Travels with my God-Daughter – The Museum of Contemporary Art – Barcelona:
Although I’ve used the term before, along with ‘cobbled streets’ and ‘azure skies’, ‘hidden gem’ sits in my writer’s dictionary as a turn of phrase to use with the utmost caution. I’ve checked back over articles on here and elsewhere and discovered I last used the term to describe a visit to Pistoia in Tuscany. That was over nine months ago now. Perhaps I can permit myself to find another hidden gem this year? I’ve been to some wonderful places which could easily qualify for the award: From the 22,000BC rock carvings at Foz Coa in Portugal to the magnificent retirement Palace of Emperor Diocletian which forms the city of Split, Croatia. But isn’t there more to the ultimate ‘Hidden Gem’?
Last year I went to Barcelona for the first time, by myself. I loved it, deeply regretted not having been before and vowed to return.
This year I went back with my god-daughter.
The idea – to celebrate something important in her life – was one we have talked about for years. Finishing A-Levels was exactly the right sort of something, although HER idea of New York didn’t work for me. We only had a few days and I have a limited budget. I wanted to take her somewhere that wouldn’t involve jet lag and would give us a choice of culture, fun and food a little closer to home.
Yes I know Barcelona isn’t in itself a hidden gem – everyone, so it seems, has been at least once. But there is plenty to see and do off the main tourist trail and I wanted to share some of the hidden gems I’d found on my last visit with someone younger. Barcelona with its beach, nightlife and party atmosphere is also full of amazing art and architecture and. thanks to Gaudi, quite unlike any other part of the world. And of course, there’s the food!
Catherine, my god-daughter, is eighteen. Like all eighteen year olds, she likes places that are lively and vibrant. She’s studying Spanish so Barcelona seemed to be a great concept and we set off for a short break in June, just after her last exam. We both had great ambitions about the number of things we might be able to fit into a trip of just two full days; for me the ideal was to mix and match last trip’s favourites with some things I’d missed before. I hadn’t managed to get to Park Guell on my last visit, so on our first day we set out to visit Gaudi’s fairyland park and to take a look at both the old Cathedral and La Sagrada Familia.
Wonderful, ornate, fantastic and other worldly, Park Guell epitomises Gaudi at his most decorative. It would be hard to be disappointed at this carnival of colour.
But I still remember last year’s visit to the attic room at Casa Batllo – a cavernous white space and Moby Dick experience which contrasted dramatically with the rest of the building. Perhaps that was the inspiration behind the hidden gem from this trip to Barcelona.
The next day our plan had been to go to the Dali Museum at Figueres. It’s a journey that needs time, two hours each way on the train and potential queues to get in. We were flying home that day so the planned schedule had always been tight.
A late night for Catherine who, after we’d dined at Placa Reiale, went to see a French film with Spanish subtitles (!) meant we didn’t start the next day early enough and revised our plans. Shopping of course and a quick visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art. After coffee and cake for breakfast at Cataluña, we strolled off to find the Museum. Her idea not mine.
Outside, the starkly modern building sits opposite an ancient Convent. Placa dels Angels is right in the middle of some of Barcelona’s oldest streets and buildings. Inside, like some modern day Alice in Wonderland, you feel as if you must have drunk some magic potion and, like everyone around you, shrunk to a twentieth of your normal size.
To understand the impact, you need to appreciate the contrast between this kind of space and the chaotic, fabulous, rambling buildings of Barcelona.
The lobby is furnished with bean bags and sofas. Grouped and regrouped by locals who escape Barcelona’s burning sun, it’s instantly calming – people speak in hush voices and quasi-religious whispers. Contemporary art spills out from the exhibitions into the lobby, punctuating the pristine walls and challenging the emptiness of the vast space.
Light streams through the glass windows to one side, dappling the black stone floor and creating a dynamic natural art, in one moment bisecting the sanctum of the inner lobby.
The exhibitions that were on display during our visit were demanding. For me, contemporary art shouldn’t be easy. I was suprised though by the reaction of my travel companion. I found a side to Catherine I’d never seen before. Sensitive and emotional, she spent hours pouring over the detail of some of the art-writing on display, the work of Lawence Weiner, in ‘Written on the Wind’. Then on to the works of Eulàlia Grau, whose political montage pieces covering the transition in society after Franco, were provoking and challenging. ‘I have never painted Golden Angels’ a great title for an exhibition to highlight feminist issues as relevant today as in the 1970s.
Shopping was cancelled due to lack of interest.
The building itself, with its clean simple lines, is dramatic and immaculately magnificent in a way that contrasts with much of rest of Barcelona. And it is that contrast that for me makes it unique. A still, tranquil white space in a vibrant and at times overwhelming City. Perhaps too, there’s an element of the personal. There’s something wonderful about finding a passion in someone you love. The Museum of Contemporary Art will always be special for me as the place where I saw my god-daughter suprisingly and delightfully overwhelmed by art. And, discovered a hidden gem in this strikingly modernist refuge from the ongoing carousel of Barcelona, Spain.