Curating a Collection: Ojo Para el Arte
Written by Amelia Jeffers
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me how I can look at an antique or work of art and give a quick assessment of quality and value, I could probably retire. The phrase “repetition is the mother of skill” has certainly held true in my experience. Across a 25+ year career in the auction and appraisal business, I have easily reviewed more than 100,000 objects - and, as I like to remind the folks who ask me: when your paycheck depends on knowing whether something is valuable, you learn to differentiate really fast. But, the truth is anyone can hone an eye for art and antiques with a modest amount of time and energy. And while books abound on every collecting genre, I believe there is no substitute for standing in front of an item. Only by experiencing what exists in the art world can someone begin to develop an appreciation and understanding of what they like -and with which they want to live. For that reason, this feature will occasionally take a new slant on cultivating your passion for collecting - travel.
From sheer approachability, guaranteed temperate weather, some of the best art in the world, and great food and wine, it just doesn’t get better than Spain. On a recent sojourn, I focused my time in two major cities with an impressive return on my investment.
Regularly listed among the top five museums in Europe, the massive Museo del Prado has been serving up incredible painting and sculpture exhibitions in the capital city of Madrid since 1819. Particularly well represented are early works with religious and cultural influences. Of note for our visit was the small but mighty showing of Leonardo da Vinci paintings, including the Prado’s copy of the Mona Lisa and the “Ganay” Salvator Mundi -a notable viewing considering the less significant “Gulf” example brought a cool $450M after a worldwide velvet rope tour by Christie’s just a few years ago. Our time with the da Vincis was met with much less fanfare but also an up-close-and-personal viewing in an intimate room with very few other people. It was memorable, to say the least.
A quick taxi ride away is the Royal Palace of Madrid. Though it is not technically a museum, the collection of material culture, including glass, silver, porcelain, furniture, and musical instruments, makes this a must-see for any antiques enthusiast. Across the plaza, Almudena Cathedral and its Neo-Romanesque crypt are an interesting dichotomy of historical and modern. The relatively new church—completed in 1993—boasts a uniquely modern interior fitted with chapels and statues from contemporary artists in a variety of styles—even Pop art—though period works have been retro-fitted as well.-
My travel companion and I were anxious to cover a lot of ground in Barcelona, so we skipped Madrid’s Museum of Contemporary Art, hopped a high-speed train to the coast, and hit a more focused experience at the Picasso Museum. Expertly curated, the eponymous museum is regarded as one of the most complete permanent collections of his work and lends great insight into a master of modern art thanks to wonderful photography and an assemblage of paintings that create a career timeline.
Just next door is the brand new Modern Contemporary (MOCO) Barcelona, a repeat effort to the independent museum’s highly successful Amsterdam location. Echoing the institution’s commitment to exhibiting iconic works by celebrated modern and contemporary artists as well as rising stars, the maze of rooms at MOCO Barcelona include innovative examples by Damien Hirst, classic works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Salvador Dali, and edgy conversation-starters like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Banksy. While it was the smallest of the museums we visited, it may have been our favorite.
A visit to Barcelona would not be complete without a thorough exploration of the architectural marvels of Antoni Gaudi. Largely considered his magnum opus, the yet-finished and thoroughly fantastical La Sagrada Família is an engineering marvel in scale, color, and design. The audio tour is a must for anyone who wants to fully capture the intricate details of the structure and plan. Like many of his projects, Park Guell was a labor of love for Gaudi and has become a treasure for not only the city but all of Europe. The Unesco World Heritage site represents a rare combination of nature, art, and architecture with breathtaking views of the Barcelona skyline and Balearic sea in the distance. With enough time, you could round out your exploration of Gaudi’s work by visiting Casa Batllo. Juxtaposed against a streetscape of luxury shops, the structure looks more like a building from a Dr. Seuss book than a structure from the early 20th Century.
Spain has no shortage of public art and sites with important historical and cultural objects. From the Barcelona Cathedral with a history dating to 599 to street sculptures by icons including Roy Lichtenstein, we were overwhelmed by the vast number and breadth of art, antiques, and history to explore. For more information about the art and culture available in Spain, visit spain.info.