Barceló abyssal in Monaco

Monaco. For the Miquel Barceló exhibition at the Nouveau Musée national de Monaco (NMNM), the curators – Björn Dahlström, master of the place, Guillaume de Sardes and Stéphane Vacquier, art historians – have chosen a “local” theme: oceanography. Indeed, upon arriving at the Villa Paloma, which overlooks the bay, the visitor, as long as he manages to look away from the particular architecture of the Principality, can admire a magnificent seascape in situ. The subject proposed to the Spanish artist could only please him. A great traveler, Barceló has been traveling the world for fifty years, exploring different shores and their fauna. Let us listen to him tell us, in the exhibition catalog: “In my country, in Majorcan, there are two words for the sea […] “La mar” is the high seas, and “el mar” is a generic term. […] There is a sea between the islands, a sea in itself, then out to sea towards Africa, another sea. […] I love them all.”

This love from someone who has always “practiced” the sea – diving, fishing, sailing are part of his daily activities – is felt everywhere here. The journey, a slow ascent both spatially and temporally, begins with the deepest waters. The heavy and thick material forms a rough, uneven, archaic texture in a way, referring “to the oldest geological ages, to the disappeared paleo-oceans […] and the origins of life” (catalog).

Immersed in the midnight blue, immersed in a silent world, the visitor sees here and there, in a burst of light, a sea monster, a cyclops staring at him (Oblada2015) or a shark (Shark2015).

Then, we go back up to the surface tinted with azure blue where white means foam. We breathe better between these wavelets that evoke aquatic pleasures, the freedom felt in front of this infinite space where the horizontal becomes the vertical, where the horizon line fades, where the sky disappears and where there is no longer any distance or foreground.

View of the exhibition “Miquel Barceló, oceanographer” at the New National Museum of Monaco – Villa Paloma.

© Photo NMNM / Andrea Rossetti, 2024
© Adagp Paris 2024

No explicit stories

If sometimes Barceló’s paintings are on the edge of abstraction (Untitled2001), others are figurative, even narrative. Thus, in a room several boats pitch on a stormy sea. There are no explicit stories, but sometimes a literary title, such as Ahab (1984), named after the protagonist of Moby Dickor simply our imagination, nourished by maritime legends, allows us to invent a story.

In Monaco, we also find beautiful graphic works and, surprise, hand embroidery made by the artist’s mother, recently deceased, on canvases painted by him. Then ceramics take an important place. Barceló is one of those who know how to invent exceptional forms using this technique (Ultramarine Urns, 2017-2018). Nevertheless, he sometimes allows himself total kitsch, as in this series of particularly trying still lifes. The artist declares that he “loves disasters”. It is his right. In any case, can we blame someone who perfectly illustrates Novalis’s sentence: “Ultimately, all our pleasant sensations are dissolutions of all kinds, movements within us of the original waters.” ?(Water and DeathJean Libis, Dijon University Publishing, 1993).

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