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Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona by Dan Kwak

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The AJ Writing Prize 2014: Entry

The bustling, narrow alleyways of Barcelona in late August were gorged with mild but still irresistibly humid air from the summer heat. Occasional lavenders from the nearby sea helped to ease the sweat running on my neck. My friend and I were weary of walking for hours, and we were seeking for a place to rest. After making a few turns in our aimless drift through the streets, we were suddenly exposed to a wide piazza with a massive, white chunk of a building. The sign said: MACBA Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. I could instantly tell that this white whale was a piece of Richard Meier. It was too white and singular in a neighborhood that was mainly stitched of several colourful fragments of typical Spanish architecture. The museum’s stark contrast against its beige and red neighbors set itself boldly apart. The front elevation introduced a tall and wide, rectangular plane of Meier’s mosaic of white square panels. On top of this primary plane extruded several thin planes of white stucco flying in multiple orientations. They were sliced with slits of straight lines here and there, which captured and cut the daylight into jagged lines. An extensive overlay of glazing in the colour of an afternoon sea stood up to four storeys high in the middle. These extruded planes restlessly slashed the mass into a series of geometrical volumes and dark voids. The strong afternoon light illuminated off the white surface of the planes and casted dark-purplish shades on the underside of the arbitrary slits. In this light, the whole building portrayed an unrealistic monotone in contrast to its background to a point where it became a two-dimensional, pencil drawing.

Upon entering the museum, I noticed the sudden absence of the humid air, the colours and the noise. The fluttering ambiance immediately evaporated. I was then immersed in a sterile vacuum, where the reality was condensed into a blank page that only differentiated by white light and black shade. The inside of the museum brewed an absolute silence and cool air that defied the outside world. I completely lost the sense of reality. Walking calmly through a corridor after a corridor where white masses and pillars collided in a rhythmical but in an orderly manner, my friend and I were suddenly introduced to a spacious volume of light in the main atrium. The atrium reached all the way to the top with the adjacent, tall façade of glazing panels pouring the daylight into the space. The immediate contrast from the shaded, low corridors to a spacious, bright atrium further eroded the sense of reality. The light, after having filtered through the glazing facade, bounced off the white interior space endlessly till it exhaustedly diffused into a soft radiance. The light merged with the sterile air, and this new element wholly filled the atrium. The shiny, black floor tiles mirrored everything that stood upon them. A series of tall and round pillars reached to the end of the ceiling while also reflecting off the tiles, which made the pillars appear endless. Within this enormous volume, visitors and I were shrunk to small figures.

My friend and I slowly ascended the central ramp that elevated us slowly towards the front, glazing facade. There I was submerged in an ethereal dimension upon perceiving the enormity of the materialized light that stalked the ramp. The light was no longer bound to my vision alone; I was physically and psychologically soaked in its presence of warmth and luminance, as if it were water. I excitedly whispered to my friend, “I feel like I am in a sea! I am deeply submerged in an ocean of shimmering light!” My friend chuckled at my poetic statement, but it was literal. I literally felt as if I was submerged in the sizzling light. By this time, the evening light finally passed its zenith and slowly degraded into its fuzzy, reddish-yellow glow. As we climbed the ramp in a dazzled outlook, the evening radiance filtered through the glass and seamlessly painted the rear wall in red. The light diffused away like water drying out of watercolour while the extracted colours of the evening euphorically filled the white canvas with its natural ink. The sense of a physical matter, which built the white walls and the pillars, the long slits of glazing panels and their thin frames, was coherently unified to create a singular, intangible atmosphere where only the colours remained. At the same time, white interior walls - the flying planes - snaked around everywhere in the museum. Some partitions halted at my waist level while some walls were slit with voids to carry the light further through. Looking above at the ceiling, strips of square, glass blocks jumbled the light in staccato. Nothing was static. The rhythmical composition of every white partition and glazing endlessly juxtaposed each other and flowed onto the next node. Then the light followed its rhythm. It was cut and maneuvered throughout the museum as it diffused through layers of reflection or shone in its pure brightness on arbitrary positions. Light was dancing by the walls, and the contrasting shades gave a shape to the light. It was admirable at how the museum effectively removed the physical essence and holistically left the airy subject to roam freely.

The dominance of whiteness behaved like a blank canvas while the true subjects were those of life: people, the exhibition materials, the light and air. It felt purifying. The feeling of the submersion in the pure light arose a refreshing sensation as one felt upon diving into the cool ocean. It was incredible for how this sensation was enacted by no more than simple, white, geometric masses and glass without any other provocative material. It was the way the masses were composed, which catered the light and the air as a primary instrument to carve and craft the purifying experience in the museum. I left the museum without much clue about the exhibition but this resonating sensation.

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