Because of our recent unfortunate distractions, I have not yet been able to get back to Sagrada Familia to visit the interior–which everyone who was aghast at my less than effusive assessment of Gaudí’s ”Templo” insist that I do. I promise I will get there, but I want to get down all of these thoughts about this and his other creations before I forget my initial impressions.
We had not yet realized that we really needed to buy tickets ahead of time when we ventured forth to see this church that I have heard about all my teaching life. We arrived about 11:30, to find–once again–lines and lines of people, entire busloads, waiting to get in to the building. Police and guards were everywhere, and the whole building was encased in construction materials–netting, cranes, and scaffolding. I was appalled at the new building going on. Aesthetically, the new construction–to me–looks like computer-generated, cookie-cutter reconstructions of what some tourism architects think Gaudí might have wanted his Temple to look like. The newly added sections struck me as if they were something designed for a Trump Tower or a Hyatt Hotel.
Perhaps it was all the construction chaos and the touristic excessiveness, but I can’t say that I was that impressed with Gaudí’s original elements, either. I really think that by the time he became obsessed with this building, his ”obsessive inventiveness” had sent him over the edge into an expression of idiosyncratic religiosity akin to Outsider Art visionaries the world over. It may just be too much ”drippingness” for me–but as people I admire consider my attitude to be tantamount to sacrilege, I will go visit the interior and see if I change my mind. I don’t think I will ever cotton to the new stuff, though.
I will have more to say about my ambivalence concerning this aesthetic, and my own quandary about why I can so admire an untrained religious visionary such as Simon Rodia making his Watts Towers, but recoil at Gaudí’s ultraconservative religiosity. We have lots of Gaudí to go–all of it fascinating, all of it provocative and stimulating.
I did just want to finish by pointing out that I’m not the only one to find Sagrada Familia unappetizing. George Orwell, in his magnificent Homage to Catalonia about his time as a participant in the Spanish Civil War, described it thus:
”For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral–a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world. It had four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles. Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution–it was spared because of its ‘artistic value’, people said. I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires….”
Granted, Orwell was on the lam from the Fascists when he wrote this, and he has never been especially known for his aesthetic assessments, so we can perhaps write off his impressions as critique under duress. And as I said, it could turn out that I will completely change my mind and understand his intentions once I have been inside the great Temple of Light that has affected so many people spiritually.