Madrid is a city steeped in art and culture with a constantly evolving blend of major galleries filled with historic works and smaller, private sales spaces for local artists to display.
The Prado near the ancient city center is the city’s queen of galleries — a massive space of stately classical architecture on a hill, filled with an overwhelming collection of art ranging in period from the antiquity of Greece and Rome to the Renaissance masters.
But, it’s the other international star that captures my heart whenever I visit Madrid. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia offers a thrilling collection of modern and contemporary art from Europe and throughout the world — including some of the most important works of the last century.
To put the museums in American terms, The Prado is the Met in New York. The Reina Sofia is MOMA. While its collection spans the last century and countless nations, the museum recognizes its home city and heritage by focusing heavily on the great Spanish artists – Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and Julio Gonzalez.
Amidst the Spanish focus, there’s a concentrated examination of the 20th Century’s most formative event within Spain, the Civil War between Socialist and Fascist forces. While Spanish artists contributed their work to protesting the war or providing propaganda, American great Alexander Calder and lesser known artists such as Alberto Sanchez added their work to the cause. All of that stands on proud display.
The museum’s crown jewel is Picasso’s Guernica (top) — called out by a many art historians as the single greatest painting of the 20th Century. Originally created to protest the Nazi bombing of the titular town, the painting came to represent the horrors of any war and the tragic oppression waged against innocents caught in the middle. It’s a massive piece that dominates its own hall within the Reina Sofia.
Beyond his masterwork, Picasso is studied historically at the museum – as portaits from his 20s evolve into cubist and post modern works from his peak years. The same study is afford Dali as a retrospective examine how wildly the consumate surrealist evolved as an artist and personality.
Finally, the Reina Sofia offers a major surprise with its extensive collection of Oskar Schlemmer work. The master of the Bauhaus School, Schlemmer is featured with sketches, sculptures and rare costumes from his avant garde Triadisches Ballett. His work is haunting overall — striking, cold and precise.
The Reina Sofia will consume an entire day if you truly love the modern artists now made famous by popular culture. If so, I can’t think of many better ways to feed the soul while wandering through Madrid.