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Spain




Spain: The Basque Provinces



Our highly esteemed vice-chairman Professor David Pike of the American University of Paris has sent me a fat envelope decorated with the artistic stamps France still produces. One reproduces a beautiful still life by the 18th-century painter Chardin. Another, by Cesar, represents a big thumb sticking up out of a bare surface; it undoubtedly inspired the huge monument of a foot which is proposed to build in the Paris of the West, San Francisco. They illustrate the loss of humanism in French art since roughly 1885. Despite that loss, the ville lumiere attracted arty moths from all over Europe, including Spain. Spain has always had a love-hate relationship with France; artists like Picasso, who lived in France, bathed in the light and themselves attracted other moths: art critics and wealthy collectors.

The French fad annoyed the great Basque writer, Miguel de Unamuno, politically a revolutionary who condemned those who imitated everything French as garbage collectors. Which brings us back to the Guggenhein Museum in Bilbao, designed by the American Frank Gehry. This monstrosity which connaisseurs claim to admire has been denounced by Basque artists as a Disney-style manifestation of cocacolonization.

Among the items sent by David Pike is information about the financing of the museum. I assumed it was an expression of American generosity, but amazingly no. Depressed Bilbao had received from the Spanish government ( i.e. people) $1.5 billion, of which a good chunk has gone to the building of the museum. The Basque government will subsidize the museum's annual $12 million budget. The contribution of the Guggenheim Museum in New has been the loan of items in storage (thus saving space). A supreme manifestation of colonization is that the Bilbao Museum will be administered from New York by the Guggenheim Foundation.

The governing conservative Accion Popular overthrew the preceding Socialist government of Spain by a drumbeat campaign against its corruption, demonstrated conspicuously by the 1992 money-losing Seville exhibition, which, like the Bilbao Museum, was supposed to revive a depressed community. The Basque left is denouncing the use of public funds for the Bilbao museum, and it would be surprising if this did not swell into a national scandal, this one with international and more particularly anti-American implications. It is a mud-slinging match like that between American Republicans and Democrats.

Ronald Hilton, 11-22-97


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