Artists, Art Museums, Art Collectors and Sangria (E8)

July 20, 2010

Finally the heat wave has broken and it is only in the mid 80s today with a cool breeze. Good day for the park, I thought, but our professors convinced me that I just HAD to go to the Monasteria de los Descalzos, that it was more interesting than El Escorial. But we had to get there early, they said, because a line of people forms and the tours get full. You have to take a guided tour. It wasn’t due to reopen until 4 pm but they said to get there EARLY to get tickets. So four of us left at 3:30. We had  two women from our group with us, who were not interested in going to the monastery but since it is very close to the famous chocolateria San Gines (where you get churros and chocolate), they wanted to go with us there. They had arrived late in Madrid and by the time they got here we had already gone to San Gines.

We left at about 3:10 to walk down there, about a 15-20 min. walk. I wanted to get the tickets for the monastery first, then decide whether to go to San Gines after the tour or before. Well, the monastery was closed tight when we arrived at 3:30 so we couldn’t get the tickets in advance. So on we went to San Gines where we enjoyed chocolate, churros and capuccinos.

Back to the monastery, after parting with the other two, we arrived at 4:10 and sure enough, there was a line of people waiting to get in! We got in line and I wondered whether I should tell them I was Brazilian or something, because when our professors went there, Prof. J was let in free when she told them she was from Peru, while Prof. A had to pay 5 euros when they found out she was from the U.S.!

It turned out not to matter, because by the time we arrived at the front of the line, the tickets were sold out for the day! In other words, they sold enough tickets for 2 tours (each tour is 45 min. and the place is only open for one & a half  hours at a time)! Fine, if it’s that hard to get in, I’m not going to bother. If tomorrow is as nice as today, I want to go to the park and rent a row boat! I think Dale was probably relieved, because he would have had to endure 45 minutes of purely religious stuff. He was more content to go shopping, which is what we did afterward – I bought some Spanish kids’ books (NOT English translations – actually written for children in Spain!) and Dale bought a lens cap for his camera. He looked for cheap shorts, but came up short! (Ha ha!)

Anyway, last Thursday (July 15) we went to the modern art museum, called Reina Sofia (after Spain’s queen). There we saw many paintings by Spanish modern artists, including Picasso, Dali and Miro, among others. Miro is a minimalist painter whose canvases might contain three lines and entitled ¨”Landscape”. You are left to imagine the actual landscape which is merely suggested by the artist. There was one by Miro that I liked entitled “Swallow” (Golondrina). This little bird is ubiquitous everywhere here. They have pointed wings and fly about fast overhead, usually in groups, making a distinctive chirp. They fly in circles, loops, up and down, like they are constantly playing a game together. So when I saw Miró’s painting I could actually relate: It was a black line which ondulated and looped around the canvas, on a mostly brown background. I could actually imagine the swallows making a trajectory like this.

I had found out something about that Salvador Dali sort of turned me off. He was from a very wealthy family so he never had to worry about money – not exactly a “starving artist.” He was also crazy – I think meaning he had a mental illness that made him mad, paranoid, depressed, manic, whatever. I’m not sure but anyway in his paranoia he found his gift for seeing things in a different way.

This, of course, is not the thing about Dali that turned me off. What I didn’t like was his choice to support the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. It isn’t as though he needed to support Franco – he had money, he could go abroad and work, as many of his compatriots did. It was a choice he made, perhaps out of convenience or perhaps out of craziness. Franco used him also – Dali was his “token” modern artist, so to speak. He could thus say to the rest of Europe that he supported modern art, that he wasn’t backward in his thinking and here was his friend Salvador Dali to prove it.

Also, Salvador Dali was bisexual. OK, no big deal, but one of his lovers was the Spanish author Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca was homosexual, and very much in love with Dali. Dali, however, broke his heart – romanced him, kept him as a lover for awhile, then left him high and dry. Lorca never got over it. Lorca was also killed during the Spanish Civil War due to his writing as well as his homosexuality. Dali, meanwhile, married a woman to whom he dedicated, and was the subject of, many of his paintings.

The early Dali paintings are actually my favorites. He did a series of scenes with his sister as the main subject during his early years during his cubist period, but these paintings are more realist in style.    In my favorite of these paintings, his sister was standing at a window looking out, her back to the viewer. You can see the scene she is looking at, so it is a picture within a picture. I love the colors that he uses and the sensual lines of her dress. It almost looks 3D. His sister commented of this painting that she stood as the model for this painting for so long that she had memorized every detail of the scene she was looking at, which was a beautiful coastal landscape.

Moving on to other Dali paintings, and those of you who are familiar with Dali know what I am talking about, the majority of them are very surrealistic and hard to understand without it being explained. We had an audio headset which explained some of the most important ones. There is a lot of symbolism in his paintings, which represent different aspects of his life, I guess, but they are generally put together in a bizarre way.

The most interesting works in the museum, to me, were those by Picasso.

Guernica, his most famous work about the Spanish Civil War (painted in 1937) was in its own gallery. Next to this gallery were sketches that he did of different parts of the painting, in which he tried out different forms, and photographs taken by a friend, during different stages of its creation. These are very interesting to see, how Picasso added and changed elements in the painting to create different effects, until he arrived at the final masterwork.

It took him 4 months to paint Guernica, which is the name of a town in the Basque country of northern Spain that was attacked by the fascist forces of

Guernica after the bombing

Franco, believing it to be a haven of dissidents. Most of the people killed were innocents – women, children, civilians. The painting, done completely in black, white and hues of gray, is an indictment of war, showing the horror in the faces, the devastation. Other works he did at that time, including an interesting one called The Swimmer (1934?) were forerunners of Guernica. In The Swimmer, the expression of the woman swimming is one of fear and terror, seen in her face and her hands.

Guernica needed a home and Picasso knew he could not send it to Spain. In fact, his instructions were that he wanted it to ultimately be in a Spanish museum, but not until democracy was restored. For decades it was housed at MoMA in New York, although the artist lived in exile in France. Guernica didn’t return to Spain until 1981 and found its final home at the new Reina Sofia Museum in 1992. You cannot get too close to this painting and it is the only one you are not allowed to photograph. If you get too close, a buzzer sounds and you are admonished to stay behind the line of tape on the floor.

Near Guernica are many other works on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. Other artists did series of paintings showing the horror through distorted bodies, naked people with large holes in them, deformed looking people enjoying a snack of ears (a plate nearby has several ears, with a sign “Orejas, 1 pts” (Ears, 1 peseta each).  Other artists created more realistic paintings, including militaristic ones with bold lines. Almost all of these works are in hues of gray, black and white. It is almost as if the artists wanted to create the effect of a newsreel or newspaper. Also, the lack of color lends to the feeling of tragedy and horror of that war. There are also photographs of the Spanish Civil War taken by an American journalist.

In contrast to these are propaganda posters, in bright colors and extolling the glory of the military and the fight against subversive communists, the virtues of the fascist leaders, etc.

To see representations of some of these works, Google “paintings of the Spanish Civil War” and see what comes up! Following are some other works we saw at Reina Sofia.

This sculpture is in the courtyard in front of the entrance to the museum.

When KF, Dale and I left the museum (I think we were about the last to leave!) we looked around for a place to have dinner near the metro station. We came to a little plaza with a couple of sidewalk cafes. We were about to sit down at one of them when I noticed the one across the way was a pizzeria. When I said the word “pizza” I could see K’s eyes light up! That settled it – we went to the pizza place, called Dorna. We ordered two small pizzas and a pitcher of sangria. When the waiter brought the sangria, the carafe was wrapped in a towel and he stirred the concoction with a wooden spoon! DAMN, it was GOOD!!!! I started drinking it right away, while the others sipped, waiting for their pizza. Sangria is a dangerous drink – it’s so sweet and refreshing, and you forget that it has alcohol!

By the time we were done eating and drinking, KF and I, especially, were really feeling the effects of the sangria! The waiter told us it had cognac and vermouth in it!!! Oh my God! I never drink that stuff! We staggered to the Metro station and I told Dale he had to get us back home! On the train, there was a 7-piece jazz band – no, I didn´t imagine it – including a bass!! They started playing on the train and while others quietly enjoyed the music, I showed my appreciation by swaying and clapping! One of the musicians went around asking for coins and Iput in a euro. They smiled, kind of laughed – do you suppose they realized I’d had too much todrink??

The next day I was explaining to one of my Spanish teachers why I didn’t do my homework, and we ended up spending half an hour talking about sangria, tinto de verano and other drinks, and learned a lot of idiomatic expressions for being drunk, being merely high, and hangover.

North facade of Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, built in1806. Note: I downloaded this picture from Google.

Another museum in art museum row in Madrid is the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum which is the private collection of the Thyssen family and contains many works by non-Spanish artists, including Flemish, Dutch, French and others, from the 12th-19th centuries. I have not been to this museum, but I mention it due to the intrigues of the Thyssen family that I have recently learned about. In fact, the other night there was a 3-hour special on TV about this family (which I didn´t find out about until the next day).

The owner of the collection is Carmen (Tita), the Baroness Thyssen, a woman of around 60 years old. In the 1960s, she was an average middle class Spanish girl who won the Miss España beauty contest. With the money and fame she gained from this, she went to the United States to live and work for awhile. She studied at a university, I don´t know where and what. Upon her return to Spain, she had affairs with many men, and eventually got pregnant. The identity of the father was never determined. She gave birth to a baby boy and gave him the God-awful name of Borja. Shortly after this, she met an older gentleman from Germany, extremely wealthy, who had a passion for art. In fact he was a professional art collector and had amassed a collection of artwork that was worth a fortune (in addition to his already considerable wealth). He fell passionately in love with Tita and they got married. He agreed to officially adopt her son Borja, who became thus the heir to his fortune.

Thyssen had a couple of other children by a previous marriage, but when he married Tita he changed his will, giving her and Borja the bulk of his fortune, with much less amounts to his other children. Although Borja was due to inherit the art collection in the museum, his mother was named the executor and owner until she dies. Thyssen died when the boy was still a teenager.

Having learned from her own experience, Tita pushed and prodded her son to make something of himself, to go to university and make a career for himself. However, Borja has never been interested in bettering himself. He left school at 18 (which is unheard of for the upper classes in Spain, and even the middle classes, because the job market is extremely competitive and university education is free) and started spending his inheritance. Now Borja is always in the gossip press and on TV. He has a penchant for motorcycles, drinking,

drugs, tattoos and women. He has a wife with whom he has had one child and she is pregnant with another. Tita is absolutely furious. Borja has lived so high on the life that his inheritance is almost all spent. His mother wants his son to have a genetic test to prove that he is in fact her grandson. Meanwhile, she also wants to cut him out of her will in terms of the art collection. If Borja were to inherit all that art, he would probably sell it to pay off his debts and to continue to live the life of luxury to which he is accustomed.

About 4 years ago, meanwhile, Tita adopted twin baby girls. They may be from another country or they may be from a surrogate. My “source” (one of my Spanish teachers at Enforex) was unable to say. Anyway these girls are now about 4 years old because she adopted them in infancy. Since they are officially and legally her children, they have now also become heirs to the Thyssen fortune. The plot thickens and the intrigue continues!

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