La Pedrera

Despite the wind and slight rain on the day of my weekend visit, Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece known as La Pedrera was no less astounding.

As explained by the tour guide, in the late 1800’s La Pedrera’s design was completely out of the ordinary—before Gaudí, buildings were functional but boring. However, with the blossoming of modernism in 1890, the beginning of the movement from the old city to the new city began. During this time, the bourgeoisie started to move to new and up-and-coming areas of Barcelona, but obviously refused to live in a mediocre type of apartment, as architecture is not only for fiction but also a form of class and status. Therefore, beginning when the scaffolding of the Violet House came down, the city started a contest to see what architects could create a building that could capture every persons interest.

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During the tour, I learned that color is life and is one of the most important features in Gaudí’s architecture. Here, it seems as if Gaudí contradicts his philosophy but the truth is that Gaudí wanted the tenants and the apartment owners to plant ivy and other climbing plants in their balconies so the façade would become living. Instead of imitating nature, this building would be the first to have incorporated actual plants. However, La Pedrera had bad luck, not only were the apartments never fully occupied, but Gaudí was involved in many disputes with the owners, resulting in his building to incompletely materialized (although many of the architectural elements are 100% Gaudí). It is clear that if Gaudí wanted La Pedrera to provoke one thought, it would be the importance of understanding the balance between symbolism and function.

Throughout the construction of La Pedrera, Gaudí solved one of the worst architectural problems to ever occur in Eixample. With wavy facades, he unifies the entire perimeter, allowing for a continuous and dynamic movement, with curved unions that allowed for distribution of space in apartments. This way, two courtyards could provide light from both sides.

In terms of the actual structure of La Pedrera, the structures terrace has three parts: the air vents, the chimney and six staircases that are separated in three pairs. However, only four of the six staircases are decorated for pragmatic reasons, as Gaudí took budget and saving money very seriously. He believed the other two staircases didn’t deserve to be decorated because they’re located inside the area of the terrace and can’t be seen from the street.

Though there are many rumors/legends surrounding the chimneys that Gaudí designed, the true origin of his inspiration were mushrooms. In Catalunya, there is a large tradition surrounding edible mushrooms. Every year around the month of September, there is a rush of people who travel to the forest and pick mushrooms. The mushrooms grow in groups and the shape and mythology of them are very close to that of Gaudí’s design.

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Not to mention, Gaudí observed that when smoke rises it doesn’t go up vertically, but instead spirals, and believed that constructing the chimneys in a spiral shape would match the smoke’s natural parable and help it disappear faster.

On top of the structures is the Catholic cross—originally, Gaudí envisioned a sculpture of Virgin Mary and two angels. However, during this time period there was a riot in Barcelona, so the building’s burro refused the idea of placing a religious symbol on his building because he was worried that this would cause La Pedrera to become a target. Unfortunately, Gaudí didn’t accept this refusal and stopped working on La Pedrera, suing the patron for unpaid fees.

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I enjoyed both touring the actual building and the story behind La Pedrera. It’s incredible that Gaudí ultimately founded the idea of restructuring space inside a living area according to individual needs, as well as incorporating massive iron staples to increase indoor insolation.

I appreciate Gaudí’s precise attention to detail and strive for perfection, as he equally paid attention to both aesthetic appeal and function. He most definitely applied these characteristics while building La Pedrera, as specific as studying the wind to determine which windows should be open and closed to increase airflow.

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Museu Picasso

Considering I have been living in Barcelona for almost four months and have only been to a handful of museums, this weekend I ventured to Museu Picasso and walked from room to room to understand the artist’s emotions depicted in each creative period in his life.

The first room in the museum consisted of paintings from Malaga, which is known as the earliest part of Picasso’s life. Here, portraits of his father and two of his earliest self-portraits are displayed. Each individual portrait represents the time period he was in and showed the ideas taken from primitivism. I most definitely find it understandable that Picasso felt overwhelmed by his father’s power, as memories of this control appears in his art decades later. I also thought it was interesting that this room contains a portrait of Picasso’s mother, who he was greatly attached to, as it is speculated that Picasso may have thought of her in an intimate way.

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The second room contained work from Picasso’s years in Barcelona. During this time, Picasso’s father received a position at a university and therefore, Picasso became a student here. At the academy, anatomy and color were learned, thus instilling realism in the artist. Picasso was a witness of a time period and helped document the city, painting streets and squares that no longer exist due to urban transformation.

In the third room, I was able to see Picasso’s depiction of his sister at her first communion, painted when he was just 15 years old. During my research regarding this painting, I learned that oil painting is one of the most difficulty techniques and requires expertise. Picasso’s accurate portrayal of his sister proves his great potential. Not to mention, at such a young age Picasso still manages to incorporate symbolism in his work, as for example, the natural flames on the candle represents the spirit of Picasso’s parents. This room also displays Picasso’s painting of a doctor and a sick patient, which helps to understand cubism and works through linear perspectives that gives it structure and illusion of space through lines converging on a horizon. This work assumes that the spectator is standing at a central position, as when you walk from one side of the painting to the other, the size of the bed changes. This painting shoes the lack of truth of an illusion, as cubism is two-dimensional and only works on the surface, bringing the truth of reality through appearance. In this room, I learned that the way we view realist is flawed because of our limitations. For example, the hand of the ill woman in the painting is imperfect, proving that Picasso still has room for improvement.

Not to mention, the third room contains Picasso’s paintings of el Retiro Park in Madrid. Instead of attending class, Picasso explored surrounding cities and museums. However, this freedom didn’t last long, as the artist was forced to return to Catalunya after receiving Scarlet Fever, where his interest in primitivism began. Picasso wanted to be in touch with nature, so he lived outside for several weeks until a store flooded the cave he was living in.

The fourth room brings us back to Barcelona during a dark, expressive period. At this time, Picasso was introduced to El Greco, who was a very peculiar artist, as despite living during the 16th century, his style was extremely different than the conventional classics. Picasso had an elevated style and was admired for his uniqueness, stressing the artist as an individual who id free to create a new, personal universe with a spirit projecting symbolism.

This room also touches on the blue period, which shows the evolution of elements such as freedom and individuality that we have also seen in the past. Now, the lack of perfection that was protracted in Picasso’s academic period is not present, since he is not asked to make perfection and instead concentrates on self-expression.

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In the fifth room, Picasso’s work reminded me of doodles, which allowed me to see Picasso’s personality, as the drawings are done unconsciously by setting his wrist free.

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Next, we entered the sixth room, which shows Picasso’s first trip to Paris. The artist’s pastel drawings elucidates to the Paris nightlife, with a portrait of a dwarf that combines aspects of impressionism and post impressionism—blending energetic brush strokes with a subject that elucidates to Belasco. This shows the tragedy and reality of a morphine addict who could likely be an amusement from a parade.

In the 7th room, I was surprised to see the pornographic drawings that are periodically changed by the museum. In this room, we learned that Picasso’s mother told his first wife that Picasso already had a true love, as he was married to painting.

After this, the museum moves on to paintings from the 50s, as Picasso donated a series of approximately 57 works of art. In terms of change, Picasso’s style did not evolve much after World War 2, acknowledging that we shouldn’t be afraid to accept that Picasso’s ascendance over young artists began to fade.

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Following this plateau, Picasso moved to Cannes, France and set his studio in the attic of his mansion. Here, he bred pigeons that brought back the memories of his father and the nourishment of his child, and in a way begins to transform into his own father. Picasso acquired a fear of death that he then adapted to his productions, as painting and working became a way for the artist to stay alive, as he believed that the moment you stop, you’ll die.

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