Postcards from Valencia, Spain: Wrapping up a few more museums

The façade of a Gothic palace disguised by numerous layers of ostentatious additions of Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and maybe even Oriental decorations through the centuries houses the National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts in Valencia. A prominent location and the sheer audacity of its exterior ornamentation attract crowds to the museum. Aside from a set of china with fanciful animals that I loved, the museum overall resembles a beautifully iced flavorless cake. This sounds harsh, but, if time is limited, we would recommend a trip to the under-visited House Museum José Benlliure instead.

The palace of Saint Pius V above the Turia River provides huge galleries for displaying several centuries of Spanish art, beginning with a collection of huge Gothic retablos. El Museo de Bellas Artes includes works by Velazquez, Goya, Sorolla and Valencian hometown favorites, the Ribaltas.

Sixty days after Easter, the doors of the Corpus Christi Museum swing open so the rocas, massive wooden floats about 500 years old, can be rolled out for the annual parades celebrating the feast day. Horses haul the floats over the cobblestones, the faithful bear heavy statues atop their shoulders and gigantes, 16-foot figures representing Catholics from around the world, are part of the religious fanfare. As our timing was off for the event, we visited the carriage house, Casa de las Rocas, built in the 1400s specifically to house the floats. The parade-in-a-box leaves no spare space, but the jammed together festival props provide a sense of the ancient enduring traditions.

We also left three days before the opening of PhotOn Festival, the International Festival of Photojournalism spread mounted in several venues in Valencia. When we entered the cloisters of Centro Cultural La Nau, workers were installing large prints by Joseph Eid and Natalia Sancha for “Those Who Stay.”

While the original founding bank might have floundered when the real estate bubble burst, a palace of art remains. The spacious galleries of the Centro Cultural Bancaja are operated by a nonprofit foundation. Portraits by British artist Julian Opie were featured. We found them somewhat hypnotic despite their pared down, cartoonish lines and a peculiar flatness. Several of the large illuminated portraits of individuals featured subtle movements. The hands of a watch might move once a minute, or dot-like eyes might blink about as often as you do.

Opie’s video below made me feel as though I was relaxing at a café watching a parade of people passing by on their way to work – a kind of boulevardier spirit we cultivate while traveling.

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