Modernisme in Catalunya

Contemplating Catalonian “Modernisme” and how it relates to what I think of as “modern art”, I think a sketch of Gaudi’s signature dragon is appropriate.

I think of Picasso when I think of modern art.  He has a strong connection with Barcelona, and I went to the Picasso museum here just a few days ago.  But does Picasso show up in the Museu del Modernisme de Catalunya?  Not even a mention.  Instead there are paintings and statues that look to me more Romantic or Art Nouveau as well as lots of furniture and decorative arts laden with flowers, marquetry portraiture, and stained glass.

Gaudi – a native son of Catalunya- was well represented.  Is he modern?  Well, he may have adhered to tradition in some ways – his catering to the bourgeoisie and his religious devotion, for example.  But I also find that his work resonates with the following statement which some take as an indicator of the postmodern in art.

“It would be better to think of art as a process that is started by the artist.  If successful, the work starts to live a life of its own, a work of art starts to work.” — Ibram Lassaw, 1952

La Sagrada Familia

The basilica of La Sagrada Familia – another Gaudi masterpiece – was my destination today.  I decided it was definitely in walking distance, although my body kept asking, “Are you sure…?”  Music was needed, so I pulled out my iPod and turned on “Winds of Devotion” by Carlos Nakai and Ngawang Khechog.  By the time La Sagrada Familia loomed into view, Ngawang Khechog was chanting the Prajnaparamita sutra (also know as Heart Sutra) – form is emptiness, emptiness is form… OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SOHA!   Wow.  The concrete and stone massiveness of La Sagrada towered above me as this sutra surged through my senses.

How could this equation of form and emptiness possibly apply to Gaudi?  As I opened my senses a bit more I thought, “You know… I think Gaudi almost got it!”  There is an expansiveness in his forms… There is a movement skyward (EVERYBODY in the basilica was looking UP)… And Gaudi’s emulation of nature imbues his work with an almost transparent quality, despite its massive substance.

Okay, there is also a lot of baroque decoration verging on an obsession for filling up every surface.  I did say he “almost” got it.