Postcard from Valencia, Spain: A metropolis in which to happily get lost

Cities are the spearhead of the most outstanding experiences and the most daring behavior, the places where the greatest development of the arts takes place. Consequently many artists choose life in the city as one of the central features of their work, with the city (often) being understood as a collage of a host of discontinuous, fragmented memories and experiences, a confused labyrinth in which the inhabitants cross paths with one another but remain immersed in their own thoughts.

Jose Miguel G. Cortes, director of IVAM

From the balcony of the apartment we are renting in Valencia, we have a personal portal into Valencia’s Institute of Modern Art, better known as IVAM. Unfortunately, all this portal permits us to see is one of the museum’s stairwells; we have to walk around to the main entrance and pay to enter.

But “Lost in the City,” an exhibition drawn from IVAM’s extensive permanent collections, was a worthwhile place to begin our stay in Spain’s third largest city. Organized around themes, the show portrays more than a century of artists’ positive and negative reactions to the growth of metropolitan areas. The snapshots below capture a few of the included works, but I was derelict in recording many of the artists’ names.

IVAM also introduced us to the works, “Corpus,” of Helena Almeida, a Portuguese artist renowned for her performance and conceptual art.

The original core of the institute’s huge collection of sculptures are by a Spaniard, Julio Gonzalez (1876-1972). Born into a family of craftsmen working in metal in Barcelona, Gonzalez yearned for more artistic expressions than construction projects allowed. Traveling to Paris to immerse himself in the thriving art community, he collaborated with Pablo Picasso in the 1920s on a series of metal sculptures that involved a mutual exchange of their creative expertise.

The harsher depictions of metropolitan scenes captured in many works in “Lost in the City” and our stark view of the museum’s portal stand in contrast to our current experiences in Valencia. The heart of this city is pedestrian and bicycle oriented. Our neighborhood is crisscrossed by a rabbit-like warren of winding narrow streets constantly interrupted by intimate plazas filled with lively cafes.

Despite its population of 800,000 residents, even strangers feel welcome in the warmth of such a walkable environment. Becoming lost under the stimulating spell of Valencia is an urban journey beckoning us daily.

Fortunately, the 1927 version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is not what life has become…. at least not here.

 

Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.

Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, 1927

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Grotesque guardians watched over silk exchange

While orange trees abound along the streets of Valencia, mulberry trees were more important as a cash crop in the 1400s. Not for the fruit, but because their leaves provided food for the very hungry caterpillars striving to build cocoons and emerge as moths. The moths only live about five days, but lay hundreds of eggs before their passing.

For Valencian farmers, the cocoons were the most important result of the short life cycle. After a dip in boiling water killing the pupa who so industriously wove it, a silkworm’s cocoon can be unraveled to produce a strand of silk ranging from about 1,000 up to almost 3,000 feet long.

So unravel the Valencians did. They unraveled so much, that by 1482 the fortunes amassed and riches anticipated from future trade enabled the silk merchants to begin construction of a major Gothic edifice worthy of housing their transactions.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Lonja de la Seda has a hall with soaring palm-tree-like columns for conducting transactions, a tribunal hall for adjudicating commercial disputes and even a prison for those found at fault.

Ah, but there are devils in the details. Although the Virgin Mary crowns the entryway and there is a nod to the crown on the side, many of the embellishments throughout the secular compound feature up-to-no-good-looking creatures. Was the ornamentation designed to warn dishonest merchants to stay away or to represent merchants thumbing their noses at the power of the church?

Less expensive fabric from Japan and China began dominating the silk market in the 1800s, but the streets of Valencia still house numerous shops continuing to vend fine silk brocade, with windows displaying their use in women’s fashions of centuries ago.

Oh, and the model wearing one such dress? She simply popped into camera view on a walk the same day we visited the silk exchange.

Postcard from Bergamo, Italy: Bidding Italy ciao, for now

These parting shots from the historic hilltop town of Bergamo represent the end delayed deliveries from this past summer’s trip….

Finally posting them would sadden me were it not for two facts: 1) We know we will return to Italy. 2) We already have launched this spring’s two-month sojourn.

Expect postcards from Valencia, Spain, in the near future.