The Catalan artist Miquel Barceló wasn’t well known to Londoners until this summer, when a 7.5-metre-high bronze elephant suddenly appeared in Regent’s Park. Appearing to rise from the green grass, its trunk forced into the earth, it is a larger-than-life metaphor for the role of the artist – both serious beast and playful entertainer. It’s been quite a hit, certainly of the Instagram variety.
If it’s piqued your interest in more than a social media way, then it’s time to head for Salamanca, the exquisite Renaissance Spanish city, that for one more month is celebrating Barceló’s work in a wide-ranging way. There, in the city’s elegant Plaza Mayor, a twin of the London mammal balances dizzyingly on its big bronze trunk, this time mounted on a pedestal.
“It was the obvious spot,” says the 60-year-old Barceló, who divides his time between Paris and Majorca, but visited Salamanca four or five times to find sites not just for this, but several other exhibitions around the town.
Gran Elefantdret, Salamanca, Miquel Barceló CREDIT: MIQUEL BARCELÓ, NOAH’S ARK AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SALAMANCA, SPAIN, 2017. PHOTO © SANTIAGO SANTOS / UNIVERSITY OF SALAMANCA
In a grassy courtyard, surrounded by a scaled-down cloister, are a series of outsized bronze matches – burnt out and curling up on themselves. Called Alumettes, they refer to past acquaintances who have literally extinguished their own lives through behavioural excess. (Barceló lived in New York in the 1980s, partied hard, and then left for Paris before he went the same way.)
Barcelo en Anaya, Salamanca, Miquel Barceló CREDIT: MIQUEL BARCELÓ, NOAH’S ARK AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SALAMANCA, SPAIN, 2017. PHOTO © SANTIAGO SANTOS / UNIVERSITY OF SALAMANCA
Elsewhere, in the city’s exhibition hall, is his interpretation of the Divine Comedy made between 2000 and 2002, watercolours that show influences from African tribal art to surrealism. But the showstopper here is his Noah’s Arc, exhibited for the first time, and measuring six by four metres.
Its teeming scene of fish and fruits, birds and beasts, in floating pairs, has found a perfect place in the Chapel of Arzobispo, though not without having to put up a fight. An altarpiece by Alonso de Berruguette nearby is a perfectly preserved piece of high Renaissance horror, where tortured bodies still writhe.
El arca de Noe, Salamanca, Miquel Barceló CREDIT: MIQUEL BARCELÓ, NOAH’S ARK AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SALAMANCA, SPAIN, 2017. PHOTO © SANTIAGO SANTOS / UNIVERSITY OF SALAMANCA
It is unlikely that you’ll find yourself passing through Salamanca. It’s really not on the way from anywhere to anywhere at all, marooned on a plateau in the west of Spain, one and a half hours by road from Valladolid, and at least two from Madrid. But it’s worth a special trip. The food’s fantastic too.
Miquel Barceló in Salamanca, various locations, until 10th October. Frieze Sculpture Park, Regent’s Park, London W1, until 8th October.