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Saith Jon G, in a post on Gaudi:
He fell after departing his masterwork, la Basilica de la Sagrada Família, a structure one @jameslileks of Minneapolis, MN, described as “ugly” a few weeks ago on the flagship podcast. For shame.
I did say that. It was shorthand for a longer critique, which is “it’s ugly, but.”
But it’s fascinating. But it’s unique. But it is essential to interrogate and understand the things that abrade your own aesthetic preferences. But it’s an instance of individual genius seizing an opportunity and laying down a marker future generations felt compelled to pay off. But it’s an example of the ways in which individualistic talent can create a new vocabulary. And so on.
As much as I don’t like the insectoid excrescences of the exterior . . .
. . . I love the interior. It’s idiosyncratic as well, but the adaptation of the old church idioms to Gaudi’s nature-inspired ideas works better, because they have to play nice with the necessities of the genre. There has to be a roof, columns, windows, a certain space arrayed a certain way. It feels like a church, and it also feels like something you’d find on another planet that came to the same God in their own way.
The quality of the light is something I’ve never seen anywhere.
The east entrance, dedicated to the Passion, is at odds with the rest of the style. It has the post-war abstract forms you found in 1950s American churches. Then again, the Nativity tableaus on the East side mix realistic sculpture with frothy stone and stalactites covered with fungal plates –
So it’s a mix. It lacks the rigor, the organizational certainties and consistencies that characterize nearly every other great church – and that’s fine! It’s different, as we passive-aggressive Minnesotans say. Some love it because, like Gaudi, they find God in Nature; others are a bit put off because they find God in the human mind’s ability to create order and form. Gaudi is a riot of untamed vegetation and hive-building; St. Peter’s is the work of rational man, putting one stone carefully atop another.
I love Gaudi’s other work. But. It stands out because its sensuous curves play against the linear regularity of the Eixample’s architecture. The streets of Barcelona are fascinating because of the subtle iterations of the linear style. A building is straight and strong, its windows rectangular and evenly paced . . . but a riot of Art Nouveau stone erupts around a second floor bay window. A building is square and sober and rises with stolid certainty . . . but angels wrought in stone attend the cupola. Gaudi is loved in Barcelona because Barcelona is not, for the most part, like Gaudi. If the city was mostly curvy flaccid lines, people would praise to the point of worship a stern Bauhaus rebuke.
I remember finding a piece he did in Mallorca. The Reconquista had reclaimed the island for Spain, and they razed the mosque and build a church, just to let everyone know the score. Gaudi did a pulpit for the building, much later. It doesn’t fit. Because it’s a Gaudi work, no one dares note “well, that doesn’t fit, at all,” because we’re supposed to admire the individual item without noticing its lack of relation to the rest of the church. It’s like seeing a 50s tailfin pulpit in a Romanesque church.
Gaudi is buried in the basement of his church. When we visited we could not pay homage at his tomb, because there was a ceremony going on downstairs. We could look down through a window and observe. The basement is the original foundation of the church, which was intended to be a standard-issue Spanish Baroque number. The original architect quit, and somehow Gaudi convinced the officials to let him finish the site with his hallucinogenic design. He never saw its completion – perhaps none of us will, despite the optimistic predictions – but he slumbers in an alcove in a basement designed in the old style he sought to replace. Beneath the old arches of the ancient styles, he is forgiven, absolved, and revered, marked by candles as red as the roses that bedeck his Barcelona buildings on St. Jordi’s day.