Corberó, privat

Xavier Corberó

(Barcelona, 1935 - 2017)

Personal and Private, Xavier Corberó’s Capacity to Surprise


Political, social and generational

Ideologies have become largely irrelevant.

What matters now is the strenght of the

imagination and the capacity to surprise, to amaze.

Bartosz Zurawiecki, 1997



Entering the private universe of Xavier Corberó is no easy task! I do not know if the assignment I am setting myself could be referred to as “taking the bull by the horns”- something I would never do out of an inherent respect for all animals- but we will be advancing on a territory where humanized animals play as great a role as human beings.


The nerve centre where I mentally situtate Xavier and Midu is the kitchen with the patient parrot which flies into a jealous rage in the presence of another male, the room next door with the fireplace, and the other room where we have often lost our way between mountainous piles of drawings; ironic self-portraits full of humour, inventiveness and tenderness. The horses and donkeys which catch a cold and get stressed out have a lot of cheek –with silicon lips, of course- and low blood pressure. They don’t know what they are doing here; they are perplexed and astonished by it all, “well that’s life”. They have painted lips and lifesaving eyeliner; they are either spurned lovers or professional spongers.


What does it say? What a cheek!... see those lips full of silicon? And that one, she’s separated… she’s got the face of a separated woman, hasn’t she? All of them do their eyes like that!


Corberó always seeks the viewer’s participation, their reaction. As you advance into his private universe everything is brought together: the non-stop conversation of an agreeable and intelligent man, who has seen it all, who can bring up a delicate subject but always with a touch of irony. It is as difficult to entirely follow his conversation as it is to progress through the multiple spaces of the Corberó “houses”[1], communicating vessels full of imagination and doors which open and close as your discover the mazelike articulation of the different  rooms. In fact, between rooms, I wrote in my notebook “the house of a thousand doors”. A system of systems, a house of houses, a stage of stages. I can not help thinking of the swift pronouncements of Dr Ingravallo, a character from Carlo Emilio Gadda’s Quer pasticciaccio brutto de Via Merulana (That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana), those quick flashes which, after a time of incubation, flare up again in the minds of all those who have heard them. And I could say, as in the book “the sculptor Corberó already told me that![2] It is a maze which returns you to childhood and makes you feel as though you should be leaving a trail of breadcrumbs so as not to lose your way. Your attention is busy with everything you see and hear. Curiously, the rhythms of the works you catch sight of all around are in sync with the house’s own vitality.


I read somewhere that it is “neither a house, nor a castle, nor a warehouse, nor a studio”. In fact this assortment of communicating structures is all of these, and the house as a group of houses is as harmoniously articulated as one of Corberó’s sculptures. The organic world, life played out on different stages, the plurality of options and paths which are held out, architecture and design, art in relation to the living space themselves, inside and outside, even the tree sprouting from a crevice in stone or concrete all create his habitat. Chance, which invokes the metaphor of the human being, also lives in Corbero’s private universe, and his sensibility grows with the intervention of the unexpected which so often appears in his work, the unexpected which gives you that sudden jolt. Here we discover that his life, as well as his art, has become “a harmony of contrasts”. Passion for contrast is evident in all the many rooms and the diverse objects which they hold, together with the primitive sense of the stripped down, published and refined shapes and finishes –the combinations of materials, colours and textures- the sum total of which accumulates input through a wide range of knowledge and a capacity to associate even the most radical fusion which demystifies everything.


“Here we have a sculpture by Mohammed Pujades… Any day now he’ll be made President!” he tells us with an ironic smile.


Creating a house in this way is not at all remarkable when we remember his interest in architecture and his active involvement with urban space –the revamping of squares and streets in Barcelona- as well as the importance public sculpture has always had in his career, his interventions is specific contexts and projects carried out around the world; all of which transforms our sense of perception. But this is another story which, although it springs from the private sphere, has a very public setting and reception. It is not to be part of his essay!


But I do want to mention the importance of the human collective in his work in the public sphere as well as his individual character when it comes to private matters. Accustomed as we are to suffering the consequences of the “creative” ego, to parrying the tendentious strategies of all that wants to be a brand on the art market, it is surprising to find a truly great creator who continues to encourage and defend other artists. It is no surprise that every time I visit he tells me about new artists who need to break through, infused with the strength of discovery he shows me their work; nor is it a surprise to discover the long roll call of people who have passed through his life.


The Private Corberó

… between these two signs a dialogue is established.

Space comes to life, it becomes communication, it speaks,

attracts, surprises, announces something.

Ryszard Kapuscinski[3]



The private Corberó is a different, enjoyable and evocative exhibition which does not attempt to go down the well-trodden path of the conventional retrospective. In fact it only deals with finding connection between works from different periods and establishing bridges between what he was doing in the 1960s and the 1970s, even with works from his period in London in 1956. They are chance fragments of a life, of a career, which, taken out the context of the time in which they were created, take form and dimension to alert us to another type of sensitivity, because, as William S. Burroughs said; what we communicate in a life’s work is never a “tidy narrative from birth through to death”.

He is an observer of the world; full of curiosity. Perhaps because it was plain to him that everything is free and open he began to travel early on. Auster, in The Red Notebook wrote how he went to Paris because “I wanted to be abroad so as to feel less the feeling that wherever you are everyone is a foreigner”. Corberó, after staying in Sweden –a country he outgrew and which was too empty for his boundless energy- ended up in London for five years. Although he settled down in Espluges in 1960, travelling has always been a constant. If we think of the word “foreigner” as equivalent to “the other” we can see that we ourselves are those “others”, and that every contact proves to us what Primo Levi said, in a quotation which headed one of Corberó’s catalogues, “Il futuro a un cuore antico”.


Different strands of work, embarked on in his early years, are channelled through drawings, paintings, reliefs and sculptures. We can obviously match a studio drawing with its corresponding sculpture, but we can also find a host of other cross-references, such as the tracings of drawings which coincide with the lines on reliefs, with flourishes full of contrasts, rhythms and vibrations. When speaking about his work one always looks for a label which unites the magicism and informalism of the early years –surrealism and abstraction- but it refuses to fit into any movement. If we broaden our range, we can comprehend the wide spread of work that positions him between classicism and romanticism. One can not forget affinities and coincidences, when talking about the creative impulse, with other artists, since in fact the stamp of the past fuses with the latent state of his intuition and the consequences of the social, political and human problems he has live through. We always speak of oppositions contradictions but they are really conjunctions which, instead of polarising ideas, forms, techniques and movements, unite them. Partition is a market strategy which only produces losses, not profits, for human kind.


The Private Corberó also presents an installation designed especially for the exhibition space, despite the fact he wanted to give more weight to the part which reflects the discovery of an intimate world, where older pieces resurface causing surprise rediscoveries, even for the artist himself, leading him to re-experience the emotional jolts of his life; such as from water when his daughter Anna was born. We recognize from this connection of similarities, how style and content are only looking for a way to be expressed, and that in reality everything comes together.


“The creators of today are the marketing people; everyone else is a fool!” He told me while we were speaking about another important aspect, related of course to the planning of the exhibition which the Vila Casas Foundation’s l’Espai VolArt is putting on. Before we always spoke of styles; now we speak about brands. He pointed out the past of designers ant the present in the hands of marketing people. “They are the ones who are infecting art” and it is serious because “most people have been convinced by this strategy and it is difficult to escape from”.


But art, for Corberó, “is always immanent” and does not move as much as it may sometimes seem to …


“You don’t have to be heroic but simply to be sure of yourself and try to live accordingly.”


Perhaps this cloak of transcendence is what he wants to give to things, while appearances are simply the pose of this out-of-step world soon to become outmoded. Here is not the place to criticise with pseudo politics which everybody has heard before, but it has to be emphasised that, as a creator, he has the capacity to surprise by turning everyone and everything on its head.


Our conversation goes on with no sign of stopping. We walk. We eat around the kitchen table. We take ironic stock of a world which is like a tightrope walker, all the while making sure we retain our balance on the tightrope. The before, the now and the after are all brought together by his innate talent for detecting any anomaly. And we talk about the long line of craftsmen who came before him; his grandfather, father and uncle Valeri and what he has inherited from them, since among his many attributes is a strong sense of craftsmanship –hand worked materials and pieces made directly on site, which so few people can do these days. As Daniel Giralt-Miracle wrote[4] on the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculptures exhibited in the Botanical Garden at Cap Roig; it’s difficult to keep track of all his work. Although another text by Maria Lluïsa Borràs[5], written for an exhibition in the Tecla Sala Cultural Centre, is an exhaustive review of his different periods. What can one say of a sculptor –as Daniel wrote- “who has had more than one hundred exhibitions, whose works are in more than thirty museums around the world as well as being sited in public places in Barcelona, Madrid, Washington, Parma de Majorca, Dallas, Amsterdam and London”?


Almost all the texts I have read about Corberó dwell on the importance of his family’s tradition, “of the metal smith’s workshops of our country and his taste for hand worked techniques”. Gargallo, who he reveres, worked in the Corberó family workshop. Overemphasising this point could mislead us into pointing out certain paths, certain heritages, certain traps and certain farces in our culture. This is why I prefer to stick with his authenticity, with the mastery of specific techniques which he has been able to integrate into his personal creative world. A world where expression is the base for research, where organic and geometric forms are transformed with the counterpoint of an incision, a graphy, a symbol or an accident; where heaviness is able to become lightness, fragility and transparency, and we, as spectators, always find our “others”; since to discover is to discover ourselves with all the “foreigners” we carry inside. After this exhibition nothing can be private ever again.


Glòria Bosch

Barcelona-Esplugues, 2007


[1] This knot of interconnecting old houses is the Centre d’Activitats i investigacions Artístiques de Catalunya a Esplugues (Catalan Centre for Artistic Activities and Research in Esplugues) founded in 1972 by the artist as a residence for artists staying in Barcelona.

[2] The complexity or “the simultaneous presence of the most heterogeneous elements which occur to determine every event” helped Ítalo Calvino to steer one of the Harvard conferences of the academic year 1985-86; Multiplicity.

[3] A Lapidarium IV, Barcelona, Anagrama 2003. Kapuscinski writes, after having viewed in detail some paintings, words which in a general way could be used to talk about the creative process and, more specifically, the dialogue created in this exhibition of Corberó’s work.

[4] La força de les formes. Xavier Corberó, published in Crítica i critiques. Escrits d’art, Vic, Eumo Editorial – 2005, pp. 211-214.

[5] Quan l’esperit lògic i el romantic coincideixen, published in the exhibition catalogue for Corberó in la Tecla, L’Hospitalet, Centre Cultural Tecla Sala, the 1st December 1994 till the 22nd of January 1995, pp. 11-18. As well as this text detailing his life’s work there is also an extensive anthology of texts with opinions on different periods of his work, for example the New York exhibitions: William B. Jordan (1980), Kenneth Frampton (1982), Robert Hughes (1988), John Yau (1988).