Not Your Grandma’s Guide: Reina Sofia Museum

Reina Sofia Courtyard

Art Intake

The PINC International Immersion girls always hit up the Reina Sofia during orientation week, have you been yet? Now, I know a ton of people never set foot in a museum unless they are dragged there, but the Reina Sofia is really must-see cultural center in Madrid and in Spain, in general. The building and courtyard are awesome and there is a nice, slightly fancier museum restaurant, as well. Plus, we can all use some free Wifi and a dose of AC during the hot Spanish summer.

The Reina Sofia is THE modern art museum in Madrid. Some of the art can be a little abstract and difficult to interpret- but that’s all part of the challenge!

This list describes only 3 of the many eye-catching pieces in the Reina Sofia. Our goal is to make it interesting and fun, so you can get cool-tured faster.

Insider Tip: Look up the AfterBrunch Sunday events that sometimes happen at the Reina Sofia and are super fun daytime dance parties. Disfruta!

Pablo Picasso: Guernica

Reina Sofia Picasso Guernica

Galerie Magazine

“Did you do this?” – Nazi Officer referring to the photo of Guernica that Picasso had in his studio while living in Nazi occupied France

“No, you did.” – Pablo Picasso

So I am going to give you a little Spanish history to help you understand why exactly this is considered one of the most famous pieces of Spanish art. No worries if you don’t like it… but take a step back and try to see it from the perspective of a Spaniard during the Civil War.

The piece is named for the small Northern Spanish town, Gernika, in Basque Country that was bombed by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Picasso saw photographs in newspapers while living in Paris, and was inspired to complete this particular work when a poet friend begged him to take on the cause. According to the Reina Sofia’s website, it is considered to be:

” a giant poster, (a) testimony to the horror that the Spanish Civil War was causing and a forewarning of what was to come in the Second World War.”

When it was first displayed at the International World Fair in Paris in 1937, it was used to raise money for awareness and aid for Spanish citizens. After a brief period in France, the painting was housed in New York’s MOMA until after Franco’s rule ended and it came to Spain for the first time in 1981. Since its completion, it has become a symbol of Spanish Democracy.

Make a beeline for this piece, which is located on the second floor. When you get there, stop and really try to take it in.

It’s discombobulated and broken up. There is a frantic energy, but you can still divide the figures into two groups: animals and humans. It is easy to make out a horse in the center of the canvas, a bull on the left side (a common symbol of Spain), and various women crying out. The painting is characterized by muted colors, including a bluish-gray, white, and black. The sheer size of the canvas (just about 11 ft. x 25 ft.) impresses on the viewer the terror, pain, and confusion felt in that moment when the bomb fell in Guernica, and that extended throughout the country as a result of the Civil War.

Americans frequently are not taught about the Spanish Civil War, but for anyone who plans on spending some time in Spain, it is worth reading about. After the war, Spain had a dictator, Francisco Franco, for forty years (1939-1975).

Alexander Calder: Carmen

Reina Sofia Calder Mobile

Revista de Patrimonio

This super cool statue is in the middle of a garden when you enter into the museum and is hard to miss. The courtyard is the center of the older galleries in the Reina Sofia, which recently built a new addition in the early 2000s. This original building, however, was an old hospital.

So who was this guy? Well… Calder was an American sculpture who invented mobiles as we know them today in 1931. And yes, he inspired the super cute baby mobile that you saw online and thought about buying for your sister-in-law or your cousin’s upcoming baby shower. He is also well-known for his influence on 20th Century Abstract Expressionism.

You might recognize some of his other mobiles if you google his name. But you definitely will recognize the very American colors… RED and Yellow! In other words the colors making up one of the most iconic American symbols… the American flag! Just kidding. McDonald’s.

His interest in mobiles grew out of an enthusiasm for mechanical engineering. It makes sense if you look at this sculpture. As specified in a Calder’s biography, he started making mobiles in an attempt to make colors and shapes move. He was completely captivated by the idea of chance encounters and freedom of movement. Hence, the birth of the modern mobile, a term coined by another artist, Marcel Duchamp.

Salvador Dali: The Great Masturbator

Reina Sofia Dali

Wikipedia

You saw the name and were curious… admit it. I don’t blame you. This Surrealist painting resembles one of Dali’s most famous pieces, The Persistence of Memory, but it is more overtly sexual in nature. And it is pretty weird.

It is actually a very explicit illustration of his own fears and anxieties that were deeply related to personal problems with intimacy and vulnerability. As you can probably guess, these are not your typical first date jitters or nervous upset stomach flip-flops that we are talking about. They were anxieties rooted in childhood trauma and experiences. More generally, this painting and these feelings are common throughout the Surrealist era and tapped into the zeitgeist of the post WW I/ pre-WWII era, where many people felt unsure and lived in a state of  anxiety.

This painting is actually a possible self-portrait and the woman portrayal is thought to be Gala, one of his muses. The background is similar to the one in The Persistence of Memory and actually shows a famous rock at Cullero, Cape Creus in Catalonia, Spain. The less obvious symbols to keep an eye out for are: an egg, a symbol of fertility, as well as ants, representations of anxiety for Dali. The grasshopper, which can also be seen here, was alluded to often in Dali’s writings, as well as in other paintings. He had a huge fear of grasshoppers from the time he was young.

Visiting the Reina Sofia Museum

Normal Hours: Monday, Wednesday- Saturday 10 am- 9 pm // CLOSED on Tuesdays

When to get in free: Monday, Wednesday- Saturday 7-9 pm // Sunday 2:30-7 pm

Price? General Admission = 10 Euros

The museum also has tons of cool temporary shows and hosts temporary modern art exhibits as well in El Palacio de Cristal and the Velazquez Palace in Retiro Park.

Bonus: Check out Juan Miro’s work, Salvador Dali’s The Enigma of Hitler, and the first movie ever made called Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory. 

Further Reading: 

Guernica – Museo Reina SofiaThe Guardian article on Power PaintingCarmen – Museo Reina SofiaReina Sofia Guide – EsMadridDali Paintings , Lonely Planet , Trip Advisor 

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About the Author

Anna Whetzle is a native New Yorker currently teaching English in Madrid, Spain. She graduated from Bates College, a small liberal arts college in Maine, where she studied history and Spanish, but mostly just tried to stay warm. After graduation, she packed up and moved to Spain. She loves traveling (experiencing the different places mostly through getting lost/ food/ history/art in that order) and meeting new people. Feel free to connect with her on social media and to check out her other articles!

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