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.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Fortunate to encounter Kentridge’s multimedia exhibition

As a guiding principle, Kentridge embraces the notion of fortuna, which he describes as something other than cold statistical chance, yet something outside the range of rational control. In other words, we might understand this as a kind of directed happenstance, or the engineering of luck, wherein there is possibility and pre-determination. Fortuna alludes to a state of becoming wherein the work of art is endlessly under construction — even when encountered as a finished product by the viewer.

Lilian Tone, http://www.museoamparo.com

While we were in Puebla, a floor of Museo Amparo was devoted to “Fortuna,” a huge retrospective exhibition of work by William Kentridge. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1955, the artist appears unsure of what he wanted to be when he grew up. Studying first politics and history, then theatre, then art until scrambling aspects of all of them into films.

Kentridge’s charcoal works are as politically potent as those of Goya. His simple tribute after the death of his wife – “Her Absence Filled the World” – seems to unleash a gallery-filling howl of mourning.

We visited “Fortuna” twice, fascinated by Kentridge’s videos, sometimes incorporating his charcoal drawings in progress and/or the reverse and sometimes focusing on personal autobiographical interactions of him with himself. Life-size projections brought him pacing into the room with you (the Mister in the above photos), even though many were in black and white.

Below are two brief snippets plucked from the exhibition:


Really recommend making time for viewing this documentary, William Kentridge: How We Make Sense of the World. The thought process governing his artistic process is wonderful to watch unfold.

Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Mentioning a few more museums

A month in Madrid, and we never ran out of museums. Doing a round-up of a few remaining ones so you can see how inexhaustible the supply.

El Museo del Romanticismo is one of several house museums positioning art and collections as though the owners still were present. A glimpse into gender expectations was provided in the toy room: a display case of toy soldiers for boys, a dollhouse full of nuns for girls.

The ballroom of Museo Cerralbo is over the top even for extravagant residences of the 19th century.

A glimpse into an artist’s life and work is provided in the Museo Sorolla. Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) preferred to paint his subjects en plein air, trying to capture sunlight instead of artificial light.

Oh, and then there are Goya’s ceiling frescoes and his tomb in San Antonio de la Florida….

And a large collection of art resides in the Museum of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, or Bellas Artes, because one reason Spain has produced such great artists is the country offered them support. Velazquez painted the royals; Picasso and Dali studied at the academy; and Goya was a director of the Bellas Artes. No photographs were allowed here, but the museum’s labels clearly indicate the politics of art. A Napoleonic tradition of systematically looting art was in play. Many of the pieces hanging on the walls of Bellas Artes are listed as having been retrieved from France after the final eviction of Joseph Bonaparte and the restoration of Ferdinand VII’s rule in the early 1800s.