I KNEW WE WEREN'T ALLOWED TO TOUCH THEM but I asked anyway, just in case. The security officer confirmed that in fact, no, we could not touch the paintings, responding cheerfully as if relating to my sentiment. "Hay que imaginar." He advised.
So I did just that. For the next half-hour at the Tàpies exhibit, I imagined what the grey murals would have felt like, cold and grainy with their compounds of paint, sand and marble dust. I imagined what the scratches, slashes and gashes would have felt like, cutting and scraping through thick, doughy substance. I imagined what the varnish would have smelled like, poured onto wood or canvas, a thin, golden caramel forming obscure human parts.
Sensations are perhaps easy to imagine of Antoni Tapies' works, made with materials that exist in the mundane. Much more challenging to imagine are the milieus in which they were made.
One such period was in the aftermath of the Second World War, following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was then that Tàpies began expressing interest in matter: earth, dust and particles, which, when incorporated into painting, gave rise to his pintura matèrica style. His other distinguishing style, which served as a precursor to arte povera, came about in the last decade of Fascist Spain. Utilizing tin cans, cartons and other "poor" or everyday objects, Tàpies' assemblages deviate from notions of pop art with influences of Eastern spirituality, sombre shades repellant of commercialism and in some works, a character of protest.
Decades have passed since the twentieth century's most turbulent and transformative times, yet Antoni Tàpies' art continues to find relevance in a world lacking in reflection and profundity. For a glimpse into the artist's pintura matèrica and proto arte povera works, Tàpies Des de l'Interior presents via a joint exhibition in Barcelona, 140 examples of Tàpies' two distinguishing styles. At Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, on view are the large-scale "matter" paintings of introspective walls, while at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies are the assemblages of "poor", everyday objects.
On its last two weeks, if you must choose only one of the two exhibits, I personally gravitate towards pintura matèrica's empty, meaningful walls. Tàpies himself attributes to them, separation, isolation, the passing of time, human intervention, impressions of battle, destruction, catastrophes and renovation, among others.
The security officer was right. "Hay que imaginar."
Forma negra sobre quadrat gris, Ocre i gris sobre marró, Pantalons sobre bastidor and Materia by Antoni Tàpies, images from www.fundaciotapies.org Tàpies Des de l'Interior exhibit information at www.tapiesinterior.com