$20,000,000 work for the United Nations

Posted in Art in the world, Opinion by Adele Todd on November 23, 2008

Hundreds of shards of paint forming icicles dangle from the ceiling of the United Nations. This sculptural art piece is 16,000 square metres long and is the two year construction of phenominal Spanish artist Miguel Barcel. It was unveiled on November 18th at the United Nations in Switzerland. Fifty-One year old Mr. Barcelo has been compared to the other great Spanish painter, and the greatest painter of the twentieth century, Pablo Picasso.
Mr. Barcelo’s premise for the work was to use one hundred tons of paint with pigments from all over the world. He worked with architects, engineers and even particle physics laboratories to develop a support for the elliptical dome of aluminum.
It is Mr. Barcelo’s most challenging project, and may be the most important of his career.


The work is naturally controversial by its costliness and location. But here is why. The government of Spain funded forty percent of the project with the rest coming from the private sector. The funding was diverted from another building project, one dealing with the human rights chamber, so there was ire about where it was going.
Mr. Barcelo likened his work to that of the art of the Paleolithic period. “The cave is a metaphor for the agora, the first meeting place of humans, the big African tree under which to sit to talk, and the only possible future: dialogue, human rights,” Barcelo said to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Miguel Zugaza, director of the Museo del Prado, defined the artwork as ” Barcelo’s most important and the best public art project made by Spain in several decades.” He went on to say, “More than the Sistine Chapel, the dome is more like the ones by Manet and the one by Rothko, and above all the one in Altamira.”
At the inauguration of the unveiling of the ceiling, King Juan Carlos stated, “Nothing better than art as a universal message to express the values and beliefs that inspired the United Nations.”

The renovated Room XX with its ceiling painted by top contemporary Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland.

The enthusiasm for art is keenly observed in all that I have read about this work. Some argue that the United Nations should have diverted funding to much more worthy causes. Others say that teaching a man to fish and teaching self sufficiency costs much more than twenty million dollars.

What is interesting is the look of the work itself. Imagine the brief, to create a monumental work on the scale of a Michelangelo. One that shall influence and encourage thoughts of peace, prosperity and fairness in a room where world leaders must connect.
Can swirling abstract colour produce such a lofty feeling? Mr. Barcelo has used a reflective technique that makes his work appear one colour one moment and as you shift and move across the room to take in more of the work, the colour shifts with you. This signifies the complexity of the world.
An artist was able to attempt it, we shall see how this work shall reflect its intentions over the decades to come.

“On a day of immense heat in the middle of the Sahel desert, I recall with vivacity the mirage of an image of the world dripping toward the sky,” Barcelo says. “Trees, dunes, donkeys, multicolored beings flowing drop by drop.”

President Calmy-Rey fittingly pointed out in his speech: despite its diversity of appearances, the dome presents many pictorial similarities from any angle. Similarly, although the people of the world differ in color and perspective, we share some universal values.

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