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Friday, 28 April 2017 to Sunday, 1 October 2017

Installation view: Miquel Barceló Noah's Ark at the University of Salamanca, Spain, 2017Photos (c) Santiago  Santos /  University of Salamanca

Noah’s Ark is an exhibition by renowned artist Miquel Barceló, and is part of the commemoration of the 8th Centenary of the historic University of Salamanca in Spain.

Curated in dialogue with the University setting and featuring approximately 80 works, most of which were created in the last five years, the exhibition spans a diversity of media including painting, sculpture, ceramic, drawing and performance. Noah’s Ark demonstrates the constantly evolving practice of the Majorcan artist, whose vast oeuvre is characterised by a surprisingly formal and iconographic richness. An emphasis on both the creation process, and on metalinguistic reflection are the defining traits of his latest works.

Sculptures have been placed around the city, responding to the architecture and enlivening the public spaces they inhabit. The Big Ear, in the Courtyard of the Anaya Palace, continues Barceló’s exploration of ceramics and the malleability of his material. Oversized plant pots topple and matter is bent downwards, back towards the ground, almost inviting the viewer to disclose their secrets.  Another edition of this sculpture is currently on view in Amsterdam’s International Sculpture Biennial, ARTZUID 2017 (until 17 September 2017).

In contrast to what Barceló perceives as the solemnity of public commissions, Gran Elefantdret (2008) is a playful figure placed in the Plaza Mayor. This is a new version of the sculpture with a darker finish. Seen upside down, the elephant balances on its trunk and has a whitish patina. Uniquely this animal farts every hour, on the hour, passing a cloud of grey smoke and commenting on the shrouded dealings of those in public roles from politicians to religious leaders. It appears to be the only animal in the exhibition that escaped the ark, a striking solo figure in the centre of the town. Another edition of this sculpture is currently on view in London’s Frieze Sculpture Park, in Regent’s Park (until 8 October 2017).

Fourteen Matches is presented in the Patio de Escuelas Menores together for the first time since the inception of the 14 figures in the work. Each sculpture represents a different stage of combustion, a metaphor for characters in the artist’s life. From the unlit ‘baby’ to the bonded coming together of two minds, and eventually the burnt out deterioration of the body, these representations are cast in bronze. They are placed upon bases of varying depth and width to suggest the solidity of the foundations from where they began. Their fragile states recall Giacometti’s work.

Barceló’s ‘Divine Comedy’ is based on Dante’s magnificent poem, written in 1472, some 200 years after the University of Salamanca was established. The works are not presented in chronological order with Paradise appearing like Hell at times. He has also included two self-portraits in the series, the first appears in Hell, absorbing some of the tortured souls discovered within. Barceló was the youngest artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Louvre in 2004 where this series was first shown. Another Self-Portrait is exhibited alongside the series and demonstrates the impact that Indian culture has had on his work. Barceló represents himself as a three-headed figure in the guise of Brahma, one face depicted atop the other in a totem pole. 

Displayed alongside Alonso Berruguete’s altarpiece (1529-31) in the Chapel of the Arzobispo Fonseca Residence Hall is Barceló’s monumental painting Noah’s Ark, presented to the public for the first time. Animals, birds and even snails are immortalised together with fruit and vegetables all of which are elevated to iconic status in their present environment. The origins of the subject matter can be traced back to each of the series presented in the Fonseca building offering a total vision in this single piece. The use of such an epic scale for a still life underlines the transient nature of everything yet suggesting permanence beyond death. 

The group of five still life paintings were created from 2009 to 2016 and depict organic matter in varying stages of decay. In a state of evolution, the subjects’ condition of flux develops the theme Barceló explored in the drawings he created when termites transformed some pieces he had been working on in Mali. 

Noah’s Ark is one of the largest institutional presentations of Barceló’s work and lays bare the diversity of the artist’s practice. Viewed within the historical context of the city and the academics that have populated the University of Salamanca, the exhibition’s curatorial dialogue with its environment charges the work with new layers of meaning.  The exhibition remains open to the public until 1 October 2017.

Artist ( Name ):

Artist ( Description ): 

Miquel Barceló was born in 1957 in Felanitx on the island of Majorca. He was first exposed to art through his mother, who was a painter of traditional landscapes. In 1974, Barceló made his first trip to Paris, leaving the constrained environment of Franco’s Spain for the first time. Impressed by the paintings of the avant-garde, Barceló was particularly struck by the works of Jean Dubuffet, Art Brut, and Art Informel. After taking classes at the Decorative Arts School in Palma de Majorca that year, Barceló enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona in 1975, where he attended classes for a few months before returning to Mallorca. Back in Mallorca, Barceló joined the conceptual avant-garde group, “Taller Lunatic,” participating in their vanguard demonstrations and happenings enabled by the changed political circumstances after Franco’s death.

Process is central to Barceló’s practice and his paintings are created on the ground, built up using layers of canvas, glue and even food. The artist then applies charcoal to add definition to works that capture the fleeting stages of the life cycle. Two of the paintings in this series ‘Still Life’ transcend their original state to form letters from the Greek alphabet pointing to early civilisation and the foundations of western society.  Alongside this group three white paintings are presented. Shadow / Sun depicts concentric circles that record the traces of the artist’s hand in the same way that the action within a bullfighting ring is retained by the demarcations in the sand. In addition 5 Waves is a marine landscape that captures the movements of the waves witnessed by Barceló in his Mallorcan homeland. Layers of paint are sprayed to craft the composition, presenting the viewer with an impressionistic view of the ever-shifting coastal scenery. ‘Green and Blue Paintings’ are imprints of different forms that also refer to the Mallorcan fishermen where the swelling and receding tidal stages are given volume through the use of paper as a sculptural element in the painting. Arabic rubber and pure pigment lend a sense of materiality to the works that seem like glass that has been blasted and transformed by the sand and salt within the sea they depict. Inspired by a trip to Chauvet in the South of France, the ‘Cave Paintings’ encapsulate another key notion in Barceló's work, that of looking backwards in order to progress. Using natural pigment the shapes of horses, stags and cattle become evident, as they seem to emerge from the earth itself. Another self-portrait completes this instalment of the exhibition in which the artist used soot to strip away, rather than build up, with violent scratches to reveal an image of himself to the viewer.

During heavy rainfall encountered in Mali Barceló was unable to leave his studio to paint watercolours. He noticed that other villagers were using the rainwater to make clay pots, moulding them for use in the kitchen. This experience led him to believe that to create ceramics was therefore superior to painting, a forerunning three-dimensional drawing. Cracked from the top lip of the pot, through the core of the object and almost to the ground, Tuna reveals the skeleton of the fish upon glancing down into the object from above. Family provides human form to the objects as five pots become conjoined by the bloodline that runs through them, binding one family member to the other while wounds become visible on the surface of the clay. The absence of the female portrayed is what shapes Seated White Woman, her indentation captured by the malleable material.

Other Info: 

About The 8th Centenary of the University of Salamanca

During the academic year 2017-2018 Salamanca University will be celebrating its 800th anniversary, making it the oldest of Spain’s universities. A landmark event, not just in the history of this prestigious academic institution, but also for Spain’s university system and the Spanish language, considering that many of the early universities founded in America during the 15th, 16th and later centuries based their statutes and regulations on those of the University of Salamanca, considered to be their alma mater.

This important "anniversary" has become a commemoration that has been raised to the category of a State occasion. An Inter-institutional Committee has been set up, whose members include representatives from several Spanish Government Ministries, under the Honorary Presidency of the King and Queen of Spain.

The exhibition is sponsored by the MAPFRE Company

MAPFRE is a global insurance company present on the five continents. It is the benchmark insurer in the Spanish market, the leading multinational insurance group in Latin America and one of the top 10 insurance companies in Europe in terms of premium volume. MAPFRE approximately employs more than 37,000 professionals and services 37 million clients. In 2016 MAPFRE’s revenue surpassed 27 billion euros, with net earnings of 775 million euros. In addition to its business activities, MAPFRE actively promotes cultural life, learning and knowledge. The company’s not-for-profit institution, Fundación MAPFRE, has organized more than 550 artistic exhibitions over the years, and in 2016 alone, more than 1.3 million people visited the various exhibitions we put on.

Venue ( Address ): 

The University of Salamanca, Spain

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Other shows from Gillian McVey

04/28/2017 to 10/01/2017
Philippe Parreno: Synchronicity at the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai
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