Mediterranean Blue is the signature color of Spain’s Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. The color also provides a dramatic entrance to the first exhibition for Espai Carmen Thyssen in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, on the Costa Brava.
Fifty-three paintings from the Baroness’s collection are on show in temporary quarters in a former Benedictine monastery. On Monday, I made a day-trip from Girona to Sant Feliu for a first-hand look at Landscapes of Light, Landscapes of Dreams: from Gauguin to Delvaux, an exhibition that runs through 7 October. The show—and its venue by the sea—provided the perfect finale to my stay in Catalyuna.
A monastery’s transformation
Sant Feliu’s municipal museum moved to the monastery (best known for the annual Porta Ferrada Festival) a few months ago, in conjunction with preparation for the Thyssen exhibition. In modifying the building, pains were taken to incorporate its original use into the new purpose. A long white corridor offers contemplative silence that leads to the realm of magic, signified by the boldly colored entrance into the exhibition.
Inside, paintings were hung in the former apartment of the abbot of the Benedictine monastery, where vestiges of the walls and windows remain. It is a challenging space for displaying art, but the result is a successful, aesthetic whole.
Shipping and storage as art
Carmen Thyssen has said that “Art is not for staying at home”, and curators celebrated this concept by displaying the crates used for shipping the works to Sant Feliu. The glassed-in storage space is being kept at the same temperature and humidity levels as the exhibition rooms.
Team member Montse Barniol graciously toured me through the exhibition, starting with the display of crates, which she likened to “clothing for art”, with each box purpose-built to hold a specific work. All art shipped anywhere for viewing has to travel, but this was the first time I’d seen the travel back-story incorporated into an exhibition. It made me want to see what had come out of the boxes.
Dialog and harmony
The exhibition begins with worship of light in a room of naturalist landscapes; its heart consists of intimate portrayals of natural environments on a human scale, where hues range from palest rose to a deeper tone. The images are of domestic tranquility, mirroring the feminine, and the thoughtful placement of the works within the space is captivating.
For the viewer, each work rests comfortably near paintings that mirror either style or use of color. Several works presented together showcase dreams of Paris; on the floor above, in the abbot’s former bedroom, and with an overlook to the church, the exhibition culminates with modernist “landscapes of the soul” and late twentieth-century world views.
As we toured through the rooms of the exhibition, Ms. Barniol enthusiastically pointed out works by Catalan artists, positioned with those of other Europeans and of Americans. Two of the most distinctive Catalan pieces are on public display for the first time. Throughout, the works are presented in dialog with each other and in harmony with the monastery’s architecture.
From Madrid to Sant Feliu de Guíxols
Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum houses one of the world’s best-known private art collections, and new art spaces in Malaga and Sant Feliu offer exciting and expanded opportunities for viewing its components. Carmen Thyssen’s stewardship of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection has sometimes been controversial, but new venues for regional art tourism make waves of another sort altogether.
March 2011 saw the opening of the Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga, housing her collection of Andalusian painting. Paradises and Landscapes in the Carmen Thyssen Collection: From Brueghel to Gauguin showcases works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is running concurrently with the Sant Feliu exhibition.
An old cork factory across the street from the monastery is intended to house art from the Baroness’s collection in the future. For now, though, curators envision two exhibitions per year in the refurbished monastery space. Their aim is for Sant Feliu to become a reference point for the Thyssen collection, starting from a temporary base in the monastery.
The inaugural exhibition has set an impressive standard, and I look forward to seeing what comes next!