But Don Antoni, who were you?

Antoni Gaudí, if Leo Messi will allow it, is Barcelona’s great icon. The artist has always been associated with the city through his work, like The Beatles in Liverpool, Woody Allen in Brooklyn or flamenco great Camarón in Cádiz. Except he was an architect. According to a careful study I have made with three friends –all of them university graduates, some even well read– nine out of every ten Japanese strolling along the Paseo de Gracia on a Saturday have come to Barcelona following, almost exclusively, in Gaudi’s steps.

They want to get to know the fellow who one day imagined the pinnacles on the Sagrada Familia cathedral, who decided to create that wave effect on the front of Casa Milà, and who thought that an enormous multi-coloured dragon –why the devil not?– should decorate the entrance to Parc Güell. And all this more than a hundred years ago.
The thing is that Antoni Gaudí isn’t easy to get to know. The architect, yes: seven of the eight Gaudí works that have been declared Unesco World Heritage Sites –Parc Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló, Palacio Güell, the crypt of the Sagrada Familia cathedral, and the Nativity Façade of the same cathedral– are easily accessible by Metro, while the eighth, the crypt at Colonia Güell, can be reached by train. What did Gaudí believe in? Why was nature so important to him? Was he accepted by the bourgeoisie of his period? How did he work? What were his roots? Was he really a revolutionary?

Until now it was complicated to find a single space in which to dig deep into the work and personality of the genius from Reus. But a few months ago, next to the Cathedral in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, the Gaudí Exhibition Center was opened, a place conceived to answer –in an amusing way and with the help of technology and research– the million-dollar question: Don Antoni, just who were you? Located inside the Casa de la Pia Almoina, the headquarters for the Barcelona Diocese Museum, the Gaudí Exhibition Center goes out of its way to define the master. The exhibit Walking With Gaudí uses 22 audio-visual aids, several multimedia spaces, 20 scale models, reproductions, set designs and working tools. In total, more than 150 metres of exhibition cabinets on three different floors. This is Gaudi’s world as it has never been seen, heard or felt before. The exhibit, which is divided by thematic blocks into seven different rooms, relies in part on the work of the Gaudí Research Institute and in part on the latest multimedia technology. It ranges from a 180-degree video prologue and several holograms to tactile screens and a virtual reality stroll through the crypt at Colonia Güell.

This digital world is all very well, but the exhibition cases of the Gaudí Exhibition Center also contain real things like wood, iron, paper and glass. There are magazines of his period to understand context, work tables, models that reflect his ideas in three dimensions, along with original bills as well as the legacy he left for designers who continue to create trends. All this and more can be found in this new space dedicated to the most celebrated yet least known of Spanish architects.

Published in LING Magazine (Vueling) by Daniel Martorell, April 2016.

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