Barceló unveils UN "Sistine Chapel" in Geneva

swissinfo.ch
A cave and sea in perpetual movement Photo: Fred Burnand
18 November 08 - The Spanish abstract artist Miquel Barceló has unveiled his spectacular new artwork at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

Simon Bradley / swissinfo - But a row over Spanish taxpayer – and overseas development - money used to create the €20 million (SFr30.3 million) decorative ceiling for the UN Human Rights Council has cast a shadow over the celebrations.

The new Room of Human Rights and the Alliance of Civilisations - described as the Sistine Chapel of the 21st century - was inaugurated on Tuesday by Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Swiss President Pascal Couchepin.

In his inauguration speech, the UN secretary-general called on diplomats to bring to future human rights debates "the same sense of creativity" as the Spanish artist.

"Let’s not accept the status quo, but instead be visionary, creative and audacious," he told the 700 invitees on Tuesday.

The massive conceptual artwork, a redesign of the 929 square metre dome which resembles a grotto with multicoloured stalactites, took over two years to complete, used 35,000 kg of paint and the services of 20 assistants, among them a cook and a cave expert.

The artistic project was launched in 2006 by Zapatero and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to improve dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

"The cave is a metaphor for the agora, the first meeting place of humans, the big African tree under which to sit to talk, and the only possible future: dialogue, human rights," Barceló explained.

"The sea is the past, the origin of the species, and the promise of a new future: emigration, travel," he added.

Technical challenge

To make the stalactites, some of which are up to three feet long, Barceló built a honeycomb of aluminium from which to hang resin forms. They are coloured with paint containing pigments from all over the world.

The Spanish artist promises that the stalactites are safe and won’t fall down.

"But some UN people told me that they would really like some of them to come down on certain diplomats’ heads at the UN Human Rights Council," he joked to the French news agency, AFP.

The ceiling has been a "huge technical challenge", working with art conservationists to guarantee the solidity and longevity of the pigments, according to Barceló, who worked for a year on the project in his workshop and 13 months in Geneva.

He had to invent a special high-powered paint spray to project the paint onto the ceiling.

"I had major difficulties at the beginning. I really didn’t grasp the size of this colossal space. It’s a technique I’ve already used on canvas but here I had to reinvent it and totally change the scale," he explained.

In the end it’s a work that "changes according to where you are looking from. In itself, it’s a symbol of multilateralism", he added.

Storm in a paint pot?

While few question the artistic value of the work created by the Mallorcan artist, its price tag for the Spanish taxpayer has sparked a huge political row back home.

The renovation of the room cost nearly €20 million (SFr30.2 million), 60 per cent of which has been paid by Spanish sponsors.

The remainder comes from the Spanish government, including €500,000 from a development aid fund.

The conservative Popular Party condemned the use of the development money as "irregular", "abnormal" and possibly "illegal".

"How many vaccines, how many wells, how many thousands of children in different countries could have been helped with this money?" asked Gonzalo Robles, a member of parliament from the opposition Popular Party.

The ruling Socialist Party has tried to shrug off the controversy, maintaining its innocence and insisting there was no problem with using the UN funds for the artwork.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos declined to specify the final cost. "Only fools confuse value and price. This project is a new way of carrying out diplomacy and foreign policy," he said.

The development funds came out of what was not only intended for poor countries, the government claimed, but also for promoting "international solidarity" generally.

More cautious artist

Javier Garrigues, Spain’s ambassador to the UN, said the location justified the spending of aid money. "Funding the human rights headquarters clearly falls into the category of development aid," he said.

The deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, fearful of political backlash, has demanded full financial disclosure over the project.

Barceló, meanwhile, appeared unsurprised by the row, but admitted it had made him more cautious.

"It’s a political thing, and it has been used as a political weapon. It’s part of the game," he said in an interview published in El País newspaper last Friday.

He added that the episode had taught him "to be careful in dealings with the political class and to spend more time in my workshop".

See online: Miguel Barceló
More articles about same themes ? Use advanced search
--------

PRINTPrint

--------

A Court to Judge UN Experts! 11.06

US Commits to International Engagement 11.06

Support for US bases wavers 11.06

Arbour opens Human Rights Council 11.06

--------

UN condemns rights abuses in N. Korea/Burma 19.11

UN chief discussed rights privately in China 7.11

US defends its human rights record 7.11

US rights record under review 5.11

An Obama success story: the UN Human Rights Council 5.11

--------

Bangladesh paramilitaries trained by UK 22.12

Rights pressure on Cuba mainly ’lip service’ 19.12

Cuban dissident addresses EU awards committee 16.12

Zimbabwe: call to investigate 2008 election crimes 15.12

China’s post Nobel award crackdown 14.12

--------

Swiss Senator explains opposition to blacklists 22.12

Child marriage akin to violence against women 20.12

--------

Palestinian territories: separate and unequal 22.12

Calls to free Syrian activist 19.12

--------

NewsletterGet our newsletter

Stay Connected Facebooktwitter

Charters  |  About us  |  Editorial teams  |  contact
Palais des Nations, Bureau S-84  |  Avenue de la Paix 8-14  |  CH-1211 Genève 10  |  T: +41 22 917 29 30  
designed by vocables.com with Spip
sommaire le temps L´Orient-Le Jour Geopolitis swissinfo LE COURRIER rue 89 Slate Afrique ipsnews