In the Spirit
Marc Spiegler -- Interior Design, 3/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Back in the 1960's, Spain's abstract artists were drawn to Cuenca, a mountain village famous for its Casas Colgadas, "hanging houses" along the stony gorge of the Huécar river. In 1966, artist Gustavo Torner curated the first exhibition at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español de Cuenca, now the best of its kind in the country. Torner is a Cuenca native who's still producing sculpture and paintings at age 81, an accomplishment that Spain's ministry of culture recognized by commissioning Paredes Pedrosa Arquitectos to design a local showcase for his work.
The allotted location for the Espacio Torner was Cuenca's deconsecrated Iglesia de San Pablo, perched high on a cliff opposite the Casas Colgadas. Because the 16th-century Gothic building is a historical monument, principals Ángela García de Paredes and Ignacio Pedrosa had to leave the shell virtually untouched. "We created an art space inside a religious space," Paredes explains.
Allowed only to replace the damaged granite floor with limestone, not to build any permanent walls, Paredes Pedrosa Arquitectos designed a series of white-painted MDF partitions to form six "rooms" in the nave, the transept, the apse, and a side chapel. Similar panels compose the information desk, painted anthracite gray, and the booth that houses the museum shop.
The information desk and the shop are, naturally, up front, just inside the glass revolving door. From the entry, new arrivals can either continue straight ahead or go right or left. The architects and Torner developed strong notions concerning the flow of visitors through the 4,300-square-foot space—and what they should see when. Torner says it was particularly important that the altar, the "most important place in a church," is now hidden from the entry by the intervening partitions.
Though each set creates a room distinct from the others, all are tied together by the Gothic vault, bathed in the glow cast by alternating sets of white and yellow fluorescents recessed into the tops of the partitions. "What is constant is the combination of the old building with the new forms," Pedrosa says. Torner adds, "You feel a connection between the artwork and its historical connotations."
Torner's curatorial experience extends all the way to the Prado, so he has clear ideas on the subject. For his own museum, he personally selected and installed all six sculptures and 34 paintings. He also labored over small details, right down to the precise beige tint of the church walls—walking down from his home in the Casas Colgadas whenever he spied the architects' car parked outside the site.