03 November 2011

Barcelona on an Easel

Barcelona has art seeping out of its veins. High brow, low brow, pierced brow, unibrow, whatever - it's here. You can visit one of the 700+ museums or just walk around and, either way, feel like you've done some art viewing. You can tour the absolutely impressive Picasso Museum or enjoy the accidental canvas of a garage door with layers of aging concert flyers, like this young woman.
That's not to say that street art, in all its forms, has been completely embraced by the city. Unlike other European capitals of cool, graffiti is actively fought against, considered "something that degrades the urban fabric." It is routinely painted over and removed in public spaces. However, since keeping storefront shutters clean is the sole responsibility of the shop owners, commissioned pieces on them can't be touched. And tag artists wouldn't dare deface them.
Of course, you can just look down at your plate. A baguette is painted Rothko red by a halved tomato to prep for a sandwich. Silver sardines are piled into a pintxo Frank Gehry would approve of. An eye for design is so inherent that you sort of feel like it's second nature. Barcelona is a city that never feels like it's trying too hard to make things pretty, but leaves you smitten with its style.
It can definitely be argued that Barcelona's artistic identity begins with Gaudí, the great Catalan Modernist. Showing up to "see Gaudí" is probably the most common tourist experience. And you know what? It's some really crazy stuff to look at. But more fun still is walking along the beach and finding a sand castle artist's rendition of the Sagrada Família. It wasn't quite finished yet, but still much further along than the real thing.
A block away from Park Güell, where a mosaic dragon guards the staircase of a whimsical garden city, this performance artist could easily have been missed. But, in Barcelona, you tend to notice things like this. You get used to looking around as you move, confident that there's some detail to be spotted, some art to be seen. And in a city with a tradition of being nontraditional, it's always worth seeing.

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