Antoni Tàpies (13 Dec 1923 − 6 Feb 2012)

February 7, 2012  |   Feature,   World
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In a New York Times article today, William Grimes remembered Antoni Tàpies as “a largely self-taught Spanish abstract painter, whose seductive, tactile surfaces, are often scratched with mysterious graffiti-like marks, made use of unconventional materials like marble dust, ground chalk, sand and earth.”

Tàpies at a 2004 exhibition of his work in Madrid. Photo: Pedro Armestre

Tàpies (pronounced TAH-pee-ess) once said, “My first works of 1945 already had something of the graffiti of the streets and a whole world of protest — repressed, clandestine, but full of life — a life which was also found on the walls of my country.”

Born in Barcelona, Tàpies came to prominence in the late 1940s with richly symbolic paintings strongly influenced by Surrealist painters like Miro and Klee, a style he abandoned by the mid-1950s as he turned to what became his signature work: the heavily built-up surfaces that were often scratched, pitted and gouged and incised with letters, numbers and signs.

Antoni Tàpies, “Creu I R”, mixed media on wood, 1975. “My wish is that we might progressively lose our confidence in what we think we believe and the things we consider stable and secure, in order to remind ourselves of the infinite number of things still waiting to be discovered.”

Tàpies was one of Spain’s main exponents of abstract and avant-garde art in the second half of the 20th century. His father was a lawyer and Catalan nationalist who served briefly with the Republican government. At 17, Tapies suffered a near-fatal heart attack caused by tuberculosis. He spent two years as a convalescent in the mountains, reading widely and pursuing an interest in art that had already expressed itself when he was in his early teens. Before devoting himself to being an artist beginning from 1943, he studied law for three years.

“He was the most radically Catalan artist in his thinking, his expression and references and at the same time the most universal in his language and international projection,” Catalan regional president Artur Mas said.

After studying in Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso, a fellow Catalan, Tapies began exhibiting regularly and, after the Surrealist adventures of his “magic period,” he set about transforming himself into a painter who, as the critic Roland Penrose put it in his monograph “Tàpies” (1978), “a painter who was to create mysteries in matter itself.”


This Domènech i Montaner building — the first in the city to be built on an iron frame —houses the experimental work of Antoni Tàpies, as well as exhibitions by other contemporary artists. The building is crowned with coiled wire, a curious Tàpies sculpture titled Núvol i Cadira (Cloud and Chair).

Tàpies saw fit to crown the building with the meanderings of his own mind— to some it looks like a pile of coiled barbed wire, to others…well it’s difficult to say. Antoni Tàpies, whose experimental art has often carried (not always easily decipherable) political messages— he opposed Francoism in the 1960s and 1970s — launched the Fundació in 1984 to promote contemporary art, donating a large part of his own work.
THE BUILDING: The core collection spans the whole arc of Tàpies’ creations, and also includes some contributions from other contemporary artists. The Fundació houses an important research library devoted principally to Tàpies, but again embracing a wider range of contemporary art.
Tàpies’ foundation — which occupies the former publishing house designed in the 1880s — was renovated and opened in 1990. The winding sculpture CLOUD AND CHAIR is like an abstract drawing that occupies the void between the two flanked buildings. It was designed to adjust the difference in height between the Foundation and the buildings which surround it.