At the Forte di Bard, Italy, for an enlightening dialogue about contemporary art with P. Josep Maria Soler, Abbot of the famous Montserrat Abbey


The Forte di Bard is one of the rare Italian cultural institutions with enough budget to run properly, thanks to its independence (almost) from politics and public money. Despite being out of the main routes, located in a small village close to Aosta, it definitely deserves to be visited. Currently the Forte is hosting a comprehensive selection of the masterpieces from the collection of the Abbey of Monserrat, that is, along with the Montetecassino Abbey in Italy and and the Monastery of Inside in Switzerland, one the most important cultural institution in Europe: from Caravaggio, to Claude Monet and Mariano Fortuny y Marsal, from the catalan Modernists to Picasso, Miró, Dalí. Conceptual Fine Arts has visited the charming medieval fortress on a winter snowy day. We were lucky, because on that very same morning, P. Josep Maria Soler, the Abbot of Montserrat, was visiting the Forte too and he kindly accepted the invitation to talk with us.


Do you like contemporary art?


I like it, but sometimes it’s hard for me to understand certain works. For example, I like Sean Scully’s paintings, but I don’t comprehend Antoni Tapies.


Do you know Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons?


No, I don’t.


Are you sure?Joan Mi


Yes, I am.


Have you visited the Vatican Pavillion at the last Venice Biennale?


No, I didn’t.


Which is your favorite artwork of the Montserrat Abbey collection?


I love the Carvaggio’s San Girolamo of course, because of the subject – he is the patron of scholars – and because of the way it has arrived to Monserrat. It has been bought in 1915 at an auction in Rome by a monk of Monserrat, but the work was supposed to be painted by Ribera. I also love the Sean Scully’s painting.


The painting has been donated by the artist, hasn’t it?


Yes, it has. Scully loves the Monserrat’s landscape, he is in contact with the monastery and with the director of our museum. However it’s not just a professional relationship. In Monserrat Scully has found answers to his research on faith and on the meaning of life. That’s why he has donated this painting, and now he is working on a Via Crucis for a romanic chapel in the Monserrat Mountain.


He would be a good choice for the Venice Biennial.


I think so.


During the last century many artists have donated their works to the Abbey, from Joan Miró to Pablo Picasso. Is there any specific reason?


You have to know what the Monserrat Abbey means for Catalonia and, in general, for Spain. It has constantly been a community in dialogue with artists, and of course not only visual artists. After the Civil War, the Abbey has defended values like freedom, democracy and human rights. This is indeed the main reason why artists have always been in touch with this community. For example, at that time the bishops were generally proposed by the Vatican and then chosen by the local government. Only in Monserrat the Abbot was chosen directly by the community.


Catalogna has a huge number of small churches, but all their artworks are now preserved in the Medieval Museum in Barcelona.


At that time it was very difficult to preserve the artworks in their original place and the romanic style was not as much appreciated as it is nowadays. Bringing them to Barcelona was the only way to save them from destruction.


Nowadays some people consider contemporary art as a kind of religion, with its own system of values and its own big cathedrals. But the Catholic Church had a different conception of art.


Art expresses something deep inside the human being, driven by the experience of the artist. From my point of view, thus the point of view of a man who believes, It doesn’t matter whether I like an artwork or not. What I consider is the work as an expression of the spirit of the human being. Everybody questions himself about the sense of life, artists address this question through their artworks. So, their experience and the results of their research have to be respected.


Which is you feeling entering the MoMA or the Guggenheim?


On the one hand I respect the research I was describing above. On the other though, I feel that the reality described by artworks could sometimes be understood more in depth. There is a spiritual dimension, and a transcendent one that I can’t see in some artworks.


Do you mean that the spiritual and the transcendental are lost when the materialism is too much?


No, I haven’t used the term materialism intentionally. I think that the research regarding the human being can be extended to certain dimensions, it depends on how far your eyes can see, or want to see for that matter. Artists go beyond materialism, even when they are not aware of it.

December 12, 2014