Farewell Subirachs: The Post-Gaudí Sagrada Familia

The death of Gabriel García Márquez a week ago totally eclipsed another ‘cultural’ tragedy: the death of a man that was deemed ‘Catalonia’s Most Important Artist Alive’, namely Josep Maria Subirachs (1927-2014).
Few artists can ‘divide’ and polarize the public opinion as he did, his works never leave you indifferent: you either love them or you reject them totally. One only needs to see the expression on the faces of the visitors to Barcelona’s ‘Sagrada Familia’ as they contemplate the ‘Passion Façade’ to understand this fact. The story is an interesting on.

Subirachs was born the year after Gaudi’s death, not knowing that he would ‘take over’ the responsibility of continuing Gaudi’s most important work: the legendary and iconic Sagrada Familia. A sculptor of obvious talent, he was commissioned in 1986 to create the statues and the sculpture groups for the church’s ‘Passion Façade’, featuring the last days of Jesus Christ. It took him 18 years to finish the work (something reminiscent of great works by Ghiberti), and the outcome was a bomb.

As his formal expressionism gave way to abstraction, his figures became more geometrical and angular, and the Façade ended up looking like an alien body compared to Gaudí’s original organic (and ‘melting’) designs. Some celebrated the Façade as a revolution; others saw it as an assault on “Saint” Gaudí’s work. The provocation was so intense that demonstrations were held in 1990 against Subirachs’ involvement in the Sagrada Familia, and a manifesto was signed. Prominent intellectuals and artists voiced their objection (both to continuing work on the Sagrada Familia to start with, and to Subirachs), including Le Corbusier, Joan Brossa and others.

But there is more: It is rumored that Subirachs was an atheist. Imagine the rage of the conservative and clerical circles of Barcelona at the ‘sacrilege’ done by an atheist sculptor to a sacred space originally conceived as an expiatory temple to clear the city of its sin!

Apart from the Passion Façade, the quality of Subirachs is evident in many public works that still adorn the squares, buildings and garden of Barcelona, and which can be visited by anyone interested. It’s a luxury to have sculptures by the likes of Subirachs, Josep Clarà, Josep Llimona, Joan Miró, to the end of the long list of great Catalan artists, and it’s a pity they have all died.

Subirachs’ work on the Sagrada Familia marked a before-and-after. The Post-Gaudi Sagrada Familia has come to an end with the death of Subirachs, and now we will see how the post-Subirachs Sagrada Familia will look like.

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