My wife and I have been taking a decidedly “less is more” approach to museum visits on our last few trips. When our plans for Madrid started to come together, it was pretty clear there were two can’t miss museums for us – the Museo del Prado (no photography allowed inside, so I won’t write here about it other than to say it was a remarkable experience to roam through it on a rainy fall day) and the museum of 20th century art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
I generally favour more modern art, so the Reina Sofía was actually higher on my list than the Prado. There were a number of pieces I was very excited to see inside the museum, but on entry, I was surprised (really, it was only a lack of advance reading/research) to find some great modern pieces in an outside courtyard by some of my favourite artists. First, “Carmen” by Alexander Calder caught my attention and brought me back to a childhood experience of seeing a Calder piece in Montreal as well as seeing some of his other installations in Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, and outside Copenhagen.
Also in the courtyard was “Pájaro Lunar” by another of my favourite artists, Spaniard, Joan Miró. This might be one of the best examples demonstrating the influence that the sculptures of Picasso had on Miró. Walking up to it, I thought it was a Picasso before recognizing the error of my first impression.
On this perfect day, I wished all of the art could be viewed outside, but there was only one more installation in the courtyard. “Toki Egin” (literally, “make way” in Basque) by Eduardo Chillida speaks to the concept of space and how it only becomes defined and recognizable through form.
Over a few hours inside, there was what seemed like an endless stream of art to explore. Truth be told, we only visited about half of the museum before leaving to picnic in the nearby Retiro Park. Among my favourite works, “Lanas” (“Yarns”) by Juan Hidalgo, intrigued my wife and I for quite some time. This work has 1,600 pieces of varying length yarn suspended from the ceiling, each with a bell attached at the end. Measuring about 12’x12’x12′, it is a large work and I enjoyed exploring it and photographing it from a number of viewpoints.
Walking through some of the galleries focusing on surrealist paintings, I was completely stopped in my tracks by “Un Mundo” by Ángeles Santos. I found this to have beautiful visual depth. On my return home, I read the story of this paining. Remarkably, even though Ms. Santos was completely disconnected from the art movements of the time in Spain, she created this critically acclaimed work with virtually no outside influence.
Early on when my wife and I were still dating, she had taken me to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick (about 30 minutes down the road from where she grew up) where unknown to me they had the Salvador Dali painting “Santiago El Grande” . Since that day, I’ve been drawn to other Dali works that I’ve come across in my travels and was very excited to see a number more here in Madrid.
As our last stop in the museum, my wife and I lingered in a room dedicated to Dali and other contemporaries, drinking in the details of a number of very impressive works. Although I loved the surrealist works (most especially the “Face of the Great Masturbator”, bottom left below), it was his “Girl at the Window (on the right below) that most drew me in. On close inspection, the brushwork in this painting is unlike anything I’ve seen before – perfection might be the best was I could describe it. And on stepping back, the beauty and simplicity of this everyday scene appealed to the enjoyment that I can derive from looking out a window and looking out over a body of water. I’d say that for me, this one painting alone was worth the price of admission.