Poland's first and Europe's largest display of works by Antoni Gaudí awaits fans of the Catalan architect's art in the Castle (Zamek) Cultural Centre.
Gaudí requires no introduction. It wouldn't even be appropriate to attempt one. Described as a wizard of architecture, a visionary, and a master, he quickly made art history becoming a household name. His colourful, mystifying world never ceases to amaze you. And yet, as is the case with any vibrant delight, showcasing his work is quite a challenge. How does one convey even a smidgen of Gaudí's monumental architectural imagination within the confines of display space? Aurea Cultura i Art curator and director Charo Sanjuán Gómez seems to have embarked on a mission impossible.
Our tour of Gaudí's world begins in the Exhibition Hall, which is sure to enchant visitors the moment they see it. Between saturated curcuma hues, neon lights, mock-ups, drawings, photos, videos, and timelines, there is a whole lot going on here. And although the abundance of exhibits may be overwhelming at first, it only takes a few moments for the chaos to get sorted out by the straight lines that set the frame of the exhibition. In the first display room, you will come face to face with the famous Sagrada Família, whose construction Gaudí has never completed. You also get to explore the sculptural pursuits of this artist who, in his fascination with the work of Renaissance masters, tirelessly searched for a "reflection of the truth" by thoroughly studying human figures. You can also get acquainted with the history of the Church of Colonia Güell, Gaudí's equally pivotal project, where the artist employed the method of testing loads on a model of the structure he was planning to build.
From the Exhibition Hall, you proceed to the Walnut Room. On your way there, you will pass the Column Hall which displays a mapping of Barcelona's Casa Batlló. The idea of mapping works perfectly, although the surreal patterns and colours that change every minute to the beat of the music get drowned out by the footsteps of tourists and dwarfed by the castle's imposing architecture. The Walnut Room will take you on a journey through time into the past. From the visuals and texts there you can learn about the architect's early contracts, including those for the Teresian College, the Güell Pavilions and the Casa Vicens holiday home. This considerably more subdued space will immerse you in a maroon-hued showcase-like structure and the creaky sounds of a wooden floor. This is where the display becomes predictable.
Your next stop will be the Birch Room, set predominantly in pastel green. Not unlike the Walnut Room, this space is designed for reading about the artist's further architectural and sculptural achievements. An interesting feature here are tactile objects placed in some of the rooms for the visually impaired and sightless. Some of these objects will allow you to check out the texture of a ventilation shaft model, others will enable you to feel the organic shapes of Casa Milà door handles.
You can then proceed to the Marble Room, which serves as an arena of sorts featuring a mock-up of the Casa Milà tenement house. Here is another marvellous idea that nevertheless seems to have fallen short of the intended effect. The plinth on which the mock-up is mounted prevents closer examination of the finesse of the building's Art Nouveau structure, while the mirror suspended from the ceiling appears to be failing to serve its full purpose. As you move further, the hall in front of the Fireplace Room offers a little respite. You can pause there to watch a film about Gaudí's peculiar world.
Before entering the Fireplace Room, which is one of the last exhibition spaces on the route, spend a moment in its vestibule which holds a display of works of applied art. Furniture, door handles, famous mosaics - Gaudí put them on a par with architecture. These details really matter as these inconspicuous elements come together to make a perfect whole. The vestibule is filled with a distinctive scent of timber emanating from its wooden door. The effect may well be unintended and yet, such seemingly unnoticeable details make the exhibition unique.
The Fireplace Room is filled with subtle sounds that surround a funicular string model that resembles a mysterious sculpture. Such multi-rope models allowed Gaudí to get a good sense of a building's stresses and strength and achieve architectural equilibria. Structures that relied on threads, cords and lead weights were key to Gaudí's work. A rope system suspended from the ceiling is reflected in a mirror that covers the plinth, which this time does its job superbly. I find this to be the most appealing area in the entire exhibition. A metaphorical tour end perfectly contrasts with the starting area of the Exhibition Hall that is flooded with sunny colours.
Does the display in the Castle Cultural Centre succeed in conveying the majestic multicoloured nature of Gaudí's work? Far from it. On leaving the Exhibition Hall, I found myself surrounded by patterns and predictability that were only broken by the rope structure in the Fireplace Room. The classic, almost "museum-style" presentation of the architect's oeuvre came with a large amount of text (!) that will overwhelm you, not only figuratively. Even a few people stopping to read the long treatise on poster sizes will disrupt the flow of the exhibition. Also missing was the broader context and a presentation of other architectural works from Gaudí's time. This said, I must admit that much of my disappointment stems from the unique nature of Gaudí's projects and the fact that the magnificence of such works of art cannot be captured in an exhibition space and can only be fully experienced on site in Barcelona.
This notwithstanding, one must give the curator credit for stating the expectations with full clarity: the exhibition is to be unbiased, easy to understand, and present Gaudí's work comprehensively. The "sensible structure" of this undertaking imitates what, contrary to appearances, is the cornerstone of the architect's success: his incredible imagination and vision based on an analysis and observation of the world around him. While I find such levelheadedness to be temporarily disheartening, I must recognise it for what it does well, that is for allowing me to thoroughly learn historical facts about the architect.
translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski
Exhibition Antoni Gaudí
Curated by Charo Sanjuán Gómez
Zamek (Castle) Cultural Centre
Open until 3 July
© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2022