Santa Cruz de Tenerife held an outdoor sculpture exhibition that heralded
a symbolic shift in the last years of Spain’s insular Franco regime. The
International Exhibition of Sculpture was put together by the Architecture
College of the Canary Islands. The first of it’s kind in Spain, the message
being conveyed was that the doors were open to a culturally adventurous
country. Forty artists of the calibre of Henry Moore and Joan Miro exhibited in
one of a most successfully designed city landscapes: Underneath the tree
canopies of the Ramblas, which
spanned the breadth of the city, aptly called Rambla General Franco, and the mesmerising, jungle like, Parque de Garcia Sanabria.
It’s a wonderful snapshot of modernist art of the 20th
Century. Abstract art displayed on plinths clearly reign supreme, and very few
directly respond to their surroundings.
Soon after the exhibition’s installation the Generalisimo
died, and the outside world trickling through Tenerife’s arrival lounge doors
became a flood. But they were attracted by cheap resorts in the south. Tourists
were content to ignore the cheek-by-jowl concrete towers, directing their gazes
instead at guaranteed year long sun. And so began an economic boom. A poor
population became affluent, and intensive and unchecked development followed. But
a beautiful island and it’s unique flora became scarred, and eventually so did
Today, consumers now have
considerably more exotic choice for budget luxury resorts around the world. But in addition, the consumer now demands
cultural stimulation, and
are proving it by spending their money elsewhere. The Tenerife government is only too painfully aware
of this, as the economic crisis has hit particularly hard here, and now it is also the
population bares the scars.
50 years on political shifts have seen the renaming of the Rambla General Franco to the blandly inoffensive Rambla Santa Cruz. But power makers are once again looking towards
the urban landscape to convey the same message as in 1973.
50 years on the majority of the sculptures, are still
standing, and looking remarkably good. But the language of contemporary culture
has changed. Like many cities, they’ve concluded that landscape and urban design is
the new sculpture –and it’s the architects, no longer mere curators, who are
Admirably ambitious redevelopments in the city centre, including
main squares, harbour fronts, dry river beds, opera houses and modern art museums
by the likes of Herzog and De Meuron and Santiago Calatrava are contextual responses to the
forms and geology of the island and sea. They’re site specific works of art
that thoughtfully envelop the population and the visitors, and appropriately reminiscent of the ethos of the Canary Island’s own master landscaper, Cesar Manrique. But these huge
investments aren’t extravagant displays of cultural wealth, they’re calculated economic risks that must pay for themselves indirectly.
For the time being, the city’s population is far more enamored with the works of 50 years ago. But that’s not their concern- more
important to them is their message being heard. Will the outside world choose
to engage in this new landscape? Rich rewards await those who do.