reina sofia

The state-of-the-art Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is a shining example of the Spanish flair for converting old-world architecture to contemporary purpose – in this case to meet the needs of a dynamic modern art collection. But while the collection of 20th century mostly Spanish art is exceptional, it’s not entirely in line with my particular tastes in painting. (I do love the Kandinsky and the early Salvador Dali but sorry, Miró, I  just can’t figure out what’s the fuss)  Like most of the crowd, I’ve come to see Picasso’s Guernica, arguably one of the most famous paintings of the post-war era. A defining work of cubism, where the disfiguration of the human form becomes an eloquent symbol of the world’s outrage at the horrors wrought upon the innocent by modern warfare, Picasso’s mural is a monumental 25-foot canvas that can barely control its  humanity. Painted by the artist in response to the bombing of the eponymous Basque town by German and Italian forces during the height of the Spanish Civil War, the canvas shows a world wrenched by violence and chaos. Is it any wonder that Picasso’s vision continues to fascinate us?

 

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say thyssen-bornemisza five times fast

Imagine being so outrageously wealthy that you run out of space to display your encyclopedic collection of art.  Then imagine convincing the government to spruce up the 18th-century Palace of Villahermosa so that you can establish your own museum – across the street from the Prado, no less -  and free up a bit of wall space at home.  In a nutshell, that’s the story behind the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the legacy of steel magnate Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza and his wife, Carmen, a former Miss Espana and ex-wife of Lex “Tarzan” Barker. While the Prado allows you to focus in depth on the body of work from a number of great painters, the Thyssen gives you a stunning overview of art history from the Renaissance, to Flanders and France, German Expressionism, 19th Century North America, to Cubism, the Avant Garde and Pop Art. As if that were not enough, beginning in the late 1980’s local-girl-made-good Carmen started assembling her own collection of pictures.  So they built an extension to house the separate – yet complementary – Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, which while particularly rich in late- and post-Impressionists also covers the waterfront, so to speak. It’s all wonderfully eclectic to say the least – and small enough to be enjoyable while not overwhelming. I think what impressed me most of all was how expansively the collection delves into 19th century North American and Hudson River School painting.  (What a surprise to see the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington’s cook, Hercules.) We are so accustomed to revering the early European masters that it’s almost shocking to discover they could take any serious interest in our own pre-imperial culture.

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