h30 to 18h00; from November and during winter they are 10h30 to 18h00. Admission is 10 €.

There are accusations against his caretakers for supposedly having forced Dalí in his final years to sign blank sheets of paper that would later (postmortem) be printed upon and sold as originals. Other critics claim that a sane and sound Dalí was not coerced or fooled, but instead was part and scheming parcel of this deceit. They call him bluntly but convinced, a crook.


I would rather draw the following conclusion:


I definitely recommend a visit to the Dalí museum in Figueres (Teatro-Museo Dalí). I also recommend visits to the Púbol castle which he had bought for his wife, Gala and which was the place of her death (Casa-Museo Castillo Gala Dalí de Púbol), as well as to the museum in Cadaqués (Casa-Museo Salvador Dalí) which is housed in his parents’ Summer residence. Opening hours in Púbol are 10h00 to 18h00; from November until the end of the year they are 10h00 to 17h00. Admission is 6 €. Opening hours in Cadaqués are 10h30 to 18h00 from now until January 6th. Admission is 10 €. Before you go to Cadaqués, you must telephone for a reservation: (+34)972.252.015. All three places are within easy reach to one another, and are about an hour’s drive from Barcelona.

If you have a chance to see a major museum show of his early and Surrealist work, go. If and when in London, UK, you can see some good Dalí at the Tate Modern. When in New York, USA, see some excellent Dalí at the Museum of Modern Art. When in Spain, see some early Dalí at the MNCARS Reina Sofía in Madrid. In Mallorca, we have one fine Dalí at the Fundación Juan March (Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani), dating from 1946 (see above). For other locations, simply consult the Internet.


The L. A. County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California, USA, will hold an exhibition called Dalí: Painting & Film, from October 14th until January 2008. Admission will be $17 ($20 on weekends), but entry is free after 17h00. Could be quite interesting.


Avoid any of Dalí’s later work, post-1955, and in particular, any work on paper. Original gouaches or drawings on paper are in the hands of established institutions, and the remainder is of minor importance, or is more likely to be a blunt fake.

Spare yourself some serious disappointment.


Happy Birthday, Mr. Cage


Every now and then, you will come to understand that there is a handfull of people, at most, that have shaped your life. Most often, such people are your parents, or certainly one of the two. Sometimes it is a benefactor, or a friend, or a lover. Sometimes it is someone that you have never ever met, but whose ideas have impressed you and shaped you and whose ideas you might have adopted, such as an artist, a writer, a philosopher, a thinker, whatever.

I like to think that my life would have turned out differently without John Cage. He was an American avant-garde composer whose inventive compositions and unorthodox ideas profoundly influenced mid-20th-century music, and art, and myself.

John Milton Cage Jr. was born on 5th September, 1912, in Los Angeles, California. That’s 95 years ago, today. Happy Birthday, Mr. Cage.

John Cage briefly attended Pomona College, in Claremont, California, and then travelled in Europe for some time. During his studies in Paris, he encountered the works and writings of the Dadaists, in particular those of Marcel Duchamp, with whom he would become considerably more familiar. A performance by American pianist John Kirkpatrick inspired him to compose his first piano pieces. He returned to the United States in 1931, after a brief stay in Spain.

Returning to the USA, he studied music with Richard Buhlig, Arnold Schoenberg, Adolph Weiss, and Henry Cowell. While teaching in Seattle (1936–38), he began organizing percussion ensembles to perform his compositions, and he began experimenting with works for dance in collaboration with his longtime friend, the choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.


The Black Mountain College, founded in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, was known as one of the leading progressive schools in the United States. In 1948, Cage joined their faculty to teach, working again on collaborations with Merce Cunningham. It was at Black Mountain where he staged his first happening.


Cage’s early compositions were written in the 12-tone method of his teacher Schoenberg, but by 1939 he had begun to experiment with increasingly unorthodox instruments such as the prepared piano (a piano modified by objects placed between its strings in order to produce percussive and unorthodox sound effects). Cage also experimented with tape recorders, record players, and radios in his effort to step outside the bounds of conventional Western music and its concepts of meaningful sound. The concert he gave in 1943 with his percussion ensemble at the MoMA in New York City marked the first step in his emergence as a leader of the American musical avant-garde.

Among Cage’s best-known works are 4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty-three Seconds, 1952), a piece in which the performer or performers remain utterly silent onstage for that amount of time (although the amount of time is left to the determination of the performer); Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), for 12 randomly tuned radios, 24 performers, and conductor; the Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) for prepared piano; Fontana Mix (1958), a piece based on a series of programmed transparent cards that, when superimposed, give a graph for the random selection of electronic sounds; Cheap Imitation (1969), an impression of the music of Erik Satie, and Roaratorio (1979), an electronic composition utilizing thousands of words found in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake.

To celebrate John Cage’s 95th birthday (and the 15th anniversary of his death), the musicdepartment of the University of New Hampshire is hosting a one-day symposium and concert on 8th September, 2007, in the Paul Creative Arts Center. The conference is co-sponsored by UNH’s College of Liberal Arts and the Center for the Humanities. I wish I could be there.


John Cage died on 12th August, 1992, in New York, just about 15 years ago.

For those of you who might like to know more about the man and his ideas, I would recommend some of his writing, such as Silence, or perhaps his Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). A 8 CD Box Set is available, recorded with Mr. Cage’s own voice.



If you like some of John Cage’s music, the Diary will only confirm a suspicion that you probably have entertained already: It takes a great mind to create some great work, be that music, art, writing or indeed, anything.


Cage stated “until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music”.


A Puppy Dog’s Tale


I don’t want to have to write about Jeff Koons on this blog. But, I met this young guy at a wedding reception yesterday. Quite a nice chap. Intelligent. Ambitious. He told me that he was doing a thesis on Jeff Koons. A doctoral thesis. An academic postulation. What a waste of time. What a misguided use of energy. 

Now, you may or may not know that Jeff Koons is a middle aged American artist. He’s doing quite nicely, thank you very much. The piggy (see photo below) sold at an auction at Sotheby’s for 1,875,750 USD in November 2001, and it is only one of an edition of three copies.

Jeff Koons is better known perhaps for his puppy. Sorry, that is Puppy, with a capital P. That’s a 13 m tall dog sculpture made up of a metal scaffolding structure, constructed to hold over 25 tons of soil, covered with horticultural plants and watered by an internal irrigation system (see photo above). Again, this work of art exists in a number of mutations, and the one we know best here in Europe sits outside of the Museu Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Unfortunately, this one has not sold yet to a barmy art collector, and I had to suffer seeing it when I visited Bilbao a couple of months ago. Not quite true. I did not suffer. Nor did I suffer when I saw the puppy dog for the first time, some seven years ago. It might be quite pleasing on the eye, quite fun. Like one enjoys a hedge or a tree that a garden lover might have trimmed into funny shapes in his or her front garden. But art? Hang on a minute.

Jeff Koons’ Puppy was first  exhibited in the USA at New York City’s Rockefeller Center. First created in 1992 for a temporary exhibition in Germany, Puppy was a contemporary artwork that catapulted Koons’ marketing skill to new heights.

The thing is, I do not think that it is art. Standing outside of a museum does not make a plant object an art piece. Nor does a phenomenally high auction price make it art. Nor anything.

I do not want to deny Mr. Koons the label of art or artist. He can be whatever he wants to be. But I challenge him or his collectors any time and any day that what Jeff Koon produces, or has produced for him by others, is art, or is significant in art terms.

Jeff Koons was born in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1955. His work is easily recognized for being banal to the absurd, in fact, the piggy shown below is even called Banality. Koons’ earlier works from the late 1970s were mass-produced inflatable flowers and toys placed carefully on mirrors. You might remember the inflatable sculptures he did, or the one showing Michael Jackson playing with a monkey. You might also remember having seen some of Koons’ slightly provocative objects and paintings portraying the artist in explicit sexual positions with his then wife, Hungarian born actress and erstwhile member of the Italian parliament, Ilona Staller, aka Cicciolina. Their marriage was short lived; a son was born to them but now lives with the divorced mother in Rome.

The point I am trying to make is that, to me, Jeff Koons’ work epitomizes all that in my opinion is wrong with contemporary art. It is just form and no content. It is all superficial; perhaps it constitutes an icon but there is no message behind it, at least none that artists such as Andy Warhol or others would not have expressed or exhibited earlier and better.

I think that Jeff Koons is not an artist, but a non-artist. He likes to quote names such as Marcel Duchamp and others without ever grasping the difference between a Dada urinal as a statement of art and a super-sized flower puppy dog as a symbol of sillyness and banality.

I feel sorry for all of us having to endure such empty promises under the label of art. Are we all just too scared and timid to call trash just that, trash? Even 1,875,750 USD trash is just that, frightfully expensive trash.


I rather give credit to whom it is due. I can’t quite remember the guy’s name, but an Austrian Herrgottsschnitzer actually hand carved the Banality piggy (as seen above), when commissioned by Mr. Koons. I wonder what his fee might have been for carving the three little piggies. Now, he has demonstrated a solid craft and an exceptional skill. Perhaps this craftsman warrants a thesis or two, but really, not the man with the flower terrier.

The second Puppy photo (below) shows the same Bilbao terrier at a different time of the year, this time in full bloom. 


Nice dog. Nice flowers. No art. No thesis. 

The Last Picture Show




Sunday 18th September is the last day if you want to see some of the ultimate paintings of Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh.

The place: Madrid, Spain. The venue: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. The address: Palacio de Villahermosa, Paseo del Prado, 8. Telephone for advanced ticket reservations: 902.488.488. Entry fees are € 5 for the van Gogh show, € 7 for van Gogh and another temporary show, and € 12, if you want to see van Gogh plus everything else at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum.

Now, van Gogh may be one of the best known names in Modern art, mainly because of his severed ear, and also because one of his paintings was the most expensive one ever sold at the time, Irises, when it was auctioned in 1987 by Sotheby’s, New York, for 53,900,000 USD and acquired but never paid for by Australian tycoon, Alan Bond. It was subsequently re-sold for a considerably lesser sum and is now the property of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Ca.

But did you know that this grand master of the brushstroke only ever took up art in 1880, only ten years before he died, aged 37, in 1890?

Allow me to quote the following from the Madrid museum’s website:

On 20th May 1890, Vincent van Gogh got off the train at Auvers-sur-Oise, a village situated 35 kms from Paris. The artist had recently left the mental asylum at Saint-Rémy and came to Auvers in search of better health and tranquillity, hoping to start a new life and a new cycle in his work as a painter. Just two months later, however, on 27th July, in the fields near the Château de Léry, van Gogh shot himself with a revolver, dying in agony in the early morning of 29th July.

While van Gogh was still a patient at Saint-Rémy, his brother Theo had been looking for a peaceful rural location close to Paris where Vincent could lead an independent life but discreetly watched over by a trusted friend. The painter Camille Pissarro suggested the name of Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a doctor, amateur artist and old friend of some of the Impressionist painters including Pissarro himself, Cézanne and others. Gachet lived in Auvers-sur-Oise, which was one hour by train from the capital.

Van Gogh’s Auvers period was brief but extremely productive: in just seventy days the artist produced more than seventy paintings and around thirty drawings. This frenzied rhythm suggests a desperate race against time, as if the artist himself felt his days to be numbered. Before his arrival in Auvers, Vincent had spent three days in Paris at his brother’s house where he had been able to see his own paintings, which literally covered the walls of the apartment and were piled up under the bed, the sofa and under the cupboards. This experience of seeing all his work together for the first time had a profound affect on van Gogh and would determine his work over the following weeks, the last of his life. His final paintings would be a sort of recapitulation or epilogue to his entire career.

End of quote.

If you happen to be in Madrid over the next week or two, why not allow yourself to indulge in some beautiful colours and the vibrant spirit of a desperate man who must have painted, intuiting that his time was up as an artist, and as a tired human soul walking this planet.


If you prefer to appreciate life, and art, and the life of an artist, from the comfort of your armchair, I suggest the viewing of a movie called Van Gogh (1991), directed by French director, Maurice Pialat, with Jacques Dutronc in the lead role. The film offers an insight into the artist’s last 60 days at Auvers. The acting to me seemed more than convincing. I enjoyed it greatly.



Should you, however, not be able to make it to Madrid, because you happen to be nearer to Barcelona, here is a different suggestion: Picasso, another mad genius, but him with both ears intact.

The American photographer, model and war journalist, Lee Miller (1907-1977), wife of Roland Penrose, was lucky enough to befriend Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter but living in France. She documented that relationship through thousands of photographs. Some of her black & white photographs are now shown at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona in an exhibition entitled Picasso in Private, which is also on for two more weeks, until 16th September.

The place: Barcelona, Spain. The venue: Museo Picasso. The address: c/Montcada, 15-23. Telephone for ticket reservations: 93.256.3022. Admission is € 6 for the Picasso/Miller show, and € 8,50 if you want to see the Picasso photos by Lee Miller plus everything else at the Picasso museum, i. e. some real Picasso works.



I think that both shows merit a recommendation. Both artists certainly do, in my books. Lee Miller does, as well.


Let Me Introduce You to the Outstanding Artist, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón



100 years ago, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón, as her name appears on her birth certificate, was born in July 1907 in her parents’ house, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán, which at the time was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. We know her better as Frida Kahlo, but there is not much evidence that we really know her.

I do not pretend to know much more about Frida Kahlo than any of you do, but I sure would have liked to know her during her life time. She must have been a fascinating woman.

I have seen some of her paintings in a number of exhibitions and museums. Earlier this week, I had the good fortune to see an exhibition composed of some 60 photographs of her. Of course, I’ve seen the bio-pic Frida, played and produced by Salma Hayek, who, I must say, totally convinced me as to the spirit of Frida Kahlo and to the explosiveness of the time, the Twenties and Thirties, in post-revolutionary Mexico.

On the afternoon of 17 September, 1925, Frida and her friend Alex were involved in a severe accident of a bus collision with a tram, and Frida was very severely injured. A metal rod had made a very deep abdominal wound, her third and fourth lumbar vertebrae were fractured, and her uterus was pierced. Frida ended up trapped in a body cast for months. The accident left her in a great deal of pain. She recovered ever so slowly. She took up painting to occupy her time during her temporary state of immobilization. Before the accident, Frida Kahlo had begun to study medicine; now she soon embarked on a full-time painting career.


As a young artist, Frida Kahlo approached the famous Mexican muralist painter, Diego Rivera, whom she had previously admired, and asked him for his advice on pursuing art as a career. He immediately recognized her talent and her unique expression as truly special and uniquely Mexican. He encouraged her development as an artist, and began an intimate relationship with her. They were married in 1929, much to the disapproval of Frida’s mother, a Mexican lady of indigenous roots. Frida’s father, by the way, had been a German emigrant of Hungarian descent.

If you are into art, if you admire creative women, if you like to know more about the period in which Mexico was a thriving society, if you appreciate beauty that is not cast in the superficial terms of Hollywood and if you enjoy a spellbinding performance by an outstanding Latina actress, let me suggest you get a DVD out of your local video hire shop. Even if your Spanish is not good enough to listen to some of the original soundtrack, Frida Kahlo’s story is absorbing enough in English, just the same, or any language of your choice.


The movie is called Frida, here in Europe. In the USA and Canada, it is called Frida Kahlo. It was filmed and produced in 2002; it was released in 2003.

For those of you living in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, or San Francisco, there will be a fantastic exhibition of paintings by Frida Kahlo touring from the Walker Art Center (October 2007) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (February 2008), to culminate at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (June 2008). A core of that forthcoming exhibition was shown at the Tate Modern Museum in London, UK, a year ago or so.

A must-see, in my books. 

A Visit to Málaga



Instead of Málaga, it would have been more obvious to do a blog entry on Valencia at the time of the America’s Cup, being won by that infamous sailing nation, Switzerland. Well, I didn’t. I suppose I simply am not enough into sailing myself for having thought of the obvious choice. But don’t get upset. The Swiss Alinghi team’s win was the second triumph after 2003, as you all know, and thus, another Valencia regatta, this time the 33rd America’s Cup, will be raced in 2009. I will do a virtual visit of that Mediterranean city before the next competition. Promise.

But today, it’s Málaga’s turn. And hardly any sailing will be mentioned.

Málaga is a city full of history and tradition, but it is also the capital of the Costa del Sol. That’s in Andalucía, as far as Spanish provinces go. Andalucía’s capital is Sevilla, but again, that would be a different entry for some other time. The Phoenicians founded the city of Málaga, then called Malaka, around 1000 B. C. That was way before Moors or Arabs or Islam were thought of, or Alinghi or the Emirates Team.

After the Phoenicians came the Romans, to be followed by the Visigoths. The Moors came to Malaka in the 8th century A. D., and with them the Caliphate of Córdoba. During that time, Malaka became the capital of a distinct Kingdom, dependent on Granada. By now, the city was called Mālaqah.

Málaga today is rather cosmopolitan, making you feel welcomed wherever you might hail from. The locals are friendly and have a deep sense of hospitality. I am sure you will want to come back after your first visit.

The many natural scenic lookouts offer stupendous views of the bay, especially from the Gibralfaro Mount, next to Gibralfaro Castle, which once was a Moorish fortress. There is a Parador (hotel) right next to the castle, which is where I stayed with my family on a recent visit. Our journey centred on experiencing the unique gastronomy, history and culture of this part of Andalucía. The whole city is dotted with typical Spanish bars, some in the style of rustic tavernas, and others in the style of bodegas where you can try the typical local Los Montes wine, sweet, dry or semi-sweet. Try a dish of the local cuisine along with it, like tapas or seafood.

The Museo Antropológico (Anthropology Museum) is located in the Historic Centre, right in the Parque Natural de las Contadoras. Here you can view old wine presses and oil mills, and if you are lucky enough to arrive during grape harvesting, like during the next fortnight to three weeks, you might be able to join in the treading of the grapes, that will later become the exquisite Málaga Muscatel.

As well as the Paseo del Parque, which began as a carefully tended botanical garden, you can visit the Finca de la Concepción in the vicinity of the city. It belongs to the city council these days, although in the past it was the property of a renowned local couple. These are picturesque gardens, that at one turn make you feel as though you are in the tropics, and at the next, as being in a desert. Many beautiful and significant botanical species grow here. The whole area, including gardens and mansion, was built in the middle of the 19th century, and it has retained the beauty and learned atmosphere of its former owners.

The Retiro contains a bird park which is unique in Europe, with more than 300 species. It also has a beautiful historical garden that represents the period from the Middle Ages up to the 18th century.

The main museums are located in the city’s old town: Bellas Artes (Fine Arts), Arte Sacro (Religious Art) and Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Art). You will be going back a few centuries when you visit the Museo Arqueológico (Archaeological Museum) in the Alcazaba, the Teatro Romano (Roman Theatre), the Cathedral, with its one tower unfinished, and the Palacio de la Aduana (Customs House) near Paseo del Parque.

The pride of the locals is Málaga’s prodigious son, one Pablo Ruiz Picasso. You might want to visit his Casa Natal (birth place) in the Plaza de la Merced, or else the newish Museo Picasso Málaga which is housed in the exquisitely reformed Palacio de Buenavista, a nobleman’s palace dating back to the 16th century and lovingly restored and amplified, and re-opened in 2003. This museum is a mere two minutes walking distance from Málaga’s Cathedral. The Picasso Museum’s permanent collection centers around some very impressive works donated to the Spanish nation by the widow of Picasso’s oldest son, and in part on some very generous long term loans, also from heirs of Spain’s most famous painter. Admission was 6 € when we went. For tickets and reservations it is best to telephone 901.246.246.


Apart from Picasso, the most symbolic experiences you can have in Málaga are a visit to the Cenachero (the bronze sculpture of a young fisherman carrying his cenacho or basket of fish), and then to have a generous helping of fresh anchovies.

The whole of Málaga is a never-ending beach, stretching from Misericordia, which goes as far as the port area, to the beaches of Peñón del Cuervo near the hamlet of Cala del Moral. Take a walk along the Paseo Marítimo Antonio Machado (promenade), and pause for something to eat or drink in one of the many refreshment stands along the way.

For younger visitors the main areas of attraction are a short ride away: Benalmádena’s Puerto Marina and ’24 hour square’ and Marbella’s Puerto Banús are both out of town, some 20 kms and 40 kms to the west. Both are very trendy and chic, but be warned that bars, clubs and discos don’t get busy until near midnight and stay open till dawn.

If Picasso is of serious interest to you, and you have not been to Paris or Antibes, France, there are some other important Picasso places in Spain for you to see. The Museo Picasso in Barcelona is as much worth a visit as is the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía in Madrid, which houses Picasso’s Guernica masterpiece.


But Paris, Antibes, Barcelona and Madrid are all a long way away from the Costa del Sol and Málaga, I am afraid.