By James Foritano
(When he’s not covering the visual and theatrical arts for artscope, Mr. Foritano has been know to travel the world in search of new experiences — sometimes as an observer, other times as a participant. In this instance, he’s a bit of both during his recent trip overseas, which he shares with you here.)
An inebriation of art and a delightful puzzle of custom and culture. I was just drumming my fingers whilst waiting crankily for another assignment from Artscope when I summarily decided to go abroad on a busman’s holiday after Elder Hostel, which has recently changed its name to the more racy Road Scholar, slipped an invitation through the mail slot for a jaunt to nearly all the more artistically blessed sights in Spain.
It seemed to be a summons, so we soon found ourselves in Madrid where any soul the least sensitive to beauty finds itself laved in art at every turn. Even the martyrs in the Prado, expiring in torment, did so limned in gorgeous hues. Some must have died messily but certainly not those with press agents quick enough to flip their Rolodex to El Greco or even Ribera.
Velazquez brought the social scene of his epoch to a brimming vitality. Even if you weren’t a stunning personality or dandy dresser, or simply royalty, Velazquez took your measure with the painstaking brio of genius. And how many of us wouldn’t point with pride to such an effigy and exclaim: “That’s me!”
To see Goya is to be there wherever he stations himself, with horror, revulsion or love – or, indeed, any other mixture of complex attitude that invites one, ties one, to look and loiter.
The Reina Sofia Museum sported Picasso’s majestic and poignant indictment of war “Guernica.” A speaking eloquence was enhanced by comments from our expert guide, Cecilia. The rattle of gunfire seeped into corners of our awareness from adjoining spaces featuring films of actual battles between republicans and fascists in the Spanish Civil War.
We only nibbled at the upper crust of museums, each with enough rooms jammed with artistic substance to tire the most intrepid of Road Scholars. But an unexpected advantage of stuffing oneself silly with art and culture is that you wake up ravenous just at the ungodly late hour when the Spaniards go out on the town to eat.
A warning! They somehow know just where to go for price and which tapas to order for appearance as well as lasting taste. Plus, they ate their big meal at a late lunch while you gobbled a sardine at noon so you could move on to another string of masterpieces.
Therefore, you arrive at nine or ten p.m. on the streets a witless gourmand ordering half a dozen of the showiest tapas which you proceed to inhale before moving on to a complete dozen. They, in contrast, linger over a very few choice morsels while they sip their beer and socialize. Everybody seems to know everybody and they all speak scintillating Spanish!
You have bad dreams on a swollen stomach, wake to a brimming buffet breakfast and find yourself in Barcelona. You woozily step through the museum that Josep Lluis Sert built of light and air for his friend Miro knowing only dimly that you are following a great progression of a great artist to a place where every soulful stroke and hue achieves with a minimum of form a maximum density of comment – your exact opposite.
Then you are in Boston and it’s fall, with a chill you feel right up through your espadrilles. But, you can smile at our staid brownstone architecture because you have seen Gaudi, a man who could dream in stone. Dali walks with you, corrupting your slightest attempt at objectivity with waking dreams straight from the Id.
You wouldn’t dream of entering a museum less splendiferous than Gehry‘s Guggenheim in Bilbao. But you adjust with slow wandering steps to another pace. And it’s all, more or less, good.
(Look for James Foritano’s visits to the Concord Art Association and Montserrat College of Art in our upcoming issue.)