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An ambitious exhibition at the MNAC breaks myths about Gaudí

It is a tiny photo, by an anonymous author, taken in 1920 in front of the Sagrada Família. Along with the musician Lluís Millet walks a guy who covers his face with his hat to prevent his image from being captured . He does not like to be photographed. It is Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), six years before he died after being run over by a tram. With this historical snapshot, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) promotes the ambitious exhibition that is dedicated to the brilliant Catalan architect and artist, in which, through a critical review, his authentic face is rescued, which has been distorted by myths and topics and become a gigantic tourist icon.

“They are myths and legends that speak of an isolated and misunderstood genius, a saint who lives outside his time and closed in on himself, who draws his extraordinary and eccentric artistic forms from within as if touched by divine inspiration, providence or by infused science “, Juan José Lahuerta , curator of a large-format exhibition that brings together more than 650 architectural objects , design and furniture, works of art, before beginning to dismantle all those topics that surround Gaudí , details documentation, plans, postcards, press and original photos, some from the museum’s collection, many others on loan from 74 national and international institutions and collections.

On the left, a portrait of Antoni Gaudí from 1878. On the right, covering his face with his hat, in 1920 in front of the Sagrada Família.

5 works not to be missed from the Gaudí exhibition at the MNAC
“We want to show the other side of the myth, not the Gaudí of light and colors but the one that has many folds and that helps us understand the history of a Barcelona that is not ‘flors i violes'”, he adds. “If he was as unknown and misunderstood as they say, how is it that he was the preferred architect of the upper bourgeoisie of Barcelona , with clients as influential as Eusebi Güell, the Comillas, the Batlló or the Milà, and also of the Church of the city ​​and Mallorca? “, refutes the curator and director of the Gaudí Chair at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona.

If he was as unknown and misunderstood as they say, how is it that he was the preferred architect of the upper bourgeoisie of Barcelona, ​​with such influential clients as Eusebi Güell, the Comillas, the Batlló or the Milàs?

Joan Jose Lahuerta
“It has always been said that he inherited the artisan tradition of generations of boilermakers; that he was a sickly child who observed the birds and trees in the family’s country house [in Riudoms, near his native Reus], ​​and that there he learned the forms that would later lead to his works, that he despised academic teachings and was unaware of what other artists were doing in the great European artistic capitals “, Lahuerta continues.

“Gaudí was not a coppersmith like his grandfather and father but an architect, sent to study at the Escola d’Arquitectura,where he shares debates and discussions with his colleagues and has the vision of the world of an intellectual.

His genius does not come from his isolation but from the artistic and architectural environment of his time, where he sees the role of nature in art in relation to that seen in Europe at the time. “And they interest and influence him, like himself writes, creators such as Geoffroy-Dechaume, Viollet-le-Duc, Thomas Jeckyll, William Morris or Auguste Rodin , some of whose works dialogue with those of Gaudí in the exhibition.

One of them, a plaster model of ‘The Door to Hell’ from the Rodin Museum in Paris, does not clash next to one of the Sagrada Família façade in a room in which pieces and plaster casts from the Gaudí’s workshop, the “obrador”, burned down during the Civil War . Before reaching it, the tour takes the visitor through his first drawings and sketches as a student, such as his final degree project, a university auditorium, and his first works, such as the bee that was the emblem of the L’Obrera cooperative. Mataronense and pieces of urban furniture such as stands for advertisements, lampposts or newsstands.

Gaudí from Reus had arrived in Barcelona in 1868, “an empty city, which was a ‘tabula rasa’ that had recently demolished the old walls and had an Eixample still to be built . A society in full transformation and growth and formation of the modern art, from the second industrial revolution and triumphant capitalism. He knew how to capture the needs of his society by producing works and images that endure today, “says Lahuerta.

Eusebi Güell, his great patron
That “artist of bohemian roots” found his clients among the then “optimistic bourgeoisie”, to whom he imposed his tastes and with whom he even came to confront. His first architectural commissions – the Casa Vicens and the Güell de Pedralbes pavilions – were followed by projects for his great patron, Eusebi Güell – the Palau, in what is now Nou de la Rambla, the Park Güell and the church of the colony – and the Calvet, Batlló and Milà houses in Eixample. Two of the three unique pieces of furniture that he designed for the Palau Güell stand out in the exhibition: a beautiful dressing table for the daughter’s coming of age and a ‘chaise longue’ that she wore in an intimate corner of the double bedroom.

Also impressive is the assembly of the spectacular wooden furniture that covered the walls of the hall on the main floor of La Pedrera, which was disassembled in the 60s and whose pieces had been dispersed. The MNAC team has managed to reunite arquibancos, cabinets, columns and sliding doors that have been assembled following the photos of the time. Nearby, the plans of the building that he presented to the city council, much more daring than they came to be, with all the rooms oblong in shape.

An enormous basalt column has also been rescued for the Colònia Güell church, which was never used, or the photographs of Park Güell that were part of the 1910 Paris exhibition dedicated to Gaudí and that had not been used again. expose.

One of Jujol’s huge tapestries for the 1907 Jocs Florals, restored for the show.

Along with those of Gaudí, there are numerous pieces by Josep Maria Jujol, who accompanied him in many of his works: among them, bars, chandeliers, a mirror cabinet, a filing cabinet or one of the three giant tapestries that he made for the Jocs Florals from 1907, which has required a titanic restoration work.

The city of bombs
Gaudí’s clients were also the promoters of the idea of ​​the Sagrada Família , the Association of Devotees of San José, conceived as an expiatory temple where at that time there was only an empty field. He received the order at the age of 31 and has been linked to her ever since. It was raised, says the commissioner, citing the articles by Joan Maragall on the work, as’ redeemer of a city, the mud of whose streets is kneaded with blood ‘, “because it had to atone for the violence of the class struggle that ripped through the convulsions’ city ​​of bombs’, the Rose of Foc “.

An example of its “symbolic architecture committed to popular and revolutionary Barcelona” is one of the sculptures in the Chapel of the Rosary of the Sagrada Família that reproduces a large photo in the exhibition. He holds with his hand, offered by the devil as if it were Eva’s apple, an Orsini bomb like the real one, displayed in an adjoining display case , which did not explode in the bloody anarchist attack on the Liceu in 1893.

The entire MNAC team, recalls its director, Pepe Serra, has been working intensively on this exhibition for four years , two of them of covid, which has had a production cost of 940,000 euros and which can be seen until March 6, 2022 . Then he will travel, somewhat reduced, to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris . Through a QR code, the visitor can take the tour listening to the room texts narrated by the actor Josep Maria Pou .

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