Madrid offers some truly exceptional contemporary art experiences. First of all, CaixaForum Madrid, in a building refurbished by Herzog & De Meuron. It was originally a power station in brick, and the architects removed the ground floor so that what is left seems to be floating in mid-air. It presents exhibitions, music and poetry festivals, multimedia art and much more. It also features Spain's first vertical garden, a wall of 15,000 plants.
A temporary exhibition running until 19 June 2011 is dedicated to photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, famous for his shots that brilliantly crystallize moments of everyday life. CaixaForum is on Paseo del Prado 36 (near the classic museums, Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen Bornemisza), and it is open every day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., admission free.
There are of course many contemporary art galleries in Madrid, but one of the most interesting is Galeria Espacio Minimo, on Doctor Fourquet 17. The gallery presents a selection of international artists, and also provides a good portrait of the state of new Spanish art with a fascinating stable of gallery artists. The show dedicated to recent work by Nono Bandera (born in Malaga in 1958) runs until 7 May 2011, and it presents the artist's highly topical technique of combining seemingly disparate visual motifs. For more information, see www.espaciominimo.net
Barcelona offers a feast of contemporary art for visitors to the city. First of all, the Museu Picasso, the gallery that receives most visits in Barcelona with over a million visitors a year. Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881, but his family moved to Barcelona when he was 10. The artist left the city only when he travelled to Paris in 1904. Many of the museum's works were donated by the artist himself, his wife and his friends. It is the largest collection of work by Picasso, in a chronological sequence that illustrates the development of his style over the years, starting from his wholly classical portraits and landscapes (many of which painted in Barcelona), to the blue and rose periods, followed by the various forms of Cubism, and on to the styles of his maturity.
Some of his sketchbooks give a striking impression of his incredible creativity and artistic energy, and the early works are incredible for their maturity, even though he created them at the age of just 14 or 15. Possibly the highlight is a series of 58 paintings based on Las Meninas, a painting by Velásquez. The museum also runs temporary exhibitions, and until 29 May 2011, the show is "Caricatures from the front," with works dating from the period of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. From 1 July to 16 October 2011, the temporary show will be "Devouring Paris. Picasso 1900-1907," which compares works by Picasso made in that period with others by Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Rodin, Steinlen, Gauguin and Van Gogh. The museum is on Montcada 15-23, Barcelona, open Tues-Sun 10 a.m.-8 p.m., closed on working Mondays. €10. For further details, see museupicasso.bcn.es
The Fundación Joan Miró presents a good collection of the painter's work, with paintings, sculptures, tapestries and early sketches, for a total of 14,000 pieces, many of which were donated by the artist himself. However the museum's work also includes a fascinating review of the latest trends in contemporary art, with a series of temporary exhibition. These include Genius Loci, until 5 June 2011, which is based on the audio guide concept common to most museums today. A selection of contemporary bands - Els Amics de les Arts, Hidrogenesse, Ila Carolina, Manos de Topo, The Pinker Tones and others - were invited to present a song in one of the rooms, also creating a visual installation expressing their feelings about being musicians in Barcelona. The resulting works have something in common with Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. The museum is housed in a building designed by Josep Lluís Sert, a friend of Miró's, in a pure but creative Rationalist style. Don't miss the roof ferraces, from which there are some fine views of the city. The museum is on Parc de Monjuic, Barcelona, €8.50. Further info from www.bcn.fjmiro.es
The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art has a good collection of 20th century art. Its permanent collection is exhibited together with thematic shows, and the current show was designed to present an interpretation of how contemporary art has developed from changes that occurred in the 1950s. Its temporary shows include "Thoughtform" by The Otolith Group, founded in London in 2002, using meta-documentary videos to present reflections on contemporary society and aesthetics. The building was designed by American architect Richard Meier; it is located on Plaça dels Angels 1, Barcelona, with opening times that change at different times of year; basically it is open every day except Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., closing early on Sundays. €7.50. Further info www.macba.es
The Nogueras Blanchard gallery in Barcelona presents some innovative contemporary artists. In April-May, Michael Lin will be showing his colourful installations. The artist, born in Tokyo in 1964, creates works that are generally priced from €10,000 to €50,000. From May to July, there will be a group show curated by Direlia Lazo, with artists likely to include some newer names with prices ranging from €300 upwards. The gallery is at Xucla 7, 08001 Barcelona, tel. +34 93 3425 721, www.noguerasblanchard.com. Open Tuesday to Friday 10.30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 12 noon to 7 p.m.