Twenty-five years after the celebration of the Gaudí Year, with this project the Museu Nacional undertakes a critical revision of the artist and architect’s work, which has a special place in its collection. Gaudí was not by any means the isolated, misunderstood genius that many of the books written about him, almost always hagiographies, have led us to believe. His work was not done just in a specific, local and international, artistic and architectural context; it was also part of some very concrete political, ideological and aesthetic strategies.
It is obvious that Gaudí’s work constitutes the highest point of the artistic and intellectual production in Barcelona during his lifetime, and many of us could even agree that Barcelona, with its image and its character, remains extraordinarily dependent on Gaudí’s work, or that much of what we now conventionally understand as Modernisme or Art Nouveau can be identified with his work.
We can say it clearly: Gaudí’s “superiority” over his period does not come from his supposed brilliant isolation or from any sort of inexplicable artistic craziness, but, in fact, from his ability to concentrate that period in his buildings, to contract all of it in such a complex body of work.
Gaudí’s work has transcended far beyond the period in which he lived, those turbulent years around the turn of the 20th century. But if it has done so it is because he was able, like no other, to interpret his time, and to come up with some of the most powerful images. That’s why it lives on.
If we wish to understand his work in all its profound intensity, in all its terrible drama, we cannot ignore his time; we must recognize the way in which his buildings are interwoven with the political, ideological and aesthetic strategies of that period, that is, with the desires and the needs of the society in which they were built. Nor can we forget that all that happened in a Europe where radical changes were taking place in art and architecture: Gaudí, far from being isolated, as is always said, was an integral part of them, and he was consciously connected to everyone.
Gaudí’s architecture is not “formalist” but symbolic. That is to say, it is not architecture wrapped up in its own ideas; on the contrary, it is architecture absolutely committed to life in a Barcelona riven by class struggle and the radical artistic transformations of turbulent fin-de-siècle Europe. And he is no mystic absent from the world, but a political figure, present like few others on the stage of this struggle, one of the great protagonists of the European century. Or, literally, the builder of some of the most important symbolic backdrops of the Barcelona and Europe of his day: in a profoundly radical sense, of the architecture of modernity.
A new exhibition about Gaudí can no longer repeat the well-worn clichés; it must focus on Gaudí as a most complex man working in a multiple context.
The exhibition will travel to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, where it will be on view from 14 March to 17 July 2022.