When Abroad, Benefit from the Art

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The park outside of the Museo Del Prado (El Prado) and the façade of the Iglesia de San Jeronimo el Real. (Ludovica Martella/The Observer)

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By LUDOVICA MARTELLA
Arts & Culture Co-Editor
Published: April 3, 2014

This is the time of the year when Fordham students who have applied to study abroad programs during the upcoming fall semester get-if they haven’t already,-a response from the International Study Abroad Program office (ISAP). Sure, it is easy to learn about the culture of a different country in New York City, but it is by visiting the country itself, and walking the streets of a foreign city we’ve never visited before, that we get a real understanding of the culture in question.

For those of you who applied to study abroad in Madrid, and for those who are simply interested in Spanish culture, there are many cultural sites in the Spanish capital that have an incredible number of well-known masterpieces. Throughout the centuries, especially during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Spanish royals bought artworks from Italian, Spanish, German, French and Flemish artists, making Spain the European country with the third largest collection of art today.

Some of these can be found in the main art institutions in Madrid, like the Museo Nacional Del Prado (El Prado), El Museo de arte Thyssen- Bornemisza, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Colegío de Bellas Artes. Respectively, the first three are easy to compare with the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) and the Guggenheim Museum, while the Colegío de Bellas Artes can recall a very modern version of the The National Arts Club (located in Gramercy Park) in a structure similar to the Neue Gallerie (located on 5th Avenue and 86th Street).

As students, the cost of certain museums in New York can be a little discouraging. Even if some offer reduced fares for students and pay-what-you-wish options, a visit to a museum can be quite expensive (a visit to the MoMA for students is still $14). Depending on the institution, most of the cultural jewels in the Spanish capital offer more reasonable student options than the ones in NYC. Many of these, like El Prado, offer free entrance to students who show an official school ID even though they don’t show it on the list of prices at the entrance.

El Prado is one of the museums that offers this option: There is no entry fee for students with a valid ID. The museum almost rivals the MET in its vast size. Locals will advise you that if you plan to visit it all, you should divide your trip into at least two days. As New Yorkers, we could probably squeeze it into one—we’re no strangers to hoofing it. The museum, like the majority of Madrid institutions, stays open until late in the evening, so you will not feel rushed by a grumbling security guard to clear the galleries at the ridiculously early time of 4:45 p.m., as occurs for most museums in NYC during week days. El Prado is open until 8:00 p.m. on week days and until 7:00 p.m. on weekends.

The style of the artworks at El Prado is very similar to the style at the MET. They mostly range from ancient art, including a collection of Greek and Roman statues—of which, the MET admittedly has more variety, to Cubist works. There is, in fact, very little modern art. Some of the most famous works include the “Annunciation” by Beato Angelico (circa 1438 ), “Las Meninas (The Maids of Honours)” by Diego Valazquez (1656), “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1490), “David with the Head of Goliath” by Caravaggio (1599) and “Third of May 1808” (1814) by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya, to whom the museum dedicated a statue at its opening and an entire permanent section on the third floor.

El Prado is very pleasant to visit; however, be aware that the only policy that is very different from the MET is that taking photos is prohibited in every section of the museum.

The Reina Sofía is home to one of the most well-known Spanish works of art: “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso (1937), which portrays the bombing of the village of Guernica in northern Spain in order to stress the atrocity of the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War of 1957. Since then, the painting has become a symbol of peace and anti-war movements.

The Reina Sofía is similar to El Prado in terms of policies: it is free to students and is open until 9:00 p.m. during the week. However, the Reina is more similar to the MoMA than El Prado. It features only modern art and contemporary art mostly by Spanish artists. In this museum, you can bring your camera because photography is allowed in all the sections, except in the exhibit of the “Guernica.” The Reina Sofía shows many works by Picasso and also by the surrealist Salvador Dalí, and offers excellent services such as free entrance museum library and a gorgeous central garden.

El Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza is one of the best museums to visit in terms of size and quality: It takes only two to three hours. This museum can easily be related to the Guggenheim Museum because of the type of works featured in it: it has a vast variety of classical works as well as works of modern art, those by abstract artists like Wassily Kandinsky, an artist greatly featured in the permanent session of the Guggenheim.

The collection of this third Spanish museum was once the private collection of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza and according to the New York Times, the second largest private collection in the world, after the British Royal Collection in London. The museum presents different prices depending on its sections, but a student-reduced fare is available, though it varies according to specific section. In this museum, it is possible to admire works by some of the most important Flemish and Dutch painters like Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Dürer, and French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by artists like Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh, as well as Cubist works by Picasso.

El Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza are situated on or near the Paseo del Prado street—which recalls the New Yorks’ Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue— the three museums are in fact called the “Golden Triangle of Art”.

The Círculo de Bellas Artes is close to the area but is not part of the Triangle. This institution is a little less known than the other ones; in fact, it is usually not very crowded. The Círculo features seven floors where contemporary artists can show their own works of art, as it is possible in New York at the National Arts Club (located in Gramercy). The design of the building follows almost a Renaissance theme, with sculptures of the goddess Minerva cavorting with other Greco-Roman deities. Entrance for students is only € 3 (approximately $4.14). This is a reasonable price considering the many facility areas that this institutes hides. Some of these include a library, a dance hall and the Sala de Columnas (Hall of Columns) function room, all worth visiting. Last but not least is, the Círculo’s terrace, accessible only with a specific elevator. Once the elevator doors open, you will find yourself breathless in front of a view of central Madrid. This experience will truly complete your visit after watching the temporary art installations in the building. The terrace offers a wide space with two bars, where it is possible to sit down and enjoy some food and drinks as you watch the sun going down (the best time to go).

When going abroad or when visiting a new city, look around, live it. Many are the things to discover beyond the map.