La Sagrada Familia, greater than the cult of Antoni Gaudí, Vinçon, Desigual, Entrevidas by Anna Maria Maiolino at The Fundació Antoni Tàpies, La manzana de la discordia

Out into sun, we followed the edge of the marina around to Port Vell, cutting in to catch the Metro at Drassanes, connecting, and popping up at Sagrada Familia. It had crept up behind us, the massive biomorphic slip-cast of Gaudi’s still unfinished Last Citadel of Christendom. It is almost horrifying, this many-spired thing. Seems risen out of the mud and running and dripping with it.

The queue time went quickly with chestnuts, trips up and down the street. The queue stretched around the straight Neo-Gothic side of the cathedral. We told off some pushy Spanish ladies who insisted on bumping forward into us, judging the distance by feel more than sight, and had a go at two queue-jumping Italians. Who got in anyway, several rows behind us.

The Passion side, dominated by Josep Maria Subirachs’s expressionist sculpture, under spidery buttresses, pulls you in, past the flagellation of man, tied to pillar, and through the doors made of letters. Into the alien. It is an alien but also so human as to be as close to music as I have experienced architecture. Like walking into a polyphony vast and unearthly, that one knows has numbers behind it, engineering, and numbers in the sense of numeralogical variation, but is, like music, the incarnation of number, has digested ratio and numerical relation and measurable proportion, embedding it in a mad inspired structure. Seeing it you can only feel that sense of powerful relation to what architecture is, i.e. structured materials. The pillars dividing at carved out ellipses into four is really an extraordinary innovation.

Having seen that the madness made music inside, the outside mattered less. And the fact that it is a building-site, almost always depicted with its cranes constantly tending it, this adds something. Like – more similes – seeing the orchestra playing in rehearsal, hearing the mass come together.

I loved every minute of the noise of polishers and cherry-pickers, and hoists, the warnings beeping, the engines droning. Albeit, that the imminent arrival of the Pope meant preparations had obviously accelerated and that there was less floor space for us to visit. The inner space of the building convinces you it is the Last Citadel of Christendom. It is staggeringly good.

I needed convincing. The cult of Gaudi is too much, I think, has become silly. Not that he would disapprove. He allegedly peddled the dream himself out on the street. He wouldn’t mind being made part of this publicity machine for the sake of the project, to get the necessaries. To finish it in 2040-something.

I hadn’t realised how much was lost during the Civil War, 1936-9, how much was smashed and burnt. The work of reconstructing Gaudi’s intentions is inextricably tied, sometimes controversially, to the job of building the crazy thing. Not very Christian, in that sense. In fact, something has gone awry when the cult of the personality of the artist, genius, architect, visionary – or not – overrides what may be in the best interests of it being a building and a sacred place.

A fascinating thing. I had also not known he was hit by tram and died having committed forty-three years to the project. We saw him down there, in the crypt, through plastic windows, in the shadowy vault. If only the Sagrada Familia could extricate itself from the cult of Gaudi. It is too great to need the pathos of his human story.

We lunched on Diagonal. Salty tapas. Made us thirsty the rest of the day.

Down the Passeig de Gracia, Vincon was an ultra design warehouse offering the prospect of better living by design, designed, all of it, with an eye for mass-production meets design. Very designy. Even the counters. Industrial scale check-outs with huge rolls of ribbon built into ribbon-applying desks and commercial-length wrapping paper – all branded – on overhead looms. Fun: a white translucent trout lampshade, the wire the line it dangles from; useful: if you’re local for Christmas catering, ham leg holders, with clamps for the bone and spikes for the meaty end.

Past Gaudi’s Mila building, impressive when at a distance for the tiled chimney whorls, and roof-line like a dutch bonnet, we turned off Passeig de Gracia, where on the corner, the fashion at Desigual caught our eye. Tried on some things. Most exciting fashion we’ve seen – for colour and design – but produced in bulk and sold at what is probably a reasonable price for euro earners, but not for us.

Visited the Antoni Tapies Foundation, where I got to see more MORE Tapies, and a compellingly worthwhile exhibition by Anna Maria Maiolino. Of poohs. Not really poohs. More sausages, rissoles, thumb-pressed waddings, loaves of clay. Part ephemeral materials; part permanent. But why not poohs? repetitive organic, products of the body of the artist, different and… A major source for her Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. I don’t think this was a curatorial addition. I also don’t believe the citation of this source does her any favours. The ontological status of the art goes without… needing such an explanation or justification, or any legitimation. Her investment is in the series, the series of growing differences, making difference… Yeah. But standing surrounded by the thumb-pressed clay nodes on floor-to-ceiling wire-netting – a nodal growth, algal – with, on pallets, fluid rolled pooh forms reclining one on another on top of another on another, recumbent poohs, poohs like you can do in Hong Kong toilets, where they are couched in pools, unbroken, fragile meshes of waste organic matter, standing there next to these, there was a vibration – not a pooh-like one – of life or virtuality, of what art is good at giving – energy. (Do you think it is just warmth? Or the implied warmth of a piece that has only just left the body of the artist? So that the ephemeral or fast work, either Anna Maria Maiolino’s or Antoni Tapies’s retains exactly this aura about it? Is the work of any hand, any body? Or as Tapies said of Breton in the video, magic? This energy?

(Magic would be an impersonal warmth: a gift passed from my hand to yours, with the potential always there that it might be passed back between us?)

By the time we left it was almost seven. The light was fading. Luckily the Casa Batllo was lit up, like a gorgeously curvy and spiralling pastel lolly. Less fortunate but more accessible was the Casa Amatller, by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, where I took some snaps in the entry way. Less fortunate again and tenanted by Guess on the first floor, the Casa Lleo Morera by Lluis Domenech i Montaner. Together these houses by three different architects comprise the Manzana de la Discordia, each constituting a variation in approach to Catalan Modernisme. Not to be confused with modernism, more like a Jugendstil.

Home too late to get the coquilles for the risotto, but asparagus and the baguettes that even the smallest Supermercat’s here have warm in the evening, plus dodgy Spanish vodka. We could neither get the TV to work, nor find a site streaming the game between Barca and Sevilla – or as Q. put it, Messi vs. Oetzel. Hard call to miss a 300 euro match – damn near what it would’ve cost us to see it. Still … the beautiful game.