The Five Spanish Artists on Display at London’s Tate Modern Gallery.

by Olga Pastor

Tate Modern: the best known contemporary art gallery in the United Kingdom, if not in Europe, and one of the most significant collections in the world. Since the year 2000, the Tate has played host to an immensely valuable collection of works by contemporary artists, as well as regular temporary exhibitions that combine high-calibre works with a sharp marketing approach.

Tate Modern: the best known contemporary art gallery in the United Kingdom, if not in Europe, and one of the most significant collections in the world. Since the year 2000, the Tate has played host to an immensely valuable collection of works by contemporary artists, as well as regular temporary exhibitions that combine high-calibre works with a sharp marketing approach.

Every morning (except over Christmas) the Tate Modern opens its enormous doors, which previously belonged to a turbine room in a thermoelectric power station, to allow the world access to a contemporary art collection that incorporates the latest trends alongside works that are already considered classics of their genre.  

The museum is made up of a number of enormous, high-ceilinged rooms that are constantly transformed to facilitate the diverse projects of the curators. The permanent collection is, in fact, consistently developed and changed, and visitors often ask after a work that they saw many years ago… “I remember there being a huge Warhol here…” only to find that a magnificent piece by Louise Bourgeois now hangs in its place. 

Responsibility for the purchase of the museum’s permanent collection fell in part to the Tate’s Spanish director, Vicente Todolí, who held the position from 2003 until 2010. He worked tirelessly to attract the general public to the museum and succeeded in attracting a record number of visitors in 2008. He continues to work with the gallery as a curator of some temporary exhibitions. He has also worked at Barcelona’s MACBA museum and at the Portuguese gallery SERRALVES in Porto.

Nor is Todolí the only Spaniard to leave a mark on the Tate Modern. Galician Iria Candela, who recently moved to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, curated the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition in 2013 as well as the ongoing Malevich exhibit.

And in a museum of such magnitude, which claims to include works by masters of modern art from across the globe, it is hardly difficult to guess which Spanish artists are on display. The Brits have shown themselves to be interested primarily in works by the Spanish avant-garde movement, above all Surrealist and Cubist pieces. Visitors can currently enjoy works by the following artists:

[su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]1- Pablo Picasso

Although the artist adopted France as his homeland from 1904, Pablo Picasso is, and will forever remain, one of the foremost flag-bearers of Spanish art. The Tate has already displayed his work in several temporary exhibitions, most recently in 2012 when the Tate Britain investigated his influence upon British art.

In the Tate Modern we are presented with eight works by the great artist dedicated exclusively to the female figure. His particular predilection for the representation of the female body and facial features is already well known.

The second floor incorporates a total of six works by Picasso, including busts alongside paintings of the entire female body which date from the end of the 1920s until the late 1960s. The timespan thus allows us to appreciate a gradual evolution in the forms, themes and colours used. 

“The Three Dancers” or “The Dance”, one of the artist’s best known works, reveals a clear move towards surrealism, a movement that saw its heyday in the 1920s. It features three figures caught in an elaborate and frenetic movement, and is a striking departure from the more decorative style of his previous works. Many consider the piece to be a metaphor for the emotional frustration he felt at the time, a graphic representation of the love triangle in which he found himself. It is a violent painting that lends itself to a piece-by-piece analysis. The Tate has, in fact, placed a large bench in front of the painting from which many visitors spend a significant part of their visit admiring the work.

“Weeping Woman”, one of my favourite pieces in the entire museum — shows a face twisted in anguish. It is the final and most elaborate piece in a series of works depicting grieving women. This series was a natural development from the immortal ‘Guernica’, in which Picasso was already moving away from a depiction of the ravages of war in a general manner, attempting instead to capture particular moments of human pain. That, after all, is the real tragedy of war.

On the fourth floor, we come across some of the artist’s older works, dating from a period in which he adhered strictly to Cubism and overlapped stylistically and ideologically with Braque and Juan Gris. We can observe a sculpture of a female bust and a painting on canvas. The colour and silhouettes used reveal the African influence upon the pieces. This section highlights the artist’s temperamental and innovative spirit that broke with the strictures of the avant-garde movement. [/su_note] [su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″]2. Salvador Dalí

The Surrealist genius Salvador Dalí currently has three works of art on display in the museum’s permanent collection, all located on the second floor. The three pieces date from the second half of the 1930s and provide an excellent example of the artist’s Symbolist period, throwing the painter’s inexhaustible imagination into sharp relief. 

‘Autumnal Cannibalism’ is a raw and delirious work. We see what appear to be two figures standing on a dining room table, embracing and kissing one another whilst clutching pieces of cutlery in their hands. This last detail links the painting to the massacres following the recent outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, as does the clearly Spanish countryside that provides the background of the painting. The apple hovering above the figures is an allusion to the Swiss legend of William Tell, in which a man is forced to shoot an apple from above his son’s head in order to save the two of them.

The incredible ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ is also currently on display and is an absolute must-see. It depicts the transformation of Narcissus into a flower, whilst the natural background represents all those women whose hearts he has broken with his selfishness. 

‘Mountain Lake’ is a clear example of Dalí’s ability to tell a thousand stories within one painting. This fish-shaped lake held a deep personal significance for the artist. It was a private spot in which his parents used to seek solace after the loss of their first son, also named Salvador. The telephone, with its broken cord, alludes to the contemporary telephone calls between Hitler and the British Prime Minister.[/su_note] [su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″] 3. Joan Miró

Just over three years ago the Tate Modern organised a large retrospective of the work of Joan Miró which coincided with the 80th anniversary of the foundation of the Second Spanish Republic. The exhibition was immensely well received and was subsequently transferred to New York and Barcelona.

The work of the Catalan artist and activist is also featured on the museum’s second floor and includes a painting and two sculptures, each of them instantly recognisable.  It is surely one of the unique characteristics of this artist: his use of colour and form is undeniably ingenious.

‘Painting’ is a work that adheres to the principles of the Surrealist movement. Miró gave free rein to his imagination and creativity, drawing figures in an ‘automatic’ fashion and thereby allowing his subconscious to speak. The blue background symbolises the world of dream in the picture. He was highly influential within the Surrealist movement during this period and associated closely with André Masson. In later life he was to break with the Surrealists, although he continued to employ many of their artistic techniques. 

‘Woman’, dated 1949, is a moulded bronze sculpture in the shape of a pyramid, with small bulges where a head and arms might be. Miró used the triangular form to represent femininity on a number of occasions. 

‘Tightrope Walker’ is a curios sculpture, produced towards the end of the artist’s career. It is made up of discarded materials which the artist came across in a foundry, and makes clear that he didn’t lose his innovative and adventurous spirit as the years went on.[/su_note] [su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″] 4. Julio González

One piece by the renowned Catalan sculptor is present in the museum, again on the fourth floor near Picasso’s Cubist works. It is a bronze piece entitled ‘The Tunnel’ and dated 1933. His sculptures are notably lightweight as a result of his use of oxyacetylene welding, a technique he learned whilst working in a car factory during the First World War. His abstract works tended towards Cubism as a result of his close association with Picasso.[/su_note] [su_note note_color=”#f4f4f4″] 5. Manolo Millares

The artist and co-founder of the ‘El Paso’ group, originally from the Canary Islands, is also featured on the fourth floor of the Tate Modern. Only one of his works in on display, but it is a work of such presence that it is impossible to ignore. It is entitled ‘Painting 150’ and was created in 1961. The artist used various materials, amongst them rope and cloth, which he then compressed and combined in order to create a raw and unique fusion. He had created similar collages since 1954, tending to employ a dark and uniform colour palette.

Although these five artists are, at present, the only Spaniards to feature within the Tate Modern, works by Tàpies and Juan Muñoz have also been displayed in the past. We are, however, yet to see a piece by a female Spanish artist appear in the museum. No Spanish woman is present on the walls of the Tate Gallery. The blame cannot be wholly attributed to the museum, for as we know, the history of Spanish art is sadly lacking in female influence. Maybe one of these days, this will change and Brit Es will be able to feature a new article about the Tate Modern and the works of Spanish women housed within its walls. [/su_note]

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