Sean Scully Cancels Major Donation of Artworks to Barcelona, Opens Permanent Show in a Monastery Outside the City

Is Sean Scully’s Monsterrat project the 21th century Rothko Chapel?

Sean Scully earlier this week at the Montserrat Chapel, Barcelona, sorrounded by his works
Photo via: Nacio Digital

Sean Scully has had enough. After more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with city officials on a project to found a museum dedicated to his work in the Spanish city of Barcelona, the Irish-born artist has now withdrawn from the project entirely.

The talks began in early 2014, when Scully offered a donation of 200 works to the city on condition that they were housed in a museum devoted to his art.

City officials, however, thought that the works could be displayed in two pavilions at the Montaña de los Museos instead, a 35,000-square-meter museum complex in Montjuïc.

But, the ambitious project hasn’t gathered enough political support and was put on hold. And Scully has run out of patience.

“No, no. This whole issue is not going anywhere,” he told El País. “You can’t just spend years talking about a project that is going nowhere. Life is passing.”

The painter was adamant that he wanted an independent building to house his donation, and not a shared space. He also offered to foot the bill for refurbishing whatever building was allocated to him.

In the end, however, both parts have failed to reach a satisfactory agreement, leading Scully to call off his 200-work donation.

The chapel of Santa Cecilia, part of the Montserrat Abby, that Sean Scully has intervened with his works<br>Photo via: Playmedia

The chapel of Santa Cecilia, part of the Montserrat monastery, where Sean Scully has installed his works.
Photo: via Playmedia

However, just seventy kilometers northwest, in the outskirts of Barcelona, it’s a completely different story.

Yesterday, in the medieval church of Santa Cecilia de Montserrat, which is part of the thousand-year-old Monteserrat monastery, the artist successfully launched an ambitious (and permanent) site-specific project.

After a 10-year, €1 million restoration, the small chapel now features 22 works by Scully, including large abstract paintings on canvas, aluminum, and copper, frescoes, and stained glass and metal candlesticks.

But why has the Irish artist engaged in this series of projects in Barcelona, one might wonder?

It is well-known that the twice Turner Prize-nominee, Dublin-born artist moved to London in 1950, and relocated to New York in 1975. But what is perhaps less known is that he has had a studio in Barcelona since 1994, and has thus developed a strong relationship with the Spanish city.

“This is the most significant exhibition probably I’ve ever done,” he told the New York Times. “This is going to be there for 1,000 years. That’s about as high as it gets.”

The artist—whose paintings fetch six-figure sums and have been bought by private collectors like U2’s Bono and Eli Broad, and institutions such as Tate and the Metropolitan Museum of Art —is having a particularly busy summer.

His work is currently being exhibited at the Palazzo Falier in Venice, the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, and the Museum Liaunig in Neuhaus, Austria.

A Montserrat monk observes Sean Scully's Holly<br>Photo: Joan Sánchez via El País

A Montserrat monk observes Sean Scully’s painting Holly
Photo: Courtesy of Joan Sánchez via El País

Installation view of Sean Scully's exhibition at the Palazzo Falier in Venice<br>Photo: Claudio Abate via Art Daily

Installation view of Sean Scully’s exhibition at the Palazzo Falier in Venice
Photo: Courtesy of Claudio Abate via Art Daily

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