Having recently completed the ceiling of the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland, contemporary Spanish artist, Miquel Barcelo is raising controversy over the price tag. Barcelo is known for his nearly psychedelic treatment of texture and space. Commissioned in 2001, Barcelo embarked on a 7 year project transforming the interior cathedral in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
The tradition of highly embellished cathedral interiors dates back to the 17th and 18th Centuries and was instigated by the Protestant Reformation movement that began in the early 1500s. It began with German monk and university professor, Martin Luther. His most controversial issues with the Catholic Church were the Church’s practice of selling indulgences and the Church’s policy on purgatory. Other issues included the mandatory celibacy requirement of the clergy and the authority of the Pope. Formed to a list titled the Ninety-five Theses and nailed to the door of the All Saints Church, Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, (which soon split along certain doctrinal lines and led to the emergence of rival Protestant churches). Meanwhile, the Catholic Church’s retaliation adopted new ways in an attempt to entice and maintain a strong congregation. The refined and dignified Renaissance art that decorated churches before this catered only to the elite class. Now in need of a visual language that reached to the masses, the highly embellished and alluring nature of Catholic Baroque art was born. Artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Caravaggio and Bernini Cornano were being commissioned to create elaborate figurative works in various cathedrals in an attempt to swoon a potentially fleeting congregation. The Florentine Medici family, which produced three Popes and numerous rulers of Florence, had a great deal of influence throughout this artistic era.
Today, we still have highly influential institutions commissioning artists in an attempt of allure. Barcelo’s work in the United Nations offices in Geneva as well as the cathedral in Palma de Mallorca are perfect examples of how art is still being utilized politically. However, through the evolution of art history, we do see visual changes. The human figure, which has been such a familiar representation in art up until now, is successfully being eliminated by contemporary art’s highly conceptually driven nature. Barcelo among many other contemporary artist leave us with more clues as to where art is headed visually in the context of an ever evolving and globalizing world.
Barcelo states about the inspiration behind his work in the UN, “On a day of immense heat in the middle of the Sahel desert, I recall with vivacity the mirage of an image of the world dripping toward the sky.”