Based on enthusiastic response to my guest column for Forbes – Full Stream Ahead: How the Arts Industry Is Coping in 2021 – I want to share nine exhibition stories. From a ceramics biennial in southern Spain we move north to Castile and León.
August 2020. Walking Camino de Santiago in a pandemic was solitary daredevilry. Most days, I’d see few other pilgrims from a distance. With coronavirus restrictions gutting international travel, the rural hospitality industry along the famed historic route was devastated. My enthusiasm flatlined under the uncompromising sun in the harvested fields of Castile. Just getting one foot in front of another prayer. This too is Camino, and it shall pass. I was open to any (un)timely miracle.
The town of Carrion de Los Condes has less than 3,000 inhabitants. It should have a scenic ruin, a converted, deserted or a functional monastery, the one-and-only main square with corner cafes, maybe even a pharmacy (as Talcum is my patron saint!) … I’ve already passed dozens of these mini-cipalities. My only expectation was for a generous glass of wine and a sturdy hostel bed. What I got was the wonderful Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art. In a 13th century building. How many population-3,000 places you know have a contemporary art museum?! Any museum? My fatigue was slayed by the intrigue. My curiosity got richly rewarded. The summer exhibition was Chismes (Gossips) by artist Miguel Macho from nearby Palencia. I loooooooved his works: a mix of art history trivia, mass market astrology, fast religion, urban planning drawing boards and “the kitchen sink.” These paintings were of the world, for the world, a world onto themselves. I got gratefully lost in them for a refreshing while. It’s the kind of stuff one accepts as a matter of fact in major city galleries but fails to allow as validating creative experiences elsewhere. By one I mean me. Carrion de los Condes reminded me that contemporary art is and should be accessible everywhere.
The permanent collection is a retrospective of another local painter: José Luis Valenciano-Plaza. It too was of the highest caliber. In my mind I was transported to some tourist trap with grand floorplans in the middle of a bustling capital while simultaneously being giddily happy and impressed to be seeing this in “the middle of nowhere.” The simple glory of instantly shareable humanity in front of a powerful work of art. I
blame thank physical exhaustion for me shedding a tear with La Espera. The unbearable lightness of that Wait stayed with me for days and miles.
I was so taken by Carrion de Los Condes, I stayed an extra day to explore its converted monastery, the one-and-only main square, and indeed, the pharmacy. The requisite scenic ruin was the Church of San Francisco now anointed with the storks’ nest atop its silent bell tower. It was a beautiful segue into the “Poetry in Journalism” workshop on Zoom with my colleagues from the social media program at the Academy of Art University in… San Francisco! Now, this too was my Camino… Gracias, Carrion!
Tell me about a small town that surprised, challenged, changed you with its forward-thinking public art experiences?