Manolo Valdés: Re-imagining History in Public Works

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One of Spain’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Manolo Valdés represented his homeland in the 1999 Venice Biennale and has since been honored with exhibitions of his monumental sculptures in Beijing, Miami, Monaco, San Francisco, and St. Petersburg. An accomplished draftsman, painter, and sculptor, he got his start in the political art collective Equipo Crónica, which used irony and art historical appropriation to comment on the Fascist regime of Francisco Franco. When his last remaining colleague in the collective died in 1981 and Spain finally returned to democratic rule, Valdés turned his attention to aesthetic pleasures, while still mining the past for content to transform — as witnessed in his concurrent public art shows on the avenues of New York and The Hague and at the Château de Chambord in France.

The New York display offers 16 of the artist’s larger-than-life bronzes, which range from a series of women’s heads that reference modernist masters, such as Picasso, Klee, and Matisse, to abstracted portrayals of royalty in oval-shaped hoop-dresses and figures on horseback that reinterpret famous works by Velázquez. Sited on Broadway from Columbus Circle to 166th Street, the powerful pieces transform the commercial thoroughfare into a cultural treasure hunt that’s colorfully enhanced by the thriving flora, planted by the Broadway Mall Association, which also supported the Valdés show.

Columbus Circle is enlivened by four Reina Mariana sculptures, based on Velázquez’s portrait of Queen Mariana of Austria, whose hair is styled in the shape of her dress, and a female equestrian, whose sculptural form was first modeled in assembled corrugated cardboard before being cast in bronze — giving it a gritty, urban quality. The 72nd Street subway station has two more Reina Mariana figures flanking its southern entrance and a reclining head of an odalisque, based on a figure in a Matisse painting, at the station’s northern side. Singular — nearly faceless — heads with dynamic hair and hats, along with a male equestrian, are placed intermittently from 63rd Street to the finish at 166th Street, spreading the show over more than 100 blocks.

Valdés’ exhibition in The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands, is located on the historic Lange Voorhout, a boulevard that dates back to the time of Charles V. Fifteen massive bronzes, similar to those in New York, with more heads and varied patinas, fill the shaded promenade; but the closeness of their placement and views of the surrounding period architecture make for a completely different interaction. Paintings and works on paper by the artist are also on view in the nearby Kloosterkerk, the city’s oldest church, and Pulchri Studio, an artists’ society dating back to 1847.

Meanwhile, the show at the Château de Chambord, the largest castle in the Loire Valley, surveys Valdés’ oeuvre from the past 30 years, including wood sculptures of books stacked on tables and pots arranged on shelves, as well as expressive paintings of figures and objects on burlap. Disneyland-like in appearance, the 500-year-old castle hosts Valdés’ work both within its classic interiors and on its majestic lawns. Several heads sit high on pedestals and line the walkway to the entrance of the château, while bronzes and figurative works on paper, representing the Reina Mariana and the Infanta Margarita, from Velázquez’s famous Las Meninas painting, are among many pieces displayed in the castle’s grand rooms.

Manolo Valdés: Monumental Sculpture on Broadway in on view in New York through January 23, 2011, while Manolo Valdés at The Hague Sculpture 2010 in the Netherlands and Manolo Valdés á Chambord at the Château de Chambord in Loir-et-Cherruns, France run through September 12.

Manolo Valdés, Dama II, 2003, bronze, 167 3/8 x 126 x 126 inches, from Manolo Valdés: Monumental Sculpture on Broadway © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Manolo Valdés, Ada, 2008, bronze, 177 1/8 x 167 3/8 x 157 1/2 inches, from Manolo Valdés: Monumental Sculpture on Broadway © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Manolo Valdés, Yvonne II, 2006, bronze, 149 x 99 x 114 inches, from Manolo Valdés: Monumental Sculpture on Broadway © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Manolo Valdés, Reina Mariana, 2005, bronze, 98 1/2 x 78 3/4 x 47 1/4 inches, from Manolo Valdés: Monumental Sculpture on Broadway © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Manolo Valdés, Mariposas and Yvonne at The Hague Sculpture 2010, bronze, © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: © 2010 Ed Jansen

Manolo Valdés, Reina Mariana and Infanta Margarita at The Hague Sculpture 2010, bronze, © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: © 2010 M Feather

Manolo Valdés, Dama a caballo and Cabillero at The Hague Sculpture 2010, bronze, © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: © 2010 Ed Jansen

Manolo Valdés, La Dama at The Hague Sculpture 2010, bronze, © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: © 2010 Roel Wijnants

Manolo Valdés installation at the Château de Chambord © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: ©2010 Danee Gilmartin

Manolo Valdés, Coloso II, 2005, iron, 250 x 375 x 191 cm, © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: ©2010 Danee Gilmartin

Manolo Valdés, Clio, 2008, bronze, 450 x 425 x 400 cm © Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: ©2010 Danee Gilmartin

Manolo Valdés, Dama a caballo, 2008, wood, 250 x 240 x 90 cm© Manolo Valdes, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York. Photo: ©2010 Danee Gilmartin