‘The Last of a Kind’:
Soon after Spain’s most famous artist died, El Periódico, a newspaper in his native city of Barcelona, published a spread with a plaintive headline: “No One Like Tàpies.”
Antoni Tàpies, 88, was a local hero who rose to international prominence by bringing Great Spanish Painting into the postwar era. His metaphysical abstractions are infused with the legacy of his modernist forebears, Picasso and Miró—along with medieval Catalan mysticism, Eastern spirituality, anti-fascist sentiment, and an assortment of humble materials, like dirt and straw, imbued, as his champion Roland Penrose put it, with “a profound hidden meaning.”
Admired for his pro-democracy stance during the Franco era, when many other artists were in exile, Tàpies grew into an éminence grise, a public and much-published intellectual who built a foundation to share not only his own work but also his fascination with other cultures and disciplines. “From the time I was very young, I felt like a missionary,” the artist told me in his home in 1990, surrounded by art objects from Africa, Oceania, and other parts of the world. “It’s always the story that poets are something of the loco, hero, priest, teacher.”
…Asking artists and curators who they thought could fill his shoes as artist or as icon, El Periódico came up empty. “He was the last of a kind,” says Manuel Borja-Villel, founding director of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, who now runs the Reina Sofía in Madrid. “Tàpies was a bridge between the historical avant-garde and the younger generation. He wasn’t modern anymore, and not postmodern. That makes him very interesting. You cannot understand Spanish art and culture without his presence.”
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Porta metàl·lica i violí (Metal Shutter and Violin), 1956. Collection Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona.