Marbella boasts some outstanding statues. If only they would leave them alone, gripes Giles Brown.
Marbella has a difficult relationship with its public art. In a town that prides itself on being a luxury tourist destination, public galleries are few and far between, with the notable exceptions of the excellent Museo Ralli and the Museo de Grabado Español Contemporaneo.
The town also has an “interesting” history when it comes to statues. I don’t mean the life size bronzes of the great and the good that are dotted around. Marbella enjoys an enviable climate, one of the best in Europe, so it should be the perfect place to appreciate the often underrated art of sculpture. But, as so often in Marbella, there is an undercurrent of intrigue and politics.
Let’s start with the best known examples. The Avenida del Mar in the centre of town leading down from the Alameda Park to the paseo, is, quite rightly, lauded for its diverse collection of sculptures from the giant of the Surrealist movement, Salvador Dalí. Ten bronzes, cast in Verona, line the walkway down to the Mediterranean and must be quite a surreal moment for the unsuspecting tourist to stumble upon them. The works include “Perseus”, “Mercury”, “Man on a Dolphin”, “Cosmic Elephant” and two depicting his wife and constant muse, Gala.
Although Dalí had no direct connection with Marbella, he was a lifelong friend of the eccentric aristocrat Don Jaime de Mora y Aragon – one of the best known and loved characters of Marbella’s Golden Age. Of course, the more cynical might argue that the baffling and often bamboozling day-to-day goings on in Marbella are Surrealism at its finest, and so Dalí is the perfect choice to be honoured in such a way…
More Surrealist statue mastery can be found with another Dalí sculpture. This time the work is ‘Rhinoceros dressed in Lace’. What makes this large statue – created by the master in 1956 – even more Surrealist is the fact that it is placed in the middle of an extremely busy roundabout at the eastern entrance to Puerto Banús. If you want to get a closer look, I advise a thorough knowledge of the Green Cross Code and some excellent running shoes to dash across the traffic. I could almost sense Salvador smiling as I did my best Usain Bolt impersonation.
If you have managed to survive the Dalí Rhino, at the other end of the Avenida de Julio Iglesias is one of Marbella’s most controversial statues. Towering over 90 feet in the air, it isn’t (thankfully) a rendering of the “Begin the Beguine” singer, but a Stalinist style figure facing out of the Mediterranean. “The Statue of Victory” is the work of the Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, but it is better known as the “Russian Statue”.
To be honest, I’ve always hated it. It would look more appropriate in Moscow than Marbella. I mentioned the Russian capital for a reason, as the work was supposed to be a gift from the Mayor of Moscow to the people of Marbella in the infamous Gil era. In the subsequent court cases that followed Gil’s tenure as mayor, the gift was later discovered to have cost the people of Marbella more than €850,000. There was also the small matter that the statue that arrived had smaller dimensions than the original…
Talking of smaller dimensions, on the paseo just to the east of “Victory” is a modest depiction of a mermaid covering her face. This beautiful sculpture, La Sirena de Puerto Banús, in granite and marble, was created by Barcelona artist Antonio Cañete. I’ve always thought she is a nautical representation of what many people must feel after a big night out in Banús.
The town planners of San Pedro Alcantara have long suffered from a bad case, not so much of musical statues, but movable statues. They seem to love nothing more than to uproot works of art every few years and yes, you’ve guessed it, place them in the middle of roundabouts.
A case in point are the works of Vincente de Espona. Born in Valencia, Vincente originally trained as a lawyer, and moved to Brazil on the pretext of continuing his work. Once there, however, he threw away his law books and became a sculptor. The law courts’ loss was the Arts’ gain, and Espona returned to Spain, making Marbella his home and producing several outstanding pieces. A couple of years ago, San Pedro decided to honour his memory by unveiling “La Danza” in the newly pedestrianised main street and declaring that the town would be an open air monument to his work.
So far, so good. But there was great public criticism when his iconic work “Regreso de Olivar” was roughly handled as it was moved during the aforementioned pedestrianisation and plonked in the centre of a roundabout in the new ‘Boulevard’. Another well-travelled work of Espona’s, the impressive 12 metre-high “Síntesis” has done a lap of honour. It was originally outside the church – where it must have struck the Fear of God into a few non-believers, before being moved to the roundabout I mentioned earlier and finally found a new home on the roundabout – where else – on the entrance to the San Pedro industrial zone, welcoming visitors who come to San Pedro by the A357 road from Ronda. It even went completely missing for a few years as it was placed in storage. Personally, I’m glad it is back in public view as the sweeping lines of the cloak and extended arm make it my favourite piece.
La Salida, by Santiago de Santiago – whose parents obviously didn’t have a creative bone in their bodies when they named him – was also moved into a roundabout on the San Pedro paseo. It was a move more born from the frustrations of the municipal cleaning teams, as the depiction of the start of a sprint was frequently defaced by vandals spray painting the figures’ posteriors.
Back in Marbella, the emblematic La Venus, representing a female water-skier complete with flowing water, was the iconic Marbella image in the 70s. This was long before the “Flintstones style” Marbella arches were erected. La Venus was the work of Granada sculptor Francisco López Burgos and for years looked over the central beaches of the town. Again, the town planners couldn’t keep their hands off her, and the Gil administration eventually put her in front of the main Marbella Tourist Office.
It is one of the most understated statues, however, that is the most profound. At the south end of Marbella’s Avenida del Mar, away from Dali’s surrealist pieces is Eduardo Soriano’s “Monument to the Freedom of Expression”. It’s a beautiful work, made more poignant by the phrases that surround it, such as Senca’s “There is no place so narrow where thought cannot be raised to heaven” and Soriano’s own words, “Freedom does not die, it is born and sleeps daily.”
Although as I write this, Freedom is indeed sleeping, as the statue has been taken away for restoration work. Let’s hope that it returns soon!