It started in the eighties when Barcelona featured in a TV commercial for a whiskey company, then the genius architect Gaudí, and consequently the city’s existence, became widely known in Japan. Now, it’s the city with soccer fans, a gourmet boom, Gaudí's works (which have been listed as World Heritage), and the city where masters of modern painting, notably Picasso, Dalí and Miro, grew up, making it a “super” popular destination attracting people from around the world. Even if they don't know the Alhambra, many Japanese have probably seen Sagrada Família more than once on TV or in a magazine.
Barcelona’s popularity comes from its landscape, its unique architecture, and Spanish modern art, which emerged out of a great cultural tide from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Barcelona was quick to ride the wave of Spain’s industrial revolution and flourished with the backing of Barcelona’s newly wealthy bourgeoisie. In contrast to the capital Madrid, which became mired in a sense of hopelessness, stemming from the defeat in the Spanish-American War and other reasons, Barcelona created an era of blossoming prosperity that has been passed on to the present.
Currently on tour Japan is an exhibition of treasures tracing the very essence of Barcelona’s art and culture for viewers to experience all at once.
In Nagasaki, where the exhibition opened, on display at the entrance was a giant title panel with hugely enlarged satellite photos of present-day Barcelona, a display that shows at a glance the orderly city planning that developed out of the nucleus of the old town, which dates back to the days of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago.
Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum exhibition pamphlet for "Barcelona - The City of Artistic Miracles"
The giant title panel in the exhibition entrance space in Nagasaki
With their shared traits, Nagasaki being the only port city to have had exchange with foreign cultures during the period of Japan’s isolation, and Barcelona having a good port as a gateway to Mediterranean culture since ancient times, it is fitting that this exhibition tour began at the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, which has one of the most substantial Spanish art collections in the East. The exhibition is then scheduled to travel to Himeji, Sapporo, and Shizuoka with the curtain closing in the center of Tokyo, at the newly refurbished Marunouchi Station Building at Tokyo Station.
Unlike regular art exhibitions, this one is structured by displaying not only paintings and sculptures, but also urban planning and architectural materials, industrial art objects including furniture, jewelry, posters, and a corner offering a glimpse of the lifestyle of the wealthy. Visitors can get an experience of the sort of atmosphere in which the artworks were cultivated, it presents the great cultural tide of the time. If you're going to Barcelona, this is a must-see exhibition.
Chair designed by Gaudí and a pendant by Lluís Masriera of the Masriera jewelry studio, which is still open to this day.
(Source: Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum exhibition pamphlet)
"Barcelona - The City of Artistic Miracles"
Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum Wed., April 10 – Sun., June 9, 2019 (finished)
Himeji City Museum of Art Sat., June 29 – Sun., September 1, 2019
Sapporo Art Museum Sat., September 14 – Mon., November 4, 2019
Shizuoka City Museum of Art Fri., November 15, 2019 – Sun., January 19, 2020
Tokyo Station Gallery Sat., February 8 – Sun., April 5, 2020
Near the end of the novel Don Quixote, Alonso Quixano, the main character of the novel, leaves us some words in praise of Barcelona as the protagonist reminisces nostalgically about the city in a tavern, just before returning to his home village of La Mancha: “Barcelona, the treasure-house of courtesy, haven of strangers, asylum of the poor, home of the valiant, champion of the wronged, pleasant exchange of firm friendships, and city unrivalled in site and beauty. ” (Part Two, Chapter 72)
The spirit of tolerance and the entrepreneurial ethic certainly seem to have been virtues of Barcelona and, in turn, Catalonia.