Santa Isabel, 52
Zone: Las Cortes
Once the San Carlos Hospital, the remodelling of this building began in 1981 and in 1986 the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía was inaugurated, becoming the principle location in Madrid for national and international exhibitions. It is home to a variety of art-related activities, such as conferences, courses, poetry recitals or contemporary music concerts. In 1990 the collection of modern Spanish art was added to the museum, when it was moved from what was then the Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo (MEAC) which today is the Museum of Anthropology. Not long afterwards a decision was taken to move Picasso's famous Guernica, with its preliminary sketches and drawings as well as a work by Juan Gris into the Reina Sofía, all of which had been previously kept in the Casón del Buen Retiro, a part of the Prado Museum.
This move remains controversial - Picasso had explicitly stated his desire that the Guernica be exhibited in the Prado and although its present room in the Reina Sofía was expressly built for the work, there are often complaints about difficulty in seeing the painting in its entirety, even though it is no longer behind a bullet-proof glass shield. The room in which it is kept lacks depth, and forces the viewer to see it either too close up or from too far away. The are also complaints about poor lighting in the room which houses the preliminary work, which are said to have been better displayed in their previous home.
Nonetheless, the move was made and the museum acquired its current rather long name: El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in an attempt to create Madrid's equivalent to London's Tate Gallery or Paris' Pompidou Centre. In this same spirit the museum was given a facelift in 1990 to give it an image more in keeping with its new functions. This consisted of two glass elevators shafts attached to the buildings façade, designed by the British architect Ian Ritchie. More recently the museum has expanded with an addition to the building created by the French architect Jean Nouvel.
This museum is recommended as 'essential' not solely because its permanent collection raises it to the level of the above mentioned Pompidou Centre or Tate Gallery. It can also be deemed essential because it is where Madrid's most important modern art exhibitions are displayed. Also to be praised are the attempts by its directors to provide an interesting and varied programme, as well as the museum's acquisition policies which are to purchase current works rather than try to fill in missing gaps in its existing collection. This would in any case prove impossible because of a lack of both funds and availability of works. These policies could convert the museum into a excellent exhibit of art dating from the 1980s onwards.
The permanent collection in the Reina Sofía is almost exclusively made up of Spanish art from the 20th century, with works by many of the most important artists (Picasso, Miró, Oteiza, Julio González, Tapies, Equipo Crónica, Gerardo Rueda) but with a notable absence of many others. Also on permanent display are the Propuestas (Proposals) where work of international artists such as Barnet Newman, Soto, etc. can be found.
The top floor is home to the museum's library, the largest in Spain dedicated to art. Some of the books came from the old Spanish Museum Of Contemporary Art and others have been acquired since along with audio-visual and electronic material. It is well worth popping up for a look around.
The building itself, the central patio, with its superb mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder, the library, the book shop and the cafeteria all contribute to making the Reina Sofía a museum/art centre which assures that every day more and more people develop an interest in modern art.
If upon leaving the Reina Sofía you still have energy, nearby are some of the cities most interesting art galleries.