I loved Malaga as a city to visit. Flying over the patch work of ochres on our way in was tantalising enough.
It has a rich and visually present cultural history.
The Alcazabah, built on the ruins of a Roman theatre is a door way into the city, its forms echoing down the centuries.
You start of entering gate after gate, winding up the paths, through the trees and occasional stopping places that allow you a little shade before you reach the gardens.
I suspect the walk feels much shorter in the winter. The gates are tall enough to have ridden a horse through.
And as well as finding a shady spot what you are actually doing is passing through the fortified walls. This would have been a well defended spot. It is said to have been built to defend the port against pirates. The Moorish features of the gates appear more pronounced as you climb the hill. I don’t know whether this is because they have been better preserved?
Whatever it’s function it is certain that it’s forms are beautiful, with gateways giving out onto sunlit path ways.
The cities biggest church now sits in the original eye-line to the coast.
And after a while the gate ways start giving way to court yard gardens, having taken over some Roman Masonry and found a use for it, and up through the orange groves. The sea is now visible above the city to the right.
And then the surprise of hill top water and geometrical gardens.
At the top the buildings, open on to court yards, the colours of the earth the plants the building materials speak for them selves.
The waterways at the centre of the pathways irrigating these mountain top gardens. And making it difficult to defeat the fortress, as they can keep a safe water supply and grow food and keep animals within the walls.
So it is functional, but not only functional
The geometry of the design lends itself to little selections of balance and beauty.
There is also a display of pottery artefacts, replicas mostly made in the traditional way. And this is where I find my first Malaga bull.
And so surprisingly does this Rub el Hizb star, present at the palace here but repeated in a different form on the door of the Church. and in the gardens doors opening onto courtyards opening onto doors …
And then there was the garden. And the joy in geometrical pattern persists in the brick work and painted walls of the cities churches. And the courtyards through out the history of architechture here coming all the way into the basement level of the contemporary Pompidou Art Centre.
I had originally gone to Malaga for the Art Fair as any one who follows this blog regularly would know. I had chosen a digital representation, however the biggest thing that I think I learned were :
1. It is difficult to be noticed in a massive art fair if all you are is a few images on a screen every 10 minutes, seems obvious but….
2.It is imprtant to make sure that any expectations you have are set out in the contract. So I was offered this digital display* but it was not clear what exactly they were offering, so I emailed to ask about the publicity which went with it…they emailed back to say that the artists on screen would be listed in catalogues, on line and off and would be part of the e publicity coming up to the show. Neither of these things happened until after the event. So I took the opportunity to leaflet, I had had some nice post cards printed in Spanish, but was asked not to by the organisers.
What I would say was that I was lucky, because the screen I was on was working from the Friday at the start of the fair, however half the screens were not working at that point and even half way through Saturday some were still not working.
There was other gossip I heard about the organisation of the fair that I won’t repeat here. The positives were that the fair was well attended by artists and the quality of the work was good, so they had that right. All the stands were of a good size, none were squished up. The venue is very big and it was filled in a kind of luxurious way with plenty of space in the aisles.
And yet by half way through there were very few sales made my rough estimate made by counting red dots was about 40. There were big crowds of people but I think most of the people there were there out of interest and without a serious expectation of buying. In fact the gallery that made the most sales was selling prints. There did not seem to be any Malaga based galleries or many Malaga based artists there, and this was probably a mistake, Malaga has a good art scene, and Malaga galleries would have brought in local collectors and buyers. It might have been better if the organisers had started with a smaller fair, but concentrated on a quality of audience as well a quality of exhibitors. I think they tried to do too much as it was their first fair.
My conclusion in this massive fair an on screen showing where literally the only presence was the screen was not worth the money. The purpose of showing in the Fair is to make sales and to create contacts, this did not really work for me. Lesson learnt.
* (In fact I was originally offered a stand, but weighing up the costs of the stand, and of getting my work there and an unknown untested market I chose to find out more about the fair by trying the on screen option and attending, that was a good decision.)
But back to Malaga itself: Going around the several world class galleries was a dream, the old centre of Malaga is all walkable and very attractive. I started off with the Picasso Museum, which of course got me thinking about gender dynamics, and that was the theme that stayed with me through out the trip.
This museum is in a lovely court yard style building so is cool and pleasant to be in. The collection is of less well
known work, curated basically along a time line so that as you progress through the galleries you progress through his life. His work has a very Catholic gender sensibility from the start, something very nineteenth century which doesn’t change with the twentieth century in which he lived. Women were often his subjects, and seem to have been in both sense of the word. His over arching theme was to have painted power. The work is permeated by a violence. And after seeing the whole show I sat in the garden for a coffee and was delighted to have been reminded of his dove works by the birds that were flying around there, it created a welcome counter point.
The physical manifestations of power and violence run through out the galleries and architecture I visited in Malaga, (that recurring bull for one) and got me thinking about the role of culture as a mediator for violence and power, an interpreter, a subliminater, an exposer, a critic?
And that got me thinking, so that when I went to the Museo Carmen Thyssen in the general collection the curation and the exhibition notes seemed to suggest that most of the art work in the 19th century galleries had been painted to suit the tastes of foreigners:
That they were either painted for visitors to the region or to suite the notion of Spanishness that was in favour in the Paris galleries where they might be sold. So that there is an “exoticism” in these works, based around many images of flamenco dancers and other stereo typical “Spanish” themes. I have to say that on the whole they left me fairly cold. Then I went in to the film about the other exhibition that was on, Realism. Here it was claimed that the true Spanish tradition was realism in the twentieth and early twenty first century. They explored what Realism meant, but what I was a bit confounded by was that there was no mention of the Franco (1939-1965) regime or the role of fascism in the demand for that particular aesthetic, which seemed a bit peculiar to me. In addition in this film about the exhibition which included a number of artists there was only one woman and her work was of still lives of fruit, which fitted with the very domestic role of women. And I was wondering if it was simply that to a Spanish audience it would have been to obvious to say or whether something else was going on….
So then on to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Here there was a stark contrast in the two initial one person shows. There was the rather violent and misogynistic work of …. which left me feeling rather hated, and the counter point of the very beautiful painterly photographic work of Dutch artist……..Her work referenced Northern Renaissance Dutch paintings using lovely light and simple props that created links with the contemporary photographs that they were. Of course this is also an aesthetic of women in interiors but there was a subversion here of those values and a link to the humanity of the subjects that was touching and beautiful in both the images of the girls and boys men and women portrayed. This is however probably the first contemporary art gallery I have been in that contained two Adam and Eve works (both photographic) by different artists. The Gallery is not enormous the foot print of the gallery a triangle which makes it hard to judge, but I would guess the whole place is probably no bigger than the Whitechapel in London. And I guess that when you have religiosity as a theme, and were under a pro-religious dictator at the time when the rest of Europe was questioning fidelity to a religious way of life, the fact that contemporary art seems so preoccupied by open displays of power is not that surprising.