Miguel de Unamuno wrote that, “In Mallorca art becomes reason and reason art.” While Palma is the obvious centre in which to test this maxim, it maybe that other less obvious artistic centres on the island provide the acid test.
As Miquel Àngel March has written “the charm of the land and light” of the Serra de Tramuntana “as a muse stretching and caressing herself while showing off all her beauty,” haunts the landscape paintings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Artists from the mainland and then from Latin America began to visit seeking picturesque landscapes for paintings from 1874 onwards.
Santiago Rusiñol and Joaquin Mir were the early stars, receiving a commission in 1902 to decorate the Gran Hotel de Palma, the modernist building built by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and choosing to paint landscapes of the Serra de Tramuntana. Then, between 1902 and 1912, the first Latin American artists arrived, including Francisco Bernareggi and Atilio Boveri. Boveri painted Stations of the Cross for the Església de la Mare de Déu del Àngels in Pollença and founded a mutual aid society for fishermen. He continued to combine art, spirituality and social action on his return to Argentina, making him a precursor to artists such as Theaster Gates. A substantial permanent collection of his works can be seen in the Municipal Museum at Pollença.
Bernareggi commended the area to Herman Anglada Camarasa whose arrival in 1914 from Paris with a series of young protégés mainly from Latin America, such as Tito Cittadini and Roberto Montenegro, led to talk among art critics of a School of Pollensa. This included Mallorcan artists, especially Dionís Bennàssar, a good friend of Cittadini, who followed in the footsteps of Rusiñol and Mir to become a Post-Impressionist and whose work rivals that of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin for vibrancy of colour and vigour of brushstrokes. His seascapes are among the most magical of his works, while his range of work extends from village scenes, landscapes, portraits and nudes to symbolism and erotica. The Dionís Bennàssar Museum, located in his Pollensan home, has an extensive collection of his work showing his range, with much that dates from the 1960s prior to his death in 1967.
Bartomeu Cifre Ochogavia notes that Pollença has retained “its leading role in spearheading musical, artistic and cultural activity.” It has done so, in part, through its International Plastic Arts Contest, begun in the 1960s, which enriched the art collection of the Municipal Museum (Bennàssar won in 1963), and, more recently, since 1999, an annual summer installation in the Convent Church, the Convent now being the location for the Municipal Museum.
Tremolor, this year’s installation for the Church of Santo Domingo is by José Luis Vicario, a multi-disciplinary artist who wishes to return to us to a fundamental experience that people down through the ages have had in sacred spaces; that of gazing upwards into an expanse – whether of sky or images – that connects us to infinity and enables contemplation of the eternal questions. Vicario senses that, “perhaps due to excessive stimuli or the lack of calm,” we “appear to have forgotten the overwhelming tremor that accompanies our realisation of the invisible immensity of the space we live in.” His installation seeks to recover “the threads and artefacts whose tremors are capable of dissolving time.”
Vicario has created a sky-cavern within the nave of the church using 2,500 metres of black ribbons affixed to the dome by 19 anchor points through existing holes. Operated by small motors and suspended over the observer, the entire structure trembles as subtle shudders – tremors – run through it, creating a work that contrasts with the stability of the room itself. A soundscape by Derek van der Bulcke provides a mono-tonal atmospheric polyphony that uses the tremor of the glissando and of vibrating exhalations to ensure that everything in the exhibition space quivers.
Hidden within this overwhelming and dramatic installation are three further less immediately visible elements. Foldable objects formed of aluminium lengths bolted together and shaped into astrological signs, including a soft star, are placed at intervals across the floor among the shadows of the ribbons above. A long gold wire – a vertical line measuring 20 metres – descends from one of the holes in the dome with a mechanism that gives it a continuous upward and downward oscillation. The subtlety of its presence contrasts with the forcefulness of its movement. Vicario writes that it “refers to a higher notion of light or the realisation that comes from far away, perhaps also vertically from above.”
Finally, a video on a side altar is made up of more than 3,500 images taken from Facebook and containing information about the cosmos grouped as maps, constellations, stellar creations, archaeology, stars, architecture, photographs, instruments, stars with faces, books, planets, graphic effects and art. In this video, entitled Cosecha del cielo (Harvest from the sky), a semantic structure evolves as a storyline forming a historical and random journey through the representation of the skies that have shaped and determined what we believe goes on above us. Vicario describes the video as being “like a stock cube concentrated in a stew, adding to the context.” Additionally, a set of haiku-like poems in the catalogue adds to the overall experience and reflection – “Like a fractured cry / such is the uncertainty of wisdom / tremor.”
Vicario describes himself in terms that would be understood and appreciated by the landscape artists of the Serra de Tramuntana: “I am a country artist that appreciates the value of time, walking alone, social euphoria, intense beauty, the hiding places of conceptual décor, learning processes, the heavy feel of old velvet, the innate generosity of teaching, skilled repasts, the texture of polyester, the aromas of the countryside and flowers by the wayside.”
His aim – recognising that today, “due to the overstimulation we are subject to, contemplating the onset of darkness requires immense will and determination” – is “to revive an archaic yet valid connection between the landscapes we inhabit and our everyday inertias.” By being rooted in the emotions we experience “when faced with issues relating to the skies, the stars, the transcendence of the trail they leave and our presence,” Tremolor provides the time and the space “we need to contemplate the darkness, consider the place we occupy and acknowledge our place in our perceived surroundings.”
Elsewhere in the town during the 61st Festival de Pollença was a complementary exhibition by Rubén Martín de Lucas at Galeria Dionís Bennàssar. Martín de Lucas is an artist interested in landscape and human links, our behaviour “towards the rest of nature and beings as well as in the strange feeling of property that we, as humans, exert towards an Earth that transcends us in age.” His exhibition The garden of Fukuoka is a tribute to the Japanese philosopher and farmer Masanobu Fukuoka who, through observation, developed a strategy based on “Wu Wei”, the principle of non-action or minimal interference. Under the premises of not ploughing, not using chemicals or fertilizers, not removing weeds and not pruning, Fukuoka came to develop what is now known as natural agriculture, equalling the best yields of industrial agriculture without impoverishing the soil and without use chemical or mechanical means. This is a tremendously respectful methodology that Fukuoka shared with the world through books, numerous talks and stays, such as the one he carried out in Mallorca in the spring of 1999.
Martín de Lucas has created a pictorial translation of these ideas through two opposite ways of understanding both agriculture and life. On the one hand, he shows us “deserts” where, as an analogy to industrial agriculture, monoculture policy is represented by a single gesture that is repeated in a thick layer of oil. This serves as a metaphor for “a monotonous, poor and forced system, whose essence is far from the balance and diversity of any natural ecosystem.” On the other hand, there are “orchards” or “wild gardens” represented through gestural and free painting, which are a metaphor for the diversity of all ecosystems and the strategy of “minimum interference” that Fukuoka brought to agriculture and life. Here, wide spots of colour coexist with energetic brushstrokes and empty spaces in ways which bear analogy with the minimalism of the arte povera abstractionist Giorgio Griffa. The empty spaces or silences in these paintings are key to the balance of the work. Additional graphics and text fragments – such as “Flow”, “Nendo Dango” or “Wu Wei” – are repeated on the canvas as direct references to the philosophy of Fukuoka.
Like Vicario, Martín de Lucas sees flaws in our current way of life “in which we continuously and tirelessly try to have everything under control: cities, fields, livestock farms… which results in a bizarre and denaturalised world.” He first encountered Fukuoka’s message at a time when he felt a need to “feel the Earth and feel like I am part of it.” The exhibition seeks to rethink “our relationship with a planet that we do not own, but which owns us.”
At Can Prunera Museu Modernista in the beautiful town of Sóller, which is set in a lush valley of orange groves between the mountains and the sea of North-West Mallorca, was another artistic adventure with “healing effects”, “new paths, passionately complicated curves, peace, corners in which one could lose oneself, doubts, boisterous silences and infinite horizons.”
Salva Ginard 20/20 presents 20 paintings from a 20-year project of painting human faces “as a secret, intimate and personal language, a partially veiled confession,” that lives in the “landscape of experiences” which “regrouped and forced to live together,” shape each face “in a sort of hallucinated and revealing cryptogram.” Across that 20-year period, Ginard moved from “absolute darkness”, scratching the surface until he could see “dull colours that drew out the map of a wounded heart” to vivid, pure, even brilliant colours sliding along the fringes combined with “partial or wholescale elimination of the image to take advantage of its echo to begin again.” In between, are figures that have been “deconstructed into layers, pieces or blotches of colour, even until their disappearance” – scratched, uprooted violently, in order to delve “deeper into the idea of destruction / reset, wounding / curing.”
Can Prunera, together with other buildings in Palma such as the Grand Hotel, Can Forteza Rey and Can Casasayas, belongs to a large set of buildings erected in the early 20th century following the models of Catalan Modernisme and French Art-nouveau. It is an old art nouveau mansion with a combination of sinuous, natural and animal-like shapes, which has become one of the features of the town of Sóller.
Can Prunera was restored through the joint efforts of the Sóller Railway company and the Serra Art Foundation who formed the Tren de l’Art Foundation to foster the cultural and artistic development of the Sóller valley. Two exhibition halls, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, were created at Sóller railway station plus a Sculpture Park at the end of the tramway line that links Sóller and Port de Sóller. In Palma, at the Sóller Railway Station, there is also a hall showing “50 Landscapes of Majorca”. After almost three years of restoration and refurbishing, Can Prunera Museu Modernista was opened in August 2009. Since its creation, the Foundation has organized a large number of exhibitions, which have turned Sóller into an important meeting point for artistic creation.
The ground and main floor rooms contain some of the original furniture along with paintings and sculptures from the Collection. On the second floor, is the exhibition Del Modernisme al segle XXI [From art nouveau to the 21st century], a set of paintings belonging mainly to the Serra Art Collection. The collection’s masterpieces encompass works by important artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Miró, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger and Maurice Vlaminck. Alongside, are painters who were either born in Mallorca or have some link to the island and have reached international recognition, such as Rusiñol, Mir, Joan Fuster, Eliseu Meifrén, Ritch Miller and Miquel Barceló. The collection has been enlarged over the past few years with works donated by private owners and artists to the Tren de l’Art Foundation. On my visit I saw works by Helen Frankenthaler, Albert Gleizes, Rebecca Horn, Hermann Nitsch, Jaume Plensa, Diego Rivera, and Antoni Tàpies, among others.
In the basement, there are the rooms popularly known as botigues – the domestic service spaces and stores – which nowadays host temporary exhibitions and rooms devoted to Juli Ramis, a pioneer of materic abstract painting in Spain. In the 1960s Ramis achieved international recognition, with Time magazine including him in a list of the best one hundred painters in the world. He was friends and shared his atelier with Wilfredo Lam, Jean Fautrier, Serge Poliakoff and Nicolas de Staël. He also had friendships with Picasso, Juan Gris and Miró. As a result, he is the most internationally recognised Majorcan painter of the first half of the 20th century. The collection includes canvases from three of the most representative periods in his oeuvre: early years, Cubism and abstract works. Finally, in the garden, visitors can contemplate the Foundation’s collection of sculptures.
At the end of the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth, art and economic development through the growth of tourism went hand-in-hand in Mallorca; one way, among many, in which reason and art became co-terminus. Art and land have had a longstanding symbiotic relation here, whether documenting Mallorcan life or marvelling at natural beauty. Yet despite the broadening of art in media and concept that began in the twentieth century and continues into the present, as these current exhibitions show art retains its connection with the land – never more urgently than in our climate emergency – and also continues to explore personal and societal reasons for existence creating spaces for contemplation, challenge and change.
Top Photo: TREMOLOR Vicario 2022\Photo Jony Huarte
Salva Ginard. 20/20, Originally 21 February – 3 May, 2020 – extended, Can Prunera Museu Modernista, Sóller.
José Luis Vicario: Tremolor, 16 July – 20 September 2022, Església del Convent de Sant Domingo, Pollença.
Rubén Martín de Lucas: El jardín de Fukuoka, 16 July – 11 August 2022, Galeria Dionís Bennàssar, Pollença.