Friday, August 21, 2009

Museum hopping in Madrid, Spain

Most first-time visitors will see no immediate charm when visiting Madrid - the capital of Spain. Madrid does not meet the notions of either medieval stone cities or of mild summer night's passion. Madrid has sometimes been describes as being like Chicago, with Barcelona being more like San Francisco. This comparison is by no means taken out of thin air.

Madrid's second largest tourist attraction is its night life. This means the eating and drinking as well as dancing all night long. There are American tourists everywhere as they are a lot of them in Madrid. Madrid is quite an easy sell for American exchange students looking for a year abroad mostly due to the city's nightlife. In comparison, Barcelona becomes a chauvinistic mecca for Catalan culture. The smooth and happy Madrid surface hides - although you are able to see through it more and more - the old divides and deep unhealed wounds. It will soon be seventy years since the civil war ended, thirty years since Franco's death and the agreement to try to forget the past.

There are, however, plenty of interesting museums in Madrid for the culturally inclined to delve into. Here I will present three of the more interesting ones to visit.

Museo Sorolla - which is the home and studio of the nineteenth-century Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla (born in Valencia, 1863) - is one of the most pleasant museums. It is large and comfortable with a beautiful garden. His paintings are mostly pleasant - not very capturing or deeply engaging, but not banal, or insipid. He represents in a way, the bourgeois exterior painting's height, and it is evident in almost every canvas that he loved what he did. The address is Calle General Martínez Campos 37.

Museo de America is housed in a massive building from nineteen fifty four, which retro style is supposed to resemble an old mission monastery, and is one of Madrid's more interesting but overlooked museums. Found here is a huge collection of objects from the Americas before Columbus, with everything from battle axes and shrunk heads to the beautiful art objects and precious illustrated manuscript depicting the Spanish conquest from the conquered side. On display are objects from South and Central America - lootings from the Spanish colonization and later donations from the new independent countries. The collection is presented thematically (the knowledge of America, reality, society, religion, etc.) which without prior knowledge makes it difficult to keep the different cultures and eras apart. The address is Avenida de los Reyes Católicos 6.

Museo del Traje - the clothing museum - opened in 2004 in the former Museo Espanol de Arte Contemporáneo, an architecturally interesting building from 1973, to host huge collections of Spanish fashion from the fifteenth century onwards. If you want you can skip the history part and go directly to the haute couture-room, but for those who want to get some background info there is lots to take in. There is also a reading room, a bookshop and a new-Spanish restaurant as well as areas for temporary exhibitions, where fashion photography is often on display. The address is Avenida de Juan de Herrera 2.