Cristóbal Gabarrón’s UN Sculpture Brings Message of Peace to New York

The motivation was a call to coexistence, dialogue, and hope.

The United Nations turned 70 on October 24. In commemoration of the event, 200 monuments around the world were lit up in the organization’s trademark azure blue. These included the Sydney Opera House, the Pyramids of Giza, and Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. It’s an Internet-savvy move, a forward friendly photo-opp for an organization whose brand is better known than its business.

In New York City, where the Empire State building received the same blue treatment, a sculpture was also unveiled for the occasion. Enlightened Universe, located in Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, is a more traditional kind of public artwork, featuring 70 life-sized figures joining hands around a 6.371 meter globe, which corresponds so the Earth’s average radius of 6,371 km. Also turning 70 this year is the artist who created it, Cristóbal Gabarrón.

Gabarrón was born in Murcia, Spain in 1945, after a terrible decade for the country, which endured the Spanish Civil War and then WWII.

“During those years, in Spain there was a dictatorship after Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War,” Gabarrón told artnet News. “The culture and the arts suffered significantly from the strong controls established by the regime. Due to inexplicable reasons I started to become extremely interested in using my hands to make things and started painting at a very young age. I became very passionate about art despite not having any family legacy in the arts. I have always wanted to transform things and change them with my hands. My imagination was always one step ahead. Since then until today, I have not stopped my practice nor my passion for creating art.”

Gabarrón often sketches works in color before modeling forms in clay and then realizing his works in fiberglass. The resulting polychromatic sculptures look like paintings, as if they’ve been pulled off the page and inflated or folded into the third dimension. The colors at times reinforce and at times diverge from the underlying physical forms, blurring the line between a flat image and a 3D sculpture.

“When others study my artwork they see that one thing is part of the other and you never know where one starts and the other one finishes,” he says.

Gabarrón’s color choices are often exuberant and his forms strong and wild, giving his works an immediate and childlike quality doubtless envied by behemoth international organizations mired in compromise and complexity. A naive aesthetic is something that the artist aspires to.

“I wish I would have that child’s soul for the creation of color,” he said. “I attempt to give sense to my inner doubts using colors that are fresh, those colors that a fearless child would use with confidence on a sketch. That confident freshness is one of the most challenging abilities to develop because those insecurities engraved in the adults generate a rigid outcome.”

Gabarrón has worked with the UN before: he created a poster and designed a chapel for the Millennium Summit (2000-2001). He has also painted an Olympic mural for the Barcelona games in 1992. These are projects that run parallel to his personal work. Though they express different ideas, each, he said, requires total freedom.

“Art is freedom in its highest essence,” he said. “What do I mean? Public art is an instrument addressed to the masses to try to establish a dialogue with them through your work. As far as the International Olympic Committee and UN projects are concerned, they represent universal values that any artist would find challenging. As the challenge grows, I confront it with maximum liberty. Private art creations are different. They come from the inner world of the artist, his own contradictions and life developments.”

Recently, Gabarrón has increasingly shown more personal work in China, with his Los Silences de Colon (2006) (The Mysteries of Columbus) showing at the Jing’an Sculpture Park last year and the China Art Palace this year, both in Shanghai. He is also showing his Alhambra sculptures at the Today Art Museum, Beijing, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It’s a deliberate strategy.

“I want to be able to communicate with my artwork in a millennial culture that is, in its own right, occupying a very important place in the world,” he says. “This is a challenge for me, the necessity to better understand another culture, with its own intellectuals, its children and its students. This cultural exercise is good for me and for the new spectator.”

The Alhambra works are a tribute to the palace, whose name translates as “The Red One,” in Granada, Spain, that was built by Muslim emirs and extended by Catholic monarchs.

“The prime motivation is a call to coexistence, to dialogue and hope among cultures, religions and societies,” Gabarrón said. “Today we live in a fearful society given the existence of conflicting ideas, suppressed religions and the intolerance of some to control others. Back in the Alhambra days, in Granada and many other cities in Spain, the Arabic, Jewish, and Christian faiths were able to coexist among its people showing us an exemplary way of harmony and tolerance. Today, many centuries after enhanced intolerance may lead us in the wrong direction.”

Though the big three monotheisms may not seem so pertinent to China, the country in fact has large but marginalized Muslim and Christian populations. And the message of peaceful coexistence is no less applicable to conflicts both domestic (ie. Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang) and international (ie. Japan and the South China Sea).

Art critics often insist on novelty. Bright colors, a naive style, and holding hands as a metaphor for peaceful cooperation are hardly new ideas, but neither, at this point, is the United Nations, let alone the desire for peace itself. Like so many of us, Gabarron’s art insists on just peace. It’s the task of politicians and policy makers to create innovative ways of bringing us closer to that objective.


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