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CATALAN MASTERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY // CATALONIA ONWARD

As fiercely nationalistic as the Olympic athletes in Atlanta is a different kind of world class show: an art exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum.

All the artists, including the museum's namesake, have this in common with the last summer Olympics: Barcelona.

The show is the second traveling "blockbuster" to come to the museum, following last year's "Young Dali." Equally significant, it marks the first time the museum has shown works by artists other than or related to Dali.

All, Dali included, were born or spent extended time in Catalonia. Catalonia is the region of Northeastern Spain, just south of France. Barcelona is its main city. Once a separate nation, Catalonia remains fiercely protective of its own identity and separate language (example: Catalunya, not Catalonia). Is it coincidence that so many 20th century artists of independent temperament have called it home?

Five big names are here: Picasso, Dali, Miro, Gaudi, Tapies. Each dominates a separate gallery.

The show is arranged in chronological order. Gaudi and his turn-of-the-century contemporaries come first; Tapies, now age 73, is last. A logical visual progression, from the Art Nouveau portraits of Ramon Casas through the Cezanne-like landscape of Joaquim Sunyer through the Freudian works of Miro or Dali to the expressionism of Tapies tells you these people knew each other, worked together and influenced one another. Several artists met and exhibited at El Quatre Gats (the four cats), a local restaurant for which Picasso designed a menu cover on exhibit. He sketched a portrait of Ramon Pitxot; Pitxot worked with Dali.

But more than Catalonia would shape these artists; the proximity of France gave them access to an international forum of aesthetic ideas. The flow of influences from one artist to another as they developed can be traced throughout the show, with implications for insights into all 20th century mainstream art.

The wallworks by Casas, Sunyer and others surround Antoni Gaudi, who fused nature into architecture. Although his organic constructions look extreme, they followed the principles of Art Nouveau, which strived for unity in all areas of life.

His deep religiosity caused him to work obsessively on Sagrada Familia, which he intended as a new cathedral for Barcelona. An 82-inch plaster reproduction of an upper window from the cathedral dominates the gallery.

Not everyone agreed that Barcelona needed a second cathedral; the 14th century one in the Gothic Quarter had just received a new facade. Gaudi's cathedral, unfinished at his accidental death in 1926, is still in process of completion.

His other works, including two handsome wood chairs, show the extent to which he incorporated the curvilinear principles of Art Nouveau into his thoroughly organic constructions.

Joan Miro dominates the second gallery. Three white plaster biomorphic sculptures darkened with age allude to Gaudi's fluid lines as well as sexuality, while two bronze stools in the corner are sheer whimsy.

Miro, one of the greatest artists of the century, is classified as a surrealist. That puzzles people used to equating surrealism with the dream-world images of Dali. Miro's approach is more subjective. In works such as Woman in front of the Moon, he employs "pure, psychic automatism. . . .thought dictated in the absence of all control exerted by reason." The quote is from Andre Breton's defining Manifesto of Surrealism, and gives Miro the greater claim to being a true surrealist.

But the show's poster picture, The Merchandise of Color, is nothing more than an attractive display of Miro's typical design and bright colors. Miro, along with Dali and Picasso, turned out work that was blatantly commercial.

Beyond the partition is Salvador Dali. Frequent visitors may think they know the artist, but they probably haven't seen his audacious conglomerate sculpture such as Female Bust or Surrealist Shoe. These are the kinds of idiosyncrasies that fill Dali's other museum, the one in his Catalan hometown, Figueres.

Still, the bust incorporates some of the artist's most familiar two-dimensional symbols: a loaf of bread, a profusion of ants and a reference to Millet's painting, The Angelus.

Also by Dali is a two-piece stereoscopic work _ without stereoscope. Museum personnel say the three-dimensional effect can be achieved by looking at it cross-eyed. Since it is more an illusory gimmick than artistic feat, it does not affect the quality of the show.

The fourth gallery has early works by Pablo Picasso, the best-known artist of the 20th century. He came to Barcelona at age 13 where he was the youngest student ever to enroll at the School of Fine Arts. While in his teens he had mastered realism, and was ready to move beyond or be bored. The sketches of the bullfighter, the seated girl and his friend, Casagemas, convey competence, but they are too early to foretell the artist's future.

Filling the gallery are several sculptures by other artists, including a bust of Picasso by Pablo Gargallo.

The back room, alongside the rail bordering Dali's masterworks on permanent display, are the paintings of the final two artists in the show, Antoni Clave and Antoni Gaudi. In Facteur au Parc Guell, Clave, now 83, pays tribute to Gaudi by using the collage technique that Gaudi employed in the benches of Barcelona's Guell Park.

It brings the show full circle _ except for Antoni Tapies. Though little known in the United States, Tapies is a commanding presence on the European scene. Influenced by Miro, Picasso, surrealism and Eastern systems of thought, Tapies is associated with Art Informel, a European counterpart of action painting (Jackson Pollock). It emphasizes getting into the work and letting it happen rather than planning it out before, not far removed from Miro's automatism. More than a visual delight, the result is a record of a personal relationship with the art.

In the most recent work in the show, Tapies revives a Catalonian tradition of incorporating language in art. Across a background of collage on cardboard he has written, "Catalunya endavant." Translation: Catalonia onward.

From Gaudi to Tapies: Catalan Masters of the 20th Century

Where: Salvador Dali Museum, 1000 Third St. S., St. Petersburg.

What: 75 works by 17 Catalan artists, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Antoni Gaudi and Antoni Tapies.

Also on view: Selections from the permanent collection .

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 22.

Cost: Admission: adults, $8; students, $4; adults 65 and over, $7; children under 10 accompanied by adult or students of Florida state university system, free.

Catalog: $20

Sponsored in Florida by NationsBank.

More Information: 823-3767 (St. Petersburg)

Related events:

Monday "Magical Miro," Dali days for kids ages 8-13. $10.

Aug. 8, 6:30 p.m.: "Dali's Catalan Sources," slide lecture with Peter Tush, curator of education. $3.

Aug. 21, 6:30 p.m.: The Mystery of Picasso, film. $3.

Aug. 24, Sept. 7 and 21, 2 p.m.: "Passages in Spanish Folklore," story-telling by Lynn Carol Henderson. Free with paid admission; children under 18 free.

Sept. 5, 6:30 p.m.: "The Art of Joan Miro," lecture, Cris Hassold, professor of art history, New College, Sarasota. $3.

Sept. 19, 6:30 p.m.: Catalan Guitar Compositions, concert, John Romero and Pepe Romero. Refreshments at 5:30. $3.

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