In this city, art is everywhere.
So we are slowly finding our feet in our new city…and I mean that quite literally. We don’t have a car, and it seems we don’t really need one, so we are walking everywhere we can and using public transit for longer journeys. We start our day by walking to Jon’s place of work , a 45 minute jaunt with the return journey doubling the time and distance for me. The route features the green shade of Retiro as well as the pool of tortugas (turtles) to be found in the rather less picturesque Atocha Station so it’s no real hardship and makes a great, active start to the day.
And at weekends, with more time to explore, we walk for pleasure. Walking is such a wonderful way to make friends with a city, one of my greatest pleasures has always been exploring a new location on foot. Sure, it can be a challenge here in Madrid sometimes; the traffic is noisy (the Spanish love their horns!), and the streets stinky with fumes, cigarette smoke (many Spanish still smoke) and other less desirable odours – the concept of picking up after your pooch is only just getting going here so you have to watch your step, and peeing in the street after a night on the town is as socially acceptable here as littering. A veritable army of street sweepers emerges each morning to pick up and clean up after the previous night’s carousing. But, these minor irritations of city living, one of the joys of walking the streets is the unexpected hidden, delights that you stumble upon that simply cannot be seen from a car. Flamboyant architecture, children dressed to the nines, fascinating little stores, dogs and cats, churches and shoes…this is a footwear culture gone mad…all of these are on display as you walk. And, in the central barrios, like the one we live in, it seems you cannot go far without bumping into art. Art museums, art galleries, art exhibitions, art is everywhere. Madrid is an art-lovers delight. It’s a little overwhelming.
To take last week alone, I visited two galleries and an exhibition in the space of three days and two of these I stumbled across while en route to other places. And these are just the small galleries tucked into out of the way corners of the city. In previous weeks I have made trips to the both the Reina Sofia and the Prado – both of these more than once – as well as the Caixa Forum and El Greco’s home in Toldeo. I am tripping over art everywhere I go!
Returning home from my Thursday morning Spanish lesson, I chanced upon Fundación March, located just at the top of our street, wandered in to see what was on offer and found an art exhibition…a free exhibition, as many are. There are numerous fundacións in Madrid. Founded by large companies or wealthy individuals and families they focus on different ways of giving back to society. Many spotlight the creative arts. The exhibition I saw at Fundación March examined work from various artists and photographers from a variety of countries which was made in the 20 years following Hiroshima. It was disturbing and was bleak but fascinating, with paintings (many of them abstract) juxtaposed with photographs making it hard to distinguish between the two. The images in general were strikingly monochromatic and angular and although there were that showed the destruction in any detail they all conveyed the emotion of despair. I will have to go back and look in more detail at some of the paintings.
Another place I will be returning to is Museo ABC, a small gem of a gallery which Jon and stumbled upon on Saturday in the pouring rain (I am just the teeniest bitter about the weather we are experiencing in Madrid which has been consistently cool and wet for the past fortnight in contrast to hot sunny Calgary!) We were in Barrio Centro on a mission to find and join an outdoor club which we had discovered on-line, and so were in search of (as it turned out) a tiny doorway in an old cobbled street behind which was an outdoor enthusiasts dream book-store (assuming you read Spanish!) and a very helpful guy who spoke no English but answered our poorly worded questions with great patience and signed us up as members. Flushed with success we stopped for a quick coffee at a great café, then set out for nearby Plaza d’España and the Temple Debod….and the heavens opened…so instead, we quickly scurried for the nearest shelter where we could spend an hour, and thus stumbled across Museo ABC.
This art gallery is dedicated to the art of illustration (storybooks, comics, magazines etc) and featured an exhibition on comic-book superheroes (not my thing but it was popular with the guys!), another on Blanco y Negro, Spain’s first illustrated cartoon political satire magazine (rather like Punch). Given our limited Spanish and even more limited knowledge of the details of Spanish political history at the end of the C19th, for us, the best exhibition was the one featuring the
history of Alice in Wonderland book illustrations which absorbed both of us for a long time. It featured many wonderful, contemporary illustrations of the classic text…copies of many of these books were on sale…I had to talk to myself very severely! Examining the original artwork made me me want to rush home and start playing with my art materials. So we will also keep an eye out for exhibitions there and see what else comes along.
But I have saved the best for last. On Friday (the one sunny day in a cold, rainy week) I walked from our apartment to the Museo Sorrolla. This gallery is actually housed in the beautiful home of the artist Joaquím Sorolla, a contemporary of Claude Monet and the Impressionists, whose work shows many Impressionist features but is simultaneously much more realistic and more energetic. His use of colour and brush stroke was absolutely amazing and I was blown away by picture after picture. Sorolla is known as the ‘el pintor de la luz’ (the artist of light) because of his ability to portray the play of sunlight on water, clothing and skin. Examining his huge paintings (mostly painted ver quickly en plein air) was an incredible experience. In a letter to his wife he said that he ‘painted with his eyes’ and the effects he achieved were quite remarkable; photographic without being in the least like photographs. The pictures of children on the beaches seemed almost alive. The museum housed many of his best paintings still hanging in the locations he chose for them and the tiny enclosed formal gardens with their fountains and shade along with the light-filled house were an oasis of calm in a busy city. Another gallery I will be returning to for sure! And all this without even mentioning the far more famous museums and exhibition spaces; the Prado, the Reina Sofia,the Caixa Forum, The Thyssen and CentroCentro.
Christopher McDougall – Born to Run * * * *
William Alexander – Flirting with Fench * * *
Emma Healey – Elizabeth is Missing * * *
Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch * * * *
Currently Reading :
Tracey Chevalier – The Virgin Blue * * * *