We are delighted to announce Emily Jenkins's new book The Visualization of a Nation: Tàpies and Catalonia, due out in our Studies in Hispanic and Lusophone Cultures series in summer 2021.
Tàpies belonged to the club of modern European artists to reach surname-only status in their own lifetimes – compare Hockney, Picasso – and his art at its most direct is not at all what you might guess from Wikipedia's punctilious styling of his name, as the Most Illustrious Antoni Tàpies i Puig, 1st Marquess of Tàpies. (Which somehow reminds me of Catalonia's most famous son in Englush fiction, Patrick O'Brian's naval surgeon Stephen Maturin, who is also obscurely of the nobility.)
Tàpies had a long, long productive life, with retrospective shows as early as the 1960s. His output is not easy to categorise and tends to sit in intermediate positions on any given axis. More like painting than sculpture; more like object than experience; more like abstract than portrait; more like expression than manifesto. His murals "about" Catalonian identity have a kind of angry pride, and a Banksy-like way of talking to everyone passing by, not just to a bunch of critics. But those murals are not typical of his work.
Like all great artists, Tàpies was neither an enemy of the State nor its friend. He was occasionally arrested, it is true, but his artistic life under Franco was nothing like so constrained as that of, say, Shostakovich under Stalin. After the coming of democracy — by which time Tàpies had a following in Paris and New York — the two claimants to the title of "the State" competed to heap greater honours on him. Barcelona's would-be governments fêted Tàpies as an iconic and — they would like to think — distinctively Catalonian figure. He has his own personal museum in the heart of the city. On the other hand, Tàpies was also claimed by the Madrid art scene, and in 2010 King Juan Carlos I issued Royal Decree no. 433 to make him not only a peer but a hereditary one, so that his son is now the 2nd Marquess of Tápies. This is a drastic way to co-opt somebody's national identity, but it worked. As of today Wikipedia's top line calls him "Spanish", not "Catalonian".