Guardian

The Guardian Review is very good this week. Two fine aritcles:

1. This article about how Barcelona–certainly one of the most amazing citites I’ve ever been in–came to exist as it is today:

Barcelona has been a fashionable and intensely fashion-conscious city
for many years now. In 1966, when I first went there, it was rather
different. Non-Catalans thought it was provincial, like the rest of
Spain. Nobody outside Catalonia, and by no means everyone inside it,
would have agreed with the argument of Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudí
to Dali, the new show opening at the Met in New York next month, which
is essentially that, between 1870 and 1920, Barcelona was
intermittently a great cultural centre, to be reckoned as one of the
essential proving grounds of modernism.

So many Americans, and even some Europeans, were used to thinking that
modernism had two capitals: Paris and New York. You could hardly even
call this view simplified. It was blind. It left out Vienna. It ignored
London. It downplayed Berlin. And as for Barcelona, what did I know
about it, in my semi-virginal ignorance during the mid-1960s? That
three decades before, in the name of the doomed Spanish republic, it
had stubbornly resisted General Franco and paid a heavy, bitter price
for it. That George Orwell had written a book about it called Homage to
Catalonia; that in it he had been spectacularly wrong in dissing the
admittedly very weird architect Antoni Gaudí, claimed by the French
surrealists, who had designed that enormous penitential church
apparently made of melted candle-wax and chicken-guts, the Sagrada
Familia. That was about it. Forty years ago, the foreigner’s knowledge
of Barcelona was so embarrassingly slight that we weren’t even
embarrassed by it.

2. This article, on art inspired by the novels of W.G. Sebald:

Marcus Coates is an artist-shamen who takes an interest in animal
mortality. This is not on the Damien Hirst model. Rather, his work –
part of an artistic and spiritual ritual – involves "becoming animal"
to the extent that he has impersonated birds, seals, dogs, stags and
badgers. This time he has taken a bird more often heard than seen in
the East Anglian region, the bittern, which is known for its resounding
foghorn boom. Coates’s installation is an assemblage of various bittern
specimens from the Natural History Museum. One display case shows 11
males that represent those recorded in Britain in 1997, the lowest
figure since the 1950s, and which were bred in an attempt to rescue the
bittern from extinction.

What gives these specimens their edge of
fascination is that they are not intended to simulate their once living
state; they are unstuffed skins – motionless, limp and profoundly dead.
They’re martyrs. We think of the mallard that Sebald reimagines in The
Rings of Saturn, "with such perfect clarity that I can still see the
nuances in the fowl’s plumages, and even the pores in the lid closed
over its eye". You can see the underside of their necks, their white
bellies, their dark claws (either trussed or in praying stance), their
blank eyes and their slightly agape beaks, as if they perished in
mid-song.



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