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Giant inflammable King Felipe sculpture sparks row at Madrid art fair

Want to burn a statue of Spain's King Felipe VI?

Giant inflammable King Felipe sculpture sparks row at Madrid art fair
The giant statue comes with a price tag of €200K. Photo: AFP

For €200,000, it's a deal — a contractual obligation, even – at Madrid's ARCO contemporary art fair, where two artists known for courting controversy are showing a giant effigy of the monarch.

The 4.44-metre statue reproduces the king standing tall and looking firmly ahead, wearing a dark blue suit, green tie and white shirt.   

It is on sale for 200,000 euros ($230,000), with a special clause obliging the buyer to “commit to the artwork being burnt”, Luis Navarro, who works with Santiago Sierra, one of the artists, told AFP.

“The specificity of this sculpture is that it isn't conceived to endure in time, to be collected, but for the pleasure of being destroyed,” said Navarro.   

Criticised as a “provocation” by the conservative press in Spain, the artwork is on display at the ARCO fair. And the king himself will open the fair on Thursday.

This isn't the first time that Sierra and the other artist, Eugenio Merino, have stirred controversy.

As the fair opens this year, several Catalan leaders are on trial in Madrid for their part in the Spanish region's 2017 independence bid.   

Last year, an installation by Sierra which referred to Catalan separatist leaders as “political prisoners” was removed from the ARCO art fair.   

The state-owned trade fair operator Ifema hosting ARCO subsequently apologised for what some had denounced as “censorship”.   

READ MORE Censorship: Madrid art fair pulls photo exhibition of Spain's political prisoners

 Merino became famous for making a model of late dictator Francisco Franco's head as a punching ball.

Before that, he also made an artwork displaying Franco in a fridge.   

But insulting the monarchy is an offence in Spain, where several sentences have stirred controversy over the years.   

In March last year, the European Court of Human Rights criticised Spain for sentencing to jail two young Catalan independence activists who in 2007 burnt photos of former king Juan Carlos and his wife Sofia – although their sentence was later commuted to fines.

The jail sentence had interfered with “freedom of expression”, the court ruled.

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ART

Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.

mata-mua_gauguin-madrid

In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.

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