Museo de Arte Abstracto Español


LOCATION: Cuenca, Spain
NEAREST AIRPORTS: Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport and 1h 40mins drive or Valencia Airport and 2hrs drive
Cuenca is an absurdly tiny medieval town laid siege by its modern extension. The decrepitness of the new, however, makes the old Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) where the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español is housed so much more surprising when you do finally see it.

Impossibly cascading over Huécar River Gorge (for what I can only imagine is some sort of 15th century safety measure against pirates or invading army types) the houses are themselves a thing of beauty, appreciated in the 1966 by Fernando Zóbel so much so as to nab it for the location of his museum.

The collection, dedicated to Spanish abstract painters from the 1950s and 60s, with some present day works, boasts 129 works on permanent display. You will find excellent examples of works by Millares, Tàpies, Sempere, Torner, Rueda, Zóbel (the founder was, of course, an artist himself), and Saura.Zóbel who had the vision and, against the odds, founded this museum. It preceded any other museum dedicated to contemporary art (in museum conditions) in Spain by 20 years (!), and Zóbel, along with fellow artists Torner and Rueda, took it on himself to bring Spain into the 20th century with this artist created and led space. It is an excellent and interesting way to find out more about Spanish Abstraction in a time when the country was still under the rule of General Franco.

Once he broke ground, many of the artists featured in the collection temporarily relocated to Cuenca, helping in the total regeneration of the old town that from the sounds of it was a bit of a ruin. It is a heartwarming story of hard work and result, especially as Zóbel donated the collection and the management of the museum to the Fundacion Juan March. There is a spirit of utter selflessness and, as I walk through the small labyrinth of interconnecting and beautifully restored medieval rooms, admiring the art and catching occasional glimpses of the dizzying views, I cannot help but be grateful, not least as now I know just a little more about the movement.