For Antoni Gaudi, as for the devout in the Middle Ages, almost anything in the universe could be read as a religious symbol. The Sagrada Familia is symbolic not only in its profusion of figurative sculpture and its conventional Christian objects but also in its shapes and structures. The complete transept facade represents the Nativity; the three portals faith, hope, and charity; and the four minaret spires the apostles Barnabas, Jude, Simon, and Matthew.
The other transept facade, stands for the Passion and has relatively hard edged geometrical shapes in order to symbolize the pain and desolation of the last hours before the Crucifixion and final sacrifice. The main facade is that of the Glory of God; seven columns to represent seven deadly sins, seven doors to represent seven aspects of the religious service, a vaulted tunnel to represent hell, and so forth.
How should such a master builder be judged? Very severely in the opinion of orthodox modernists of the more or less functionalist school. For them he is an example of the folly of attempting to create serious architecture from non-architectural points of departure: by pushing painting, sculpture, and even literature into the realm of structure and practical planning. In spite of his liberal politics and genuine sympathy for the poor his work is lacking in evidence of social conscience they assert; half of it consists of luxurious town houses and apartments, and the remainder is generally extravagant and unfinished religious architecture. His structural inventiveness is dismissed as whimsey, since it was accompanied by a romantic rejection of the appropriate materials., according to the functionalist school of Mies van der Rohe.
In effect, Gaudi’s work is a kind of play on perfection as terror; a vision of the self divided. Precision, control and goodness and then equal parts abandon, violence and chaos. Was there a sexual undercurrent as a possible primal and conducting force behind this strong art through architecture; art as sculpture in an analogy to the erotic act? Gaudi’s architecture is both visually beautiful and simultaneously frightening, with Gothic overtones of human sacrifice and creepy pagan ritual. A slugfest between the ego and super-ego, between monotheistic faith and the unresolved conflict of an Apollon and Dionysis.
Ultimately, Gaudi’s art is about perfection, the anguish and auto-mutilation of body and soul towards an unattainable ideal; an immaculate conception of birth and rebirth repeated in an endless cycle; the loop of perfection where curves act like straight lines, defying what Gaudi claimed was the outline of nature. Perfection is not real and to pursue it is to sacrifice one’s life to a flawless, peerless, and static mortality. There is an undefined desire, in Gaudi, a frightening play of attraction-repulsion that manifests itself in these structures which in part reflect a blooming of delusion into the public sphere.
In the end, Gaudi was a physical wreck. He would take to panhandling cap in hand on the street. His deformed figure lived in a tool shed on the church grounds. There was an ugly, yet exquisite fibre in him that asserted a dark, inscrutable persona that seems incomprehensible, that led to an almost scripted tragic conclusion in which he was hit by a trolley and died on a pauper’s bed in a hospital. “According to some, Gaudí had grown so eccentric, so raggedy, that cabs refused to pick him up, assuming he was a tramp.”
Was Gaudi just another instance of what has been termed as aesthetic imperialism? The tendency of art and artists to appropriate and nationalize anything. Gaudian leaning columns not being actual imitations of trees, but rather attempts to annex trees to the Aesthetic of Gaudi. Gaudi argued that man made straight lines and god made curves which meant in some twisted way that god was to be absorbed, emasculated and reduced to material form in an integration in which the inhabitant or user of a Gaudi construction would have to forgo their indulgence in practical necessity and functionality in the face of this more esteemed co-habitant who paid no rent.
In this sense, Gaudi was not a real great architect since his ego would not permit a vision of architecture as a practical pleasure and a beautiful necessity. A sense of confused desire confronting an ambiguous sense of pleasure. Was it possible that somewhere inside the rough realist who advocated inclined piers and random rubble that there was an arrogant 1890′s dandy? A megalomaniac who wished to tyrannically dominate through architecture rather than serving people. Nonetheless, Gaudi was an extraordinary man and a great artist but whether he is a great architect or great maker of sculpture that is able to live in is a debate not yet resolved….
“Certainly, Gaudí broke clean away from the classical disciplines of architecture and created a personal style that gave a novel interpretation to the concept of the Baroque. The results could have been chaotic, were it not for the strength of his imposed ideas which gave unity to each of his compositions. The common elements in Gaudi´s Baroque manner are the attentin to human circumstances and the constructional basis of many of his most original details and effects, which he infused with a considerable humour. If his wit is something which helps us to enjoy his buildings, it must also have sustained Gaudí himself, and his creativity, during the laborious process of work on each project and construction of each building. The enigma of Gaudí is that, although he was an outstanding talent, he failed to consolidate a viable architectural discipline that could be continued and elaborated by his followers. His abundant imagination, private wit and public self-confidence finally became mortgaged to a consuming and reactionary religiosity that grew up around him through his work on the “Sagrada Familia” temple. He misread his brief, and it destroyed him. His architecture became subjected to a religion of symbols. After 1914, with the Catalan cultural elite rejecting the “chaos” of “Modernisme” in favour of the classic order of Mediterranean culture, disoriented by the death of his patron Güell and of his chief assistant Berenguer, Gaudí withdrew more and more into his private obsessions. It is from this later phase, as we have remarked previously, that the myth of Gaudí derives. The foregoing pages have been concerned with demonstrating the relevance and centrality of his work within the whole dynamism of Catalan “Modernisme”. Seen in this light, the achievements and the contradictions of the architect manifest their true significance.” (David McKay) Read More: http://www.bcn.es/publicacions/b_mm/abmm58/abmm_58.htm
…..By the end of the year 2002 many people may be tired, and even bored, with so much Gaudí. In our age of banal simplification heroes are invented, like theme parks, for the day, for the week, for the year. The power of the corporate message to capture the market through heroes has spread to all walks of life and tends to freeze intellectual history into a closed approach of recycling old stories. The history of art and architecture has been dominated by philosophers, or worse, by ideologists, rather than historians who are prepared to get dirt under their fingernails with field studies on the archaeology and archives of their subject. This philosophical approach to history has led us to neatly classify works into a series of periods like Modernism, Noucentism, Rationalism, etc. and then fit authors and artists into each convenient pocket.
Antoni Gaudí is a case of this philosophical distortion. There is no doubt that he was a great European architect and that many of his buildings merit the popular attention that they are now given. But are they understood? Is it not part of their attraction that they are presented as works that are beyond normal understanding, invoking a mystical experience rather than an analytical approach?
Of all the thousands of books written on Gaudí, only a handful, if that, have attempted to decipher the grammar of his architectural language as a useful instrument to contribute to the discipline of his profession. Is it not strange that in his own city, and country, he left no school of creative influence? There is an almost embarrassed silence on Gaudí amongst Catalan architects,… (McKay ) Read More: http://www.bcn.es/publicacions/b_mm/abmm58/abmm_58.htm