The Year of Gaudí
by Sarah Andrews

BARCELONA, Spain (AP)
Antonio Gaudí was so shabby-looking at the end of his life that when he was run over by a tram as he crossed a busy street in 1926 the taxi drivers who witnessed the accident wouldn’t even take the injured vagrant to a hospital. He died three days later, having spent the last year of his life living like a hermit inside his own studio.

Fast-forward to the year 2002, and the grandchildren of those taxi drivers are thanking their lucky stars for Gaudí, his modernist buildings and the two million tourists they bring to Barcelona every year.

This year the city hopes to bring in double that number, alluring visitors with an extensive program of exhibits, conferences, tours and festivals celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Catalan architect’s birth.

The "International Year of Gaudí" gives Barcelona an opportunity to not only toot the horn of its most famous denizen, but also to advance construction on some of his unfinished works, like the Güell Park and the Bellesguard Tower, and to launch a world-wide promotional campaign about his artistic importance.

"Finally Gaudí is receiving the national and international recognition he deserves," said the General Commissioner of the project, Daniel Giralt-Miracle. "He hasn’t always had the place he deserves in history."

In the book "Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell calls La Sagrada Familia ("The Holy Family" cathedral) "one of the most hideous buildings in the world," and he laments that it was not blown up during the Spanish Civil War.

There’s no doubting that Gaudí’s work demands a love or hate response. While others built brick chimneys and black metal terraces, he created abstract swirls and skull-shaped balconies. His methods are radical even by today’s standards.

He was inspired by nature and imitated it, mimicking a sparkling pool of water with blue-colored mosaic tiles and using the shapes of vegetables, animals and the human body as a basis for his designs.

"He dared to do whatever he imagined," said Eduard Solé, the founder of the Gaudí Club in Barcelona. "Some people consider that genius."

The events planned over the year set out to celebrate that genius in its many forms, Giralt-Miracle said. Exhibits like "Ceramics in Gaudí’s Works," "Gaudí Experiences: Space, Geometry, Structure and Construction" and "Gaudí Universe: Gaudí and art" reflect both the intellectual and sensory sides of his work.

While a few of the exhibits open in January and February, the bulk of the year’s activities is scheduled for the spring and summer months. The official inauguration of the Year of Gaudí is in March, when the Queen of Spain will preside over a party featuring a speech by internationally-renowned architect Frank O. Gehry.

Published by the Associated Press, Feb. 2002
Text Sarah Andrews

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