Alicante’s art-beat

Feel the pulse of Alicante through the port city’s iconic artists and artworks

This is Salvador Dali’s sculpture Saint Joan. Hmmmm… It is a Dali. But it is not a real Dali. On the wall is Cervantes, the one who wrote Don Quixote. Did you realise you have walked on 6.6 million red, cream and black tiles to get here? And wait, look at the first step carefully. This is Cota Cero, the reference point from which the altitude of Spain’s various cities is measured in metres above sea level. Call it altitude’s zero mile.”

In the Spanish city of Alicante, Felipe Lozano, the guide, began with scads
of art information. Old. New. Ancient. A staircase. A wall. A sculpture. By the magnificent green door of Alicante’s Town Hall, history dropped a shedload of art. 

Introduction

I was ignorant of Alicante’s art-beat. I had heard of this city where lived Eusebio Sempere (1923-1985), the sculptor/artist who turned kinetics into poetic art, his art simultaneously concrete, poetic, logical, and even urban. The one who blended linear lines, geometry, space and light to create splendid masterpieces. I knew Sempere was a local lad. I had seen a photograph of him standing in front of Alicante’s oldest civil building, the Casa de la Asegurada, which dates to 1685. 

But by the green door of Alicante’s Town Hall, I began with a Dali dilemma. How could the golden Saint Joan sculpture be real, yet not real? Lozano has a story: One glum day, Dali did not have the money to pay the mould-maker his wages. In an unusual moment, the artist gave away the Saint Joan mould to the mould-maker as wages for his labour. The mould-maker later made Saint Joan sculptures from Dali’s mould. Not many corroborate the story, but Lozano can know between a real and a not-real Dali. 

The Dali-dilemma, thankfully, was resolved in Hotel Les Mongres Palace, a century-old building where by the front desk hangs a drawing by Dali. Framed and original amidst old-style tiles and oil paintings. A walk through the narrow alleyways where once pilgrims trudged, there’s the Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo Alicantino de Arte Contemoraneo), a homage to Alicante’s most famous son: Eusebio Sempere.

A former granary, the museum displays Sempere’s private collection. Nearly 800 pieces representing a few of the most celebrated 20th-century artists, including Picasso, Francis Bacon, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. 

However, the nucleus of the collection contains paintings, sculptures, mixed media and lithographs by major Spanish artists of the 1950s: Alfaro, Canogar, Chillida, Joan Castejón, Mompó, Saura, Tàpies, Zobel and Viola. And, of course, Sempere’s own art narrating all stages of his career and different media — from drawings, gouaches, oil paintings, and silk screen prints to sculptures of iron and stainless steel. 

At the centre of it

The famed Cascade sculpture forms the centrepiece of the museum. On another floor are his ‘kinetic’ sculptures creating surreal perspectives with light, geometric repetition and linearity, and corroborating Sempere’s fame as the most representative artist of the Kinetic art movement in Spain and one of Spain’s foremost artists. Not surprisingly, he was officially named a favourite son of the city of Alicante. 

Stepping out of Sempere’s shadow and walking the 6.6 million tiles of the city’s promenade again, I met a fortune teller at the corner of the Postiguet beach and the marina. A cheeky eight-metre-tall fortune teller with a four-tonne body, resting his chin in one large hand with the other hand reaching out to the sky. The numbers on his head are meant to represent the passage of time but are twisted to resemble Alicante’s palm trees. The diviner even has a name: El Adivinador. His creator: Sculptor Juan Ripolles of Castellon.

Not too far from him stands Icarus, the one who flew close to the sun and plunged to his death. The Icarus in Alicante stands by the staircase of the marina, his toe in water, his shoulders broad, his head little and in his hand a windsurf board. He looks different from the oft-repeated image of Greek tragedy, but this work, by Madrid sculptor Esperanza D’Ors, transports Greek mythology to Alicante’s waters.   

Sempere. Dali. Cervantes. A diviner. And Icarus. In Alicante, I had met them all. But no trip to this old Spanish city is complete without a visit to Santa Barbara Castle. Perched on Benacantil mountain, the monumental rock looming over Alicante, is the medieval fortress that was built by the Moors.

The soldiers must have puffed up the vast rock, I drove to the battlements to gaze at the panorama of Alicante. As the wild breeze trifled with my hair and purple dress, I omitted the boom of the cannons and the wars between the Moors and the Christians; I was waylaid by the art of kinetics, the beauteous blend of linearity and light. 

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Alicante’s art-beat

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