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The capital of Catalonia is a great art destination

Miro, Tapies, Gaudi, Picasso, Dali – the list of artists who have left their mark on Barcelona or been influenced by this vibrant city is rivalled perhaps only by Paris. Artmag spent a few days in this glorious city exploring its artistic treasures.

Michael G Clark The Cellar at Corney & Barrow

In the Raval district a few blocks from the city’s Gothic centre is the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). Taking up one side of the Plaça dels Àngels (Angels’ Square), the gleaming, white, modern building, with its ground to roof glass facade flooding the interior with light, stands in contrast to the surrounding traditional architecture and narrow streets. MACBA displays mainly art from the second half of the 20th century. Its permanent collection represents three periods: the 1940s to the 1960s; the 1960s and 1970s; and the contemporary era. Exhibitions change every three or four months. The spacious interior comprises three floors of galleries, each one dedicated to a different exhibition. The connecting ramp offers ascending views of the surrounding area. An annex space, Monument, was recently opened on the other side of the square in the atmospheric cloister of a former convent.

2CCCB (c) Adriu00E0 Goula, 2011

Round the corner from MACBA is the Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona (CCCB), which hosts exhibitions on the core theme of the city and urban culture. Entered from the street through an archway, its beautiful inner courtyard comprises the original 1802 building (a former almshouse) on three sides, with a modern, 30-metre high, glass-fronted wing on the fourth side reflecting the entire scene like a massive projection screen. The CCCB is a multi-disciplinary institution, so as well as a changing exhibition programme, so during your visit you may also come across music, film, dance, lectures and readings.

Fundació Antoni Tàpies © Lluís Bover 2014 © Fundació Antoni Tàpies 2014
Fundació Antoni Tàpies © Lluís Bover 2014 © Fundació Antoni Tàpies 2014

The Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) was perhaps the most celebrated Spanish artist to emerge in the post-WWII period. Originally a surrealist painter influenced by Paul Klee and Joan Miró, he is best known for his ‘pintura matèrica’ (matter painting), in which non-artistic materials are incorporated into the paintings. This mixed media approach saw him adding clay, marble dust, waste paper, string and rag to his works. Created by the artist himself to promote contemporary art, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies occupies an 1880s building which is a fine example of Catalan Modernism, the region’s contribution to Art Noveau architecture. The foundation has one the most complete collections of Tàpies’ work. These paintings, drawings, sculptures and engravings are shown on the spacious first floor, while two lower floors are dedicated to changing exhibitions of work by other artists. Over the years these have included Louise Bourgeois, Merce Cunningham, Andy Warhol, Francis Picabia and Robert Motherwell.

Fundació Joan Miró © Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona. Photo: Pere Pratdesaba

On the hilltop Parc de Montjuic, the Fundacio Joan Miró houses the most comprehensive public collection of work anywhere in the world by Barcelona’s favourite son. Often seen as the precursor of Abstract Expressionism, Miró (1893-1983) referred to his style as an “assassination of painting” aimed at upsetting the visual elements of established painting. Over 300 paintings, 150 sculptures, 8,000 drawings, the complete graphic works, textiles, letters and documents detail the artist’s creative process. There is also a changing programme of exhibitions of contemporary work by other artists. After seeing the displays, head for the cafe-restaurant, where there are spectacular views of the city from the terrace. See also ‘Finding Miro’.

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC)

Comprising over 4,000 works, the Museu Picasso in the La Ribera (The Shore) district greets over a million visitors a year, making it Barcelona’s most popular art gallery. Housing one of the world’s largest collections of the artist’s work, arranged in chronological order, it provides a fascinating insight into his creative development. The first museum dedicated to Picasso’s work and the only one created during his life, it occupies five large Gothic townhouses dating from the 15th to 18th centuries. Starting in the 1890s, when Picasso was in his early teens, the permanent collection is organised into three sections: painting and drawing, engraving and ceramics. The latter comprises over 40 pieces from his days in Vallauris in the south of France. The collection ends with a burst of colour with 57 works interpreting Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’. Made in 1957, it is the only series of works painted by Picasso displayed all together in one museum.

Is there a more magnificently situated museum anywhere in Europe than the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC)? Housed in the Palau Nacional (National Palace), constructed for the International Exposition of 1929, it sits magnificently atop Montjuic hill, its dome inspired by St Peter’s in Rome and its four towers by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. From the terrace cafe at the top there are stupendous views over the city and surrounding hills. Inside, the “Wow!” factor continues, with 50,000 square metres of exhibition space divided into four sections: Romanesque Art (the world’s finest collection, notably a unique ensemble of 11th to 13th century mural paintings); Gothic Art (especially altar pieces, sculpture and decorative pieces); Renaissance and Baroque Art (including works by Titian, Tintoretto, Cranach, El Greco, Velazquez and Rubens); and Modern Art (including the most important collection of Catalan art from the 19th century to the 1940s).

Finding Miró

Joan Miró’s ‘Mosaic’ on La Rambla
Joan Miró’s ‘Mosaic’ on La Rambla

Art-lovers can walk the bustling streets of the old Gothic quarter which Joan Miró knew as a child and visit some of the places associated with him, including his birthplace, the site of his first retrospective exhibition and one of his favourite restaurants. A good place to start is half-way down Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare, La Rambla (riverbed), where you will usually find a cluster of tourists at the Pla de l’Os (literally, the ‘plain of the bone’) snapping ‘Mosaic’, a large, colourful circular piece which Miró built into the pavement in 1976 to greet visitors arriving by sea. (La Rambla leads up from the port.) It is one of three public artworks he dedicated to the city. The others are ‘Woman and Bird’, a 30-metre high sculpture at the Parc Joan Miró, and a mural at the airport’s Terminal 2 to welcome people arriving by air. Look out also for the logo on Caixa banks, which Miró designed. After a day following in Miró’s footsteps, head for the Cocktail Bar Boadas just off the top of La Rambla. Established in 1933, making it the oldest in Barcelona, it is famous for its Miró cocktail, a mix of whisky, red vermouth and Cointreau. The walls are covered with memorabilia and celebrity photographs, and a framed letter from Miró proclaims: ‘I want my works to be a poem with music from a painter.’

Art walk

Centre La Virreina
Look for the sign outside galleries on an Art Barcelona walking tour. Photo: Andrea Paesante

Some three dozen contemporary art venues form Art Barcelona, an association of public and private galleries, art centres and foundations with regularly changing exhibitions by established and emerging national and international artists. Pick up a map at participating galleries, hotels and tourist information points and look out for an identification pole outside each venue with either a pink top (for galleries) or a blue one (for museums, foundations and art centres). Art Barcelona also offers a three-hour walking tour of member galleries for 40 per person (min. two people).

1 ticket x 6 museums = €30
For a great deal on admission prices, buy an Articket BCN, which gets you into six top art museums for a bargain €30. The participating museums are the Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Fundacio Joan Miro, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Museu Picasso and the Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona.


Vueling offers up to four weekly flights between Edinburgh and Barcelona (Tues, Thur, Sat & Sun) from Mar 28 to Oct 31. Flights from €69.99 each way.


ASTORIA Public AreasPart of the Derby Hotels Collection, the three-star, 114-room Hotel Astoria is decorated with the owner’s impressive collection of art and antiques, including theatrical posters, Art Nouveau busts and Lalique crystal. Located in the vibrant Eixample district, it is also a virtual museum of works by the Catalan artist, social chronicler and political satirist Ricard Opisso i Sala (1880-1966), a member of the 4Gats group and friend of Toulouse Lautrec and Picasso. Double room from £91.

Oh by the way win Mambo tickets today

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