Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Contemporary art invigorates former Carthusian monastery

The giant “Alice” by Cristina Lucas is indeed stuck in a curiously odd place on the Isla de la Cartuja. Sevilla is bustling on one side of the Guadalquivir, but crossing the river on foot to this part of the island at first appears to be heading into somewhat of a remote no-man’s land.

For centuries, much of the clay for the city’s azulejos came from the island. In 1400, Archbishop Gonzalo de Mena chose the location for a Carthusian monastery. The founding of Monasterio de la Cartuja was in the nick of time to provide a suitable permanent home for the archbishop to rest, as he died in 1401. Christopher Columbus’ body was placed in the Capilla de Santa Ana from 1509 to 1536, but the archbishop’s tomb in the Capilla de la Magdalena Chapel is not the only one remaining within the ancient walls of the monastery.

Patrons of the monastic order, members of the Ribera family reside in sculpturally rich tombs dating from the 16th century and dominating the Sala Capitular. The 15th-century chapel with its colorful tiles serves a prime example of Mudejar architecture. Some of the bizarre images incorporated in the ornate motifs surrounding the tombs appear as though they emerged from the mind of someone who swilled some Wonderland “drink me” potion.

Government seizure of ecclesiastical property in 1836 left the monastery available. Englishman Charles Pickman rented and soon purchased the property to manufacture La Cartuja de Sevilla Pottery. Enormous brick chimneys erected there demonstrate both the size and modernity of the production facilities. In addition to tiles reflecting the city’s heritage, the facility produced mass-market earthenware dish patterns. A wall of rows of tiles serves as an outdoor “showroom” of sorts of the patterns available from La Cartuja.

The pottery factory still is in operation elsewhere in Seville, while the monastery and its grounds were refurbished when the city hosted the Universal Exhibition of 1992. Today the monastery is home to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo.

Instead of turning left into “Argadedinam” or “Ebajodelaban” to explore the contemporary cultural center, it is wise to follow the right arrow on the whimsical directional sign. In addition to visual art, the café on the grounds is often a site for weekend jazz concerts.

Postcard from Saluzzo, Italy: Transforming a former prison into contemporary gallery space not a problem

Located at the top of the highest hill in Saluzzo, Castello dei Marchesi – La Castiglia was an obvious choice for a fortified castle in the 13th century. Beginning with the French occupation in the 1500s, the once grand brick quarters and towers began to spiral into decline, culminating with their transformation in the 1800s into a high-security prison.

In 2006, the prison was converted into a museum. Portions of the former castle are dedicated to displays relating to life in the Middle Ages, while former prison cells now serve as exhibition space for IGAV – Garuzzo Institute for the Visual Arts, dedicated to contemporary Italian art.

Medieval castles. Former factories. Old prisons. Contemporary Italian architects view transforming existing structures into striking museums as ideal challenges for displaying their talents. Adaptive reuse of existing structures is expected.

Yet in Texas, the General Land Office seems so skeptical of the capabilities of architects that the fine historic landmarks on the west side of Alamo Plaza are deemed impossible to convert into a museum for the Alamo. Absurdly wasteful, unimaginative and disrespectful of the past. So, so very sad.

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Blurring boundaries between art and craft and embroidering border politics

I don’t think about the differences between art and craft. It gets in the way of seeing what is there. Did I teach them anything? No, Las Hormigas did not need me to teach them anything…. working together confirmed that we are more the same than different.

Fred Escher on collaboration with Taller Hormigas Bordadoras

Curator Marietta Bernstorff paired 13 artists from throughout North America with artisans from workshops engaged in traditional crafts in Oaxaca for an exhibition currently displayed at Museo MACO, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca. Tinwork, ceramics, gourd-carving and stitchery are among the forms of art employed in “Bajo la bóveda azul cobalto/Under the Cobalt Blue Sky.”

The majority of these photos reflect the results of these collaborations that can be viewed through March 20, 2019.

This exposition is a demonstration of what can happen when we accept our differences and our similarities; it is an example of coexistence under the same blanket of stars.

“Bajo la bóveda azul cobalto,” website of MACO