(This is a translation of the article published by El País on the 25th August 2016)
by Javier Martín-Arroyo, Seville
New York artist Melissa Marks never expected that this summer she would be connecting her city with Vélez Blanco, a remote village in Almería. In the Patio de Honor — now empty — of the spectacular 16th century castle that crowns this mountain village, the painter has drawn on a 100 sq. meter canvas evoking the original patio decoration: arches and columns from this patio with Italian Renaissance ornaments that were sold by the owner of the castle in 1904 to a French art dealer and in 1945 ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
As a child, Marks and her family would go see the patio located in the celebrated museum and this week she inaugurates her large scale work exactly where those two thousand Macael marble blocks she enjoyed in her childhood resided more than a century ago. “When you move away, you live in different places but you’re forever connected to the original context (…) when we miss something, we always create something”, she comments in regards to the inspiration of the double life of this patio on both sides of the Atlantic. This installation, named Double Self Split, is accompanied by 16 large drawings in color and black and white, exhibited until Friday in the town’s convent.
The coincidence of Marks’ visits to the Renaissance decorations of the patio in Manhattan and decades later to the naked original enclosure inspired her enormous drawing full “of nature and creatures from Renaissance imagination” that reinterprets the original motifs created by Italian artisans in the 16th century. “Without skin, does the empty patio represent its bones? Or was the patio stripped to its soul? Does the separation of its parts add artistic or historic value? Or, on the contrary, was the history changed?”, the North American artist asks herself.
The rarity – more and more frequently – to be able to enjoy international art in the semi-desert climate of northern Almería is due to the union of foreigners. In 2009 the British couple of Simon and Donna Beckmann founded an artist residency, Joya: arte+ecología, in which Marks participated. Three years ago the three of them talked about placing “a contemporary reciprocal gesture in the empty patio”, in the words of the artist and the English promoter. After talking to the councilor of Culture of Vélez Blanco, the German Dietmar Roth, they called at the doors of the castle, in this case the Andalucian Council, owners of the castle for over a decade in exchange for three million (euros).
The secret to maintaining the artistic pulse in a small municipality? “You have to raise awareness, although it is a town that is interested in culture, with a Renaissance and baroque music festival, as an example, and with very active cultural associations. Culture is a right but it is also an investment. What’s the difference between Spain and other tourist destinations? Cultural richness. Here we live with authenticity, we’re not a stage for tourists, we have the awareness of a patrimony”, emphasizes Roth, who arrived in Vélez Blanco 23 years ago.
Simon Beckmann searched and searched across the peninsula for an inspiring enclave for his residency, where he’s already received more than 500 artists. And he found it in the heart of the Parque Natural Sierra María-Los Vélez, from where he collaborates with Spanish and British universities. He says he’s met with a surprising sensitivity toward his projects by the various institutions. As artist and host, he admits that the most difficult challenge is to tell the world, via the Internet, of his work in a site so isolated from the usual artistic circuits. “I never thought that I would spend this much time attempting to communicate what we do”. This week, however, as he and Marks fight the wind to keep the canvas fixed to the castle’s patio, everything surrounding this exhibition of contemporary art from the United States has left an excellent taste in his mouth.