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A

lthough little
known in the
English-speaking
world, Antonio
López García
is easily Spain’s
most loved living
painter. A
stubborn perfectionist, he exhibits his work
only rarely – it can take him 20 years to
complete a picture – but over the decades,
his humane brand of realism has earned him
a devoted following, especially among the
younger generation of Spanish artists, who
greet this reticent, almost painfully shy
72-year-old with the sort of adulation usually
reserved for rock stars. López García’s
panoramic Madrid cityscapes, contemporary
masterpieces as remarkable for their
technical prowess as for their haunting sense
of place, have become emblems of Spain’s
modern identity and can be found, in poster
versions, adorning student dorm rooms
across the country.
All the more surprising, then, that when
Spain’s new national museum of 20th-
century art, the Reina Sofía, unveiled the
installation of its permanent collection in
1992, López García and the entire realist
school from which he had sprung were
pointedly omitted from the display. The
Reina Sofía’s curators had opted, reasonably
enough, to define 20th-century Spanish art
in terms of the internationally acclaimed
masters of modernism’s heroic period, such

National
as Picasso, Miró, Dalí and Juan Gris.
Celebrating Spain’s post-Franco-era
reintegration into the world community,
they also leavened the installation with such
contemporary artists as Antoni Tàpies,
Eduardo Chillida and Antonio Saura, who
had gained substantial foreign followings by

treasure
exhibiting abroad and working in a self-
consciously avant-garde manner. The
stay-at-home López García, however, whose
fame was strictly a local affair and whose
desire to depict the circumstances of his
everyday existence may have seemed – to
high-modernist eyes – a somewhat provincial
project, was unceremoniously snubbed.
This led to uproar in the press, and the
curators – who found themselves accused
Revered in his native Spain, Antonio López García by editorialists of bias, blindness and gross
is little known outside it. An exhibition in Boston condescension – were soon obliged to relent.
Sensibly, they agreed to set aside a room at
could change that, writes Jonathan Lopez. the Reina Sofía for Spanish realism. What’s

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EXHIBITIONS

more, a year later, the museum mounted a The works illustrating this review are by The work’s composition is at once cerebral
90-work retrospective of López García’s Antonio López García (b. 1936). All photos: and hypnotic: the blank wall in the fore-
career – a blockbuster event that had, in fact, Francisco Fernández, Unidad Móvil. ground radically obstructs our view of what
been planned well before the contretemps 1 Portrait of María, 1972. Graphite on paper lies beyond, but the receding diagonal of the
over the permanent collection – thus laid on board, 70 x 53.3 cm. Private collection parapet’s leftmost edge inexorably draws our
dramatically placing the imprimatur of 2 La terraza de Lucio, 1962-90. Oil on board, gaze into the image, situating us, like the
official recognition on the artist’s growing 172 x 207 cm. Private collection artist, as detached observers in the heart of
reputation as a national treasure. the metropolis. La terraza de Lucio, whose
The exhibition at Boston’s Museum of speaks eloquently to a universal audience. surface is a palimpsest of accumulated
Fine Arts is only about half the size of the On entering the exhibition, the visitor is alterations and adjustments, began life in
1993 Reina Sofía show, but, importantly, it is immediately confronted by one of López 1962 as a group portrait of López García’s
López García’s first museum retrospective García’s most iconic works, La terraza de friends, posed outdoors on the balcony. As
in the us and only his second outside Spain. Lucio (1962-90) – or ‘Lucio’s Balcony’ – a the project dragged on, the friends eventually
Ably organised by the mfa’s curator of scene of Madrid’s urban sprawl glimpsed moved away, but the artist continued to work
contemporary art, Cheryl Brutvan, it gives over the stuccoed parapet of a modest on the piece in fits and starts until 1990,
the non-Spanish public a welcome intro- rooftop garden (Fig. 2). With his talent for obsessively scraping down and repainting,
duction to this serious and significant artist, finding magic in the quotidian, López García revising the subject, altering the composition
whose intense relationship to his local captures the brilliant late-afternoon sunlight and drastically increasing the size of the
environment has produced a vision of the as it sparkles with incongruous majesty on support by adding extra boards – the seams
world that transcends mere regionalism and the most prosaic of 1950s housing blocks. of which he has left exposed, a telling

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EXHIBITIONS

3 Antonio López García in his studio, 2005.


4 A preparatory cast for Night, part of the
memorial by López García to the victims of
the 2004 terrorist bombs in Madrid, to be
installed at Atocha train station

reminder that he conceives his art not as a


demonstration of skill but as a journey of
discovery.
López García works so slowly and with dabbing paint on the multiplying, tumescent Preliminary versions have been installed
such painstaking care that his pictures often quinces to gauge their position relative to the on either side of the mfa’s entrance, to
take on a brooding, even melancholic quality boughs. Valiantly although he struggles, profound effect. At 10 feet high, these
– as if he were recording reality’s sights López García has no choice but to abandon innocent faces, carrying with them the hope
anticipating the nostalgia that he might feel the picture as the growing season draws to a of new life, will surely bear eloquent witness
for them in the future. His 1972 portrait of close. He remains, however, poignantly to the tragic events at Atocha. Who but
his daughter María, for instance, looks undaunted, a man who judges himself by his López García could commemorate that
almost like a bid to preserve childhood in ardent attachment to his craft rather than by darkest day in Madrid’s recent history with
amber (Fig. 1). An exquisitely nuanced study his passing successes or failures. El sol del such sobriety, humanity and grace?
of light and shade, this drawing can hold its membrillo won the Jury Award at Cannes.
own on a wall hung with oils, but the gravity López García’s oeuvre as a painter is strong Jonathan Lopez’s biography of the Dutch art
and impact of the image derive more from not only in figure studies and landscapes, forger Han van Meegeren, The Man Who
its elegiac mood than from its masterful but also in interior scenes and still lifes, the Made Vermeers, will be published by
execution. However precisely López García Conejo desollado – or ‘Skinned Rabbit’ – of Harcourt in September.
may document María’s features, the little girl 1972 being an especially telling example of
must inevitably grow up: perception is the latter, with its sensitive but unsettling ‘Antonio López García’, Museum of Fine Arts,
temporal, experience evanescent. portrayal of a freshly killed animal. Boston, 13 April-27 July (+1 617-267-9300).
Taking this insight as his theme, the Additionally, the Boston show includes Catalogue by Cheryl Brutvan, isbn 97808784-
Spanish director Victor Erice filmed a several of the artist’s sculptures. Male and 67334 (paper), $24.95 (mfa Publications).
feature-length documentary, in 1992, female figures – some carved, others
chronicling López García’s efforts to depict modelled – they strive for the noble
a quince tree as it blossoms and bears fruit. simplicity of the pre-Classical Greeks but
The film’s title, El sol del membrillo, translates fall, in most cases, somewhat short of the
literally as ‘quince sunlight’ – a phrase mark, betraying a tendency towards
connoting, in Spanish, a specific time of generalisation and inertia. An exception must
year and a specific state of mind. The quince be made, however, for the tiny, tender
ripens in late summer, when the Castilian portrait busts of López García’s infant
sunshine is especially warm and intense, but grandchildren. The Spanish government has
this rich, radiant light carries with it the commissioned two of these ‘baby heads’ to
harbinger of autumn’s impending chill. As be cast in bronze on a monumental scale and
Erice’s film unfolds, López García enters placed outside Madrid’s Atocha train station
into an increasingly tortuous battle with as a memorial to the victims of the 2004
both the quince tree and time itself; so terrorist bombings (Figs 3 and 4).
quickly does the fruit ripen that the artist is
compelled to chart the changes in his motif 5 Sink and Mirror, 1967. Oil on canvas,
day by day, using guide wires to measure the 98 x 84 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
movement of the drooping branches, even Melvin Blake and Frank Purnell Collection

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