While in Madrid last weekend with my son visiting my older son who now lives there, I made the mistake of visiting the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía with them.
T, the twentyone-year-old was hungover, had had very little sleep and appeared to be powered entirely by the fumes from his armpits. T‘s objective was to get through the enormous gallery as quickly as possible. His pace reminded me of his father, many years ago, pushing the buggy at breakneck speed around the zoo to get it done with little attention or time to see the animals. A, the sixteen-year-old, is the opposite and likes to spend time pouring over the content. I once thought he was abducted in the Titanic Museum in Belfast only to find him immersed in engineering data pertaining to the ship’s hull. I’m somewhere in between, I like to look around, read a bit and also go for coffee.
Back to the Reina Sofía, T dismisses a lot of work as S**T and how he could do that. I say but you didn’t and try to explain that the work is more than what we see; a response to something external to the artist. He doesn’t care and is getting hungry at this point. A takes more time but admits he’s “not really bothered with the intimacies of art”, further probing tells me that he doesn’t care what the artist is trying to say or do, he is only interested in the aesthetic. I despair.
Like me, A likes to know the name of the painting before he can make a final call on the work. Unlike me, he immediately dismisses anything that is ‘untitled’ in much the same way he dislikes the lazy use of montage in movies or his pet peeve, a film that ends abruptly with a still of text explaining the rest of the story. I tell him he doesn’t have to stop and read the title of every painting but just the ones that arrest him and to investigate more. Always the reader, he ignores me, he has to read it all.
We begin with a retrospective on Jörg Immendorff, a protégé and lifelong friend of Joseph Beuys. A likes the irony of “Stop Painting” and the comic strip style of his middle work. T has yet to arrive and I realise that when we last spoke on the phone, he had just woken up and was not on his way to meet us as he implied. When he does arrive, he races us through the collections that I have only faint recollections of what we have seen.
I’m keen to see The Poetics of Democracy, Images and Counter-Images from the Spanish Transition exhibition but again T is in a hurry and A is busy itemising the work by title. I try to start a conversation about the work saying that Spain was still a totalitarian state when I was a child and they know, they know and I’m a bore to even suggest a discussion.
The next collection, The Irruption of the 20th Century: Utopias and Conflicts, includes Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937. Like feeding time at the zoo, there is scarcely standing room in front of its 3.49 m x 7.77 m. In the adjoining rooms, we speed view Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí. Óscar Domínguez, Joan Miró and many more. I ask myself, as there is no point involving the sons, what makes work like Guernica and the Mona Lisa must-sees while other masterpieces are ignored en route?
I want to venture up to the collection on the fourth floor, Is the War Over? Art in a Divided World, but know I will need to re-charge the sons in the café before I can even mention another room. Once caffeinated we proceed with caution. The layout of the museum is as cryptic as some of the work on display. It’s anyone’s guess how to get from the 2nd to the 4th floor in a lift that only goes down not to mention the less intuitive means of getting from the original museum, the “Edificio Sabatini”, to the newer “Nouvel” building behind and attached to it.
We all like this sculpture: Spectators of spectators (1972) by Manuel Valdes and Rafael Solbes, members of Equipo Crónica possibly because we all just want to sit down.
I referenced the website today when writing this post to confirm the names of the collections and realise how little I saw despite having spent several hours in the building. The real study was of my sons and how they interacted, or not, with the work. Next time, I’ll go sola.
Theatre was my first love. It all started with the One-Act and 3-Act AmDram festivals in our local theatre to get out of the house to smoke cigarettes on school nights. It wasn’t long before I had graduated onto the Class As in the Abbey, Peacock, Project, Tivoli and even more fringe events and locations. It’s physical. Being present with the cast, the crew, the soundscape of mutters, coughs, and gasps from the audience; the dust, the set, the murmur murmur hum before curtain. Pure energy. I can forgive anything — set, direction, costumes, props, performance — except bad writing.
Latest posts by Phyllis Styne (see all)
- Review: Women Make Film, 14 Hours of Femmes in Film - 2nd March 2020
- Mamma mia, the Reina Sofía in Madrid! - 27th February 2020
- Movie Review: Parasite and that horror called Hope - 16th February 2020