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It is one of the world’s most prestigious art museums, yet a lot less well-known than the Tate or Louvre. Perhaps it’s because of the long name or its proximity to the more famous Prado, but it’s definitely not due to the collection. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid is home to major names in the art world such as Picasso, Miró and Dalí.
The historical Hospital de San Carlos from 1776 was given an extensive facelift in 1989 by British architect Ian Ritchie. 3 towering lift shafts made of glass and steel were erected against the outer wall and, inside, the building was stripped and renovated in minimalistic style. French architect Jean Nouvel expanded it in 2005 to create even more room for the collection. After all, as impressive as the building may be, what really matters is the art.
Many of the Mirós in the Reina Sofía date from his later years in the 1970s, when the Catalan master embraced the cheerful abstract style in primary colours. ‘Hombre con pipa’, on the other hand, is one of his early works. It is a surrealistic, almost hallucinogenic portrait in subdued shades with a stripe of red, depicting what appears to be an extra-terrestrial with saucer-shaped penetrating eyes and a pipe that is open to all kinds of interpretation.
This suggestive painting is only rarely discussed when teaching about the works of Dalí in school. A mass of rocks on Cap de Creus in Catalonia inspired the artist to paint a portrait of a naked woman, whose head is leaning towards the swollen crotch of a man with bloody knees. As with all works by Dalí, anything is possible and his subjects are distorted, tilted or upside-down. Nothing is what it appears to be, so that the viewer quickly becomes mesmerised.
The undisputed highlight of the collection is the only work of art that always hangs in the same place, namely, in room 206 on the second floor. The giant Guernica by Picasso measures 3.5 by 7.8 metres and portrays the horrors of the bombing of Guernica in 1937, when Hitler destroyed the Basque city during the Spanish Civil War at the request of Franco. But don’t spend too much time looking at it because, even though it’s Picasso’s most famous work, it’s sure to give you nightmares.