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I meet up one afternoon with David Bestué so that he can explain to me his exhibition, Poets and Stones at Galeria Estrany · De la Mota. Most of us know David Bestué for his activities alongside Marc Vives, at home in Mataro. This time his work is individual and the format is sculpture, some of which are present in the space and others as photographs.
In the Galería Estrany · De la Mota it is customary for the exhibiting artist to invite another to intervene in a table, the Glass Cabinet, and on this occasion Bestué has invited Jonathan Millán, the illustrator for Miguel Noguera. Those who know the Ultrashows or Noguera’s books will be familiar with the type of humour they favour. The small format sculptures by Millán, seem to be made out of plasticine by a hyperactive child, a child that would think of representing, for example, the finger of a porn actress on top of two balls, or the bust of Isabella Rosellini in the form of Tintín. I’m beginning with Jonathan Millán because David, like any good host, began by presenting the work of the invited artist.
“De poetas y de piedras” is the title of Bestué’s exhibition, a journey through the history of Catalan art and its great totems: Romanesque, Modernisme, the gentrification post the 92 Olympics …
The piedras (stones) are the material with which he constructs the sculptures, architecture and urban landscapes and also the testimonial material ever historically present but generally mute. Studying or knowing the history of art means that one sometimes loses respect for the “great moments” that configure the patrimonial identity of a country, having been repeated, recuperated and legitimated over the passage of time. Many of us have passed through a similar process faced with the great standard bearers of Modernisme, those sacred icons of tourism. The path, that leads from Gaudi-philia to Gaudi-phobia and Gaudí-loathing. The desire to play the fool, mock the geniuses and like Oedipus, kill the father.
And Bestué does it. With the understanding of someone who loves art but can’t help losing respect for the solemnity that surrounds this league of great artists.
“Trencadís” made with broken art nouveau stained glass windows and bits of broken glass from the brown litre bottles of Xibeca beer (what could be more Mediterranean than Modernisme and Xibeca beer?). In “Brocheta”, an iron rod pierces a Greek coin, a piece of Roman stucco, a neo-gothic frieze, some Modernista plasterwork, brick from Bellvitje and polycarbonate. The kebab of a lifetime, in a version made up of bits of material that synthesise the history of Catalan architecture through chronological strata. Or in “Clarà con problemas” a panel of fake marble conglomerate that hides a sculpture by Clarà –here the joke of “eclipsing Clarà” also slips in. These are a few examples of this exorcising of great historical moments and their artistic legacy.
The poets, as the title of the exhibition indicates, are also present. Some works stem from the fragment of a poem and are made according to the same premises used to construct one: the struggle against the blank page, alternating emptiness and letters that configure words, typographies that are both sound and meaning. In “Haiku cutre” – butterfly and led in an aspirin dissolved in plaster – or hiding a ball under different, less noble materials in the form of a cube and abandoning the piece in an indeterminate place in Spain, Bestué proceeds in a way that is similar to the elaboration of a verse.
David comments on the poets he has read; amongst others, Mallarmé appears, the poet for whom the materiality of language, the pulsating evidence of the physical world was as important as the concepts. Mallarmé, language as matter, the generational power of emptiness, and letters and diphthongs as the flesh and soul of a poem. The magical value of the word in the double character of poetry: revealing and veiling. One of the sculptures by Bestué, “el beso” (the kiss), traps in a hollow metal sculpture the saliva of two lovers. The form and its construction enclose the material, just like the words, sounds and phonemes remit to meanings that in turn remit to other things. The play of meanings and signs of “verdad rodeada de lo falso” (truth surrounded by falsehood) and “perro-perro” (dog-dog), or the tension between nature and reason in “ángulo recto en arbusto” or “bizcocho Benet” share this necessity of poetry to situate itself at the limits of language, going against the grain.
David would have liked to title the exhibition Croquetas. However, it might have sounded odd: David Bestué, Croquetas at Estrany · De la Mota. The concept of the croquette was there because his sculptures mix ingredients and materials that enclose, like batter, other materials that mixed together play at being something else. It seems Gaudí also dedicated himself to bathing animals in plaster to make moulds and sculptures for the Nativity façade of the Sagrada Familia, a subject that obsessed Bestué and which he already talked about in his book “Formalismo puro’’ (Pure formalism). Filling materials with other materials, meanings elaborated and actions covered up with other forms. Making croquettes out of the history of art.
As Mallarmé would say, “mais l’acte s’accomplit”, the act realizes itself. What is left as representative of the facts are the signs that we read, that we interpret. What is left in the gallery are the pieces, photographs and signs that are testimony to a process, an action upon the materials. The majority of the pieces in this exhibition can be reactivated by being recounted, describing how they were made, they also function when explained, described with other signs, that are words. Passing from the action to the form and from the form to action.
“I drink gin with ice. I don’t want to know anything about caryatids”. Joan Vinyoli.