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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona

What is the Fundació Antoni Tàpies?

The Fundació Antoni Tàpies former Modernist publishing house that’s now home to the thought-provoking work of celebrated 20th-century artist Antoni Tàpies.

Fundació Antoni Tàpies

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Fundació Antoni Tàpies History

The Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies began experimenting with drawing and painting for the first time while convalescing after a long illness. This new hobby would alter the course of his life, and when he recovered he decided to abandon his law degree and dedicate himself to this new-found creative pursuit.

Early on, Tàpies became influenced by the surreal iconography of Joan Miró (a fellow Catalan artist) and Paul Klee. He was fascinated by magical and symbolic subjects, and many of his earliest canvases are filled with strange, esoteric forms: wide-eyed faces gazing out from strangely patterned night skies. He then started to find inspiration in geometry and the study of patterns.

By the 1950s, these expressive works had won him international recognition, but his practice never stopped evolving. During that decade, Tàpies inserted the materiality of old, marked city walls into his works, incorporating marble dust, sand, and clay into his mysterious ‘matter paintings’. In his 1969 essay ‘Communication on the Wall’, the artist recalled a turning point in the 1950s: ‘the most sensational surprise was to discover one day, suddenly, that my paintings…had turned into walls’. As his pictorial language continued to develop, his oeuvre came to encompass painting, drawing, print and sculpture.

In 1984, he established the foundation on this site, which opened its doors to the public six years later. The aim was to promote the artist’s own work, but also the continued study and knowledge of contemporary art. It holds the most complete collection of Tàpies’s art, with over 2,000 pieces mainly donated by the artist and his wife, Teresa.

Two main exhibition areas host a small rotating display of Tàpies’s work – from early self-portraits to the dominating and visceral pieces he made much later in his career. The artist’s own work is combined with a busy event programme: temporary exhibitions, lectures, films, educational workshops and artist residencies are all held at the museum. While you’re here, take the chance to explore the impressive library, located on the first floor, facing the large atrium.

The foundation is housed in a striking red-brick and exposed cast iron building. Despite the use of functional materials associated with industry, the building possesses the grandeur of a palace. The pioneering Modernista design was the work of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The building originally opened in the 1880s as the renowned Montaner i Simon publishing house (the architect’s brother was a partner in the company). Before you head inside, notice the Islamic inspired decoration on the building’s façade, as well as something a little more unusual crowning its roof. This dramatic tangle of mesh and wire is Tàpies’s Núvol i Cadira (or ‘Cloud and Chair’). The motif of a chair rising from a cloud is found frequently in the artist’s work, and here alludes to meditative contemplation – exactly the mindset you’ll need to be in when viewing the rest of the collection!

Wire is a prominent feature in the artist’s sculptural work, a medium in which he elevates everyday objects into works of art. Make sure you visit the museum’s terrace, where you may be surprised to meet Mitjó, an enormous sculpture of a rather holey sock.

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