Cubism Shows Us the Way
Tribute to Joaquín Rodrigo Sculpture (2013.01.155)
This month we have a small cubist sculpture called Tribute to Joaquín Rodrigo by the Spanish artist, Pablo Serrano. It’s a beautiful little sculpture, only 14 cm tall (about 5½”) including the hollow base. The base appears to have a block of wood inside, the bottom of which is covered with black velvet or some other flocked textile.
Pablo Picasso and the French artist, Georges Braque, are credited with pioneering cubism during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Cubism is associated with the abstraction of objects, breaking them down and reassembling them as cubes and other geometric shapes and planes, often depicting the subject simultaneously from several angles. Initially identified with painting, cubism began to influence sculpture and sculptors as well, including Jaques Lipchitz, Modigliani, and Pablo Serrano, among many others.
This cubist bronzed sculpture depicts a man playing a guitar. When I look at it, I see the guitar itself pretty clearly, as well as the man’s head, but the rest of it is a little more difficult. You, of course, may see it differently. And this is where the abstraction of cubism comes into play. Serrano was a talented artist; if he had wanted to sculpt a proportionally realistic man with a guitar he was certainly capable. But this sculpture we see in the photo, this is how he chose to present his particular vision as inspired by Joaquín Rodrigo.
Very helpfully, this piece is actually signed. “Serrano 19/75” is etched on the bottom edge of the proper right, indicating that this is the nineteenth copy produced in a run of 75. From there it was relatively simple to find Pablo Serrano, the artist. Serrano was born in 1908 in Crivillén, about four hours west-southwest of Barcelona. He studied in Barcelona, and later emigrated to Argentina and then Uruguay, returning to Spain in the 1950s. Shortly after Serrano’s return, one of his pieces won the Grand Prix for Sculpture at the Hispano American Biennial of Art in Barcelona, one of many prizes awarded to his works in Europe and the Americas. In the U.S. some of the places you can see his sculptures are the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn, Brown University, and now, NMH.
In the early 1980s, near the end of his life, Serrano created this sculpture in honor of the Spanish composer, Joaquín Rodrigo. Rodrigo was blind from the age of three after contracting diphtheria and wrote his compositions in Braille, later transcribed. Rodrigo’s most famous work was Concierto de Aranjuez, written in 1939 for guitar and orchestra, which Serrano commemorated here.
I haven’t been able to identify a candidate for the earliest version of this work, although it is certain that the NMH sculpture could not have been the original. There are references to many other different variations and sizes of the sculpture on both sides of the Atlantic. There are several in Spain, including at least five in the collection of the Pablo Serrano Museum in Zaragoza (two plaster casts, one bronze of unknown size, one bronze about three times the size of the NMH sculpture, and one monumental sculpture), another at Rodrigo’s tomb in Aranjuez near Toledo, and yet another in the town of Elche near the southeast coast. There are also the 75 smaller casts, of which the NMH piece is one. It is quite likely that there are others.
The NMH sculpture was discovered in the archives of Dolben Library on the Northfield campus without any accompanying information about the donor, although we can still broadly deduce when it was donated. It could not have arrived here before it was made, probably about 1985. And, because it was rediscovered in Northfield, it is unlikely that it arrived here after 2005 when NMH consolidated on the Mount Hermon campus in Gill. This gives us a rather large range of twenty years, but at the moment that’s all we have to go on. More information may surface in the future.
There is yet one more version of the Tribute to Joaquín Rodrigo that is worth mentioning here. This one, in plaster and quite a bit larger than the NMH sculpture, was exhibited at the Guggenheim in 1985 as part of an exhibit called Pablo Serrano: The Guitar and Cubism. In the introduction to the associated exhibition catalog is a poem written by Serrano himself, so perhaps the best way to close this Object of the Month is with a few of his own words:
Cubism shows us the way,
to destroy in order to construct,
Mankind as well as Nature
appear and disappear.
Sara Karz Reid
 Serrano, P. and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1985). Pablo Serrano: The Guitar and Cubism: Exhibition, 18 September-10 November 1985, Guggenheim Museum. New York, NY, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.