Monday, 12 July 2010

Miquel Barcelo in Avignon

A fortnight resting up in the buzzy city of Avignon in southern France coincided with the start of the annual three week festival.  There are hundreds of theatre, music and dance productions to see, and exhibitions all over the city in the dozens of historic buildings that dot the streets and squares.
In the greatest of these, the Palais des Papes - built in the early fifteenth century for the Papacy during its seventy year break from Rome - the sculptor Miquel Barcelo has installed a thought-provoking series of sculptures, that subtly interact with the surrounding architecture.
Great sheets of pocked plaster lean against the ancient stonework, clay fish masks adorn ecclesiastical statuary, grim zoomorphic heads roughly carved from wet bricks leer down from the walls.  If this all sounds a bit overheated, it should be said that the Palace itself is a pretty forbidding building - massively constructed, as much fortress, strong-room and prison as palace, it is largely unadorned and undecorated - you get the raw bones of papal power here, with none of the luxuries. 
The sculpture is accordingly well-suited to the spaces, and the juxtapositions of some of the pieces with their surroundings can be easily overlooked.
If you are in southern France during the Avignon Festival I'd recommend a detour to see this, and the wonderful production of 'Spartacus' by the Theatre de la Licorne, in the hills of Villeneuve les Avignon across the Rhone.  There are also hordes of street performers to watch while eating the seriously good chocolate orange ice cream from the shop on the corner of Place de l'Horloge...