Wherever I go, I tend to visit a lot of museums. It’s a good thing that Barcelona has a museum discount card called “Articket“ that costs 22 euros and gets you into 7 museums! I absolutely recommend this card to any visitor to Barcelona: if you go to only two or three of these, you will not only save money but time, since having the card allows you to skip the long lines outside the most popular institutions like La Pedrera and Museu Picasso. This is a better deal than the integrated Barcelona Card that bundles transportation and museum discounts, but just a few full museum entrances (and not to those listed below).
Here’s my take on the museums we visited in Barcelona.MNAC: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
We started our 5-day trip here because I figured that this museum would give us a good base in Catalan history and art. The Romanesque collection is closed until 2012, but the vast Gothic section and the moderns (meaning 18th century to WWII) was worth visiting.
This newly renovated museum gets an A+ in museology! Friendly staff greet you and answer questions in any language; you can store your belongings in lockers with 1 euro that you get back, you get a free map with the highlights indicated on it, and if you’re deaf, there’s even a visual guide in sign language! The airy spaces have been divided to provide good flow and to highlight important works. There are plenty of places to sit down and relax. The collection is just the right size to make it digestible in one visit of a few hours, but you can also divide up your visit as the ticket allows you in twice over a certain period. Best of all, we had the museum almost to ourselves.
Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Start your Gaudi here, not at the much-trodden Sagrada Familia, because in the building’s attic there is an excellent exhibit (renovated in 2006 by the bank Catalunya Caixa) about the modernista architect’s forms and techniques. There are models and well-planned and executed videos that actually made me regret not having taken the audioguide to accompany them. Architecture geeks and engineers will enjoy the references to biomimicry in the juxtaposition of Gaudiesque forms with corn on the cob, sponges, and animal skeletons.
Oh yeah, the apartment itself is nice too! The flow is remarkably natural and the curation is minimal but clearly well thought out: small details, like a maid’s outfit, suffice to communicate the function of each room without resorting to invasive signage. Having seen the videos in the exhibit upstairs, we found ourselves attuned to the functional and architectural details of the architecture.
Tip: arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and remember that with the Articket you don’t have to wait in line. There is a free exhibition gallery (with access from just down the street) that is currently showing “The Art of Eating” (until July 20 2011), an interesting mix of early modern and contemporary artists’ interpretations of food. Worth stopping in, for free!
This museum, located in the green of Monjuic not far from the MNAC, provides an overview of the Catalan artist’s painting, sculpture, textiles, and graphic works. To be honest, I rather prefer the Fondation Maeght near Nice as it better integrates architecture with Miro’s sculptures and the works of his contemporaries. However, you can’t help but love Miro’s adorable figures who seem to speak an alien language…
On the other hand, the temporary exhibits of contemporary art may be fun to visit. We enjoyed “Genius Loci” (until May 29 2011), a series of participatory stage sets accompanied by music that we heard on personal headphones, featuring various artists from the alternative scene in Barcelona.
Is it wrong to say I didn’t really love the Picasso Museum? Perhaps it was the crowds, or it was my high expectations: they are very innovative online (they won the Museums on the Web prize for their use of social media in 2010) while at the museum itself there was no wifi and nothing that struck me as terribly innovative. There is an iphone guide that you can download from the website – we didn’t see that before going though. Photos are not permitted (it’s not their fault, copyright legislation), so no photo for this part of this article!
The collection focuses on the development of the artist, with a lot of his early works in which you might search for signs of future genius in scribbles done on cocktail napkins. I particularly enjoyed the 58 paintings in which Picasso deconstructed Velasquez’s Las Meninas, none of which I’ve ever seen before elsewhere. Perhaps this section of the museum is what makes it worth the visit, since nowhere else would you ever get the opportunity to see a complete body of works that really demonstrate the artist’s thought process.
MACBA: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Ingredients for a contemporary art museum. A good acronym: check. A big white building by a starchitect: check (Richard Meir). An assortment of prankster material from the 70s? I’m afraid the collection rather let me down, as is often the case in contemporary museums. I do love the Gorilla Girls, whose critiques of the art establishment are right on, and there is a wall dedicated to them, but otherwise I’d say there’s a too-heavy concentration on video art in this museum. We got a good laugh out of the temporary exhibit, co-curated with Rome’s Maxxi, on the Otholit Group, which we really did not understand. Fun gift shop.
Next door is the CCCB – center for contemporary culture – near the faculty of philosphy of the University too. The current exhibit at the Center didn’t appeal to me (an artist from Trieste – we get that at home) but it’s worth checking out what’s on and hopping in if you’re interested. They also do films, performances, and other events.
The whole area around these contemporary museums seems to have blossomed – some would say the Raval is being quickly gentrified and that’s a bad thing, but I saw creativity and youth that couldn’t have been negative. Skateboarders congregate in the wide piazza out front.
Disseny Hub Barcelona
Across the street from the Picasso museum is Barcelona’s modern design museum. The 5 euro entrance is not included in the Articket but we came out with enough ideas to launch a multi-million euro start-up so it was worth it, even if we never quit our jobs in order to make 3D printed solutions for the Italian market.The current exhibits close soon (May 2011) but I get the feeling that anything here is cool, so go in.
We learned about 3D printing solutions for everything from in-vitro diagnostics to jewelry making, and then proceeded to an exhibit that dug up 100 ideas for sustainable living from the 60s and 70s and put contemporary spins on them. Plenty of ideas here. Downstairs there’s one free exhibit, beautifully curated and oh-so-funky.
While in Barcelona we stayed at Erik Vokel’s Gran via Suites (read my review here) – very comfortable self-catering apartments in a great location near Rocafort Metro station. The following museums listed above are easy walking distance from where we stayed: MNAC, MACBA, CCCB, Fondacio Miro.
See also: Cool things to do in Barcelona