Two showstopping exhibitions. One spotlighting masks...


Friday, 11 September 2020, 14:06


From the crack of dawn to after dinner, masked individuals, couples and families file past our 'pied-à-mer' on the seafront. Depending on the time of day or night, their activities vary. Some of them have a dog or two in tow; others are kitted out in sports gear; and others still lug foldable chairs, parasols, ice boxes (...). Most striking of all is their gait: an unmistakable shuffle, sometimes attributable to flip-flops - but perhaps there is more to it than that?

Over the past weeks and months, many have developed a 'mask personality', miming enthusiasm as they swagger along the Paseo Marítimo. Even so, snapping out of post-lockdown listlessness doesn't come naturally to everybody. Can we be forgiven for losing our cool...?

Fallen Angels, the real-life movie

Spain's iconic Holy Week processions were called off last March in order to curtail the spread of Covid-19; yet incongruously enough Malaga had a certain air of Semana Santa this summer. The mask-clad holidaymakers heading for the beach and its 'chiringuitos' were strangely reminiscent of hooded penitents. What had they done to deserve being deprived of unlimited sea air?

Hello, Hieronymus...! Would you believe it...? A Google search reveals that people are making DIY plague doctor masks inspired by the visionary Dutch painter's Prado masterpiece, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1490-1510)? Facemasks featuring details from Pieter Brueghel The Elder's The Fall of the Rebel Angels are also amongst the hottest pandemic accessories.

Totally on the cusp of this trend is an intensely metaphysical, brazenly macabre... group show conceived by David Burbano of the Casa Amarilla gallery/artists workshop, for the Archivo Municipal, on the Alameda Principal: Ángeles Caídas - an 'Earthly Delight' to be seen hell-for-leather, before it ends on 20 September.

Why 'Caídas' instead of 'Ángeles Caídos' (Fallen Angels)? Because, according to David, 'Caídas' (the noun, as opposed to the adjective) is a tribute to the perseverance of artists (both male and female), in the face of adversity. "They fall, pick themselves up, and keep going."


Fortunately, the Thyssen Museum's latest showstopper - Máscaras - lasts longer. Originally, Masks, Metamorphosis of Modern Identity was scheduled to close on 13 September, but the exhibition (postponed during the lockdown) has been extended until January 2021, which is excellent news as it merits several visits.

Extraordinarily relevant to our present circumstances, this curatorial balancing act left me gobsmacked. Visiting it with a mask on is akin to partaking in an esoteric ritual, or participating in an artistic performance.

Goya and James Ensor usher us into a multifaceted overview incorporating superstars (Picasso, Max Ernst, Modigliani, Emil Nolde...) and mask aficionados (Pablo Gargallo, Julio Gonzáles, Gutiérrez Solana...), as well as a few unexpected head-turners. Among these a Civil War vanitas by Nicolás de Lukuona, entitled Ellos, Los Detritus / They, The Detritus (1933-1937). Spellbinding.

With roots in Ancient Greece, Commedia dell'arte, the Arabic language ('mashara'), circus and carnival culture... the Museo's timely topic is inexhaustible. The crescendo is a to and fro between modern art and African sculpture, including a young woman's head by Paul Gauguin. Mesmerizing.

To say nothing of the poster - a stunner. In the words of the Baronesa, Walt Kuhn's Chico with a Top Hat (1929) is one of the most "magnetic" works in her collection. Make-up as mask... We can't take our eyes off the frontal, deadpan gaze of this archetypal white clown. The mystery is impenetrable. Could we be looking at a fallen angel?

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