Interview with Lola Durán Úcar
"Art may be a respite from the pessimism that is overtaking us"
The curator Lola Durán Úcar recreates, in the exhibition La Gran Bóveda de Aldeadávila (The Great Vault of Aldeadávila), the monumental work of the sculptor Pablo Serrano, who succeeded in harmonising nature and technology. Durán feels that now more than ever - with COVID-19 taking its toll - artistic creation is needed, because art can calm this widespread despondency. And she approaches the exhibit with this enthusiasm, so that the visitor can witness the commitment of its creator to the human race, its existence and its circumstances.
Lola Durán Úcar (Zaragoza, 1965), curator of the exhibition La gran bóveda de Aldeadávila, by Pablo Serrano, one of the artists in the Iberdrola collection External link, opens in new window., is a devoted admirer of this sculptor and an expert on him. She is the author of the Catalogue raisonné of the sculptor Pablo Serrano (2017). In it she highlights his eternal sensitivity and his close bond with the political and social development of the historical context in which he lived (1908-1985). This is because there is always a common thread running through his life's work: his social and humanistic preoccupation. Here we take a look with her at what the exhibit offers us (it complements the exhibition "Serrano in the public domain") and we get to know her opinion on how art is necessary to calm the upheaval of the pandemic.
How did the project to exhibit La Gran Bóveda de Aldeadávila arise, and why were you interested in it?
I have always had an interest in sculpture, and especially in Pablo Serrano. When I was studying his work in the public domain, the Gran Bóveda de Aldeadávila collection was one of the ones that most impressed me. It was then, many years ago now, that I began to formulate the idea of trying to recreate this project. After a lot of effort - and through chance and luck - it has now been fulfilled. Thanks to the collaboration between Iberdrola and the Aragon Government, the exhibition can be viewed at the Pablo Serrano Aragonese Institute of Contemporary Art and Culture in Zaragoza. The project has come to fruition.
The Gran Bóveda succeeded in uniting in a single place the cutting edge of technology and the cutting edge of art. Would you say the fusion of nature and technology is the work's major achievement?
What I would point out more is the way in which Serrano integrates the human footprint into the landscape in such an apparently natural manner. We need to bear in mind that the mouth of the tunnel is in the river Duero gorge, between granite walls some 500 metres high where the river flows between vertical cliffs - a landscape of truly stunning majesty.
Serrano manages to achieve a harmonious meeting of nature - the sheer mountainside, the boulders and rocks - with the simplicity of the smooth concrete surfaces that he constructs. It is a balanced and technical fusion, bearing the artist's eternal sensitivity. And also bearing a company's sensitivity for creative beauty.
Note how Serrano integrates the human footprint into the landscape in such an ostensibly natural way
Francisco Hurtado de Saracho proposed the creation of an artistic project for the mouth of the tunnel, and the competition was won by Pablo Serrano. What elements do you think led him to being chosen?
Pablo Serrano was a sculptor who was beginning to gain recognition from specialised critics. Having arrived from Uruguay in 1955, he had exhibited individually in the Ateneo de Madrid in 1957, and that same year founded, together with other artists, the El Paso Group, which was to revive Spanish post-war art. We are talking about a Spain that was awakening senses, and artists were the ambassadors of national creativity. Serrano appeared in great international exhibitions that consolidated his fame, such as New Spanish painting and sculpture, at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1960. The following year he returned to the US to exhibit at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh; he exhibited at the Musée Rodin in París in 1961 and at the galería Marlborough in London. And as a culmination, in 1962 he was featured in the Spanish Pavilion at the XXXI Biennale di Venezia as guest of honour.
For me, it is the sensitivity of Serrano's sculpture and his renown, which was becoming more established, that drew Iberduero, an innovative and very forward-looking company, to him. In addition, the solution that Serrano proposed for the entrance is perfect: modern, sober, respectful and integrated into the environment.
The construction of the Gran Bóveda de Aldeadávila is a work of impressive magnitude. In the exhibition this immensity is reflected through photographs and documents - as well as some sculptures donated by the Iberdrola Art Collection. Has that been the main challenge of the exhibition?
The challenge has been to show the sculptural influence of Serrano in Aldeadávila, in terms of both art and history. This is why the Gran Bóveda has been recreated, and in front of it we have placed some of the sculptures made by Serrano for that space, which belong to the Iberdrola Art Collection. As an added extra, through an extensive documentary section the public can see the preliminary papers for the construction works and the actual execution of the work, which tell an intrinsically interesting story.
Tell us about the sculptural pieces donated by the Iberdrola Art Collection. Are these granite pieces essential to the understanding of the magnitude of the Gran Bóveda?
The granite sculptures from the Iberdrola Art Collection are a set of monumental works that are a fundamental part of the exhibition. By looking at the sculptures we can appreciate the feeling, the emotion that Serrano instils in the blocks of granite. The ruggedness of the material, the straight lines, the calculated spaces, full of suggestion, is what stimulates the spectator's emotion, the artistic experience.
Also, when we look at the works in real life, which are huge, and we see in photographs the space that they occupy proportionally within the project, which is minimal, we get an idea of the grandeur of the Gran Bóveda.
The solution that Serrano proposed for the entrance is perfect: modern, sober, respectful and integrated into the environment
What relationship do the Bóvedas para el Hombre (Vaults for Mankind) by Pablo Serrano have with La Gran Bóveda de Aldeadávila?
The Bóvedas para el hombre represent the definitive humanisation of the work of Serrano, where he highlights his commitment to mankind, its existence, its circumstances. His sculptures are irregular shapes, sometimes with traces of brick, and come across as a refuge for someone exposed to the world, unprotected; they are a metaphor for shelter.
A few years ago, in 1960, the sculptor had taken a photograph of himself at the entrance to a cave - entitled En la cueva o con la estrella (In the cave or with the star) - where he once again reflected on the relationship of mankind with the planet, in a spiritual exercise looking into the roots of the human soul. Now he had to think about the entrance to a giant hydraulic plant, for access to the operations room where the alternator exciters emerge.
The same artist in front of a cave was now in front of the mouth of the power station.
Bearing in mind that this exhibition complements the already inaugurated exhibition Serrano in the Public Domain, does La Gran Bóveda de Aldeadávila allow us to get to know the artist better?
Without doubt, it helps us to get to know him better. Involvement in the public domain is a very important part of the work of Pablo Serrano, who liked to intervene and "conquer space", in such a way that the sculpture integrates itself and makes us perceive and feel space differently. He also likes to create sculptures that can be observed and enjoyed by passers-by, anonymous people who would not normally visit museums or art galleries.
As a specialist on the artist and his work - given that you produced a thesis about his career - tell us a little about the ground-breaking art of Pablo Serrano. What would you particularly like to emphasise about the artist? Which three words would you use to describe his work?
What I would emphasise is that the life path, reflections and work of Pablo Serrano are closely linked to the political and social development of the historical context in which he lived. And in his life's work there is a common thread, which is his social and humanistic preoccupation.
Although the conceptual and formal channels of development varied throughout his career, the artist always sought to provide a service to humanity, something that he identified with the image of the human being in his sculpture, with a search for human dialogue through his shapes.
I would define his work with these words: ground-breaking and committed.
Never before has humanity needed the company of others as much as it does now, or lights to illuminate our shadows
What place does Pablo Serrano occupy in contemporary Spanish art?
He is indispensable to the understanding of Spanish 20th century sculpture.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all sectors, and the culture sector is among the worst-hit. In this context, how do you view the situation now and for the future: with optimism or pessimism?
Sadly, the repercussions of this pandemic are still unpredictable, because it is not over yet. We know that culture is one of the worst-hit sectors, and that is precisely why we need to pay it special attention.
In my humble opinion, art may be a respite from the pessimism that is overtaking us. In the face of so much horror and social suffering, artistic creation (and all its derivatives) is even more necessary, for its beauty and its evocation of happiness. Following Pablo Serrano, culture is also commitment, and never before has humanity needed the company of others so much as it does now, or lights to illuminate our shadows. And what could be better than art to respond to those needs.