24 Jul2010


Three wonderful museums. All within a few minutes walk from our hotel in Madrid. I have always found it disconcerting that so many people tend to criticize extremely wealthy individuals or families that seem to have nothing better to do with their money than collect art (or antiques, collectibles, etc.). “Why don’t they give more to feeding programs? Why do they have such dark rooms with stuffy furniture and chintz drapes? Isn’t it so wasteful to pay 22,000x the cost of the actual oil paint for that Jackson Pollack!” It seems so self-indulgent, to blow thousands or sometimes millions of dollars on a painting that sits for decades in one’s powder room. But really astute collectors need much more than money to build their collections; they need a phenomenal passion and interest in the items that they desire to acquire and enjoy in the comforts of their home(s). Often, these wonderful collections are left to museums when their owners get cremated or choose to be munched on by worms, then the art is available for millions of folks to enjoy for hundreds of years to come for little or no expense to them. Sorry, but I would have to side with the wickedly wealthy or simply obsessed collectors on this one, it is, after all, their money and they can do what they want with it. If they want to take a poop while staring at a white piece of paper with just three lines sketched by Pablo Picasso that somehow tricks your mind into seeing a female rear end, then so be it. I actually had a small print of that Picasso ($2 from a college bookstore) on my desk throughout college because I thought it was so amazing that three lines would result in such a vivid image…


I was in awe of the collector Baron Hans Heinrich Agost Gabor Tasso Freiherr Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon et Imperfalva (good grief, you think all those names were in his passport, Mrs. MM asks) and the stunning private collection he inherited from his father and to which he added a phenomenal list of 20th century art. In all, more than 1,000 pieces of art. Forget that his family wealth comes from steel and armaments and ship-building and his family companies probably built directly or indirectly things that were used in war, and that he managed to marry 5 women during his lifetime or that his title as Baron is a bit iffy, he still managed to pull together a pretty spectacular assemblage of art. Lucky for Spain, the Baron’s last wife was a former Miss Spain (another mouth full — Maria del Carmen Rosario Soledad Cervera y Fernandez de la Guerra), and while I am not privy to the details, I am wildly paraphrasing when I say that one fair day she said “Hey Hon, Baron dude, since you are going to kick the bucket soon, and I don’t like your other children, why don’t you just leave the art collection to Spain, they need another major art museum… And despite the fact that it is worth over $2 billion (according to Sotheby’s estimates), let’s just give them a discount and sell it to them for the rock bottom price of $350 million or so…” and so that, in short, is how the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection landed in the national coffers of Spain. Lucky ducks indeed. Let’s not get into all the dirty laundry that always seems to accompany great wealth. Not to mention the public tug-of-war to secure the collection. :) (Data for this paragraph from Wikipedia, the New York Times obituary of the Baron, museum materials, and my imagination, so do NOT take this seriously).

Spanning some 8 centuries of European art, the collection is a bit overwhelming. Some pieces I thought “hmmm, I wouldn’t hang that in a hall closet” while others struck me as being just brilliant. I tend towards more modern artists, so despite the Titians and El Grecos, I was more interested in the paintings by Van Gogh, Miro, Mondrian, Pollock and even an Edward Hopper or two. Photos were not allowed inside the museum. So all you get is a photo of the facade outside and a bronze bust of the Baron. The museum is definitely worth a visit, but it was our least favorite of the 3 most visited museums in Madrid.


My personal favorite was the Museo Reina Sofia, a relatively young institution, inaugurated in 1992 and named after Queen Sofia of Spain. The museum houses modern Spanish art with a few pieces by foreign artists represented. There are several current exhibition spaces that house some pretty esoteric stuff. The Sofia is housed in a coverted old hospital, and as such, feels like it is in a coverted old hospital. :( Having said that, it has a fabulous central courtyard garden that has a wonderful Alexander Calder mobile amongst the greenery…


…and I liked the large Miro sculpture in the garden as well.


The Teen took a breather on a bench in the hallway overlooking the courtyard, and I could almost imagine some distraught spouse waiting outside a hospital room wondering if his/her spouse was going to live through whatever ailment they had… The building had hospital vibes, if you get my drift…


…so we wandered to take in the pretty amazing assemblage of Picassos, this just one of many. The enormous and significant painting Guernica was also housed here, but photos of it not allowed.


This somewhat striking painting by Luis Fernandez entitled “Cabeza de res con manzana” or “Animal Head with Apple” was quite interesting…


While this stack of plates by the artist Arman entitled “Un metre pour Ben” or “A Meter (of dishes, I guess) for Ben” met with raised eyebrows from MM and The Teen and the inevitable unstated comment “EVEN I COULD DO THAT!”… :)


And what about this canvas of blue paint? I mean, hello?! But the Teen perked up excitedly when she saw this Yves Klein entitled “Blue Monochrome, 1956” as she had recently been tormented with an exam question in her Art Class that asked “Is this art?”… She apparently aced the exam. :) Go figure. I could definitely have done this. But that ISN’T THE POINT, I guess. :)


And on the walk/hobble back from the Sofia to our hotel, we passed the recommended small museum Caixa Forum but were too tired to venture inside, but instead we marveled at this wonderful VERTICAL GARDEN on the side of a building just in front of the museum. I started noticing these vertical gardens in Paris a few years ago, and am just amazed how the artist can bring in wonderful greenery into the heart of the city. I wish we had some of these vertical gardens in Metro-Manila!


Finally, we visited the Prado museum on another afternoon, and this just had too much to absorb in one visit (no photos as well). Paintings and sculpture pre-20th century just literally dripped from the walls of the Prado. A beautiful building, and a stunning collection. Definitely a must-see for any visitor to Madrid with even a mild interest in art.



  1. zena says:

    Museums are always good places to visit and a lot of them have their exhibits due to art philanthropists who have more money than they know what to do with. Now I have to check out that Picasso sketch with 3 lines. =)

    Jul 24, 2010 | 9:29 pm


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  3. Footloose says:

    The criticism is aimed more at the questionable means the vast quantity of money was amassed than at the money itself since pecunia non olet (money has no smell). People only peskily demand that its provenance be blameless. But not too worry, ill begetters of wealth need only wait. It is only laundering if it is done hurriedly but if you have the patience to wait a couple of generations why, it practically washes itself. Thus the Marcos loot will just as soon turn into venerable old money right before our eyes. Take for example my absolute favorite the Frick Collection in NYC (which coherently reflects one man’s taste in art), the man who amassed it was a scoundrel in his own time, used immigrants like cannon fodder for his coke ovens. Would not invest a penny to install safety guards in his plants. Sounds almost as bad as present day BP or Goldman-Sachs.

    Jul 24, 2010 | 10:40 pm

  4. Tricia says:

    I want to be wickedly wealthy

    Jul 24, 2010 | 11:23 pm

  5. Divine G. says:

    They have vertical gardens in the botanical gardens here and I find it beautiful and has been patiently tended by the gardeners. I also love going to musuems once in a while to see what has been added lately. You know they always have new exhibits so that people will always come and see what is going on and there is never a day when they lack visitors .

    Jul 24, 2010 | 11:36 pm

  6. Joey in Dubai says:

    Vertical gardens in Metro Manila? That’s a good idea. I hope they can improve on that corner of C5 & Kalayaan. That’s a promising location for a start.

    Jul 25, 2010 | 3:09 am

  7. present tense says:

    Great idea – vertical gardens here. But it looks like another source of pork barrel. Cant wait for the SONA though

    Jul 25, 2010 | 8:00 am

  8. odie says:

    i just checked the link, the lines by Picasso does look like someone’s rear end:)

    Jul 25, 2010 | 2:06 pm

  9. alicia says:

    Looks like you guys had a wonderful trip. The Reina Sophia is my favorite museum among the three as well :-) Did you get to try the Arola Madrid of Sergi Arola cafeteria/restaurant inside the Reina Sophia? Pretty chic and good tapas too!

    Jul 25, 2010 | 2:52 pm

  10. millet says:

    that vertical garden is amazing!

    Jul 25, 2010 | 3:39 pm

  11. Mila says:

    I had the Guernica print on my dorm wall (flanked by tons of Far Side cut outs, and Magritte prints).
    I would have agreed with you on choosing modern (or impressionists) over the masters, but I had a change of heart when I first got to see my first Rubens in Munich. Life changing. Plus I think I’d definitely give my eyetooth to gaze at all the Vermeers one day.

    Jul 25, 2010 | 9:17 pm

  12. denise says:

    Joey in Dubai, i know that corner you are talking about, i passed by that intersection during the 5 yrs i spent working in makati…don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s slowly eroding, the top is actually filled with houses and 2 houses were never finished as they are on the very edge of the overhang. though before they started fixing up the sidewalk, it had some pretty interesting ferns and other wild plants growing

    Jul 26, 2010 | 2:49 am

  13. MTriumph/DC says:

    MM, thanks for sharing your Madrid sojourn. We happen to arrive on the day of the World Cup finals, so we decided to get in the spirit and join the locals in the fun. I can tell you how absolutely hot, fun and crazy it was. It was really muy calor but what the heck, it was an historic moment! Did you get a chance to visit the neighborhoods? We had dinner at Botin near Plaza Mayor. I think it was above average but not exceptional. Their cochinillo was a tad salty and lacked the crispiness of the roasted skin that I was looking for (IMHO, Pinoys do it better). Although should we thank the Spaniards for the lechon or the Chinese? Now I’m curious. Do you have an idea when or how it started to become a part of our cuisine?
    I have had the chance to read your blogs, courtesy of my sister, who is a big fan. Now I am. Salamat kababayan!

    Jul 26, 2010 | 10:20 am

  14. Marketman says:

    MTriumph/DC, did a post on Botin, among others from the trip. For the full lechon line up of articles, read this post and all the links. Essentially, Pigafetta’s chronicles of Magellan’s arriving in or about Cebu already lists roast pig as one of the foods, so we had a form of lechon BEFORE the spaniards got here if the chronicles are accurate.

    Jul 26, 2010 | 11:05 am

  15. farida says:

    No pictures of Guernica? Each one of us (4) got our picture taken. And so with others who were in the museo at that time. There were “watchers” and they did not stop us from having our pictures taken. That was the only painting, though, that we could take a picture. I loved that painting. Sad though.

    Jul 26, 2010 | 2:42 pm

  16. Marketman says:

    farida, no photos allowed in the Guernica room, signs up everywhere… I did manage some photos elsewhere in the museum, however.

    Jul 26, 2010 | 3:44 pm


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