Madrid: the Reina Sofia Museum

This past weekend I got to go on my first European trip, and spent four days in Madrid with Alan. The food was awesome, the sights were wonderful, but my favorite discovery was the Reina Sofia Museum.

Reina Sofia 9
The 18th-century (left) and 21st-century (right) buildings of the Reina Sofia Museum.

The Reina Sofia Museum opened in 1986 and is one of the world’s great modern art museums. The original building was a hospital completed in the 18th-century, and in 2005 an additional building by Jean Nouvel opened. These two buildings combine to make a magical art-viewing experience.

The new building is very exciting. The interior courtyard has a high red roof and uses a mixture of glass, matte black, and glossy red materials. The layout separates it from the busy street, and right away you feel like you’re somewhere special and new. The galleries inside are white and simple so the art collection can take center stage, but transitions to each floor have the same feeling of architectural drama. There’s also a terrace on the top which you have to see. The combination of glass, reflection, and height make it both striking and dreamy in the filtered light.

Terrace of the new building.
Terrace of the new building.

Joining the new to the old building on each floor are hallways with dark walls, emphasizing the change in architectural styles and making it into a little journey. The 18th-century building also has a courtyard, which is cool and tranquil.

The courtyard in the old building.
The courtyard in the old building.

The original, older building is filled with eccentric rooms which the curators use in innovative and imaginative ways. In the new building I focused on checking out the art in the permanent collection, but in the old one I was excited to discover a Juan Munoz retrospective. His works were in rooms on two floors, and sometimes in the hallways, in the courtyard, or on the small 3rd-floor terrace.

Enigmatic figures on the 3rd-floor terrace.
Enigmatic figures on the 3rd-floor terrace.

Balconies and staircases were subjects featured in his early work, and the retrospective featured two rooms of Munoz’s prints, which you had to climb up a spiral staircase to view on thin, delicate balconies. Another great example of the museum’s presentation is “Many Times”, an installation of 100 figures. Not only are you are allowed to walk among them, which is an eerie and strange experience, but from another room you can also peek through a window to watch the museum-goers among the sculptures.

Munoz; Many Times
Juan Munoz: Many Times. 100 gray, same-looking footless fellows. (This is not my photo since photography isn't allowed inside the museum.)

Munoz's early work often featured balconies, minarets, and stairs.
Juan Munoz: Hotel. Munoz's early work often featured balconies, as well as staircases and minarets, and turning outside into inside. (Once again, not one of my photos).

As an expat I loved Juan Munoz’s themes of displacement and the strange mood of dislocation they produced. It’s enjoyable when your personal life resonates with the art you’re viewing, giving you the bonus of a strong emotional connection. And when you’re lucky enough to experience the marriage of an enchanting setting and pieces so thoughtfully displayed, it’s extra rewarding to be an art-lover. If you like contemporary architecture and art, I highly recommend visiting the Reina Sofia Museum and seeing Juan Munoz: Retrospective (through August 31, 2009).


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