Alibi V.27 No.26 • June 28-July 4, 2018 

Art News

Prado for the People

Works from Spain's famous museum land in downtown Albuquerque

Children play in the splashpad near Civic Plaza’s west side, where Prado on the Plaza is situated
Children play in the splashpad near Civic Plaza’s west side, where Prado on the Plaza is situated
Courtesy of the City of Albuquerque
Strolling through Civic Plaza during a mid-June afternoon, I ducked under the colorful shade covers that ran for nearly the entirety of the block across from the Albuquerque Convention Center on Third Street. Doing so was like being transported the more than 5,000 miles to Madrid, Spain, where the Museo Nacional del Prado sits near the city's heart, the crown jewel of the country's museums. Now for the entire summer season, what is being called the Verano del Prado, standout pieces from the museum's collection are recreated and on display at Civic Plaza (1 Civic Plaza NW). More than 90 pieces of art are currently arranged in deliberate progression and on impressive scale. The selection of paintings includes works by the likes of masters like El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Albrecht Dürer and Francisco de Goya. These pieces from the Spanish royal family's collections will remain on display until Aug. 31.

Interpretive signs in both English and Spanish contextualize the collection for visitors and include detailed explanations of Spanish painting and other schools that took cues from the masters of Spain, or were elsewise collected by the museum over the course of its nearly 200 years of existence. Standing before such iconic work as Diego Velázquez' “Las Meninas,” made the shouts from children running through the cool waters of the splashpad fall away and I recalled a morning spent before that very painting—a depiction of the young Queen Margaret Theresa, daughter of King Philip IV in Madrid. (Later, I took the best nap of my life in El Parque Retiro, waking every few hours to follow the shade of an Ash Tree.) This painting is often seen as the culmination of themes and technique in Velázquez' long career and its composition and use of charged symbols has made it one of the most studied pieces of art to ever come out of Spain.

Visitors take in the work of Diego Velázquez at Prado on the Plaza
Visitors take in the work of Diego Velázquez at Prado on the Plaza
Courtesy of the City of Albuquerque

Other schools represented in the Prado on the Plaza exhibition include both French and German, including “Adam and Eve” by “the greatest German artist of the 16th century,” Albrecht Dürer. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Germany and Spain were close allies, and the evidence of cultural and creative exchange apparent in paintings from the period, as well as in the museum's collection. This piece is a diptych set of portraits, in two sections depicting the work's namesakes, with delicate greenery miraculously covering controversial bits the waist down. The figures emerging from a dark background, and the painting—packed with symbolism both biblical and self-invented—provided the artist with an opportunity to paint the idealized human form, a long held fascination for Renaissance artists. The original painting, completed in Nuremburg after an impactful visit to Italy, marks the first human-scale depiction of a nude in German history.

Spanning 5 centuries—the 14th to the 19th—these are just a few of the works you can expect to see when you head Downtown and into the west edge of Civic Plaza. Other artists represented include Peter Paul Rubens, Hieronymus Bosch and Francisco de Zurbarán. This exhibition—a truly unique iteration of public art—is the first of its kind in the United States. The exhibition has previously toured Central and South America, making stops in Lima, San Salvador and Guatemala City. Albuquerque is the collection's first stop in the US.

Guided tours for groups of 10 or more are available by appointment, and on Friday, Aug. 10 at 7pm local community leaders and academics will lead a conversation on-site. Otherwise, the exhibition is open for self-directed tours during regular hours for the plaza—8am to 10pm—and is totally free of cost. As such, access to these foundational works of Western art is truly equalized here, allowing individuals to have their own, individualized experiences with dozens of masterpieces.