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Antoni Tàpies and Universitat de Barcelona


 

Combined visit to the Fundació Antoni Tàpies and the University’s Historic Building

On the occasion of the Tàpies’ Year we are organising, together with the Universitat de Barcelona (UB), a combined visit to the former home of Editorial Montaner y Simón, now the headquarters of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and the university’s Historic Building, designed by Elies Rogent. Both buildings were built in the second half of the 19th century and are examples of an architecture shifting towards modernity, within a historicist style in the case of the university and early Art Nouveau in the case of Montaner y Simón. The visit is a chance to find out about the history of the two buildings, but also about the artist’s links with the university.

Antoni Tàpies’ relationship with the Universitat de Barcelona began in 1944, when he began his studies in the Law faculty. There he made friends with poets, writers and key figures in Catalan letters and communication, including Carlos Barral, Alfonso Costafreda, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Alberto Oliart, Joan Reventós, Josep Maria Castellet, Manuel Sacristán and Josep Maria Ainaud, among others.

Though he never finished these studies, his link to the university was reinforced by the events known as La Caputxinada, in 1966. Tàpies was invited as a well-known Catalan artist to take part in this clandestine meeting at the Capuchin monastery in the Sarrià neighbourhood of Barcelona, where students and intellectuals discussed setting up the first democratic student union at the university since the end of the Spanish Civil War. After several days under siege, he was arrested by the police, together with the other participants, and subsequently fined (the Supreme Court confirmed the fine imposed on the artist in 1971). As he recalled in his autobiography Memòria personal [Personal Memories], which he began writing that same year, “Entering the packed meeting room to great acclaim from the students was moving. It was the first time I had played a prominent part in a large event, and all this affected me a lot.”

 

Antoni Tàpies’ civic and political commitment

Antoni Tàpies was a committed artist in relation to the political and social events of contemporary history. While this positioning is to be found at the beginning of his career, it was from the second half of the 1960s that his commitment to the struggle against the Franco dictatorship and for democracy became clearer. Following the dictator’s death, Tàpies often sided with civil and political initiatives aimed at self-government for Catalonia and an amnesty for political prisoners, and showed his support for other oppressed peoples around the world, environmentalism and anti-militarism.

From the 1980’s onwards, demand for his posters from institutions and other bodies rose. Highlights in this context include the posters he created for initiatives set up by the university together with other institutions, such as for example Catalan Week in New York (1983), published by the UB, the Barcelona city council, the savings bank Caixa d’Estalvis de Catalunya and New York University, and the poster for the production of Goethe’s Urfaust in the university’s Paranimf auditorium (1983).

 

Preliminary work and the creation of Tàpies’ monument to Picasso

Under this title, in 1983 the Paranimf auditorium in the University of Barcelona’s Historic Building hosted an exhibition devoted to the artistic process in which Antoni Tàpies created his Homenatge a Picasso [Homage to Picasso] (1983), commissioned two years before by Barcelona city council. Homenatge a Picasso (1983) was installed in 1983 on the Passeig Picasso, near one of the gates to the Ciutadella park. When the monument was restored by Pere Casanovas in 2006, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies organised another exhibition in which his preliminary sketches were displayed.

Tàpies conceived the monument as an assemblage of art nouveau artefacts—specifically, a piece of furniture that combines the functions of a sofa, mirror and cupboard all at once, from the time when the painter from Malaga lived in Barcelona—with some steel bars running through them. While the piece of furniture is a symbol of comfort in a specific time and social setting, the bars—which suggest the industrial Barcelona of the day—represent the discomfort of revolt. The piece is completed by a pile of chairs tied with ropes and some white sheets spread out with phrases written on the bottom part, including one that translates as, “A painting is not to decorate a lounge, but is a weapon of attack and defence against the enemy.” The piece therefore sets out to stress the social function of art.

The exhibition was open from 7th April to 18th May 1983. It was organised by the faculty of fine art, which devoted a special issue of its newsletter to the exhibition. This included a plan of the pieces in the exhibition, accompanied by the preliminary sketches and several texts reflecting on the monument, illustrated by an extensive photo report by Francesc Català-Roca.

The opening of the exhibition was a major institutional event, attended by leading figures in the worlds of politics and culture at the time, including Jordi Pujol, then head of the Catalan government; Max Cahner, Catalan minister of culture; Pasqual Maragall, mayor of Barcelona; Joan Guitart i Agell, Catalan minister of education; Josep Maria Cullell, Catalan minister of regional policy and public works; José María Maravall, Spanish minister of education and science, and Tomás de la Quadra-Salcedo, Spanish minister of regional administration, among others. The university organised a series of lectures in connection with the exhibition, including one by Alfonso Pérez Sánchez, director of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, under the title Monument and Painting.

 

Doctor Honoris Causa

On 22nd June 1988, at the request of the faculty of geography and history of the Universitat de Barcelona, Antoni Tàpies was awarded an honorary doctorate, sponsored by Dr. Immaculada Julián. In her speech, the latter reviewed his career as an artist from its beginnings in the forties, mentioning his different stages and concluding by describing him as “an artist who, without being a teacher there, has been a master for many generations at the faculty of fine art, because of the value, substance and conceptuality of his work”.

One of the high points of the ceremony was an emotional speech about art and spirituality given from the pulpit in the Paranimf, dealing with several topics: the social function of art as a path for knowledge and a means of changing awareness and behaviour, the validity of certain spiritual and contemplative experiences and their adaptation to current needs, and the importance of the artist’s work as a contribution to the struggle against commercialism and banalisation. His speech, entitled Art and Spirituality, concluded with these words:

The point is, as has often been discussed, one thing is good spiritual or moral intentions and another is also to possess the set of qualities, or artistic gifts, that characterise certain personalities; in the end, everything that makes art truly Art, with all the enigmatic mechanisms, complexities and adventures that belong to it, but of which the “spiritual” world, as we have seen, never ceases to be the essential, inseparable foundation.

 

Bookings: visitesguiades@ub.edu

Comments: Comfortable footwear is recommended. The parts visited in the Historic Building of the Universitat de Barcelona are not accessible to people with reduced mobility.



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