Postcard from Zaragoza, Spain: Escalating focus on modern art

Above: Escalators in the Pablo Serrano Instituto Aragones de Arte y Cultura Contemporaneous

Science and humanism must be an embrace and not a wall that separates reason and feeling.”

Pablo Serrano (1908-1985)

Born in Crivillen in Teruel, a province of Aragon Spain, Pablo Serrano must have felt his calling toward art at a young age. When he was 14 years old, he left home to begin eight years of study in sculpture in Barcelona. At age 22, he packed his bags and moved to Montevideo, Uruguay.

Despite his distance from Spain, the abstract sculptor’s influence rose as a major force in the Spanish avant-garde movement. Known as an expressionist, he interjected his subjective perspective in his work instead of feeling compelled to accurately replicate nature or his subjects. Serrano returned to Spain in 1957, continuing to exhibit internationally and often working on major public art commissions, including a sculpture of King Juan Carlos of Spain unfinished at the time of his death.

The artist donated a large body of his work to the people of Aragon, of which Zaragoza is the capital, for a museum. The building selected was the Pignatelli Workshop, an industrial complex dating from the early 1900s where Serrano’s grandfather was employed as a master carpenter.

Concrete was a major element in the contemporary adaptive reuse of the former workshops and warehouses into a museum opening in 1994. Although both handsome and practical, the expansive undertaking bankrupted the foundation commissioning the rehabilitation project.

The Government of Aragon took over the museum in 1995, creating the Aragonese Institute of Contemporary Art and Culture Pablo Serrano. The state since has funded a tripling of the interior space, with contemporary additions including striking vertical extensions crowned by unusual rooflines.

The enlarged museum makes it possible to display a permanent exhibition of Serrano’s works, as well as other art from its holdings and temporary traveling exhibitions. When we were there this past spring we enjoyed a major show spotlighting important female artists often historically overlooked – “Towards Gender Poetics: Women Artists in Spain, 1804-1939.”

Simply viewing the sculptural geometrical tangle of gleaming escalators makes the contemporary art museum destination-worthy.

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