Every few years Malaga manages to make a big media splash. Suddenly it’s hit the headlines again – this time with the pop-up Centre Pompidou Malaga, the first time this dynamic Parisian art centre has branched out beyond its native border. So it’s a real coup for the Andalucian city and, en plus, slots in perfectly with the recently upgraded port area (see my post here); at least the designer shops and cafés eyeing gullible cruise-ship passengers are now backed by serious cultural input.
But art doesn’t stop there in this joyful port city, because of course Malaga rightly sells itself as the birthplace of Picasso, and the museum which opened 12 years ago in a stunningly revamped Renaissance mansion is a fantastic homage to the artist. Now, too, there’s a museum of Russian art from St Petersburg, housed in an elegant 1920s tobacco factory, as well as the existing CAC (Contemporary Art Centre) down by the waterless river-bed. And don’t let’s forget the rather kitsch Museo Carmen Thyssen, an ode to 19th century Andalucian (chocolate box?) painters. All in all incredibly diverse pickings for a city with a population that barely tops half a million. But no one has ever denied Malaga’s beauty – architectural and otherwise – ever since the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans et al.
Of course Malaga is also King of the Costa del Sol, with money flowing into its coffers from glitzy Marbella as well as less well-heeled but immensely popular Torremolinos, Fuengirola etc etc – all a stone’s throw along the coast. The convoluted design of the recently upgraded airport was intended to cater to all these hot-spots, but somehow misses the mark in its spaghetti-like confusion of flyovers. Easy to take the wrong one – I know from repeated experience. The plus side is hot competition between dozens of car rental companies, so low prices. In town though, take a city bike!
But back to the Centre Pompidou Malaga. It’s easy to spot from afar thanks to the multi-coloured cube crowning a sleek white building in the corner of the commercialised Muelle Uno (pier number one). If you’re driving there’s even a specially designed underground car-parkright next door adorned with arty walls and, for once, plenty of space. No crashing into your neighbour as you reverse then.
Here’s the cube above, a design / artwork by 77-year old French artist Daniel Buren whose greatest claim to public art fame was in Paris’ Palais Royal where his installation of striped columns and underground waterways nearly bankrupted the City council. I know, as I lived nearby at the time (1980s-90s) and witnessed the agonisingly slow progress, as well as subsequent endless repairs. Ironically, when I passed by earlier this year – it was back under repair wraps…plus ça change as they say.
Here in Malaga I was surprised by the scale of this so-called ‘pop-up’, provisionally scheduled to last 5 years. but I bet that’ll be extended. Below ground, the galleries form an intriguing, interlocking pattern that allows each one to focus on a theme, while keeping visitors on their aesthetic toes. There are permanent and temporary exhibitions, as at any art centre, but what is impressive is the international and chronological scope. I’ll admit I was expecting an injection of French cultural diplomacy here, but it turned out to be a cleverly curated international thematic mix of the 20th-21st centuries – from Thomas Schutte’s hugely compelling installation Great Spirit (below), which I’d seen at London’s Saatchi Gallery cast in a different medium, to an exquisite little self-portrait by Frida Kahlo.
Brancusi’s serene Sleeping Muse (above) was key to a room devoted to man’s loneliness (entitled The Man without a Face), joined by Giacometti, De Chirico and Léger, then suddenly I was looking at political art of the 1960-70s, mainly from women artists like Orlan and Annette Messager. Next, grinding sounds announced an old favourite of mine, Jean Tinguely, whose mechanized arte povera creatures will no doubt creak on rustily to eternity.
New perspectives were not only curatorially defined but also spatially, as a mezzanine gave plunging views over the large gallery below, home to The Body in Pieces – a curious mix of artists and periods – from Picasso to Tapies to Ellsworth Kelly, Graham Sutherland (bon Dieu! a Brit – albeit long dead) and the aforementioned Schutte .
Then it was exit to the sunshine and a breezy stroll along the pier to a soundtrack of clinking halyards from the sleek moored yachts. More clinking from a gin and tonic (incredibly popular in Spain), a short uplift of the sun-tan then we were back in our car and heading for the hills. Other art awaited us – of a very different kind, but that’s another blog.