Art and Design in Barcelona

Art and Design students from all over the world regularly have the prospect of a short break in Barcelona to look forward to as part of their course. And it is no surprise as to the reason why.
Not only does Barcelona offer great night-life, superb beaches and top-class shopping, all high on students’ lists of pre-requisites, the city is full of readily accessible art and design experiences that will feed their imaginations.

And it’s not just in the galleries that the students – and other visitors – can experience the cutting edge of modern design and art. Barcelona is akin to an open-air studio, with so many visual feasts.

Firstly, though, let’s focus on the established artists who have done so much to promote Barcelona’s cultural reputation.

The Picasso Museum is Barcelona’s most visited gallery, occupying five medieval palaces in Montcada, in the narrow heart of the Barri Gotìc. In addition to the many paintings, arranged in chronological order as you pass through the museum, there are some incredible ceramics from Picasso’s Blue and Pink periods and a collection of his work produced in Cannes from 1957. The nearest Metro stop is at Jaume I. Although admission is €9 for adults, possession of the Barcelona Card will entitle you to a 50% discount.

Joan Miró, who was actually born in Barcelona’s Barri Gotíc, is perhaps as much an iconic symbol of the city’s quirky independence and artistic innovation as Gaudí is to its architecture. There are some truly startling paintings, sculptures and tapestries in the Fundació Joan Miró in the Parc de Montjuïc. The building itself, designed by his close friend Josep Lluis Sert, is a masterpiece of abundant natural light and it perfectly harmonises with Miró’s arrangements of lines, primary colours, shapes, and exotically variegated women, birds and stars.

Two other galleries that offer a more varied assortment of artists are the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. The former concentrates on work from the second half of the twentieth century and has many changes of exhibitions. The MNAC, on Montjuïc and with spectacular views across the city, has a vast range of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque works, and gives telling insights of why Catalan art developed in the manner it did.

Because of an initiative developed during the 1980s, Barcelona also has 150 artworks situated around the city itself. Many of these are in popular tourist locations – there is a Miró mural dominating a wall at El Prat airport – but, wherever you wander, you’ll see some spectacular sculptures and pieces of art. There’s even an original Liechtenstein, Cap de Barcelona, at Moll de la Fusta and an awesomely impressive work by Frank Gehry at the Olympic Village, Pez y Esfera, golden and almost interactive as you walk around and under it.

Even the graffiti in Barcelona seems to be more artistic than elsewhere – being internationally recognised and spawning its own young artists.

Devotees of Catalan art and culture will, of course, want to search out Els Quatre Gats – the bar Picasso, Dalí, Gaudí, Tapies and Miró made famous (indeed, Picasso’s first commissioned work was the front cover of the menu). This atmospheric reminder of the birth of Catalan modernism is tucked away on Montsio, just off the Avenida Portal d’Angel in the Barri Gotíc and you can pop in for a coffee and cake. The lunchtime menu, available from 1pm until 4, is also reasonably priced and very tasty.